Monday, October 27, 2008


Deborah has moved to another site!

If you are looking for me - or information about sustainable tourism - go to


Thursday, February 01, 2007


New Alternative Travel Writing Class

I can't believe how long its been since I last posted. It's been so long that the whole blog system I'm on had completely updated. I was still on the old. So now I'm up to date again! I'm teaching a class at the Loft this spring. Here's the information: (The Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, MN)

Alternative Travel Writing
Instructor: Deborah McLaren
Class: M49-2, 6 Week Class, Winter/Spring 2007
Date(s): Tuesdays, March 13 – April 17
Time(s): 9:30 – 11:30 am
Location: Open Book

Learn what it takes to be an alternative travel writer, from pre-trip research and note taking to selective observation. Discuss story ideas; create structure for your story; and turn recollections into a draft travel piece. Be prepared to write in class: choose a past trip or a familiar travel destination for your topic; bring notes, travel guidebooks, photos, postcards, journals, promotion material, clippings, and any other source materials. Be prepared to discuss ethics in travel writing as well as various forms of “alternative travel,” such as ecotourism, voluntourism, cross-cultural exchanges, off the beaten path. The class is fast paced: lots of reporting, writing, rewriting, and firsthand experience, and then writing about it. Each student can expect to produce at least one draft by the course’s end.
The following scholarships are available for this course: Full, Partial

Deborah McLaren has more than fifteen years of experience writing about alternative travel. Her book Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel (Kumarian Press, 2nd ed. 2004) is a best-seller in its genre. Deborah is a contributing writer and editor of Transitions Abroad magazine. In addition to writing, Deborah has worked in community tourism development with Indigenous peoples from the Amazon to the Arctic, and as a consultant to UN programs in Bhutan and northern India. She has just completed a series of articles about community recovery after the 2004 tsunami in southern India.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


An Elephant Escape: South India Deborah McLaren

Transitions Abroad Magazine November/December 2006 Vol. XXX, NO.3

An Elephant Escape: South India Deborah McLaren

My son, Anil, is originally from India so going back to visit there is a fun priority for our family. One of his dreams has been to learn about and ride on an elephant, so we decided to do just that! Through recommendations, the internet, and ecotravel lists, we discovered Dubare Elephant Camp (part of Jungle Lodges, an Indian government-private partnership that runs a series of wildlife camps), as well as the privately run Elephant Valley Eco-Farm.

From Mysore, in Karnataka, we drove northwest to the Cauvary River, which was flooded due to the monsoon rains. When we arrived we were directed into a small motor boat which battled the raging, flooded waters to reach the elephant camp on the far shore. The camp itself set up as a free-roaming area for the elephants with separate areas for feeding and training, as well as tourist quarters and a lovely open air restaurant.

Our stone cabin was simple but extremely clean, interestingly decorated, and cozy. The head chef prepared delicious south Indian meals that included rice cakes (iddlys) and curries. We saw one of the fish used for our dinners being hand-delivered from the river to the cookhouse. In the evening, we watched films about elephant ecology, in particular the plight of the elephants at Dubare Elephant Camp. We learned one theory is that these lovely animals may have possibly evolved from whale-like creatures of the ocean.

Traditionally local tribal men were trained as mahouts – elephant handlers or drivers. Normally a mahout starts learning his job as a boy and is assigned a baby elephant to work together throughout their lifetimes. An elephant is considered part of the family, and the role of the family is to pass critical knowledge and skills needed from one generation to the next. The young mahout grows up with his elephant and together they develop a bond based on trust and affection.

Elephants are very social animals, having their own community rules and customs. Their large brains let them record memories and store experiences such as droughts, migration routes, and where the best feeding places are. Elephants are strongly bonded family units and appear to communicate over relatively long distances by means of infrasonic (low frequency) calls that we are not able to hear with our human ears. They have also been venerated in India for hundreds of years and are the carriers of Indra, the King of the Gods. Elephant festivals and ceremonies are common. The annual Ganpathi observance celebrates the elephant-headed God Ganesh and is one of the most important holidays of the year. They serve as the emblem of Buddhism and are prominent in the stories of the Buddha.

