Sustainable Village Highlight: San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala

Hi, there! I’m Mari Gray, founder of artisan-made brand Kakaw Designs, based in Guatemala. After studying International Relations and Spanish at UC Davis and then working for several non-profits in Latin America, I became disillusioned and decided to focus on sustainable development through a social enterprise, partnering with talented artisan communities in Guatemala.

I feel incredibly fortunate to work with different artisan groups in Guatemala through Kakaw Designs (pronounced <kekao> like the cacao tree), an artisan-made brand I started about four years ago.  We currently work with several different artisan groups: two weaving, one embroidery, two teams of leathersmiths, and one silversmith; all to make our designs come to life.  But it was for a good reason that we started with the weaving cooperative Corazón del Lago in San Juan la Laguna, at Lake Atitlán.

Kakaw Designs Alliance logo

We would never have been able to launch Kakaw Designs without this group of forward-thinking, professional weavers from this small Maya village.  The community itself is exceptional, with sustainability clearly a focus through:

  • Use of natural dyes in textile production, also using local traditional techniques such as backstrap weaving and ikat designs  <<Learn more by watching our video>>
  • Organization of weavers in cooperatives or associations, where women work together and can therefore take larger orders and offer quality control
  • Up-and-coming development of community ecotourism, especially birding

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Italian Curiosities In Lovely Cabinets


The Biblioteca Angelica in Rome holds the first volume of Cicero’s “De Oratore” that was printed in Italy, in 1465, and a precious early edition of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Credit Susan Wright for The New York Times

Odyssey’s Everlasting Allure

Illustration by Golden Cosmos

The title had me at Father, and again at Odyssey (Final, not so much). My first encounter with Homer was in an advanced literature course in my last year of high school. As a father now, with a son who found his way back home to another Ithaca, after his own odyssey, I could not resist jumping right into this story. But half way through, I stopped reading it. I will not say why I stopped, but I mentioned it to Amie, who I consult on matters of an aesthetic nature, especially when they intersect with matters of a familial nature, and she had already read it to the end. She said it was important to read it all the way through. I now understand why, and must recommend the same now, whether or not you have read the Odyssey:


My octogenarian dad wanted to study Homer’s epic and learn its lessons about life’s journeys. First he took my class. Then we sailed for Ithaca. Continue reading

A Sensory Experience of South India, through words and photographs

Myself and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale volunteers of The Pepper House.

Myself and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale volunteers of The Pepper House.

I often struggle to formulate the words to describe transformative experiences. But now, looking at the film I developed from my month in India, waves of nostalgia and inspiration flutter to me. This post is the India I felt, saw, and loved for 30 days.

I have been fascinated by India since I was four years old, when my preschool teacher brought Sri Lankan rice and curry to class. The sensation of spicy food and description of spice plantations soaked deeply into my curious brain. Throughout my childhood I researched India, and fell even deeper in love, imagining my own body amidst the color and chaos. It was not until I arrived in college (this year), that I would have sufficient time for my first trip to India.

Though I studied Indian culture before arriving, no amount of reading or advice could have prepare me for what I would experience. Continue reading

I Hope To See You At Chan Chich Lodge

CCLWalk.jpgYesterday in these pages we welcomed you to visit the new website for and the actual place, Chan Chich Lodge. It bears repeating. This time by me personally. Please come here.

The snapshot to the right, taken on my phone just minutes ago on my morning walk, says the same. If you combine it with the last time I was walking these paths, you will see one more reason why I walk every morning.

I walk the roads and paths at Chan Chich every morning with the hope of seeing wildlife, and knowing that breathing the air here is better than doing so almost anywhere else on the planet. It is pure.

Between the puma-sighting snapshot and now I was in India. I have just arrived to Belize again and expect to be here for some time. I did not see any big cats this morning, but the birdlife is as abundant as ever, and their song just now provides very good cheer. If you need more information on why to come to Chan Chich, or how, or when, just let me know.

Mobitecture, The Wonders Of Mobile Architecture


The Starlight Room – Raniero Campigotto

Thanks to Phaidon for its always-interesting new books for coffee table-pondering:


Adaptable, intelligently put together, responsive to local conditions and able and willing to travel almost anywhere with ease – but enough about you, we’re here to tell you about mobitecture. What’s mobitecture we hear you ask? Well it’s mobile architecture and Mobitecture is the name we’ve smartly bestowed on it in our latest book.

