Writing and Adventuring in the Amazon and Machu Picchu!

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From the depths of the Amazon to the heights of Machu Picchu, join me on a life-changing adventure open to writers of all levels. We will begin our days with movement, meditation, writing and discussion. The afternoons and evening will be your own for more writing, adventure, rejuvenation or whatever your heart desires. The sublime power of nature provides the perfect setting to hear your own “writer’s” voice. The quiet of informal meditation will fire your imagination.

This workshop is designed to be a catalyst for beginners to commit more fully to writing and for experienced writers to begin or complete a project. The group will provide a collective support and each writer’s personal “blocks” will be addressed. Simple exercises will help take your writing to a new level.

The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and we will be staying in a hotspot of biodiversity in the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon. We will then travel to the heights of Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas.”

The workshop is sponsored by The Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (www.aceer.org). Contact Winden Rowe for more information: Winden@aceerfoundation.org. The cost of the workshop is $3,050. (This fee does not include airfare to and from Lima, Peru.)

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Say “No” to Dirty Gold

I read a report on The Guardian website this morning about illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon (http://ow.ly/oHQ1E) and how the toxic waste (mainly mercury) from the process is adversely affecting the local communities in the southern Peruvian Amazon as well as contributing to deforestation.  It is disturbing to say the least.

If you buy gold jewelry or invest in gold, you might be inadvertently contributing to the problem. Here’s some information about gold mining and more importantly, some clear suggestions on how you can avoid adding to the problem. You can say “No” to dirty gold through simple actions…


Gold mining in the tropics is a dirty business all the way around. It’s dangerous to workers, the environment and the local communities. The gold ring you may have on your finger or the gold chain that may be around your neck or the gold investments that may be in your financial portfolio is, in part, fueling rainforest destruction and human-rights abuses in tropical regions around the globe.

Gold mining has the distinction of being one of the most destructive industries in the world. The production of just one gold wedding band generates 20 tons of mine waste, according to Earthworks, an organization that runs the “No Dirty Gold” campaign against irresponsible gold mining!! Gold mining is particularly destructive in tropical areas such as Ghana, the Amazon, the Philippines, West Papua and Papua New Guinea, where both large- and small-scale mining outfits have cleared extensive amounts of vegetation and forest to access minerals below. The large mines require roads and open up more isolated areas to settlers and small-scale miners, who further destroy the rainforest with destructive activities and who sometimes spread disease to indigenous populations, where they still exist.

But perhaps even more destructive is the release of toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide, used in the process of gold extraction, into the environment. Small-scale miners, in particular, tend not to dispose of mercury properly, putting themselves, others and delicate tropical ecosystems at risk. This type of artisanal gold mining dumps more than 30 tons of the toxic metal in rivers and lakes in the Amazon region every year.

When mercury gets into the ecosystem, it becomes methylmercury andbio-accumulates up the food chain. When methylmercury gets into the human body, it can create a neurotoxin that causes birth defects and abnormal child development.

One particular tribe in the Amazon, the Yanomami, has been seriously affected by gold mining activities on its territory. “The Yanomami have had increased child mortality rates while their birth rates have declined, putting their very existence into risk,” an online resources reports on the issue.

In 2012, the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecoystem Project (CAMEP), a scientific research effort that brings together 8 Peruvian universities and NGOs with scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science,  focused on the pressing problem of mercury in Peru’s Madre de Dios region in the southern Amazon. Their study examined hair samples of 1,030 people in 25 communities across Madre de Dios. The study found that native communities had levels of mercury roughly five times that considered safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whereas people in urban areas had double the safe limit. The mercury contamination is believed to come from the diet of contaminated fish. The study’s leader, Luis E. Fernandez, told The Guardian, “Native communities rely almost exclusively on fish caught in the rivers and lakes as their primary protein source.”