In the past elephants were used for primarily for logging the forests, hauling, military work, and in temples. However, elephants are not used much for logging any more. There are dwindling forests to log, along with efforts to protect elephants from work that damages their trunks and tusks. In addition, elephants have been brutally killed for their tusks to the point of becoming an endangered species. The large-scale poaching of elephants for ivory started in earnest in the late seventies and has been an on-going threat ever since. There are still many problems facing these amazing animals, mostly problems brought about by humans.

However, some elephants are enjoying less stressed lives as they have protection as an endangered species and are used more and more in tourism. And the local young men have renewed interest in working with the elephants, reviving the tradition of mahouts.

In the morning the manager of the camp escorted us through the jungle and provided us with details about the wildlife and history of the camp. A highlight was watching the camp men boil and prepared giant grain balls for the elephant’s breakfast. The hungry pachyderms gathered nearby for their early meal. Anil was quite taken by a young elephant that specialized in using his trunk to steal food right out of his elder’s mouths.

After breakfast we enjoyed a short elephant ride and participated in an elephant scrub bath! One of the ways mahouts and elephants enjoy a strong bond is through a daily ritual of bathing which allows the mahout to have an intimate understanding of his elephant and develop a bond of trust and affection that allows him to control the animal with simple verbal commands and touch.

A few days later we traveled to Elephant Valley eco-farm and cabins near Kodaikanal, a hill station in nearby Tamil Nadu. Spread over 100 acres, it is part eco-lodge, part nature reserve and part organic coffee plantation. Our cottage was built with local granite, reclaimed Burma teak and colonial art deco furniture from India. The privately run estate uses solar lights, kerosene lamps, and dry composting toilets. A huge organic garden and coffee estate provides local jobs and makes a contribution to sustainable development in the region.

The staff at Elephant Valley are involved in numerous efforts in vegetable gardening, seed sowing, transplanting, harvesting, composting, earth worm cultivation, eco-sanitation, nutrition, water and soil conservation, forest botany and cultural preservation. They also promote the conservation of genuine traditional varieties of vegetables through their organic farm where all types of fruits, vegetables and spices including coffee are grown by using traditional methods of organic farming. All of the food that is provided to the guests come from the farm and is cooked in traditional local Indian style. It’s one of the few places in India we were able to devour tasty fresh salads without worrying about getting sick. The farm often hosts programs for local schools including the nearby Kodaikanal International School.

Elephant Valley is situated on the edge of the forest and on an ancient elephant migratory route. While we did not see elephants during our three-day stay, we saw visible evidence of them as the estate manager and naturalist taught us how to track them. A path of squashed plants, bent trees, and fresh elephant dung allowed us to follow the tracks of a mother and a young elephant that passed by only a few hundred feet from our cottage.

Anil enjoyed trekking, especially a half-hour walk to the top of a waterfall, the point where the cascade leaps off a precipitous cliff. A longer, two-hour trek took us through jungle and hilltops where we saw Neolithic dolmens, similar to those in Europe. Their usefulness could have been as ancient rock shelters and tables or burial tombs. Placed at intervals close enough to watch people travel from one to another, some scientists argue that they served as a small protective fortress from wild animals for hunters and travelers. We were able to view a lot of wildlife, including a close (enough) encounter with a guar, or wild jungle bison.

Both Dubare Elephant Camp and Elephant Valley Eco-Farm were great learning experiences and a real treat to stay. We are already looking forward to our next visit and have been seriously inspired to learn more about Asian elephants in the meantime.


Jungle Lodges & Resorts Ltd.
2nd Floor, Shrungar Shopping Centre M.G. Road
Bangalore - 560 001, Karnataka INDIA
Lodges and Resorts was envisaged in 1980 and has since won rare accolades including the Government of India Award for Excellence for eco-friendly tourism, including several wildlife areas and various levels of accommodation (some are world class).

Elephant Valley Eco-Resort
Ganesh Puram, Vilpatti, Kumpoor Vayal (po),
Kodaikanal, 624 104 Tamilnadu, South India
Phone +91-454-2-230-399

Eco-Friendly Places to stay in India
A travel company that helps people get acquainted with beautiful places that are worth saving, and contributing part of the revenues towards their preservation.