Mobitecture looks at 250 examples of mobile architecture from around the world that enable the almost universal dream of upping sticks, moving somewhere and changing the way your world looks. The structures in it  roll, inflate, unfold, flat-pack or pop-up, slide on sleds and float across water in a book that brings together a spectacular collection of structures in which to revel, live, work, pause – or just simply escape.  Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In Shoreditch

strutAfter reading this, we had to at least visit the website:

Our journey began with a PASSION FOR HEALTHY EATING instilled by our Eastern Mediterranean heritage. As the family grew, home cooking revolved around grilling and roasting ingredients that are full of goodness, avoiding deep frying or saturated fats.

strut3And on closer look at Strut & Cluck, we are determined to visit the place itself, when we next get the chance:

The mum and family chef, Limor, started experimenting with turkey as a healthy alternative to chicken and a great source of lean protein. She quickly discovered the VERSATILITY AND FLAVOUR OF THIS SUPERFOOD. To achieve its distinctive flavour and fall-off-the-bone tenderness, the meat is marinated for 24 hours, then slow-cooked with our herb & spice blend. Continue reading

The Gulf Of California In Front Of Villa Del Faro


Seth sent a snapshot he quickly took on his phone yesterday late morning at Villa del Faro. He had already told me the day before that they were seeing whales in the same vicinity of where the boats are in this photo, but he had not had his phone handy to snap a picture. So this would have to do. It looked as though a regatta was passing by. Continue reading

Villa Del Faro Morning Walk

vdfwalk1This post from yesterday reminds me of an early morning walk I took a few days ago with Seth and Jocelyn, when these two donkeys came wandering down the road. One seemed determined to get his head and shoulders portrait in the best possible light.

So I indulged him, and both seemed happy with a bit of nose-petting. No carrots, but never mind. When we continued our walk they started to follow, but then, nope. They wandered off in the opposite direction.

vdfwalk2Donkeys do that. A walk at dawn is the best way to know a place–at its quietest, and as per donkey logic, in the best possible light. I had arrived at Villa del Faro after a visit at Chan Chich Lodge, where dawn greets you with howler monkeys howling, and on a walk you will definitely hear a symphony of birdsong. At Villa del Faro you will hear birdsong, but different; at most it will be chamber music, more likely solos and duets. Continue reading

A Place To Reflect, To Reconnect, To Recharge


This past week I have been at Villa del Faro with Seth and Jocelyn, reviewing plans for 2017. It was a week in which the thought came to us: people need time to reflect (among other important things). I took this photo of the Stone Beach Cottage at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday and I can visualize many friends, colleagues, and plenty of as yet unknown folks who would benefit from some reflection time there. Continue reading

From Recent Chan Chich Lodge Guests


When this family told me about their encounter with a troupe of monkeys I had not yet seen these photographs, which they shared as they were preparing to depart Chan Chich Lodge. Looking at the photos now I understand why they were so thrilled by the wilderness setting. The first one I saw, above, was just a blur so I skipped it, but when I came back to it I realized this was what the son in the family had most loved–the exploration, the search to see his first animal in the wild. Continue reading

Chan Chich Lodge, According To Fodor’s

fodors-belizeA guest recently left a copy of this guidebook and I just picked it up. After my puma sitings yesterday and today, I am not surprised to read what one of the most respected travel guides has to say about Chan Chich Lodge:

Arguably the best lodge in Belize and one of the top lodges in all of Central America, Chan Chich is set in a remote, beautiful area … with 12 rustic yet comfortable cabañas. Just outside your door you’re likely to encounter legions of tropical birds and wild animals, even jaguars Continue reading

National Park of the Week: Isalo National Park, Madagascar


Photo via

With its multitude of intersecting rivers within deep canyons, yellow savannah grasses carpeting the bottoms of vertical gorges, and domineering sculpted buttes, Isalo National Park is an artist’s canvas of a desert canyon. Jocularly called “Madagascar’s Colorado,” Isalo was founded in 1962 and is located in the southern highlands of the island. The park covers an area of 800 sq km and offers prime hiking opportunities among natural pools and uniquely carved landscapes. Continue reading

Traditions Taken Beyond The Limit Of Logic


The annual harvest of the sangiovese grapes at the tiny Colombaia winery outside Siena. Credit Susan Wright for The New York Times

This story touches on many of our favorite themes, so thanks to Mr. Pergament for telling it well (click the image above to go to the original, at the New York Times website):


It was a hot, late summer evening in Tuscan wine country — and, unexpectedly, I was getting a lesson in astrology.

Inside a grid of cool, lush green vines, amid hills and valleys rippling toward the horizon, a cherubic woman in a wide straw hat named Helena Variara was pointing toward the sky.

“You have days of fire, air and days of earth — the 12 constellations are our helpers,” she said matter-of-factly. “Our work is to enter the rhythm of the planets.” Continue reading

National Park of the Week: Ras Mohammad National Park, Egypt


Overlooking the Gulf of Suez on the west and the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, Ras Mohammad National Park  in Egypt lies at the southern extreme of the Sinai Peninsula and offers waters that are considered to be the jewel in the crown of the Red Sea. The coastline, characterized by vertical overhangs at least 100m deep,  is surrounded by fringing coral reefs that emerged after a change in the coastline 70,000 years ago. Due to its location at the juncture of the two gulfs, the combining waters of varying salinity has lead to a magnificent array of reef and pelagic fish, diverse coral reef and luxuriant sea walls.

Continue reading

The Journey We Are All Responsible For


28 Millimeters, Women Are Heroes. Action in Phnom Penh, Open Eyes, Cambodge, 2009

A big part of what we do when we are not adding to these pages involves helping people all over the world plan journeys. We want them to stay in places that we have developed and/or that we manage because we have worked to reduce our contribution to negative anthropocentric travel impacts. There are positive impacts also, of course, including resources flowing to places where they are needed for human development, which in turn increases the likelihood of conservation efforts succeeding.

