The People of Kolleru Lake

Give Well, India 5 Comments »

Kolleru Lake, Andrha Pradesh, India [Google Map]

© Copyright Jeremy Chu -

© Copyright Jeremy Chu -

There is a lake in India, which at one time was the largest and cleanest lake in all of Asia. It is surrounded by over 120 villages and 40 years ago the people of these villages had an easy life. They would drink the lakes pristine water straight from their hands. The men would paddle small wooden boats, out into the lake and catch fresh fish. Families would also grow rice and vegetables and together they would eat 3 healthy meals a day. It was a livelihood handed down through the generations.

In the 1970’s, the Kolleru Lake lifestyle began to change. The Indian government determined that because of it’s massive size and the wealth of life within it, Kolleru Lake would support an industry large enough to feed fish and rice to the entire planet. And so over the next few decades, that is exactly what happened.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu -

© Copyright Jeremy Chu -

Kolleru Lake was divided up into cross-sections of raised land, creating rectangular ponds of stagnant water in which the rice and fish farming flourished. The people of the villages surrounding Kolleru Lake had a change in livelihood from one of self-sustenance to one of dependency on international industry. Kolleru Lake the sweat labor of it’s inhabitants provided inexpensive fish and rice to people around the world.

Life was different then, but it was still good. The villagers were making wages and with it, they were able to buy food and other things.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu -

© Copyright Jeremy Chu -

However, by the turn of the millennium, things were not looking good. The industry was taking it’s toll on Kolleru Lake. The chemical filled, stagnant water used in farming was repeatedly drained into the main body of the lake, which literally poisoned all of the life within it. Before the 1970’s there were over 100 species of fish in the lake and today that number has been reduced to a small handful.

India had an environmental disaster on it’s hands and the world had taken notice. Finally, under international pressure, the Indian government agreed to reverse the decision they had made in the 1970’s.

In 2005, in a swift, ill-forewarned and seemingly random way, an attempt was begun to return the lake to it’s natural state by demolishing many of the rice and fish farming ponds.

But it was too late.

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#34 – Cycle Across a Desert

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Everyone in the towns leading into Death Valley told us we were crazy, and it only made the challenge more exciting. The heat was deleriously exhaustive and if I’m honest, I was was never sure we would succeed.

The relentless doubt…the inner battle during the mountain climbs and the long stretches of hot black pavement…was a serious mental challenge.

I got to know my mind better. I often found myself to be an observer, floating over my bike, watching the argument between the strong and weak parts of me and their arguments with the bike and the road.

You take something from every challenge you face and when you focus on one challenge for long enough a period of time, having to face it repeatedly, day after day, you will take exponentially more from it. Distractons strip away and you are left only to focus on the raw polarity of the problem at hand.

And from the cycle of those thoughts, around and around and around, burns a new pattern in your neurology, which you can take with you into a new and better life after the ride.

#33 – Build a Kids Library in Cambodia

Cambodia, Give Well, Top 100 Things I've Done No Comments »

It took me a couple of years of travelling in countries with massive poverty and dealing with the infinite moral conondrum faced when staring beggars in the eyes before I found a way of helping that I was genuinely comfortable with. At a loss for not knowing where cash handouts would end up and realizing the quick expiry of impact resulting from most types of ongoing support or aid, I found empowerment through education to make the most sense to me.

I was also incrdeibly moved by the tragic stories of genocide and systematic destruction of educated role models I heard while I was in Phnom Phen.

That’s why I choose to fund the construction of a library for kids in Cambodia.

The experience and success was, for obvious reasons, incredibly rewarding. In addition to the undeniable satisfaction from helping people, I also cherish the learning and self development that came from adopting what was then such a lofty goal – raising US$14,000 for something simply because I believed in it.

I learned people you thought would join you and help, wouldn’t. And people who you wouldn’t have expected to care, to care and help a whole lot.

I learned inspiration is the most powerful way to affect change. Some teachers were inspired to inspire thier students to inspire their friends and family to help. The change there was a lot bigger than just the donations. It was the space between the dollars that I was also very excited about. The learning, curiosity and emotions experienced by those who took the time to listen and consider…and maybe even inspire others.

Learning first hand how to move people to move others, even without the unmatched rewarding feeling, easily makes raising funds to build a kids library in Cambodia one of the top 100 things I’ve done.

A New Children’s Library in Cambodia

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Children's Library in Cambodia

Construction of the children’s library I decided to raise money to build in Cambodia has finally been completed. It is located on the grounds of Hor Nam Hong Preay Nhear Primary and Lower Secondary School in Batheay District, Kampong Cham, Cambodia.

Room_to_Read_logo_color_medium_270x173In the story that drove the fundraising I explained why I believed there was a drastic need for such a library in Cambodia specifically. (You can hear this story via the YouTube video at the bottom of this post.) Thanks to Room to Read and a long list of people and organizations, over 1300 kids in Cambodia now have access to books in both English and Khmer. Read the rest of this entry »

To Travel is to Possess the World

Thoughts & Reflections, World Travels 1 Comment »

Following is the introduction to the book “Burton Holmes Travelogues: The Greatest Traveler of His Time“. Holmes lived from 1870-1958, visited nearly every country on the planet, and shot over 30,000 photographs. His description of a life of world travel speaks volumes to me.

