Eco-tourism: Creating Change-Agents

Marcus Letts
Wednesday, 28th March 2018

Marcus Letts, co-founder of Brake the Cycle and now based on the Greek Island of Evia, ponders how collaboration and imagination might be the ticket to get us out of the ecological and economic mess we’re in.

When I first set pedal on Evia Island in Greece, over six years ago, I could never have imagined how this part of the world might one day come to redefine my life story.  

Having quit a regular job in London to co-found Brake the Cycle, a low impact adventure travel enterprise, Joe Reid and I were well and truly learning by doing. Saddling up for a savings-depleting and largely improvised overland cycle tour from Camden to Cape Town, we never made it beyond the Middle East. Rather inconveniently our adventure of a lifetime had coincided with the Arab Spring uprising leaving us with no viable cycle path through Syria. Thinking on our feet we survived the European winter by volunteering at Free and Real, a then youthful community project on North Evia in Central Greece. Over the next three months we built a yurt and I fell in love with a young Greek girl, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today I live in an obscure agricultural village with my now wife Emily and our four and one year old boys, Seth and Lucas. Over the years our growing family has become the driving force behind Transform Evia, a collaboratively owned rural regeneration enterprise. At the core of Transform Evia is the question: how might an underdeveloped rural landscape like Evia become a home for a generation of Greek (and European) thinkers and doers dedicated to remaking the world, one small step at a time?

This September Transform Evia is excited to collaborate with Brake the Cycle to host a 10 day tour of Evia’s grassroots community projects, exploring the island’s unique culture and environment in pursuit of this very question.

Transform Evia x Permaculture Design

In these extraordinary times of planetary-scale ecological crisis new cultural stories are needed to make sense of a world that is fast changing. Rapidly induced economic and cultural transformation is a runaway reality that has long dawned on Europe’s increasingly disenfranchised South. In places like rural Greece — where dislocation and collapse has become a vivid, everyday experience — that the old story no longer makes sense is self-evident. We might even say it is being composted.

Meanwhile, Transform Evia is midwifing a series of startup ventures informed by the principles of Permaculture on Evia Island. This summer’s Brake the Cycle ride will run a multi-day tour of the Evia Non-profit Association (ENA), a local solidarity network being co-developed by Origin Club. Origin Club is itself a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme and collaborative trade platform cooperative, which will soon be accelerated by three years of recently approved European R&D funding. Participating projects include Kandili Natural Farm, inspired by the ideas of Fukuoka, Ilias’ Organic Farm, a youthful farming cooperative, and Paliomylos Permaculture Project, which is busy diversifying a 20 acre organic olive grove to polyculture. Throughout the adventure, cyclists will engage with the same Agile Learning Facilitation tools used by Nature Play, a non-formal educational startup based in the region which seeks to help children (and their parents) design and build lifelong learning adventures that are truly wild and free.

And most ambitiously of all, the Bike Tour will offer participants a half day design sprint focused on Elysian Fields; a landscape led event site and eco-resort currently in pipeline development. Behind all of this purpose-driven entrepreneurial activity is the desire to demonstrate a new model for economic and cultural regeneration. Evia is a place of immense natural beauty: a fertile and biodiverse paradise of mountains, beaches and forests that is surprisingly underdeveloped for somewhere only three hours by car from Athens. It is in the spirit of exploration and experiment that we encourage people to come and experience something of our vision and strategy for this people and place unfurl in real time.

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Enter Brake the Cycle

Into this unique local context rides Brake the Cycle, an adventure into new ways of living and a permaculture project in its own right. This summer Joe and his motley crew of intrepid explorers will offer low impact adventure travel which collectively spans 10 European countries and many thousands of miles. This is sustainable short-haul eco-tourism that is plant-powered, accelerated by transformative life coaching and highly recommended by a dynamic and committed alumni. Offsetting flights by planting trees is a bold gesture, an attempt to fully and finally close the loop, because in every other respect this is European-wide cross pollination at its most radical and intentional.

For a one time co-founder like me, it is a wonder to behold the precious baby that is Brake the Cycle grow. Establishing the sustainable business models which help startups like this one thrive is critically important — and full credit to Joe for his clear vision and rugged perseverance over the years. But in truth it is only the beginning of this story. There’s something much more powerful than a business bubbling up here, something which hints at a virility that could spill over into mass social movement building at any moment. Mile by mile, conversation by conversation, young people have taken to the country lanes, actively redefining their hopes and dreams whilst simultaneously re-imaging our rural landscapes through a visceral encounter with them. Surely this is disruptive innovation at its most unlimited and carefree.

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A Greek Island Odyssey

So what happens when you take a wildly ambitious bioregional scale regenerative culture design challenge and spend ten days propelling a team of enthusiastic change-agents through it, encountering inspiring people and projects along the way in a scatter-gun of cross-pollination.

Honestly we have no idea what might happen: and that’s the magic of co-creativity, isn’t it? We simply invite you to come and play with us. To come and explore mountains and beaches, fields and forests, historic villas and epic monasteries. We feel confident this Odyssey tour will have something for everyone, whether you’re an artist or design thinker, an activist or an entrepreneur, a storyteller or a community builder. It is an open and honest call to an epic adventure, for friends old and new, combining half day bike rides with half day self-directed learning experiences embedded within many of the most inspiring grassroots community projects in rural Greece. Of course, it is no understatement to claim that adventures like this one just might change your life for good. Six years in, just look at how my own Evia Island escapade is working itself out. It is surely all the persuasion you could possibly need.

Marcus Letts is a design thinker and event producer from the UK. He lives on the isle of Evia in Greece with his wife Emily and two young boys, Seth and Lucas. Discover more and say hello by visiting his blog at https://medium.com/@marcus_letts

Transform Evia: www.transformevia.com/odyssey
Brake the Cycle tour: www.brakethecycle.xyz/the-greek-odyssey

Useful links

Brake the Cycle: Bilbao to Barcelona

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