One look into the eyes of Dario Schwoerer, you can tell he’s been to some places. Not just from the graying temples and rough hands, but his unusually calm demeanor; Like one who’s not worried about the problems the rest of us might face, running to the next event, being late on an electric bill, things like that.
I find this often when I speak to interesting people, they’re usually just confident, patient and the conversation just flows. This is exactly what I found after speaking with Dario before the wonderful presentation he gave to the student body, and a lucky few parents this past week.
Dario, his wife Sabine, and 6 person family have been sailing and traveling the world since, according to his estimations, the late 1990s. He comes from an outdoor background, being a Swiss mountain guide, and has grown up in the mountains of Switzerland. Guiding, skiing, climbing, and of course sailing for most of his life. During our conversation Dario was gracious enough to answer some of our questions about his non profit Toptotop.
After the interview, the Schwoerer family gave a wonderful presentation about their work, travels and experience while sailing and educating young people around the globe.
Dario explained to me that he started sailing around the world in the late ‘90’s. At the time, he was still a mountain guide, and traveling with a group of other mountain enthusiasts that loved being outdoors. It started simply enough, because he wanted a way to travel the world without using motor power, without damaging the environment. He felt strongly enough about protecting the environment, that he wanted to set an example for the people he interacted with, which lead him to creating ToptoTop. He strongly feels that environmental education is one of the most important elements to spreading more eco friendly behavior, and by showing people, particularly young people, how they should be living.
Over the years, his wife and he started a family and they enjoyed the lifestyle of being on a boat. They now have 6 children; Salina 14, Andri 13, Noé 10, Alegra 8, Mia 3, Vital 2. The vessel is a 50’ sailboat called Pachumama, Mother Earth in the Incan tongue, that they’ve sailed for over 120,000 km. That’s roughly 3 times around the world!
The main purpose of the journey, Dario explains to me, is mostly to educate school aged children through inspiration and exploration. Their motto for ToptoTop, the non profit that they started roughly 16 years ago, is – Explore. Inspire. Act. Pretty fitting, considering they’re definitely super charging this life maxim through their daily living, traveling and exploring.
When I posed the question to Dario about which cultures, countries or communities are living the most harmoniously with nature, he brought up three different examples. The Inuits, Amazonian tribes in South America and some South Pacific islanders in Papua New Guinea. All groups he had taken the time to live with, interact with and tried to get to better understand. To provide his reasoning he retold the following stories.
While living with the Inuits, due to drastic changes occurring in the Arctic regions, their specific ecosystems, they recently had to switch their diets from seals to dolphins. Seals, their main dietary resource for food, clothing, and survival, have become more scarce. While the rest of the world, or at least Western Nations would be horrified to hear this, he explained that it was quite natural for the Inuits to replace seals as their main dietary source of nutrition. The only available alternative are dolphins. It’s not like the Inuits can wait for the next container ship to bring in imported items from the mainland. They’re in the middle of extremely remote regions, and must eat in order to survive. Like other indigenous tribes they do eat and use every single last piece of the animals or fish that they take.
On the contrary, the tribes in the tropical jungles of Amazon don’t have a concept of the future. While they may have a huge variety of plants, animals and fruit to live off, they don’t talk about the future, and never use verbs in the future tense. Talking about resources disappearing in the distant or not so distant future has no meaning. While this is hard for us to comprehend, it does make sense. How can you explain to a tribesman that doesn’t understand the concept of the future, to understand the reasons for practicing sustainability.
The last example he gave was of cannibalistic tribes in Papua New Guinea. After visiting with these tribes people, and discussing why they eat their fellow tribesmen, they explained it was a natural part of their culture. Again, something that we western cultures would find abhorrent, was a matter of the natural existence for these people. According to Dario’s interactions with these cannibalistic communities, when times are lean during a famine, and people are starving it makes sense to reduce the number of mouths to feed, while also supplying a much needed source of food. But these tribes people see it as humane, and a natural part of their culture. The people that are eaten are given notice that they have 3 months to live, during which time they are given anything that they want to eat, or enjoy. The best 3 months of their lives is the idea. Then when it is their time to go, they are peacefully given some poison unbeknownst to them. And eaten.
Fascinating to be sure, and these stories make for great fodder in the classroom, or during the frequent school presentations that Dario and his wife give throughout the year as the educational component of their non profit.
Another part of their purpose is to climb all 7 of the highest peaks in all continents. The only continent’s highest peak that hasn’t been climbed is Antarctica. They started with Aconcagua in the Andes, have completed Everest with all the children hiking, or biking as far as base camp and have completed the others. All of this done without using any mechanized form of transportation. To date, they have climbed over 400,000 meters biking, hiking or walking.
Through all of this exploring, and traveling, there are a few core components to the educational aspects of the ToptoTop philosophy.
- Less is more, or having a minimalist approach to living. Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. The perfect example of this is Patagonia’s free repair of used clothing. Even if it’s other brands, Patagonia has events where they will repair your old sports clothing.
- Respect nature, by being in it. Disconnect, and spend time outdoors. There’s no better way to do that then doing active outdoor sports like sailing, skiing, climbing, surfing, fishing. Dario enjoys taking his children and students into all of these environments.
- They’re doing it, every day of the year. The latest expedition they have in the works is applying to Russia to cross the Arctic via northern Siberia. A trans Atlantic Pacific passage which has hardly been used throughout the centuries due to year round ice . Because of climate change, there is now some traffic going through this route, which is stark reminder to us all that the climate changes are having a real impact on our world. For hundreds of years, there has never been a time when ocean going navigators could have used this route to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Sadly, the route is now mostly used by large global oil companies and drilling rigs in search for new oil fields.
Using these approaches to Inspire, educate and act, they have brought their message to over 130,000 students worldwide. We are not just talking about a 20 minute presentation either, in some circumstances we are talking about days of hands on education with student groups, doing and being active in nature.
Often times they have scientists that come aboard and travel with them on Pachumama. This gives them the opportunity to interact with the scientific community and contribute to the science with real time data that they collect through their travels. Dario and Sabine were also involved in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, where they attended the COP21.
Plastic pollution is another environmental cause close to their hearts as well, and they’ve had first hand experience sailing through the Pacific Northwest Garbage Patch. When you see and experience first hand sailing through a plastic pollution garbage patch, your experiences can translate to educational anecdotes that become powerful agents in the classroom.
As our previous post about Greta Thunberg’s Friday School Strikes, you can understand that activism really works. Dario, Sabine and family are living proof that anyone can inspire, educate and act to make the climate, plastic pollution and the world a better place for us all to live.
Recently, Dario feels like because he only has one more peak in Antarctica to climb, and because his eldest children are approaching University age, he felt like it might be time to look for a place to settle. On dry land. He’s currently revisiting parts of Europe, and his native Switzerland. The timeline to settle is within the next few years, but he hopes and plans to continue TopToTop without or without him.
When asked how much longer Dario plans to keep his traveling ways going, he looked at me wryly with mischievous blue eyes and said, “Why, you want to buy a boat?”
Sadly, I’m not in a position to do that, but if you are you know where to find him.