Like the golden arches, the green-backed mermaid and the swooping “Just Do It” check, the red and white Coca Cola logo is that ubiquitous symbol of American capitalism that’s near impossible to escape abroad. Flickr user Kurt Schmidt captured today’s Photo of the Day on the Cvjetni Trg in Zagreb, Croatia, achieving the vintage effect with the help of Instagram. He must have read our recent editorial about whether the mobile editing application is bastardizing travel photography, because he apologized for using the filter: “just liked it!” he wrote in the description. But in this photo of such a classic icon, it works.
Plastic water bottles are about to become an endangered species at Grand Canyon National Park. The Park Service has announced that the sale of bottled water in vending machines, shops, and hotels inside the park will be banned early next year, in an effort to cut waste and protect the environment there. But first, park officials must complete an extensive survey of the availability of other water sources and the impact the ban could have on the safety and health of visitors.
The Grand Canyon was first set to implement the ban last year, but Jon Jarvis, the Director of the National Park Service, put a halt to that plan. At the time, Jarvis said that the NPS was working on creating a policy for potential adoption by the entire park system, but his announcement led some to speculate that the Coca Cola Company was exercising its considerable influence. The soft drink maker is a major contributor to the parks, but also sells a lot of bottled water as well.
Undaunted by the change in direction, officials at the Grand Canyon continued to move ahead with their own plans. By strategically placing water bottle refill stations throughout the park, and actively encouraging visitors to bring their own reusable bottles, they hoped to cut back on the use of disposable bottles within the Canyon. As a result of these efforts, park officials feel that they are prepared for the ban to go in effect, although they admit that comprehensive studies have not been done yet to determine the impact of the changes.
The Park Services announcement opens the door for other parks to ban plastic bottles as well, although they will have to undergo a rigorous self-assessment before they do so. Some of the things that will need to be considered include the safety of visitors, ease of access to water, and existing contracts with onsite vendors for selling bottled water.
While it may still be a few years off, we’re looking at the potential for a ban of plastic bottles in all of the national parks down the line. In the long run, that is a very good thing for the environments in those parks, but in the short term, a lot of work will need to be done to prep the parks and educate visitors about bringing their own bottles.
Our driver has a big smile on his face. He points ahead at the landscape which has become increasingly flat in the past hour or so. I follow his finger up to see the road dramatically disappearing into a vast, clear, blue horizon.
After two days and 1,000km, we’ve made it to Madagascar’s southwestern coast – to the small, sleepy town of Toliara.
Within moments of driving into the town, it’s clear that Toliara has little in common with the other places that we’ve been to so far. It’s quiet; there are no taxis jamming the roads or honking their horns. Instead, an abundance of rickshaw drivers stand idly next to empty carts, sweating profusely in the harsh southern sunlight.
As we navigate between dusty paved and unpaved streets, there are signs for both Toliara and Tuléar – which can be confusing for new guests. Although both names are pronounced the same, the official title was changed to Toliara in the 1970’s to better reflect the spelling found in the Malagasy language. The two are basically interchangeable and both are found on maps and in guidebooks.
Much to the contrast of Antananarivo or Fianarantsoa, there are no two-story mud, wood and brick homes. The houses are mostly one-room wood structures with palm-thatched roofs, surrounded by tall scraggly sticks, nailed together to form a sturdy fence. There are a few western-style cafés and restaurants along the main streets, but most of the eateries are local Malagasy-rice-and-beans type of places.
Technically, Toliara and the neighboring beach community of Ifaty are considered tourist desinations – but they would be best described as places for a simple, quiet getaway rather than a luxurious, exotic adventure. I can’t imagine it every being overrun by tourist activity, but at the same time it’s apparent that the drop in tourism this year has hurt Toliara’s livelihood.
The people milling about in the streets have darker skin than in the highlands, and faces topped with curly hair. The primary inhabitants are three of Madgascar’s eighteen ethnic groups; the Vezo, Mahafaly, and Antandroy (“People of the thorn bush”).