Larger, open-pit mines in the tropics run by corporations do not have a good environmental track record either. Bellavista, an open-pit mine in Costa Rica, was suspended in 2007 due to ruptures in its leach pad lining releasing cyanide and other contaminants into the environment. A 1995 Guyana spill of waste holdings made international headlines when more than one billion gallons of cyanide-laced wastewater was released into a tributary of the Essequibo. It caused widespread die-offs of aquatic and land plant and animal life as well as contamination of drinking water for thousands of people.

Gold mining operations large and small also produces tons of sediment that devastates aquatic environments and wildlife. Sometimes the sediment can be the biggest problem of all.

Even worse are the human-rights violations that surround gold mining. In 1992, the Yanomami territory was finally recognized and protected by the Brazilian government’s creation of a federal indigenous reserve. However, in July 1993, a group of irate gold miners, furious that the reserve prohibited them from mining in certain areas, set out to exterminate an entire village of Yanomami, killing at least 16, in what some call genocide.

There are numerous reports of slave labor in small-scale mining operations. In The Slave Next Door, the authors. Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter, report that men and boys mine gold in Ghana and other tropical countries under terrible conditions and are exposed to danger in the mining shafts and suffer from mercury. “Enslaved men, women and children mine gold in Brazil, the Philippines and Peru,” they write. “The Amazonian miners work in terrible conditions with no pay and there is no way out for them,” Bales and Soodalter report.


Now if we could say don’t buy gold mined from these areas, we would. But with gold mining, it’s more complicated. Gold is mined in more than 60 countries, including, as we mentioned, many countries in the tropics. Yet unlike other commodities, gold has no traceability. The industry that supplies gold to retailers is widely dispersed, with many refineries purchasing the metal from mines around the world—often melting the different sources together before shipping it off to manufacturers or banks. Dr. Assheton Carter, Director of Energy and Mining at Conservation International, said, “You don’t know if your gold comes from a responsible company like Rio Tinto or Newmont, or from a child laborer in Sierra Leone,” in a 2009 CNN report.


So when you go to your local jeweler and purchase a piece made of gold, you are likely propagating this cycle of destruction to rainforests and those who live there.




To ensure you are not harming rainforests when you buy gold, follow these suggestions:

•           Buy recycled gold jewelry.

•           Buy vintage jewelry. If you type the words “vintage jewelry” into any online search engine, you’ll find dozens of results.

•           Purchase sustainably sourced gold from retailers such as Tiffany & Co. (www.tiffany.com). Tiffany & Co. was the first retailer to work with Earthworks’ No Dirty Gold campaign. Or for more casual jewelry, check out the Love Earth collection available from Walmart and Sam’s Club (www.loveearthinfo.com), where you can actually trace the origin of your jewelry! Both companies source their sustainable gold from the same U.S. mine, which goes to great lengths to minimize its impact on the environment. No rainforests are harmed when you buy their sustainably sourced gold.


Many people invest in gold at times of of economic uncertainty and inflation. Talk to your financial advisor to find better investment alternatives to gold that are non-destructive to the environment and communities, but still provide stability and safety. Research, investigate and talk to others to find and support better investments. Explore the exciting new green energy technologies that are emerging!


Also, be sure to visit the No Dirty Gold website and learn more about gold mining: www.nodirtygold.org. You can find a list of retailers that have pledged to work toward more sustainable gold sources.


Say no to dirty gold. Help rainforests by sticking to the recycled, vintage and sustainably sourced gold—and investment alternatives.



Here are two companies making beautiful jewelry with recycled gold:

Brilliant Earth


or 415-354-4623


Appointment at showroom

in San Francisco

Green Karat




Brilliant Earth


Green Karat     www.greenkarat.com

Tiffany& Co.    www.tiffany.com.

Love Earth       www.loveearthinfo.com

No Dirty Cold (Earthworks)     www.nodirtygold.org,





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Brazil Nuts, Bananas and Chocolate…Oh My!

Aid Your Weight Loss Efforts and Help the Rainforest…Really! 

