Dear friends of ‘Eco Bus America’
The great ocean crossing has finished! I have arrived on the other side of the ocean! Not at the place where we initially hoped to arrive, but I think that is also the biggest lesson we have learned while crossing the ocean. Nothing is certain! We have had to adapt to a new plan so many times, because during the 80 days that we were busy with the crossing, a huge number of plans have changed and I think we have become experts in adjusting the schedule.
It is hard to explain how the ocean crossing has been for me. So far I have made two videos of week 1 and week 2 & 3 of the crossing. These videos give a little impression of how life on board of the Regina Maris was. Even if you spend time on a small area with the same people for 80 days, every week is really different. I hope to put the rest of the sea-life videos online soon. For the first two you can click here. Week 1 and week 2 & 3.
As many of you know and what becomes clear in the rest of the videos that I will post online, is that we were told in the middle of the ocean that the climate conference that we were preparing so hard for, was canceled in Chile and was moved to Spain. Since we were already so far on our way and because the wind did not allow us to sail back to Europe, we sailed on to South America. You can imagine that, of course, I was very happy about that decision because, in addition to making my voice heard at the climate conference, another major goal for me was to arrive in South-America CO2-neutral to continue my project. The destination did change though. Chile seemed too dangerous and that’s why we sailed to Cartagena in Colombia.
Of course we wanted to make our voice heard at the climate conference! It was not without a reason that we had worked so hard to come up with solutions with the aim of influencing people at the climate conference. That is why we have found 20 representatives who wanted to represent the “Sail to the COP” project at COP25 in Madrid! It is so incredibly special that we succeeded this! You can imagine that we were not very confident that this would work out when we were asked if we knew people who were willing to go to Madrid for at least 3 weeks at their own expense and voluntarily to represent our project at the COP (an event that is generally perceived as very intense and stressful). But to our surprise there were a lot of people willing to help with that and it was even necessary to choose out of all the applications, who these representatives were going to be!
Climate conference COP25
In the meantime we sailed further to Martinique. We have been there for nearly two weeks while COP25 took place and every day we have worked hard to help the representatives and to influence from a distance for example via social media. Most of us, including me, had a buddy in Madrid. That way we could still experience the COP a bit. Our working days started very early in the morning because in Europe it was a few hours later. This meant that we already started at 3 o’clock in the morning and often only finished around 5 o’clock in the evening. The report that we all worked hard on during the crossing can be found HERE and the vision video of which I was a major part can be viewed HERE. I am not going to tell you a lot about what the COP was like, because I hope that this will also become clearer in future videos. But for the Dutch people among us I strongly recommend reading THIS article that Rosa has written for “Tegenlicht”. It gives a very clear picture of how we have dealt with the entire change of plans, but it also explains why we wanted to capture the attention for this problem.
Once arrived in Cartagena I was welcomed by a very helpful family who could store my stuff and give me a place to sleep for the first 2 days. After that we had arranged to come together with the sailing group on a “Finca”, a sort of farm. It was a beautiful Christmas with the ship family and a great end to our adventure. A very important result of our work is THIS report. We are all very proud of it and very happy to see that ministries in Holland have taken it serious and take parts of our solutions into account.
The few days that followed I spent in a beautiful place in the neighborhood where a hippie lived who was a filmmaker and also very spiritual. Together with Eline, a girl from the ship, we had a great few days and we helped this hippie making his tree house and apart from that we act for a piece of his film. I also spent New Year’s Eve there because I felt I needed a quiet New Year’s Eve rather than a noisy one in the city. I was very happy with the choice and there was actually a very nice couple who, just like me, had decided on the same day to celebrate New Year’s Eve at that same place. We spent it around the campfire while we had good conversations about life!
Visits with my project in Colombia
The following month I spent in Cartagena, where I had rent a room and lived together with 2 cats, two dogs and a very friendly couple. It was in the center of Cartagena which worked out really well. During this month I have had six visits with “Eco Bus America”. I will briefly tell something about each visit:
The owner of café Beiyú is very aware and tries to pay attention to everything that has to do with the environment. All the food in the cafe comes from local farmers and is organic. He also uses glass straws for example, and does not sell water because he believes that this should be available to everyone free of charge. He therefore has a water tap next to the bar where you can fill your bottle. The presentation that I gave here went very well. About 18 people approached the talk. Exactly enough to fill the space!