Sanctuary Magazine
145/146, Pragati Industrial Estate,
N.M. Joshi Marg, Lower Parel,
Mumbai – 400 011 INDIA
Tel. (91-22) 2301 6848 or 2301 6849
A good magazine resource for India’s wildlife. Also publishes a kid’s online magazine /

Wild Lands Elephant Corridor Project
Wildlife Trust of India
A-220, New Friends Colony, New Delhi - 110 065 INDIA
Phone : +91(011) 2632-6025 / 2632-6026
The World Land Trust is working with the Wildlife Trust of India to create a network of forest corridors to enable the Indian elephants to move safely between protected areas to avoid human-elephant conflict and protect critical elephant habitat. This project benefits not only the wildlife but also villagers close to the corridors by reducing conflict through the creation of the corridors and by providing the financial capability and expertise to create alternative livelihoods to the ‘slash-and burn’ agriculture which has led to the rapid depletion of the natural forests.


Tribes Travel: Boycott of Legacy Hotels


29 November 2006

Tribes demands that Legacy Hotels Group stops their planned huge
tourism development in a World Heritage Site next to Victoria Falls
in Zambia

Tribes, the Fair Trade TravelTM company, announced today, 29 November
2006, that it will boycott use of Legacy Hotels Group of South Africa
due to their appalling planned development in World Heritage Site of
Mosi-oa Tunya National Park in Zambia, which includes the Victoria

Whilst the Zambian government have given Legacy a tourism concession
here, UNESCO has told the hotel group that their planned development
of a massive 18-hole golf estate including two hotels, 500 chalets
and a country club would be "irresponsible" and that they would mount
a worldwide campaign to discourage tourists from visiting the area.
Legacy themselves have apparently admitted that the development will
cause "irreversible ecological damage".

Mosi-oa Tunya National Park is one of Zambia's greatest natural
assets. It includes Victoria Falls – one of the seven natural wonders
of the world - as well as a fragile and hugely important area of
riverine rainforest, woodland and grassed areas, plus a section of
the Zambezi River from 5km below and 35km above the Falls. There are
about 400 bird species in the National Park and 30 species of large
mammal. It is environmentally and scientifically extremely important.

Tribes is a specialist UK tour operator which works on Fair Trade and
responsible travel principles. The company offers tailor made
holidays to Africa (including Zambia and South Africa), South America
and parts of Asia. They were the Global Winners of the Responsible
Travel Awards in 2005 and the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in 2002.

Legacy Hotel Group is a South African company with a portfolio of
luxury hotels, resorts and bush lodges in various countries including
South Africa, Namibia, and Tanzania. Their flagship hotel, the
Michaelangelo is recognised as one of the Leading Hotels of the

Director of Tribes, Amanda Marks, said: "We think that a campaign to
stop this development should begin BEFORE it gets underway, and the
prime elephant habitat on the banks of the Zambezi is bulldozed ready
for such a travesty".

She continued, "We very much hope that Legacy will think again about
their plans here, and make the right decision based on ethics and
preservation of a World Heritage Site, rather than simply on money.
Certainly it would be good for Zambia to have the income and jobs
which such a development would bring, but does it really need to be
IN Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park?"


Notes to Editors:
1. Tribes was founded in 1998 by Amanda and Guy Marks.

2. For more detailed information, contact Amanda Marks on or call 01728 685971

3. Other travel companies in the UK currently backing the proposed
boycott of Legacy Hotels are:

Expert Africa; Rainbow Tours; Dragoman; Okavango Tours & Safaris;
Aardvark Safaris, Wildlife Worldwide

This list is increasing daily.

12 The Business Centre, Earl Soham, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP14 7SA.
Tel: 01728 685971

**Overall Winner of the 2005 First Choice Responsible Tourism
Global Winner of the 2002 British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards

Thursday, October 12, 2006


To teach an alternative travel writers class at The Loft

Recieved confirmation this morning from the Loft in Minneapolis ( that my alternative travel writing class proposal was accepted and I'm scheduled to teach next spring.