These words I have set down in many an autograph collector’s book.

They are, I think, true words. I know that through travel I have possessed the world more completely, more satisfyingly than if I had acquired the whole earth by purchase or by conquest. There is no implication of selfishness in the kind of possession of which I speak. Whoever possesses the world through travel takes nought from any man. No one is the poorer because you have made the whole world yours.

You have gained everything, but you are no monopolist. The wealth is there for all to share. It is not yours alone. You may invite all men and women to travel with you in imagination and they too may feel that they, like you, are rich in vivid mental pictures of places worth going to, of people worth knowing, of things that are world famous.

I have tried to convey to others with the spoken word the enthusiasm for travel that has been mine. I have done my best to make my hearers SEE the things that have thrilled me in the course of my more than sixty years of travel.

Now I am asked to do this without the aid of pictures glowing on a screen, without the help of the spoken words which can be made to mean as much by a shading of a tone or the stress of an inflection. Now I am at work with nothing but a sheet of paper and a pen to help me re-create the atmosphere of “otherwhere,” to help me make real to those who have not seen, the things which I have seen and can still see so vividly with the mind’s eye.

Word pictures are hard to paint. We are told that “words are the only things that last forever.” Therefore words should be the most durable pigments with which to paint pictures of the things that have seemed worthwhile, the things that have become one’s property, in the sense in which travel endows one with a title deed to the entire world.

One great advantage of possessing the world through travel is that one may enjoy all the satisfaction of possession without the responsibilities of ownership. Now, in days when our most valuable assets become or threaten to become our most crushing liabilities, it is good to contemplate property which cannot depreciate but must increase in value, property which cannot be taxed by federal government, or state or city authorities, property which calls for no repairs or alterations.

Everything from real estate to diamond tiaras has had its vaunted worth reduced to pitiful and sometimes complete inconsequence. Stocks, bonds, and all manner of gilt-edged, beautifully engraved certificates of value, to secure which we have slaved and saved and denied ourselves the joys of travel, may sink in worth to such a point that it will seem absurd to pay the rental charges on a safe deposit box.

The only things which are still worth what they have cost me are my travel memories, the mind-pictures of places which I have been hoarding like a happy miser for more than half a century.

I have done my best to convey with “word pictures” the things I have seen and can still see. I have been aided by all the increasing wonders and beauties of photography. I still recall with pleasure my first camera, a heavy clumsy box with six double holders for 4×5 glass plates purchased in 1883 with my life savings of $10.00.

In the past I have reproached myself for my extravagance, my lack of foresight, for my disregard of proper provision for the future. My wise friends saved and economised, went without things they wanted, denied themselves the costlier pleasures of the table, the bouquet of vintage wines and the, to me, supreme joy of going places and seeing things.

And now where are we? We, they and I, are all at the same dead-end of life’s highway. They are weighted down by all the leaden burdens of their golden hopes gone wrong. They have their memories, but these are memories of wise, dull and frugal days of piling up with hard earned dollars in safe places where those dollars would increase and multiply and be there to console for all the pleasures that their owners had denied themselves and all the fun that they had missed.

I, too, have nothing but my memories but I would not exchange my memories for theirs. I have a secret treasure upon which I can draw at will. I can bring forth, on the darkest day, bright diamonds of remembered joys, diamonds whose many facets reflect some happy dream come true, a small ambition gratified, a long-sought sensation, caught and savoured to the full, a little journey made, an expedition carried to success, several circumnavigations of the world accomplished.

Yes, it has been a good life. And it is good to rest, with nearly all of one’s dreams realized. Dreams of going, seeing and doing most of the things that seemed worthwhile – good to know that I have, in my own way, possessed the world.

– Burton Holmes 1953

Summit for Someone (Guest Post by Luis Omar Lopez)

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This is a guest post by my good friend and adventure travel partner Luis Omar Lopez.  Please read and  consider supporting him!

Omar on the CliffHowdy!

My name is Luis Lopez, on June 6, 2009, I will climb to the summit of Long’s Peak (14,255 ft.) in the Colorado Rockies to raise money that will benefit at-risk teens nationwide. I am participating in a Summit for Someone climb as part of a benefit climbing series supporting Big City Mountaineers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit recreational mentoring program for at-risk teens. Big City Mountaineers provides urban teenage youth in need of positive adult mentoring with a challenging and safe wilderness experience led by qualified adult volunteer guides.

I am summiting for youth that I feel a genuine understanding for. My experiences with the wilderness during my youth were few and far between, I realize now that they were among the most important factors of making me who I am. The truth is, all it really takes is a few genuine experiences for a profound positive impact to grow out of. My own experiences were so powerful just the few of them were enough to ignite the desire inside of me to constantly challenge myself, the physical challenge of climbing a real mountain makes you want to take on all the rest of life’s mental, emotional and financial challenges. For the at-risk teens who will participate in Big City Mountaineer’s programs, the feeling they will have at the top of a mountain is what will empower them to strive for the excellence they otherwise won’t aim for. These kids can grow up to do great things, but they need a taste of greatness to inspire them first.
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A Story For You, A Favor For Me

Adventures, Give Well, Plans & Itineraries, Thoughts & Reflections, Travel Stories, World Travels No Comments »

For those of you who have been following my travels on and off for the past few years, enjoying my writing and photography, sending me flattering comments and emails… Thank you! I am glad to have been able to inspire and entertain many of you.

