Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Travel under the green microscope: (my interview with Susan McCulley)

Last week I sat down for a brief interview with one of my favorite people in the world: my friend and Nia teacher, Susan McCulley, to talk with her about her travels to the island of Dominica.

T:Tell me how you discovered Dominica?

S:In 2005, my husband and I were looking somewhere warm to spend New Year’s Eve. Frank had remembered hearing about an island get away in the Washington Post, but could only remember that it was coined “The Nature Island.” After Googling it, they found it and fell in love. It’s very rural, very underdeveloped, full of nature - everything that we love. And we were especially impressed with the variety of nature there. It’s only 30 miles long, but it’s mountainous, it has 365 rivers, and both rocky and sandy beaches, and rainforests. The island even has volcanic activity -- so, hot springs. The natural diversity offers activities available for all energy levels as well. Once we were there, was use public transportation and walk rather than rent a car. This forced us to slow our pace, meet people, and really step into the culture, rather than do what so many Americans do when they travel: rent a car and zoom around like crazy people, continuing their current pace of life while on vacation. We chose to take more time to do fewer things. In 2007 we heard about the eco-resort, Jungle Bay.

T:Tell me about what impressed you "betty-wise" about Jungle Bay?

S:We were impressed with the consciousness in everything about the day-to-day operations of the resort. Even in the building of it. They wove their business into the community. They use local recipes - their chef is Dominican (not French like other resorts). They chose farmers and other people in the community who were struggling with the local economy. We are so excited to be leading a retreat in this special place in May (see for all the details!)!

T:Have you researched other eco-destinations?

S:Yes! I’ve done Nia retreats at the Luna Lodge in Costa Rica and Willka T’ika in the Sacred Valley of Peru. And really at this point I will only offer retreats at centers who have approached their business with ecological and social awareness. This enriching, sustainable, environmentally-sensitive component is important to me and totally in line with the principles of Nia and holistic living.

T:Nia has been so helpful for me in learning to “pay attention” to what’s going on in my body - and it helps me pay attention to what’s going on outside my body as well. I recognize that everything is connected and I see myself as a personal ecosystem within the larger eco-system.

S:Yes, the beauty of Nia is that it’s about expanding, enriching the aliveness of my body and helps develop the consciousness, what’s happening in me. And it feels good to be on retreat in a place that has that level of consciousness as well. About their building, their business practice. Of their environment. The internal environment aligns with the external environment of where we stay.

S:And the added bonus with the retreat experience in Nia is that we can use the focus/intention we set in the morning to enhance the activities that occur later in the day. An example would be if we focus on sensation in the morning, then the experience of snorkeling in warm bubbly spring water and biting into the succulent fresh fruit is enhanced. It’s just a great fit.

Susan on travel…
S:The act of travel is very important to me. I’m in an unfamiliar situation so I really pay attention. For me, travel is not about doing the same things I do in my day-to-day. Not about eating the fried eggs I have every morning. It’s about taking safe risks, like we do in Nia. I believe if we allow ourselves to be taken out of our habit, out of the norm we actually burn new neural pathways that help us be more at ease and relaxed in our bodies and our lives. And travel helps me return to my daily life with an expanded awareness and freshness that I can cultivate all the time, in my everyday life. (recommended movie to stimulate this discussion: the accidental tourist, lost in translation, and stranger than fiction)

T:How do you take into account the ecological impact of travel?

S:Well for one, I now have a set of questions I can ask an establishment to determine if that is going to be a good fit. How are you taking into account the energy it takes to transport people around the island, what kinds of foods do you offer, what kind of building techniques did you use for your structures, etc.
It’s important to remember that it’s unrealistic to ask people NOT to travel. There is tremendous value in it. But traveling in an intentional and aware way is what we are striving for.

When I mentioned offsets, Susan said she looks forward to our in-depth look at offsetting options in the blog toward the end of the week, so check back!

For more information about Susan’s retreat to the Nature Island of Dominica to the world-famous Jungle Bay EcoResort and Spa May 16-23, go to and email Susan for registration information!


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