In 1971, Paolo Lugari gathered a group of visionary scientists, artists, and former street kids to see if they could create a sustainable village in the middle of the environmentally and politically harsh desert of Llanos Colombia.
Home schooled in South America, Lugari had a vision as he flew over the region as a young man that the lushness of the Amazon region had once been present in the vast Llanos, but was interrupted by geological events. Later, he set out to prove that he was right. His philosophy was that if it could be done there, it could be done anywhere.
The group he brought to create Gaviotas experimented, innovated, and ultimately recreated a thriving ecosystem and eco-village of 200 people that resisted drug wars and violence (the village has a no guns rule and remains apolitical) and that became a UN model for ecological development. Gaviotan energy is drawn from varied renewable sources, including solar panels, wind turbines, and a water pump powered by children on a seesaw. They grow their own food and have seen a return of wildlife that had not inhabited the area for many generations.
When funding began to dwindle in the 1990s, the villagers figured out that their pine trees were producers of valuable resin, which they could export along with other goods they had created like clean water.
While some may call Gaviotas a utopia, Lugari prefers "topia" because "u" in Greek means "no," so utopia literally translates to "no place." Gaviotas, however, is an actual place, where dreams became real.