Dario Schwörer is feeling his way around a basic Nokia cellphone. “I’m not very used to handling these,” he confesses, as he looks to return his wife’s call and ends up dialling his own number.
Fair enough. When he left his Davos home in 2002, a world where almost every individual had his personal phone was still the dream of an overambitious sales professional. “That’s what gives me hope,” Schwörer says. “Things one never thought would happen in our time do happen.”
Optimism is the watchword of this environmental warrior, who fights the global demon of climate change in the most inspiring way possible: by travelling the world, powered only by solar and wind energy and human effort. When this ski and mountaineering guide (also a qualified river-rafting and canyoning guide, hang-gliding pilot and diver) set out on his change-the-world expedition with wife Sabine, the plan was a four-year project that could stretch to five. Eight years, three babies and 47 countries later, the Schwörers say it could easily be another six years before they return home to Switzerland.
“We have learnt never to hurry nature,” says the wiry 42-year-old. “So if the winds die down, we are ready to be stranded in the middle of the ocean—as happened for 10-odd days in the early days of our journey in our sailboat, somewhere between the Easter Islands and Galapagos. The two volunteers who were with us got into a panic, thinking they’ll never see land again, but we unwound, read a book. It was a holiday for us.”
Mariners’ trail: (top)The Schwörers’ yacht, Pachamama, is powered by renewable energy. Photo TOPtoTOP; and the family enjoys a break in Bangalore. Photo by Swissnex
For all the light-heartedness, the Schwörers are fully alive to the seriousness of their mission. The TOPtoTOP Global Climate Expedition, supported by the UN Environment Programme and Switzerland (and sponsored by Victorinox and SGS Group), seeks to collect data and create awareness about climate change, work with NGOs in areas affected by the phenomenon, and contribute to the development and testing of clean energy solutions. To that end, the core team has sailed around 70,000km, climbed 400,000 vertical metres and cycled around 18,000km.
Recently in Bangalore at the invitation of Swissnex—a Swiss government initiative focused on education, research and culture—Schwörer says his experience of local technologies in some of the most environmentally vulnerable parts of the world strengthens his belief that “global warming is not a problem, it is a challenge”.
“Prior to cycling from Kolkata to Kathmandu (from where we went on to climb Everest), we were in the Sundarbans. We saw homes that used biogas processed by cattle, and channel waste water into vegetable patches. Our documentation of the successful implementation of these technologies gives donors a reason to put up the $1,000 (around Rs45,000) required for a filtration plant to treat the groundwater—too salty for drinking after Cyclone Aila (in May 2009)—that will take care of the needs of a whole village,” says Schwörer.
Consciously steering clear of the gloom-and-doom line preferred by “TV societies”, TOPtoTOP escorts students out of the classroom and into the lap of nature in “give back” efforts. An Amity institution in New Delhi, for instance, wants to send a few students to help in the Schwörers’ project to clean up the Kilimanjaro in August next year. “Space on our boat, the Pachamama, is limited, but we welcome volunteers to join us in our biking and climbing projects,” says Schwörer, now planning how to catch the trade winds to sail to Africa.
The Schwörers on saving the world, one discovery at a time
Mountains or the sea?
Mountains. So far we’ve climbed the highest peaks in Europe, South America, Australia and Asia.
The worst moment of the past eight years.
In 2004, when our boat rammed into a container in the southern Pacific, making the rudder unsteady and threatening to break the boat. After the accident, we were stranded in Patagonia (Argentina) for one and a half years. Yacht designer Bernard Nivelt used that time to come up with our self-sustaining boat ‘Pachamama’, which runs on renewable energy.
The most exciting environmental discovery.
A double-layered clay pot in Vanuatu, an island nation in the southern Pacific Ocean, near New Guinea. Once water is poured between the two layers, the pot can preserve cooked food for up to seven days. Who needs refrigeration?
Having kids on the move.
I think it was one of our best decisions. Salina, 5, was born in the Patagonia, Andri, 3, in Chile and Noé, 1, in Australia. As extreme sportspersons, we were far away from people. The kids made us parents and opened all doors for us.
One move to save the world.
I’d say riding a bicycle. We’d be healthier, cities would face less traffic problems, energy would be conserved.
Most looking forward to.
We’d quite enjoy a regular life though, knowing us, it’d only be a matter of time before we take up another project. Besides, we want TOPtoTOP to have acquired a life of its own by then.
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