Café stepping stone
When I asked the owners if I could give a presentation here, they were immediately enthusiastic. They suggested giving a presentation and a workshop to the 18 employees they have. The café is a social enterprise which means that there are people working who are less likely to find a job and who get the opportunity to participate in society by working for them. The presentation and workshop went very well! I also gave them the assignment to write a message to the visitors of the cafe. In the message they were allowed to write something about plastic pollution. Something that they wanted to share with their customers. They could then give this message to their customers along with the receipt. They were very enthusiastic and I look forward to hearing from them what the reactions of the customers are like!
Biblioteca manzanilla del mar
During my stay in Cartagena I met Eileen from the foundation “Sentidos de la Tierra”. She suggested to visit a number of places together with my project in combination with her project. Our first visit was to the Manzanilla del Mar library. I gave my presentation for a group of children from 6 to 12 years old and Eileen started by thinking together with the children what exactly the problems are in their living environment. Then we went to investigate in the neighborhood and we could clearly see that plastic pollution is a very big one. The children live next to the beach and a river flows into the sea. It was sad to see how much pollution there was in their living environment. The children then wrote a message to the world and posted it in the library so that the entire village could read the messages.
Fundación “Amigos del Mar”
At Tierra Bomba, an island next to Cartagena, I was welcome to come and give a presentation and workshop. It is an island with few facilities and the people are poor. This foundation is very important for the people on the island because children can go there and get lessons in anything and everything. During the workshop I asked the children to pick up 3 pieces of plastic around the building where I teached them. Then they were allowed to choose 1 of the 3 pieces of litter and write a letter to the manufacturers of that product. Beautiful letters came out. Children wrote, among other things, that their island was full of packaging of that product and that not only should they themselves handle plastic better, but also the manufacturers by changing their packaging. After this visit I sent the letters to the post.
After having been in the car for a few hours together with Eileen, we arrived at this community of women. Eileen was the first to give the workshop in which together with the women we started thinking about the nature around them. For example about which plants, trees, birds etc … there where. Then we started to talk about the problems in their living environment. Plastic was one of them, although the women themselves did not immediately experience that as a problem. They burn it or they bury it, they told us, because nobody comes to collect garbage. I gave my presentation in which I also explained that the burning of plastic can have serious consequences for our health. Then, together with these women, I started to think about solutions in their environment. “Which plastic items do you buy the most?” I asked. The answer was soda and plastic bags. “How can we solve that?” We sat under a giant mango tree. I asked the women. “Do you have many fruit trees?” The answer was “yes a lot”. “Do you ever make fruit juice?” The answer was “no”. And there was 1 of the solutions! “Why don’t you make fruit juice more often instead of buying soda?” We have no blender, answered one of the women. Then someone else from the group suggested sharing a recipe for making fruit juice for which you don’t need a blender. “After all, it is also much healthier for your children and for yourself”, she said, the other women nodded.
The second plastic product that they used a lot is the plastic bag. My question was, “Can you also buy items such as rice and vegetables in bulk?” The answer was “yes”. “Can you sew?” A number of women raised their hand. Is it an idea that you make bags of cotton together so that you can bring your own bags next time? The answer was “yes!” “The only problem is that they are going to make fun of us”, one of the women said. I explained that that is normal in the beginning but if you explain why you come with your own bags and then continue to do this, it also becomes normal for the seller. This is how habits arise just as happened with the plastic bag 50 years ago. The women agreed to schedule a date on which they would all take old sheets and sew cotton bags together. Solution two!
Café stepping stone – “Sail for climate action”
Another project has emerged from the ‘Sail to the COP’ project: “sail for climate action”. One of the participants of “Sail to the COP” wanted to make the voices of Latin American youth heard in Europe during the “climate summit” in Bonn this year. She then started a new project and recently they left for Europe with the same sailing ship that I came with. During the preparations of ‘Sail for climate action’, Clara and Tori, two of the organizers noticed that there were many good projects in and around Cartagena but that they did not know much about each other, she wanted to organize an evening where different projects could introduce themselves. And that way I also got a place to present my project.
Journey towards the VAN
During this period in Cartagena I went looking for a van. After a long search and much doubts, I opted for a van that is very similar to the one I used for the Eco Bus Europe tour. It would be available in La Paz Bolivia in mid-February. This meant that I had to go through half of the continent by bus with all my stuff, including a bicycle, and also had to travel through a ‘red’ area, designated by the central government. After considering all kinds of options, I chose to do this and not choose the easy way, namely the plane. I have chosen to avoid aviation if there is no emergency. This was not an emergency and in a way it felt hypocritical to be so afraid of a red marked area while there are so many people who just hope they will be able to cross the border. I decided to make this crazy journey towards the van!
