A Greek Island Adventure

April 3, 2018

Marcus Letts, co-founder of Brake the Cycle, and now based on the Greek Island of Evia, ponders how collaboration and imagination might be the ticket to get us out of the ecological and economic mess we’re in.


[this blog was first published online at Permaculture Magazine]

When I first set pedal on Evia Island in Greece, over six years ago, I could never have imagined how this part of the world might one day come to define my life story.  


Having quit a regular job in London to co-found Brake the Cycle, a low impact adventure travel social enterprise, Joe Reid and I were well and truly learning by doing. Saddling up for a savings-depleting and largely improvised overland cycle tour from Camden to Cape Town, we never made it beyond the Middle East. Rather inconveniently our adventure of a lifetime had coincided with the Arab Spring uprising leaving us with no viable cycle path through Syria. Thinking on our feet, we survived the European winter by volunteering at Free and Real, a youthful community project on North Evia in Central Greece. Over the next three months we built a yurt and I fell in love with a young Greek girl, and the rest, as they say, is history. 


Today I live in an obscure Evian village with my now wife Emily and our four and one year old boys, Seth and Lucas. Over the years our growing family has become the driving force behind Transform Evia, a collaboratively owned rural regeneration enterprise. At core of Transform Evia is the question: could an underdeveloped rural landscape like Evia become a home for a generation of Greek (and European) thinkers and doers remaking the world, one small step at a time?


This September Transform Evia is excited to collaborate with Brake the Cycle to host a 10 day tour of Evia Island’s grassroots community projects exploring this very question of remkaing the world.


Transform Evia X Permaculture Design


In these times of planetary-scale ecological crisis new cultural stories are needed to make sense of a world that is fast changing. Rapidly induced economic and cultural transformation is a runaway reality that has long dawned on Europe’s increasingly disenfranchised South. In places like Evia — where dislocation and collapse has become a vivid, everyday experience — that the old story no longer makes sense is self-evident. We might even say it is being composted.


Transform Evia is midwifing a number of startup ventures on Evia Island and in the spirit of exploration and experiment we are inviting people to see these changes unfurl in real time. Nature Play is an educational startup helping our kids to design and build their own lifelong learning adventures. Origin Club is an ethical e-commerce platform that helps small farmers sell and distribute their products online. The Brake the Cycle tour will run a multi-day tour of ENA (Evia Non-profit Association), a local solidarity network co-developed by Origin Club. Participating projects include Kandili Natural Farm, inspired by Fukuoka, Ilias’ Organic Farm, a youthful farming collective, and Paliomylos Permaculture Project, diversifying a 20 acre organic olive grove to polyculture.


And most ambitiously the Bike Tour will offer participants an optional half day design sprint focused for Elysion Fields a landscape led micro-festival & eco-resort. Behind all this is the desire to demonstrate a new model for economic and cultural development. Evia is a place of immense natural beauty: a fertile and biodiverse paradise of mountains, beaches and forests. It is also home to a series of nascent businesses informed by Permaculture which we invite you to come and see.


Enter Stage: Brake the Cycle


Brake the Cycle is an authentic adventure into new ways of living which is, and always has been, a permaculture project in its own right. This summer Joe and his motley crew of intrepid explorers will offer low impact adventure travel which collectively spans 10 European countries and many thousands of miles. This is sustainable short-haul eco-tourism that is plant-powered, accelerated by transformative life coaching and highly recommended by a dynamic and committed alumni. Offsetting flights by planting trees is a bold gesture, an attempt to fully and finally close the loop, because in every other respect this is European-wide cross pollination at its most radical and intentional. 

For a one time co-founder like me, it is a wonder to behold this precious baby that is Brake the Cycle grow. Establishing the sustainable business models which help startups like this one thrive is critically important —- and full credit to Joe for his clear vision and rugged perseverance over the years. But in truth it is only the beginning of this story.


There’s something much more powerful than a business bubbling up here, something which hints at a virility that could spill over into mass social movement building at any moment. Mile by mile, conversation by conversation, young people have taken to the country lanes, actively redefining their hopes and dreams whilst simultaneously re-imaging our rural landscapes through a visceral encounter with them. Surely this is disruptive innovation at its most unlimited and carefree. 


A Greek Island Odyssey


So what happens when you take a wildly ambitious bioregional scale regenerative culture design challenge and spend ten days guiding a team of enthusiastic change-agents through it, encountering inspiring people and projects in a scatter-gun of cross-pollination? 



Honestly we have no idea what might happen: and that’s the magic of co-creativity. We simply invite you to come and play with us. To come and explore mountains and beaches, fields and forests, historic villas and epic monasteries. The Odyssey tour will have something for everyone, whether you’re an artist or design thinker, an activist or an entrepreneur, a storyteller or a community builder. It is an open and honest call to an epic adventure, for friends old and new, combining half day bike rides with half day self-directed learning experiences immersed in many of the most inspiring grassroots community projects in rural Greece.


Of course, it is no understatement to claim that adventures like this one just might change your life for good. Six years in, just look at how my own Evia Island learning journey is working itself out. It is surely all the evidence you could possibly need.


Marcus Letts is a design thinker and event producer from the UK. He lives on the isle of Evia in Greece with his wife Emily and two young boys, Seth and Lucas.

Discover more and say hello by visiting his blog at https://medium.com/@marcus_letts 


To find out more about Transform Evia www.transformevia.com/odyssey


To ride with us around Evia, find out more: www.brakethecycle.xyz/the-greek-odyssey