Of these three groups, the Vezo are the most well-known for their semi-nomadic migratory habits and practices as a fishing population. Using large dugout canoes with sails, they are the only Malagasy ethnicity to survive solely on fishing or other marine products like seaweed farms. They migrate during the long dry seasons and set up camps in family groups – often using the sails and masts from their canoes as shelter.
Surprisingly enough, the Vezo dialect suggests that their ancestry comes from Asia; probably via trade routes from Thailand and Sri Lanka. Just another prime example of Madagascar’s complicated ethnic mélange.
After settling into a modest guesthouse with a nice garden, we head out to the night markets so that the team can generate interest in the LED lamps. The streets are lined with vegetable-covered tarps lit by improvised wicks poking out of the tops of small cans of kerosene. Many of the women who operate these stalls have pulled out micro-finance loans from organizations like CECAM to fund their investment, and rely on a network of personal friends and loyal customers to keep their business afloat.
They are stunned by the lamps and thrilled that they might be able to purchase something that would easily eliminate one of their major daily costs (kerosene).
We drift towards a row of beachfront clubs as darkness settles in and make our way into a place with simple open-air dance floor. There’s a cover charge of 4,000 Ariary ($2 USD) – a trend that seems to be catching on quickly in African clubs where tourists are expected.
Inside, tracks from David Guetta and Bob Sinclar breathe life into dozens of young Malagasy girls in bright dresses and heels. They wait for the prospect of an old, lonely vazaa to dance with, and drink cosmopolitans – giggling with shy glances in our group’s direction. I pass on the dancing for now and lean back in a red plastic Coca-Cola chair to admire the sky.
The stars above are easily visible and comforting to look at from such a remote location. I muse to myself how strange it is to be sitting on the shore of one of the world’s largest islands, listening to a track that I danced to barely a month earlier at Ko Phan Ngan’s full moon party. In some ways it feels a world apart, but at the same time, it’s amazing how un-foreign it actually is. Something I’m sure the nomadic Vezo would agree with.
I soak up the scene around me and begin to look forward to the next few days in Toliara. It’s a perfect place to recoup from the lengthy trek down – before doing the whole thing again in reverse…
Catch the previous articles in the East of Africa series!
Tony Martin, Kelly Ferris, and Antonio Santiago better order a few extra passport pages. Coca-Cola announced earlier today that the trio were the winners of a year-long trip to every country and territory where Coke is sold– 206 in all.
Expedition 206, as the trip is called, will begin from Madrid on January 1, 2010, and will include stops at the World Cup in South Africa and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Martin, Ferris, and Santiago will promote Coke’s “Open Happiness” campaign by documenting and sharing scenes of happiness from their travels.
“It’s an ambitious task,” says Kelly Ferris, a 23-year-old student from Brussels, “but I can’t think of a better way to spend a year than exploring what makes people happy.”
I spoke with the three winners this morning shortly after it was announced that their team had prevailed in the contest’s online voting. They discussed how they learned about and eventually won the contest, where they’re most (and least) looking forward to going, and whether 206 countries in 365 days is way too much.
You can follow the entire expedition, through the team’s photos, videos, and blog posts, at Expedition206.com.
A map of the expedition’s planned route is below the fold…
This week, Northwest employees will get some new threads. Delta has announced that the vanquished will don the mother ship’s uniforms this week, calling it “one of the first outwardly visible signs that the two airlines are now one.” More important than the employees’ new sartorial splendor, free snacks are coming back to all flights!
But, one important question remains: Coke or Pepsi? Delta and Coca-Cola, both Atlanta-based, have had a near-marriage for more than 75 years. So, does Delta want some strange, or will it honor its long-term commitment? Northwest currently serves Pepsi products on its flights.
According to a Delta mouthpiece, it could take a while to come to a landing on the “beverage strategy.” So, for now: same duds, different suds.