Before I started writing about green building and eco-tourism in Israel and the Middle East, I was a tour guide in North America. For three years I taught foreigners about camping, ecology, geography, and history in National Parks throughout the lower 48, Alaska, and Canada. We met the first day in the lobby of a base hotel, filled out the “if I die it’s not your fault” forms, and then packed the pax and their bags into my van and trailer. I’d warn them, “remember, I’m deaf. If I can’t see you, I can’t hear you!” While true, this also gave me the excuse to play music louder than socially acceptable.
Karin’s trip to Helsinki reminded me of my Alaskan tour. The 35 days that began in Seattle, looped up to Denali, and ended with a 4-day ferry ride from Skagway to Bellingham (the inside passage), were among my hardest but most rewarding. It also required more preparation: we had extra tires for famously bad roads, extra food for nights that we were too far from civilization to buy more, and a lot of repellent: Alaska’s mosquitoes are as big as bears.
The Midnight Sun
The drives through the vast territories were long. I’d drive ten hours a day, set up camp, eat dinner, have a fire, and then do it all again the next day. And because it was May, the days were long too. The further north we traveled, the longer the sun shone. Falling asleep was virtually impossible: I would hide my face under my sleeping bag, or drink an extra beer to knock myself out, but nothing worked. My body could not be fooled. One night, my group and I jumped into a frigid lake just south of Hyder, British Columbia, to celebrate the midnight sun.
No 4 Star Service Here
We sucked down toe shots in Dawson City, a tradition hearkening the Klondike gold rush era, and flew over Mt. McKinley, keeping count of the wildlife we spotted along the way: black bears, brown bears, moose, elk, deer, bald eagles and more. We watched whales in Seward, rafted white water in Hope, and picked our way up Kenicott glacier.
Much to the chagrin of the sissies on the van, this was not a luxury tour. Any passenger with a fickle love of nature did not belong. Everything was harder: water was more difficult to come by, electricity sources were scarce, ablution and camping facilities were often rough, and the people were tough too. But every second of every day was filled with postcard views of pristine landscapes.
When Humans Interfere
Of course, driving through certain parts of Alaska is like driving along the Mediterranean: the 800 mile Trans Alaska pipeline juts out in the same way that factories line the coast. These moments, when the landscape is fettered by excessive human expansion, made everyone appreciate the unspoiled vistas even more. And after experiencing nature in this way, after camping in Denali, sleeping on a glacier, or spending a night in the Negev desert, far from city lights, the spirit of nature burrows itself deep into the human consciousness.
Go Lightly, But Go
I was certainly changed. It is because of my touring days that I’m writing now, writing to protect the places I love and the fauna that live there. Israel and the rest of the Middle East have many beautiful places to explore, though they enjoy less protection. Go. I urge you. But go lightly, Bob Dylan would say, and go responsibly. Because “being green” is not just about keeping up with the daily grind of new fads, it’s about protecting a precious ecological balance. And don’t be fooled. The environment takes care of more than just our nutritional and economical needs. It sustains our souls too.
:: all images via flickr
More on Eco-Tourism in The Middle East:
Go on a Volunteer Eco-Tourism Adventure in Israel with GoEco
Saudi Arabia to Build Musma Park – The Mideast’s Largest Environmental Tourism Park
Jordan’s Feynan Eco Lodge Named One of the Top 50 Eco Lodges in the World