By Paula Cochran
Everything she owns fit in a backpack: Three pants, five shirts, two jackets, two pair of socks, two pair of shoes, enough underwear for a week and a hat. When night falls she can be found sleeping on the Earth under the cover of a hand-made shelter.
Yet her tale is not one of woe. She has not lost all she owns to a natural or manmade disaster. Limiting her belongings to what fits in a backpack and sleeping upon the Earth is a conscious choice, one that intimately connects her to the ecology of whatever location she is in.
There was a time when Joanna Castro lived the American Dream: a master’s degree, a good job, a choice property and a dog.
Despite the influence of growing up in a “back to the land” household and her desire to live an eco-friendly life, she felt “like a parasite on the Earth, always taking and taking.” Ms. Castro said, “I was surrounded by the influence of American culture,” a culture too often consumed with work, money, consumption and waste.
In her search for something more she left her home in Beaver Springs to embark on a trip around the world to explore other ways of approaching life.
Funded by her savings, the trip has taken her to Hawaii, England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Dominican and Guatemala. In each location she worked on an organic farm or sustainable community in exchange for room and board and immersed herself in the local cultural and ecological community.
All of the locations offered experience and education in eco-friendly living, peaceful resolution and “each destination has been a unique experience and I have gained something different from each of them.” Ms. Castro said.
Her original goals for the trip were “to free myself from the cultural conditioning about what I can and cannot do with my life, to give people of these cultures experience with a US citizen who believes in equanimity and peace, and to learn about a diversity of approaches to social and practical applications to sustainability,” Ms. Castro said.
In the end she found “that there is another reality from the work-a-day-plan-for-retirement-prove-your-worth reality that I have been socialized to believe.”
Each location offered Ms. Castro a personal lesson. “In Hawaii I found that I could grow by being very clear to my heart about what I wanted to learn. In New Zealand I learned that community is an excellent place to get immediate feedback about my behavior and how it affects others. In Australia I remembered that I am but a part of all of nature and that living apart from it takes me out of harmony with it.”
As she continues her journey she “envisions deepening my relationship with my environment and living more harmoniously with my ecology.” That journey will continue here in the United States.
This time Ms. Castro will not be traveling alone. She will be joined by Paul Blake, an eco partner she met in New Zealand. Together they will visit the Carolinas, Tennessee, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Along the way they will be sustained by eating only local organic raw food in season and drinking from the purest water sources they can find. They plan to walk barefoot on the land, and sleep in primitive structures the two will build for shelter and then tear down, returning them to the Earth.
The trip is continuing as a “sabbatical to connecting with ecology and immerse ourselves in our natural surroundings,” Ms. Castro said.
Ms. Castro sums up her newly-found discoveries: “This way of living allows me to establish a more symbiotic relationship with people, animals, plants and the Earth.”
Ms. Castro has been willing to give up a lot. She sold her final 2 possessions, a laptop computer and digital camera. She feels guilty owning devices which in their creation and use harm the Earth. The sale of them causes more guilt: “I have accepted that by selling them I will reduce the production of two more electronic devices,” Ms. Castro said.
Therefore, the photos accompanying this article are the final photos of Ms. Castro and her travels as she is now living “photo free.”
After their trip across the US, Ms. Castro and Mr. Blake plan to return to the tropics and continue their travels by sailboat, “a more Earth-friendly way of travel than a car or plane,” Ms. Castro added.
She no longer feels like a parasite on the Earth. She has learned that following her heart and being aware of her relationship to the Earth makes her happy, “and when we’re happy, we spread happiness,” Ms. Castro said. “I have found that, for me, the only way to create sustainability with personal integrity is to reduce my impact on the Earth.”
For more information, read Ms. Castro’s eco-travel blog. http://joannasecotravels.wordpress.com/