Our Ethics - and what we ask of our Clients
Our "Responsible Travel Policy" and "Travellers Code of Conduct"
Responsible Travel Policy:
Our house is a real first, environmentally speaking: the first all-natural cob house on a South African city street. Making headlines and changing perceptions, we've built an elegant double-storey house out of mud and straw (plus lime and dung in places) that we hope is changing the dominant perception among locals that a "real house" should be made of bricks and concrete rather than the "mud huts" of the past. The house "breathes", allowing it to stay naturally cooler in summer and warmer in winter; this is done through a combination of thick earth walls and large areas of passive solar heating through sun-facing windows. We've sourced either recycled wood (old railway sleepers), alien trees (gum poles, cut down for using too much water as part of a government environmental programme), or locally grown sustainable woods (siligna and pine), all treated and sealed with organic products, avoiding the use of harmful chemicals.
Local workers were used in the construction of the house, being trained up for this project, and they have since gone on to work at other natural building sites. The electrical layout was designed to avoid encircling the house in an electro-magnetic field. This has minimised the electro-magnetic impact on the health and well-being of those inside the house (unlike most buildings where circular circuits are standard). In addition, many workshops were carried out during construction, both with local schoolchildren and students, and with the interested public, extending the knowledge about sustainable construction methods. There are more pictures at the Organic! page.
We've sealed and painted walls with non-toxic and biodegradable products produced by local small businesses. We've used natural fabrics and materials for our furnishings, furniture and linen. In addition to all the inherent "passive solar" design of the house itself, we further reduce electricity consumption with a solar geyser, ensuring (in our climate) that we don't need to use much grid electricity for heating water. We recycle house waste, be it paper/cardboard, tins, plastics or glass; we use energy-efficient lightbulbs. We do not buy or cook meat for guests or our family and attempt to be conscious about the origins of most items we purchase. We have installed a locally-produced grey water system that recycles our washing water into the garden. We use locally produced biodegradable/organic cleaning products and toiletries in our accommodation. We do not provide quickly redundant newspapers to guests, but rather a back stock of magazines and books on relevant environmental/holistic subjects (including the "Cape Town Green Map" providing information on how to have a good green holiday)! The house design also incorporates certain principles from ancient Indian "Vastu" architecture, which are intended to promote peacefulness in the house and radiate it out into the community! We have installed a water tank and use grey water in various forms to be responsible in the drier climate of today's Cape. We have aimed to create a home that is aesthetically beautiful and harmonious and has a positive impact on our environment!
In the future we intend to further improve our electricity saving through installation of domestic renewable energy generators (like wind turbines). We also have the option to create a "green roof" carbon sink on top of our house and, given time and space, this is certainly in our future plans.
Economic / Social Matters
We are a small South African family-run organisation, who make use of local labour and skills during our construction phases (recently and in the future) and providing training where we can. As stated above, we also furnish the house and accommodation with natural/organic/local materials (including locally-produced furniture made from cleared alien trees). We provide customised tours Western Cape destinations that are off-the-beaten track and usually have a substantial environmental/cultural/spiritual component, according to our clients' wishes, (registered tour guide in-house) but always use registered township local guides to guide township sections of tours, to ensure benefits to those local communities. We can also advise on other tourism industry products that are as "conscious" as we aim to be. We endeavour to find similar businesses in other parts of the region for our responsible guests to enjoy and support.
Our Travellers' Code of Conduct
Here are some guidelines and ideas for responsible travel you may want to take note of when visiting us, to help your holiday make a difference.
Cape Town, despites its challenges and inequalities, is a part of the world that we find refreshingly "real" - it needs a bit of care with your valuables, but it's worth stepping off the beaten track a bit, partly because there are a lot of people here with a fabulous sense of what's truly heart-felt and worthwhile in life, people who can bring you more than just a chance to reach the furthest rock in the south-west of Africa (wonderful though it may be to see baboons along the way!) We can help you connect with the more organic / culturally funky and diverse/ holistic and soulful/ historic and hilarious people and places in and around this big "Mother City".