A little side note. This VAN is not yet environmentally friendly. This makes me feel very sad but I am still struggling to find the good way to make a VAN sustainable. This will definitely be a goal for the future but as many people told me. Just start, and try to improve on the way, so that is what I am going to do.
I started the journey on the 4th of February. I was brought to the bus station by Eileen and there the journey began. The first bus was from Cartagena to Medellin 14 hours. Then I had to wait half a day in Medellin until the next bus. That was not a problem because thanks to some tips I ended up at a great vegan restaurant where they also had a zero waste store so that I could stock up on some plastic-free snacks for the next bus. The next bus was from Medellin to Ipeales 10 hours. In Ipeales I had to go to the border by taxi. There I took my things to a primitive storage room with the hope that it was all safe. Then I did the migration from Colombia to Ecuador. Then it was time to find a taxi / bus that could take me to Tulcan. That was a bit of a hassle but in the end it worked! Once in Tulcan I could jump on a bus almost immediately to Quito. Once in Quito after 5 hours I was picked up by friends of my sister and there I could sleep a night very nice and really necessary because I started to get pretty stiff.
From Quito I was taken by taxi to the bus station and I got on the bus to Guayaquil. After being on the bus for 8 hours I had to wait half a day in Guayaquil at the bus terminal until the next bus to Lima. Once I arrived in Lima after 30 hours, I took a taxi to a family who welcomed me with open arms. I once talked about my project during a radio interview in Madrid and met a girl who also explained about her project and that girl has a friend living in Lima and that girl wanted to take care of me in her family! Without knowing them, I arrived at the birthday of that same girl who had invited me. I was immediately offered a drink in a disposable plastic cup, but luckily I was prepared for this and offered my own reusable cup. I was not prepared for the fact that I would end up on a birthday, so I thought I’d sing a song as a gift. And that was the start of an evening full of music!
This was such a great evening! When I went to sleep and my window stood open, I smelled a dirty smell of burning plastic. I looked out the window and saw that they had set all the cups and plates of the party on fire. I quickly closed my window and thanks to the fact that this family was so interested in my project, I was able to tell them about the fact that plastic burning is not a good solution for the problem. They indicated that they did not know this and were really sorry to hear that this is also bad for our health. I explained that they could also use reusable plastic plates and cups, because they were afraid that if they used their crockery, it would break. The next day the father called me to say that he had written a Huayno (typical music from Peru) for my project because he was so inspired. We practiced the song together and THIS is the result!
The next bus was from Lima to Desaguadero from 24 hours. In Desaguadero I had to cross the border with a crunchy cart where my things just fit into. Fortunately a cart went together with a man. We first walked 15 minutes to the border, then searched for a van to La Paz. The bike and all the stuff on the roof … luckily this went well. Once we arrived in la Paz after 2.5 hours we were dropped off somewhere in the middle of the street in the rain, not the most ideal way to arrive in a city of millions in the dark. There were a number of taxis around me who wanted to take me but I did not trust them. For a moment I was a bit scared, but as a miracle a taxi appeared that I actually did trust and who brought me safely to the hostel. The next day I had to recover a lot because from the last few hours on the bus to La Paz I had a bursting headache. La Paz is at 3640 meters hight and you can feel that. So the next day i took it easy and the day after that day was the big day.
The big day
Fortunately I was completely fit again! There he was, the van! I was picked up by the sellers and we drove on to the airbnb that we had reserved for the coming days. During the days together we had things done on the bus such as changing tires and replacing oil and we also explored la Paz together. It was really a nice way to buy a van because I could ask them anything and they also gave me a lot of recommendations.
The day after was the real big day! The border crossing. It was exciting and worked out well and from than on I am officially the owner of the van called “La Gordita”.
I spent my first night in a beautiful place. I’m going to take it easy these first weeks because the schools don’t start until mid March. I will be heading to Cuszo and on the way I will make already some contacts for school visits for the way back in May, when I will be heading to Chile. I have already been in contact with the Dutch embassy in Lima and they will help me with some contacts so hopefully I will be able to visit many places to give talks! In Cuszo I will also paint the VAN and try to make it more my own home inside even though it already feels very cosy and nice!
Lots of love from my new home!