Tag Archives: Natural Building

Jungle Fever

Warning: this blog contains gratuitous references to diarrhoea.

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Bumping through rapids in rubber kayaks is a sport that’s dear to me. It’s how Richie and I met 6 years ago, and coincidentally, how we chose to celebrate one year of life on the road together, in Laos. This time, it was brown water and not white water I feared. River kayaking is a dangerous activity at the best of times, but kayaking with diarrhoea is a sport that only the hardiest attempt!

There comes a time, whilst travelling in South East Asia, when the only thing to do is ‘man up’ and carry on with whatever activity you’ve planned for the day, in spite of cramps, nausea and the persistent need to relieve yourself.

In the lean hours of the morning, moments before sun-up on the first day of our 3-day trekking/kayaking adventure, I considered it might be prurient to give the experience a miss. Richie would be disappointed, and there was also the risk of losing our deposit to consider, but all in all, staying in and waiting for the deluge to pass seemed a wholly more attractive and sensible option. Continue reading

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The Many Temptations of Dali Old Town

Dali, in China’s Yunnan province, is a pleasant place to connect and re-root. There’s plenty of sunshine, good food and a multitude of comforts: hot showers, western loos, pizza, cake and coffee. Invasive foreign species like Brits, Aussies, Japanese and Canadians have long found a toehold in Dali, grafting themselves onto the cultural landscape. Yunnan is, after all, China’s most biodiverse province.

The melange of east and west, old and new works magic on Chinese tourists, who flock from all over the country to experience a neat and palatable version of their history. Trailing like unruly schoolchildren behind garishly dressed Bai cheerleaders, they traverse the city form south to north, parting enthusiastically with money for broiled Dali cheese, roast chestnuts and bolts of blue and white hand-dyed batik. Chinese tourists with oversized Nikon cameras startle hippy travellers, who make faces behind cocked pints of beer. “5 kwai a photo,” the reluctant models joke.

Bai tour guides, representatives of one of the region's ethnic minorities

Bai tour guides, representatives of one of the region’s ethnic minorities

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Qiāng watchtowers of Suopo

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As we stepped carefully across the rotted timber planks of the bridge separating Suopo village from the south side of the Dàdù River the strain and hardship of the past few months began to disassemble. There’d been few opportunities lately to feel as free and unburdened as this: no visas; no language barriers; no early starts; no borders; no rucksacks; no interference – not today.

Prayer flags, nimble and translucent as bat’s wings, threatened to take off in the wind. Gazing at them I was reminded of the weeks we’d spent, four years ago, walking between the villages of the Nubra and Indus valleys in Ladakh, and rejoiced at the persistence of communities, the world over, who live and work in harmony with nature. Continue reading

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12 Principles of Permaculture

Let’s get things straight. ‘Permaculture’ is not gardening. It’s the conscious design of “landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs” (David Holmgren). In short, it’s a design system for creating human settlements that function in harmony with nature.

Now we’ve got that settled, let’s travel in time to Malin Hermitage, Transylvania: home of Philippe, Adriana, 7 donkeys, two dogs and one cat. You’ve arrived in time for the commencement of the 2012 72-hour residential Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), taught by Pascale and a motley crew of 7 facilitators (representing 4 different countries).

Malin Hermitage, Romania

Donkeys!!!

19 students are in the process of arriving. You know no-one. You know nothing, only that you’d like to live closer to nature, developing the skills and habits of mind that will help you materialise an abundant, connected and self-reliant future. Maybe you’re a student, an activist, unemployed, a builder, an engineer, a mother, or a grandfather – perhaps you’re none of these. The point is, you’re here to learn. So let’s get started.

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12 PRINCIPLES OF PERMACULTURE

  1. Observe and Interact
    By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and Store Energy
    By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield
    Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
    We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
    Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce No Waste
    By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design From Patterns to Details
    By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
    By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
    Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and Value Diversity
    Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
    The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change
    We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time. Continue reading

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