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Alan Weisman Tells the Story of Gaviotas

In the following article, Alan Weisman, author of the New York Times bestseller The World Without Us and Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, tells the stories of Gaviotas—the book and the village. Nearly two decades ago, while covering a rather harrowing story for the New York Times Magazine, I unexpectedly came across a living example of how humans might actually be able to strike a harmonious, sustainable bargain with our natural surroundings. To this day, the village of Gaviotas in the remote eastern savannas of war-torn, drug-ridden Colombia remains the most hopeful portent I’ve ever seen amidst the hell that too often defines our modern world. Subsequently, I produced a piece about Gaviotas for NPR’s All Things Considered, wrote another for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and then finally returned to research my book Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World. In the decade since it was published, I’ve been continually invited to speak at colleges and universities in the United States and beyond. Gaviotas is perennially assigned in departments of urban planning, engineering, environmental studies, tropical ecology, Latin American Studies, journalism, science writing, and literature, among others, and entire curricula for high school students and incoming college freshman programs have been based around it. Repeatedly, I hear from faculty that even students who typically shun reading will devour this true story that reads like a novel, filled with real, fascinating characters who show what imagination can accomplish even in the most difficult settings. As the Gaviotans themselves told me: “If we can do it in Colombia, you can do it anywhere.”  Yet in discussions and hundreds of letters, I’m always asked how Gaviotas has fared – and whether it has actually survived – amid the awful civil war that enflamed their country in the ensuing years since my book. Many have wanted to travel there, but even I, despite many past trips with Colombian guerrillas, have been dissuaded by some of the world’s highest homicide and kidnapping rates.  Yet through messages, phone calls, and communiqués from Colombian journalists, each year I could report that miraculously, in this community whose single defense was its acknowledged defenselessness – the only rule at Gaviotas is that no guns are allowed – no one had succumbed to the violence that bloodied their nation. As the tenth anniversary of my book’s publication approached, I decided it was time to see for myself.  Last March, I flew to Bogotá and chartered a plane across the Andes, out to Gaviotas.  I’m pleased to say that my expanded afterword to this 10th anniversary edition of Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World reports not only how they’ve managed to survive, but how they are conjuring ingenious new ways so that even the rest of us might actually thrive in this challenging new century.


Ask the Experts: Submit Your Permaculture Questions Now

Attention all growers, food-lovers, and green-living enthusiasts, we are once again celebrating Permaculture Month by putting our pioneering permaculture authors to work for you.Chelsea Green is proud to publish and distribute some of the most recognized, and award-winning, names in permaculture, and we’re making several of them available to our readers to answer any and all […] Read More

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Experiment with what you have, anything from the mustard family will work extremely well. Read More

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Reading through your life story, it’s clear that you were amazingly open to new experiences, approaching them like an observer who arrived with few previously held ideas. Do you think that it takes that kind of openness to see and understand animals and people in new ways, as you’ve done throughout your career? I do, […] Read More

Author Petra Kuenkel: The Art of Leading Collectively

More than ever before, there is a focus on new, collective forms of leadership—and an urgency to get collective change processes underway, all over the world. What’s behind the recent push to move collective leadership to the fore? Whether we find ourselves in societal or organizational change, it requires collective energy and drive to bring […] Read More

10 Books to Curl Up With This Winter

William Wordsworth was right when he said, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Nevertheless, the cold, dark days of winter can still get the best of even Nature’s most tenderhearted admirer. What’s one to do? We here at Chelsea Green have concocted the perfect cabin fever remedy with our suggested winter reading […] Read More
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