If you find yourself veering off the road to healthy weight loss, you might want to take a look at your snacks. Skipping a snack or eating the wrong one could be the culprit leading you off track. Have you ever found yourself ravenously hungry between lunch and dinner only to end up overdoing it at your evening meal? Or perhaps you are so hungry, you stop at the vending machine and choose something less than optimal? These are common occurrences. Choosing a snack that is both nutrient dense and delicious is key to supplying your body and spirit with something substantive to help you get from meal to meal. I recently interviewed Kim Barnouin, co-author of the best-selling weight loss Skinny Bitch book series for Healthy Living magazine. She told me that she strongly advocates always having a healthy snack on hand in order to avoid the snack food/vending machine temptation that trips up so many of us despite our good weight-loss intentions.

I have a couple snacks for you that are nutrient-dense enough to satisfy hunger and naturally sweet enough to satiate your sweet tooth. In addition to providing fantastic nutrients for your body, they also help save rainforests giving you two things to feel good about!   Incorporating them into your food plan might make the difference between failure and success in your weight-loss efforts.

Brazil Nut Bananza Snack

• 3-4 Brazil nuts
• 1 ripe Rainforest Alliance Certified or organic banana



Sounds simple enough. But why Brazil nuts you may ask? Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, copper, magnesium, fiber, vitamin E, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. They are one of the few nuts to have enough amino acids to make a complete protein (important to vegans and hungry dieters). The fiber adds to a feeling of fullness, and selenium is a powerful antioxidant that is believed to help protect against breast and prostate cancer. One Brazil nut contains 780 percent of the U.S. selenium recommended daily allowance!

Brazil nuts are not only good for your body, buying them and eating them helps the planet as well. Brazil nut trees have a unique distinction that makes them important to the preservation of the Amazon rainforest — they flourish only in the Amazon’s untouched rainforest. Growing Brazil nut trees is quite difficult.  Cultivation requires a particular species of bee  as well as unique soil-content characteristics.  Accordingly, attempts to cultivate Brazil nut trees on plantations have largely failed with only a few exceptions. Basically, if you want to harvest Brazil nuts, you can only do it in healthy tropical Amazon rainforest. That’s the great news. A thriving Brazil nut trade keeps significant areas of the Amazon rainforest intact! In fact, Brazil nuts are considered the most viable non-timber forest product (NTFP) in the Amazon, and they are the only wild-harvested tree nut in the world.

Add bananas to Brazil nuts, and you have yourself a super snack. A great source of carbohydrates, bananas are rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium and fiber. They essentially offer a great package of natural energy, minerals, vitamins, and fiber and are easy to take on the run.  Both potassium and magnesium support healthy blood pressure levels. And bananas are the one fruit the delivers on vitamin B6 — a single banana provides 30 percent of the U.S. recommended daily amount. The banana’s natural sugar is tempered by the protein in the Brazil nuts. Combined, they are a winning combo that will supply steady energy to your body until your next meal.

However, to be good to the earth in addition to your body, you must select carefully. Banana cultivation has had a problematic history of environmental degradation and social issues. While conditions have improved dramatically, environmental and social concerns persist. The problem is that bananas grown in tropical regions are extremely vulnerable to disease and pests and require large amounts of pesticides. The solid waste is enormous, not to mention soil erosion, runoff and risks to workers and locals who live near plantations. Every banana farm/plantation was at one time primary tropical rainforest, although most of the deforestation occurred in the past. Common practices such as the use of herbicides containing carcinogenic compounds threaten drinking water quality. Dangerous and risky practices such as overloading soil with nematicides, for example, have been protested in Costa Rican courts by concerned workers.



So when choosing a banana for your healthy snack, choose ones that are grown with as little impact on the environment as possible including better working conditions for plantation farm workers. Look for Rainforest Alliance Certified bananas (most Chiquita and Dole brand bananas are certified), EARTH or Whole Trade bananas at Whole Foods, or organic bananas. If you choose these bananas, you are helping to make sustainable banana production practices profitable, and the entire industry will begin to improve their practices. It’s already happening.