I was happy to see this newly revamped online publication back in these pages recently, and today as I went to their website I am even more happy to see this amazing article by a writer who was liberally linked to in our first couple of years on this platform. We have enormous respect for Mr. Revkin’s commitment to many of the same things we work on day in and day out. This is a long article, but worth the time and attention:

An Anthropocene Journey

The word “anthropocene” has become the closest thing there is to common shorthand for this turbulent, momentous, unpredictable, hopeless, hopeful time—duration and scope still unknown

By Andrew C. Revkin
October 2016

My reporting career has taken me from smoldering, fresh-cut roadsides in the Amazon rain forest to the thinning sea ice around the North Pole, from the White House and Vatican to Nairobi’s vast, still-unlit slums. Throughout most of it, I thought I was writing about environmental and social problems and solutions.

Lately I’ve come to realize that my lifelong beat, in essence, has been one species’ growing pains. After tens of thousands of years of scrabbling by, spreading around the planet, and developing tools of increasing sophistication, humans are in surge mode and have only just started to become aware that something profound is going on. The upside has been astounding. Child and maternal mortality rates have plunged. Access to education has soared. Deep poverty is in sharp retreat. Despite the 24/7 distilled drama online and on TV, violence on scales from war to homicide has been in a long decline.

National Park of the Week: Tongariro National Park, New Zealand



New Zealand’s oldest national park and the fourth national park to be created in the world, Tongariro National Park is internationally recognized for its outstanding volcanic features and is historically venerated by the Maori people. The park encircles three volcanoes, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Raupahu and covers almost 80,000 hectares of contrasting terrain. The three volcanoes are active, Raupehu being one of the most active volcanoes in the world, but that does not deter visitors from hiking up to the top and gazing out into the exotic conic formations.

Continue reading

Sharks & Jets


Thursday morning someone among us posted this. I read it and cheered. Getting on a jet plane to escape to nature, which is problematic to begin with, is made ultra-problematic by landing in the vicinity of a biodiversity hotspot and swimming with trapped animals. We are opposed to it, putting it mildly. Get on a jet, immerse in nature, but let sharks be sharks.

Thursday evening Amie and I were dining with friends who we met in Costa Rica when they were on vacation. They have not been to Baja California Sur, and we were encouraging them to go to Villa del Faro with their kids, who love nature. The mom in the family said, half jokingly, that she had been thinking about going to get into one of those shark cages. We all said, polite-laughingly, that we would be there to support her from the shore. We did not feel the need to get serious and educate about why we would not really support her doing this. 12 hours later this video showed up in the Guardian, and I sent the clip to them, adding to the viral status it now has, to point out the coincidental extra humor. Two days later, not so funny:

Shark conservationists fear backlash after viral cage-smashing video

Experts emphasize that the incident, in which a great white broke through a cage holding a diver, was a ‘one in a million occurrence’

in New York

Shark enthusiasts are concerned about the impact of a viral video that showed a great white shark breaking into a cage occupied by a diver in Mexico.

The diver survived, but the harrowing video shed light on a decades-old tourism industry that allows people to be within an arm’s length of great white sharks, separated only by the sea and some metal bars. Continue reading

Bravo, Trip Advisor!


In a world where economics often focus on the concept that “the customer is always right” it’s heartening to see even large companies re-evaluate policy, and make make changes in the face of facts.

Our work in India has often placed us face to face with the common practices of human-animal interaction written about below, and we don’t promote the  “elephant rides” that are often on travelers’ agenda. Change occurs along  with a shift in understanding, and our goal has always been to craft travel experiences that are both authentic and educational.

So “Bravo!” and a hearty welcome to any company willing to join us in achieving that goal!

TripAdvisor Halts Ticket Sales to Cruel Wildlife Attractions


TripAdvisor, the popular travel review website, and its ticket sales company, Viator, said Tuesday they no longer will sell tickets to hundreds of tourist attractions that are widely accepted as cruel to wild animals, reversing a policy under which the companies had resisted considering the welfare of animals when promoting trips.

The move to stop selling tickets to elephant rides, swim-with-dolphin experiences, and attractions that allow visitors to pet tigers and other exotic animals comes after a one-and-a-half-year protest campaign by the London-based animal welfare group World Animal Protection and reporting by National Geographic’s Wildlife Watch, which drew attention to TripAdvisor’s continued promotion of such attractions at a time when dozens of other tour and travel companies were moving away from them.

Such attractions have been shown to cause animals psychological and physical trauma that can shorten their lives. They also result in more animals being taken from the wild for tourism.

Continue reading

New Life For Paper Maps


If you are old enough to remember regularly using postal services, as in letters printed on paper, placed in paper envelopes with stamp(s) affixed, then you can appreciate the assumption that paper maps are on their way out just like old fashioned letter-writing and sending. This article on the BBC website catches our attention for a counter-intuitive finding:

Why Paper Road Maps Won’t Die

In an age of Google Maps and GPS, paper maps sales are on the rebound

How did we manage to get from point A to B before GPS and navigation apps — especially when such journeys were long distances? Continue reading