Tuesdays, March 13-April 17 from 9:30-11:30 am

Here's an overview of the class. Please help me spread the word!

Overview: Alternative Travel Writing with Deborah McLaren

Learn what it takes to be an alternative travel writer, from pre-trip research and note taking to selective observation. Discuss story ideas; create structure for your story; and turn recollections into a draft travel piece. Be prepared to write in class: choose a past trip or a familiar travel destination for your topic; bring notes, travel guidebooks, photos, postcards, journals, promotion material, clippings, and any other source materials. Be prepared to discuss ethics in travel writing as well as various forms of “alternative travel,” such as ecotourism, voluntourism, cross-cultural exchanges, off-the-beaten path. The program is fast paced: lots of reporting, writing, rewriting, and first-hand experience, and then writing about it. Each student is expected to produce at least one draft by the course’s end.

Through readings, written assignments and individual critiques, students will gain a practical grasp of these techniques.

Alternative travel writers introduce readers to places where they can experience something that is not mass-marketed and often promotes locally grown food and products, activities such as hiking and biking, birding, art events, touring farms and wineries, etc. What types of corresponding photographs or artwork, such as maps, can help promote your piece?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006



So I started this blog in June before I left to travel India with my son. My last blog was on June 8th!!!!! Its been a long, strange trip. And India was FABULOUS. Especially meeting the fisherpeople in the coastal villages of Tamil Nadu. They are recovering slowly from the Dec 04 tsunami. Some interesting, magical things have happened there because of the tsunami. I'll try to write about that soon.

As a newbie blogger, I should be in serious detention. Luckily there is no one to put me in detention and I basically just feel sheepish. Any advice to help get me blogging on a more regular basis would be great. In India I just never seemed to have the time when I had access to the internet.

Well, let's see if I can turn a page (take a different route?) here.

Tomorrow (Oct 12) is the Minnesota Magazine Celebration at the Loft in Minneapolis - check it out at I'm looking forward to that - to meet other writers, editors and publishers and to network with writers about some of the magazines I'm associated with - especially Transitions Abroad and Tika for Children

I hope to go through all of my emails and look up some of the most promising sutainable travel information I've recieved to post and discuss. It would be great fun to round up my local colleagues and organize a travel talk night in the Twin Cities this fall.


Happy Trails,

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Looking for Amsterdam green info

Please respond/post if you have ideas about sustainable travel in the Netherlands, particularly around Amsterdam.


“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” -- Maya Angelou

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Minnesota farm tours - yummy stuff!


Dave and Florence Minar will host an open house at their Cedar Summit farm near New Prague, MN. Cedar Summit is a grass-based organic dairy farm which processes milk, yogurt, cream and ice cream right on the farm. For details, including a map you can download, see, or call 952-758-6886.
Date: June 17, 2006

Cedar Summit is the best dang milk in the world. It's made the old fashion way with healthy cows and cream on the top when you open the bottle. It's amazingly yummy! I'll be in India so I'll have to look for another Cedar Summit Open House in the fall. It's exciting to get SFA's newsletter because its loaded with information about green tours, healthy foods, family farms, and sustainability - and it reminds me how lucky I am to live here in Minnesota! Here are some more local tours here in Minnesota. - Deborah

A Farm Beginnings public tour of a dairy grazing operation near Canton, MN. For the skinny, contact Karen Stettler in LSP's Lewiston office at 507-523-3366 or
Date: June 3, 2006

The annual Southeast Minnesota Sustainable Garden Tour and Supper will be held in the gardens of Barb and Martin Nelson of rural Winona. For details, contact Karen Benson in LSP's Lewiston office at 507-523-3366 or
Date: June 3, 2006

Co-sponored by Wright County Extension and Minnesota Dairy Initiative. A tour of this organic goat dairy operation, followed by and Ice Cream. Social! $5.00 individual, $10 per family Contact: Brenda Postels, 763-682-7381
Location: Donnay Dairy Farm, Kimball, MN
Time: 9:00am - 12:00pm
Date: June 3, 2006

For more info contact:

Anne Borgendale
Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
Communications Consultant
(320) 226-6318

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