For most people the idea of spending four weeks on a remote island in the country of Indonesia sounds like something they would see on a reality show. Extreme temperatures, no running water, and no idea of what to expect. But for local fashion designer, Hildi Flores, this sounded like the adventure of a lifetime because she would be working on an Earthship build.
She tells me she first became interested in the project years ago after watching the documentary “Garbage Warrior.” Then, after a trip to Taos, New Mexico, to the Earthship Academy, she knew she wanted to participate. When the letter came asking her to spend the month of December on the island of Kenawa, she decided to take the plunge.
Before Hildi can describe her experience, I first need an explanation of what an Earthship is. “It’s a very forward thinking way of living, but it’s also very simplistic. And it uses the natural phenomena of the planet to kind of make a living space for human beings,” says Hildi. She says each Earthship has six different features, with the first being thermal mass tire walls. These help insulate the structure while also making use of old tires that would usually just become trash. “We were able to take random garbage that we found on the beach and put it inside the tires before we pounded them, filling up space and getting rid of trash.”
Second on the list is rain water collection and usage which leads directly to the third feature of gray water treatment systems. Hildi says the goal is to take water and reuse it in three different ways before tossing it out. Also included in most Earthship builds are food production systems, solar gain, and utilizing local resources in the area. Whether using glass bottles or the tires mentioned above, Earthship strives to improve the area they build in. Founder, Mike Reynolds, says, “they need to be more like trees and leave an area better than they found it and not make it worse.” This is extremely important in places like Indonesia, which is already known for its many pollution problems.
However, Hildi says the Earthship model can really be used anywhere, even right here in our community. “I feel like Olympia is already like a pocket of progressive culture. We tend to have a more environmentally conscious community. So naturally it’s open-minded to Earthships.” And she says she is not surprised to find many people in our area already know what they are. In fact, a faculty member at The Evergreen State College traveled with her to the Earthship Academy. Hildi says they hope to figure out a way to incorporate the Earthship ideas into some sort of program or collaboration with the university.
Because there is so much to learn, Hildi says the best opportunity is a hands-on experience like this one, even if you have never been a builder before. “I feel like my best purpose is served as a project manager-type position. It’s still important that I do and understand all the things and learn about them, but I’m more of a ringmaster.” Hildi says she tends to excel more on the communication side of things but saw this adventure for what it could teach her. “It was a very transformative experience on a lot of different levels – personally, spiritually, all the way to practically. I realized I can meet the challenges I set for myself and jump into the unknown.”
When the team touched down in Indonesia, they were not sure what they were getting into. Hildi tells me she over prepared for the trip, which ended up being a blessing when conditions were not nearly as bad as they thought they would be. However, they did still have to dig their own restroom facilities and battle extreme heat and sun, floods when it rained, and a handful of other obstacles. At the top of the list were digestive issues, and not one person was spared. Lucky for all of them, Hildi thought ahead and brought many natural remedies with her to combat it. “It was actually a joke that my tent was the apothecary. Oh, you don’t feel well? Come to my tent, I’ve got a remedy for you,” she says laughing. “Everyone was a complete stranger at the very beginning, and by the end we were a close-knit family.”
While the Kenawa Earthship may be half a world away from Olympia, Hildi says she has plans to bring the ideas back to our community. “I feel like if I can just focus on this, and make a difference, then I’m contributing to a more positive future.” Although most modern builders do not utilize Earthship’s many elements, Hildi sees it as something happening in years to come. “If we are going to have a livable future on this planet, then we need to radically rethink the way we live, and this is just one step in that direction. We can’t keep having massive impacts on the planet.”
The project itself is part of a collaboration between Earthship and Eco-Regions, which designs places for eco-tourism. In fact, they plan to turn Kenawa into a whole Earthship island and will begin the next build at the site this March. If you would like more information about the project, you can visit the Earthship Island website.