Cocoa Nut Snack

• 3-4 Brazil nuts
• ½ Rainforest Alliance Certified or fair trade, shade-grown organic dark chocolate bar (70 percent cacao or greater)



Yes, you can enjoy chocolate as part of a healthy weight loss plan! The catch is that it has to be dark chocolate with a high cocoa content and it must be eaten in moderation. The bitter sweetness and fiber in dark chocolate will satisfy and provide satiety, while also giving your body a healthy dose of flavanols. Flavanols are antioxidants that have potential benefits for vascular health such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets better able to clot. Flavanols are also associated with lowering the “bad” LDL cholesterol and an overall lower risk of heart disease. Pretty good, huh?

Well, it gets better when you add in the choice of rainforest friendly chocolate. Shade-grown, fair trade, organic, Rainforest Alliance Certified — these are the words a rainforest lover looks for when choosing dark chocolate. And here’s why. For hundreds of years, cacao (the plant from which we get cocoa) was grown under the shade of native canopy trees in a landscape similar to natural forest. But to meet increasing world demand, new cocoa varieties have been introduced to grow in full sun, which means clearing rainforests and destroying the native shaded habitat.

Sun-grown cocoa may produce higher yields, but it has come at a high price to workers and the environment. These hybrid sun-grown varieties are extremely vulnerable to pests and disease, requiring the heavy application of agrochemicals. Farmers sometimes resort to using some of the most toxic pesticides, including lindane, a cousin of DDT, which poses health and environmental risks. Additionally, growing cocoa in open fields supports less biodiversity and leads to increased erosion and runoff, soil fertility loss, water contamination and health problems.

To grasp the enormity of deforestation, lets look at one of the world’s top cocoa-producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire. In 1960, the country boasted 12 million hectares of rainforest. Today, just 50 years later, roughly 2.6 million hectares remain! Cocoa plantations have contributed to nearly 14 percent of the deforestation in the country. Neighboring cocoa-producing countries have similar stories of deforestation.

But it’s not just the trees.  Cocoa cultivation is rampant with social issues. Smallholder farmers lack access to viable markets and are limited to selling their cocoa to middlemen for only a portion of its value, keeping them in a cycle of poverty. What’s worse is that cultivating a sun-grown cocoa monoculture makes farmers extremely vulnerable to price fluctuations in the market. The average cocoa worker makes barely enough to meet the most basic living needs. The trade is fraught with labor abuses, particularly in West Africa, where forced child and slave labor exists. Yes, that’s slave labor in the 21st century! And despite the Harkin-Engel Protocol, an agreement that major chocolate manufacturers signed in 2001 committing to eradicating such labor abuses in their supply chain, not enough has changed according to the International Labor Rights Forum.

When you buy dark chocolate for your healthy snack, you can help rainforests and workers too by choosing brands that are more sustainably grown and that provide a fair wage to workers. Look for any or all of the following certifications on the packaging: shade grown; fair trade; organic; Rainforest Alliance Certified. You can easily find vegan dark chocolate, too. Some terrific brands that offer dark chocolate that is sustainably cultivated are Endangered Species, Newman’s Own Organics, Theo, and Green & Blacks.

Enjoy your sweet, sensuous snacks and savor every bite knowing you are giving good love to your body and the planet!


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Thank you for visiting my website! I truly get excited about sharing the surprisingly simple changes we can make in the way we shop and live to help preserve tropical ecosystems. As consumers, we play a very important role. Hence, I’m an avid supporter of innovative companies that make sustainable sourcing and production a priority. I often write about and recommend products from these types of companies because they usually produce a superior product and it is critical to support responsible manufacturers and businesses if they are to flourish and multiply. Please visit my “Fav Picks” page for a list of some of the best.

My work emphasizes the power of choice. Every single one of our choices matter—and collectively, our choices shape the world we live in. Our choices today can create a future world that still has tigers in the wild and beautiful, unspoiled places of natural wonder and awe and one that is healthy and sustains life for not only humans, but all creatures of the earth.

I hope you find the site informative, inspiring, simple and fun! Please feel free to contact me and share whatever you’d like. I’ll be posting blogs here regularly and will provide links on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Please check back or better yet, follow me!

Warmest wishes,

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