Cape Town does not, unfortunately, have a particularly brilliant public transport network and some of your trips may need to be by car, notwithstanding that, during daylight hours, we have a very relaxing train route into Cape Town - or along the attractive coastal route to Simon's Town - running regularly from close to our house. DO use the trains (just not with a moon bag) - be careful during the evening, and check with others if you're using other lines to the Cape Flats, which may not be so safe. The same applies to using minibus taxis, which are usually fine on the main suburban routes during the day, as long as you have an idea of what you're doing and where you are going. If you hear contrary advice (as offered for example in many guidebooks) - check whether the person offering has personal experience! Cycling (helmet strongly advised) is a popular pastime in the Cape (we have the world's biggest cycle race here every March!), but not such a common means of transport, partly condemned by the recurrent South-Easter (it once took one of us 15 minutes to ride from Rondebosch to Cape Town - and 45 to get back, literally being lifted off the bike twice). The bus network is infuriatingly badly organised and unfortunately difficult to get timetables for, though the new MyCiti buses in the city centre and northern suburbs are considerably better; overland coaches are generally more reliable, and there are group tours etc. that you could do to reduce petrol consumption, but some are rather eco-unfriendly. SO, if you are going to go by car (as we often have to!), think about what else you can do to offset this - there are a whole load of local NGO tree-planting projects you could think about here as a direct carbon offset, for example, which could enrich the whole experience of visiting here for you, as opposed, say, to donating to a less personal (if still worthy) international carbon offset programme.
There are a lot of accreditation schemes out there to make sure that you really are buying worthy craft items from people that could do with some benefits. We also offer guided tours (with an accredited Western Cape guide) customized to include your own personal interests, these could ranges from wine tours that are guaranteed to be using fair trade practices, visits to sites on the mountain that the San considered sacred, local theatre shows with a difference (presented to township children, for example) and visits to award-winning new green buildings (we're not the only ones!).
There are some fisheries that are wiping out our fish stocks and others that are sustainably supporting long-standing local fishing communities; there are toy shops selling fake South African money (manufactured in China!) and others selling beautiful, natural-fibre African dolls made by women who've learned new skills. If you'd like to ensure your money goes to more worthy causes, we would love to help you find the better choices!
There is a national 'Proudly South African' brand which includes a host of fair trade accreditations around union rights, environmental sourcing etc., visible on many consumables from our shops. You can support the local economy with these purchases. Of course, there are other worthy brands that haven't got round to getting this national level of accreditation, including many small and cottage industry products.
Craft markets in town present some beautiful wood/ stone/ wire and beadwork. Even though much of this is produced by recent immigrants from further north in Africa rather than locals, Africans in general could do with your trade for their craft. The Pan-African Market in Long Street is better placed for this kind of thing, or for real guaranteed fair trade local items there are a number of co-operatives (including Streetwires) we can help you connect with.
Cape Town also offers a wide range of innovative and creative clothing designers who would enjoy your support, (Kalk Bay, nearby, has a hive of boutiques), as our local textile industry is being threatened by the stronghold that China has on the clothing industry at the moment.
Generally we would encourage you to support small independent businesses wherever possible.
FOOD :There is a lot of meat on offer here in SA, (some free range and organic), but our culture is also very familiar with vegetarianism and, increasingly, with veganism. You can almost always find a wide variety of vegetarian/ vegan options available and they're usually very tasty.
Most organic food (and indeed non-organic food) is grown locally - we are lucky with our climate and can boast a wide range of delicious summer fruits. We have more than enough diversity of foods available locally, at all seasons, for you to be able to avoid buying something that has travelled thousands of kilometres to be here - but it's worth checking for the origins of fruit and veg in the shops just to be on the safe side.
South Africa is a dry country, and as in many parts of the world, urbanisation is putting ever more demands on our municipal water supplies. The recent crisis in Cape Town means showers are not allowed to be more than 90 seconds per day, although some people have a quick wash on alternate days to allow a longer one when they do have. A shower can be better a little later in the day rather than early, as this ensures you a more a naturally heated solar shower than first thing in the morning (after a cold and sun-less night).
Please make use of our laundry facility (using eco-friendly washing methods and a water-saving machine, and recycling the grey water), but, even better if you have the time and the changes of clothes to manage, why not wait until you have a full load!
NB While there are many bottled water companies in South Africa, at the time of writing Cape Town municipal water is safe to drink, and the same applies to most other national supplies - if in doubt check with locals.