Monday, July 25, 2011

Highlights from Costa Rica

I attended the CREST Travelers' Philanthropy conference in Monteverde, Costa Rica this past week on behalf of my client Elevate Destinations to present on our volunteer trips in Haiti and the Gulf.

Here are some highlights:

1) Monteverde, Costa Rica - The setting alone was magnificent. Known for the Cloud Forest Reserve - Monteverde feels truly magical. The winding mostly dirt/rock road you take to reach it makes it even more mystical. I tried to walk as much as possible between session to take it in.

Seriously. Check it out. 

2) Offsetting my carbon! One of the conference outings offered the opportunity to plant trees to help offset the carbon from flying in to Costa Rica. It was great to get out of the conference hall and into the reserve to get my hands dirty and help contribute to the amazing efforts that are being done by Costa Rica to become one of the first carbon neutral countries. Climate Action Alliance and Costa Rica Conservation Association facilitated the opportunity

3) Pushing the envelope around travel, volunteering and donors. Coming together with a group of likeminded people that are doing their best to make a difference is not always just pats on the back and congratulations all around. People don't always agree with a method or a perspective or they've tried something and it hasn't worked. It was refreshing to see people admit failures or bumps.  In the end this is a great thing - it helps each of us to look around, strive to look at things a different way and push to do better. (More on this in another post). 

4) Simbiosis by Manuel Obregon. Manuel Obregon is a famous Costa Rican composer and now the minister of Culture for Costa Rica. 12 years ago he took a piano out into the forest for 3 days and recorded Simbiosis using the sounds of the forest and his piano to create  a synergistic composition. I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of hearing and watching this amazing presentation live the last day of the conference. Wow. 

5) Meeting awesome people. 
To name a few: 

Chris Blackwell - though we only spoke for a minute or so - this was my starstruck moment of the conference. This guy is pretty inspiring. We all know him for Island Records - but his work in Jamaica is really amazing. Most island hotels ship in food from abroad - Chris is working on an organic agriculture program in Jamaica to support the local economy and grow food locally. 

Kevin Salwen - I got the chance to talk extensively with Kevin - since we shared a 4 1/2 hour bus ride sitting near each other. Kevin wrote The Power of Half about how he and his family decided to cut their "stuff" down by half and give half to charity. Not only is it an inspiring story- Kevin "gets it" in a way most don't. His family regularly visits Uganda and has created a genuine connection there. This is his book - looking forward to reading it. 

Soledad Naranjo - our amazing partner in Costa Rica for eco-tourism. She is truly one of the nicest and smartest women you will ever meet. 

Richard Edwards of Planeterra and GAP Adventures. He moderated my panel on voluntourism and has some great thoughts on the subject. Wish we could have had him as a panelist too to hear more. Follow him on Twitter

Marco Bollinger and Eytan Elterman, fellow bicultural travel junkies and founders of IseeItravel who are forging the way in utilizing video, photography and social media in enhancing the authentic travel experience. Thank (or blame) them for getting me to focus on blogging again as a main component of my social media strategy! Enjoy filming your documentary in Osa guys!


One thing I'd like to see in the future from conferences like this - more from the "beneficiary" viewpoint. The questions this conference kept bringing up for me was - how is power maintained for those who are "receiving" donations and support? How can we contribute to philanthropy that supports a balance of power between the "investor" and the "investee"? This was addressed to a certain extent - but I think it is important to continue to explore the solidarity component of philanthropy and travel.