At the end of August I was in a random little village in the Lika district in Middle Croatia. I meant to just pass through, but it was raining and my sleeping bag was already wet from the previous night's massive thunderstorm, so I checked Warmshowers for help. There happened to be a host just around the corner.
That moment - checking my phone while sheltering from the rain outside a closed post office - seems to have become quite a fork in my journey.
Within minutes I met with a young girl called Lana and stayed at her home with her wonderfully warm and welcoming family. She had her own little hut and garden, and taught me about this concept called permaculture. Some people have summed it up by calling it Applied Ecology. The words come from “permanent agriculture”. As in agriculture that doesn’t destroy topsoil at an alarming rate, nor require constant watering, fertilising, fossil fuels and pesticides. Working with nature instead of fighting against it.
But it goes beyond growing food, encompassing rainwater collecting, renewable energy sources, natural building materials, even approaching a zero waste lifestyle and off-grid living, among other things. In essence, it’s an answer to the elephant in the room question: Yes, climate change is coming, but what to do about it?
I think about that question a lot. I’ve even written (and soon deleted) long blog rants about the issue. Sometimes I’m almost depressed about the world’s obsession with consumption and destruction. In too many places I’ve witnessed the effects of mass tourism and the way it ravages the original underlying beauty it seeks. Yet no single drop of water feels responsible for the flood. Even my own rationale for what I do has been a naive and vague hope that my photos might somehow inspire people to protect the nature they portray. That’s probably not true, however. Honestly, the real consequence is likely to be merely an increase in wanderlust and yet more tourism.
So as I learned about permaculture, everything just clicked. My blurry idea of maybe some day retiring by a lake and a forest in a little hut, perhaps growing some vegetables, suddenly turned into a clear picture and a plan. Something I could start creating now instead of decades later. It all seemed to fall in place. It may not be THE answer to the world’s problems, but it feels like the answer for me. I did a lot of research on the topic while making my way south through Croatia.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina I had a chance to visit another permaculture farm, run by a guy called Bambi. He, too, was on Warmshowers, happily hosting any bicycle tourer who happened to be passing through. I stayed for a week, sometimes alone with his cute kitten, sometimes with up to ten other bike travellers camping in the yard. When I wasn’t doing research, I was sharing stories of life on the saddle. Most other visitors were in the earlier stages of their journeys, happy and excited. I was the only one who didn’t feel like continuing.
15 people from all over Europe, with a couple from South America and Asia came and went. I watched as each of them rode away after a night or two. Usually it’s me who's pedalling away and disappearing behind a corner. The briefness of these meetings is much easier to deal with when I’m the one on the bike heading towards new experiences. This time I felt a pang of sadness while watching people leave.
Still, the thought of joining them never occurred. It was at Bambi's farm where I published my last blog post. Only a couple days later coming to a realisation that there was no need to wait around a few weeks to see if my feelings would change. I booked a ticket home.
I carry a notebook where I jot down ideas and thoughts about permaculture. On its cover is conveniently printed “Stop dreaming, start doing”.
That’s the principle to follow. I need a break from the bike trip, and now I know exactly what to do during that break.