I have another story for you… and this time I am asking for a favor in return.

Please continue to travel with me by supporting my project. It will be VERY much appreciated.

Even a little bit will help…


As for upcoming travel adventures…a friend and I are seriously considering a month-long rowing journey down the Guadalquivir River in Spain this spring…

Bicycle Touring from San Diego to Las Vegas via Death Valley

Bicycle Touring, USA 8 Comments »

Lived and written by Luis Omar Lopez & John P Morgan Jr


DAY 1 – San Diego to just south of Temecula (71 miles)

Written by Omar:

We didn’t start on our bikes until late around 10 or 11 our first day and soon as the noon heat began to hit we began the hundred turns and out of the way miles of straight-up straight-down hills it takes to get out of the city and towards the desert while avoiding major freeways. I saw a homeless man carrying his sleeping bag 10 miles into the ride and realized I’d forgot to pack mine. I decided not to turn back and instead hoped some cheap solution would pop up. We felt our first pains early and stretched ass-to-ass like turtles on our backs on the sidewalk for the benefit of everyone else stuck in traffic. We got a few happy honks and then kept going, stopping at every McDonald’s on the way to steal free Powerade, we moved inland then backtracked towards the coast across Del Mar, then back inland again for good, climbing a long uphill through Escondido to Old Highway 395 that runs along the side of the 15 North. John began breathing hard and soon couldn’t swallow any water so we stopped at a 7-11 for a break and using webMD via his iPhone John self-diagnosed himself with EIA (exercise induced asthma). In the parking lot two girls ran into a car backwards pulling out of their spot. The stout troll in the hit car got out in a rage, cursing the world first for his bad haircut, his shitty flat-top that made him shorter and fatter, and then for the 3 inch smear on his maroon 1995 Saturn. It was good theater and we rode off again until after dark trying to reach Temecula but ended setting up camp in a burnt out patch of dirt between the freeway and some golf course and all night the semis croaked their Jake brakes over our tent and down the hill to Temecula. I wore all of my clothes and borrowed John’s silk liner bag and was warm enough.

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The Cozy Kitchen

Bicycle Touring, USA 5 Comments »

My Bike on the California Coast

On an Oregon State Park beach after watching the Pacific sun dim to a bearable brightness and then slide behind dark gray clouds coating the horizon a Canadian kid came over to me and said hello. Comeau was too touring by bike. He’d been on the road over a month cycling from Edmonton, Canada to Vancouver and then down the coast. He carried a fraction of the gear I had and barely enough cash to buy a bus ticket home.

Comeau showed me some of his low-budget travel maneuvers. We walked into Best Western’s along the coast, filled our stomachs with eggs, waffles and pastries and our pockets with fruits and granola bars for the questionable price of a confident posture and coy smile.

Most of the Oregon coast was a beautifully scenic ride along ocean cliffs and through forests as we traveled from small surf town to small industry town.

In a particularly unaccommodating community characterized by the logging industry and dune buggy rental shops, my Canadian friend and I visited a small diner called the “Cozy Kitchen”.

Comeau asked our waitress Lisa for some hot water with which to mix his oatmeal. Despite my concern with asking a business to supply hot water so he could eat for free at their table, she kindly brought a steaming kettle along with honey and brown sugar on a glimmering silver platter.

Considering the sun was setting and the ugly little town didn’t have much to offer for a place to setup our tents, I wondered how far Lisa’s kindness might go.

“Maybe she’ll let us camp in her yard?” I posed to Comeau.

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The First Day of Pedaling – Talk to Strangers

Bicycle Touring, USA 5 Comments »

I envisioned an exit from downtown Portland with a slight breeze at my back as I pedaled down a long, straight and flat road with wide shoulders. Less than a quarter mile into my first self-supported bike tour the white line hit the edge of the pavement, the head winds started and the road turned almost directly upward. It stayed that way for most of the day.

I’d been running pretty regularly and I didn’t believe the mid 50’s woman cyclist I’d chatted with outside the ACE Hardware store who told me that running 30-40 miles per week didn’t mean anything when it came to cycling hills. Climbing mountains on that first day put a blazing fire in my legs I hadn’t felt since my years of self discipline conditioning in martial arts classes.

Thought it felt as if hot knives were being driven into my thighs with each down stroke, the cognitive battle was even worse. The first day was truly a test of spirit.

Should I have started extended bicycle travel without any training? I can’t do this. Maybe I should take a break? Am I really fit for this? Do I really want to be riding my bike across countries? Cycling isn’t necessarily for everyone. I’m probably better off backpacking. People make mistakes; maybe I just made a mistake. This isn’t just my mind; I’m actually reaching the limits of my physical ability!

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