Sunday, January 20, 2008

Feeling virtuous on vacation

Maho Bay Camps on St John (one of the US Virgin Islands) is an "Eco-Resort." We stayed there last week, and mostly had a fantastic time. Highlights were:

Watching two big iguanas crawl around in the trees above our tent cabin.

Snorkeling and building sand castles on the beach; seeing a sea turtle and a really big (sting? manta?) ray.

Watching glass-blowing after dinner.

No jet-skis, no drunken college students, no people selling drugs or tourist knick-knacks on the beach.

We were itchy from bug-bites, and the beds weren't super comfortable, and the tent cabin felt cramped and small at times, the people who stay and work there are pretty much uniformly white, privileged folk from the US and Europe, and I never did get used to the lack of hot showers, but, overall, it was very nice. We didn't mind carrying our own drinking water, or walking up and down scores of steps to get to the beach, or strolling to the toilet, flashlight in hand in the middle of the night.

While I was there, I kept thinking about the notion of "eco-tourism." Does it really make sense to fly thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars going to an environmentally-more-friendly eco-resort? I haven't bothered to work out how much CO2 our trip there and back released into the atomosphere (6 hours of car/taxi rides, about 9 hours of plane flights, and 2 hours of ferry boat rides), but that part can't have been good for the environment.

Should I feel virtuous because we took cold showers and stayed in tents with hermit crabs, geckos, chickens and iguanas living under them?

Or should I feel guilty for spending money on a vacation instead of donating it to a charity dedicated to saving the environment?

Perhaps the starkest example of the contradictions inherent in the Maho Bay style of "eco-tourism" was one night at dinner, where one of the main dishes was Prince Edward Island mussels. We went all the way from Massachusetts to the Virgin Islands to eat mussels from Canada????

Hmm. I've been thinking a lot lately about luxury versus charity; how do we figure out what luxuries we "deserve," or how do we figure out what luxuries we should sacrifice to help make the world a better place?

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