With all their gear and tents strapped to their bicycles and trailers, a small group of young people from several European countries are slowly but surely making their way from Bulgaria to Turkey on the annual Ecotopia Biketour. Despite their self-described status as a "totally chaotic tour, with constantly changing sleeping places, group composition and food quality," it's no ordinary bunch of cyclists and it's no run-of-the-mill road trip.
Over cross-border routes that change every year, the tour itself is a mobile demonstration unit dedicated to showing that low-consumption, ecological and "do-it-yourself" methods of travelling are not only possible, but fun. Besides that, there's also a central element of "action" along the way: Biketour participants also organize and help in events dealing with environmental issues that confront the communities they ride through.
Actively connecting with local communities
So far, the Biketour cyclists have already joined a protest against a planned nuclear power plant at Belene, Bulgaria. As they reach the southern town of Krumovgrad, they will coordinate an information day on the hazards of cyanide, which is used in the local gold mines. When the group reaches the Black Sea coast, they will take part in a demonstration against a controversial pipeline that is yet to be built.
Participants this year hail from countries such as Bulgaria Croatia, Bosnia, Spain, and Portugal, with more cyclists joining along the way. Beginning in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on July 4th and covering 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles), the cyclists will eventually end up in the Turkish town of Sinop by mid-August — just in time for the twentieth annual Ecotopia, a gathering that brings youth from all over the world to discuss social justice and environmental issues.
Situated on the coast of the Black Sea, Sinop was chosen as the site for this year's Ecotopia because of plans to build a nuclear power plant there. Organizers hope to draw attention to alternatives to nuclear energy, such as reducing energy consumption and promoting low-impact lifestyles.
Sustainable community - on wheels
The Ecotopia Biketour began in 1990 as a environmentally-friendly way for people from all corners of Europe to reach the Ecotopia conference, which also changes location every year since its inception in 1989 in Cologne, Germany.
Like the conference itself, the Biketour is an experiment in establishing an "eco-mobile action community" and operates through consensus decision-making and alternative modes of economy where a currency called the "eco" is used. Biketour participants from richer European countries shoulder a larger, more proportional amount of costs, but everyone pitches in. They cook for themselves as much as possible, shopping for local produce and relying on hosts from time to time when they are not camping.
"We want to show that living like this, in 'equality', is not [necessarily] utopia," says Biketour participant Ivan Gregov.
As one earlier participant wrote in the Biketour blog, "The culture of global progress has already occupied Eastern European countries, but people still cannot see the counter-effects and costs which they will have to pay. The mistakes Western Europe made because of its ruthless development are now being copied by Eastern countries. We want to raise public awareness to change this way of development."
Though there have been similar events on this side of the world, perhaps awareness-raising, cross-country "ecotopian" bike tours will gain more momentum here as the future looks more and more bike-friendly.
Related Links on Ecotopia
Ecotopia 2008 Turkey
What is Ecotopia?
European Youth For Action (EYFA)
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