Friday, January 29, 2016

Sustainable Tourism in Ecuador?

Student thoughts on lessons learned...

Based on what we've observed through this course, sustainable tourism has definitely made an impact on Ecuador. Tourism has undoubtedly benefited Ecuador economically. We saw this through our interactions with the indigenous families that we lived with and how jobs have been created for them through tourism.  Sustainable tourism has also given people the opportunity to sell products that they make in order to generate income.  Socioculturally, sustainable tourism allows people to connect to and share their culture with others. We've been able to learn not only about larger Ecuadorian culture in general, but also about the cultures of minority groups whose traditions may not have been as steadily maintained without interactions with tourists. Sustainable tourism has also served to educate tourists about the environment.  Ecuador is so biologically diverse that it's the perfect place for environmental education. Ecotourism also promotes Ecuador to operate more environmentally friendly practices. For instance, there is now more of an emphasis on organic farming.
Sustainable tourism is evident throughout the country of Ecuador. I personally witnessed economical, cultural and environmental sustainable practices when it came to the tourism in Ecuador.  Without the push for tourism, the economy would suffer.  The country thrives on tourists.  We were lucky to experience certain tourist accommodations through cultural excursions. WE were invited into homes of the indigenous and lived the daily life of their culture.  (Quichua of the Andes, Agua Blanca and Amazon).  Lastly, the environmental contributions to sustainable tourism were seen mainly in hostels we stayed in - special water-saving toilets and showers, re-using of linens, and automatic motion-sensored lights  One of our hostels was even awarded the silver level LEED certification.  Each aspect of the sustainable tourism in Ecuador was touched on in pre-departure meetings, but witnessing it and seeing it with my own eyes is completely different.  It has opened my eyes in more than one way.  Specifically in regards to this courses, I will forever travel as a sustainable tourist.
Tourism is promoted everywhere in Ecuador - all kinds of tourism - but ofcourse, they are best known for sustainable tourism.  I feel like I have seen and experienced this first-hand while traveling int he country.  Some examples include homestays, which help to preserve and educate about culture and also experiences such as visiting natural habitats such as Isla de la Plata, where they help to educate and preserve natural species and wildlife.  For example, one part of the island was closed off to protect a nest of Albatross that they are trying to maintain in the area.  These types of experiences help to promote sustainability.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

No potato left behind

San Clemente, Ibarra

Our two days living among indigenous people in San Clemente brought different experiences for different students.  We were divided into three indigenous families for our stay, and at each home we had the opportunity to experience firsthand what life was like for that indigenous family.  We had a few activities together and also some unique experiences in each home.

Six people stayed at Juanito's house.  His house was the largest and became the meeting point for group activities.

Two groups of three stayed at other...nearby...houses.  By nearby we knew in advance that it would be a 10-15 minute walk to Juanito's house.  Wesley, Alex and Blain stayed with Natividad.  Kirsten, Halle & Kelsey stayed with Susana. The walk itself turned out to be quite a challenge.  Most of the walk was uphill (at least in one direction, though for Blaine, Wes & Alex, both direction).  By uphill, I mean it involved trekking through a canyon and using natural rock stairs 4 - 6 times a day to get back and forth.  With the altitude at 7000+ feet these groups got a workout.

We were treated to amazing, filling, enormous meals at each house.  Mealtimes were a great chance for everybody to learn more about the lifestyle of San Clemente Indigenous people and the community-based tourism initiative that the San Clemente Community started in 2002.  Breakfast usually included coffee/tea, bread and jam, and eggs, although some had the opportunity to  learn how to make tortillas and others had empanadas (with banana and cheese!).  The lunch and dinner menus generally included an appetizer (Ecuadorian corn nuts, avocado), a soup (usually with potato or quinoa or barley), and a main course (chicken or beef), and dessert (usually fruit - our favorite might have been the bananas with chocolate sauce).  We had a community meal one day for lunch and had a picnic spread of traditional foods from llapingachos (potato cheese patties that are to die for), cuy (Guinea pig - we saw one be born and another be killed for our food in the same day - tastes like chicken - no really!), potato slugs (yes - our second round of insects - fried up they taste like Cheetos). And many more foods!  It was an honor to share a meal with these hard working people!

Speaking of hard work...we worked hard while we were there, from milking a cow, to planting lettuce, grinding corn to make cornmeal, and digging up potatoes.  A lot of potatoes. Probably in the realm of 400-500 potatoes.  The majority of the group spent an entire morning helping a local family harvest their potatoes.  For most, this was literally the first time they had done anything like this.  We worked and laughed with the families we were helping.  It was hard work in the hot sun, but it felt so good to be useful and do this type of labor.

Three brave souls (Brynn, Wes and Alex) and our guides Tupac (yes that is is name - it is a Kichwa name) and Ivan, woke early and braved a trek to the TOP of Imbabura Volcano.  In 7 hours, they literally climbed a volcano. Others took time in the afternoon to ride some semi-wild horses on a guided ride through the hills of San Clemente with breathtaking views.  3 of our hosts accompanied the ride on foot.  

San Clemente is beautiful and hilly, and has a large canyon that runs through it.  The houses are mostly small cement houses and the people have large agriculture feilds that help sustain the community. Most homes have a couple cows and several dogs.  When asked what she likes best about San Clemente, one of the hosts, Susana said that she likes the "seguridad" (safety).  She said she likes that they don't have to lock doors, and never have to worry about getting robbed or assaulted.  The people in this community sustain themselves primarily through agriculture, and it was clear we were eating what was currently harvested.  They have a lot of corn, potatoes, and fruit.  They also showed us how they use the local trees, leaves, bamboo, and ecology in general in their lives, from food to medicine.

They started their community-based tourism project 14 years ago because there weren't jobs for their children.  They needed jobs for their kids as they grew up and needed other sources of income to diversify their community.  They said that they have learned a lot from tourists, both good and bad.  They enjoy having Europeans and North Americans because we value their traditions and don't look down upon them.  Sharing their culture (for example, through a cultural show, handicrafts, and educational lectures about their agriculture seasons and celebrations like INTI RAIMI) helps them maintain the traditions through generations.

It was very clear that this is a hardworking group.  The Caranquis were the last indigenous group to be conquered by the Incas.  They were "brave for fighting" as our host family indicated.  In the end, the Incan ruler married one of the Caranquis princess in order to conquer.  The famous Incan ruler Atahualpa was born of this Union.  They rise early and are physically active all day, in agriculture or even just to get from place to place on foot.  We left exhausted but happy to have been able to share a moment in time with this indigenous community.

Coming back to Quito: Day 2 in the City

After a long overnight bus ride, our group was so glad to be able to return to our LEED certified hotel before going out for a day in the city. After breakfast, we set out for a walking tour of the city. Declared as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1978, Quito is famous for historical and cultural preservation. Our first stop was the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the largest Neo-Gothic Basilica in the Americas. Instead of typical gargoyles, the basilica includes grotesques of native Ecuadorian animals like iguanas and tortoises. 

We then visited Independence Square, the city's governmental center and the largest and least-altered historic site in the Americas. The buildings come from a wide range if architectural styles, art, and sculpture which has been mostly inspired by religion. 

One of the most interesting aspects of our visit was the Iglesia de la CompaƱia de Jesus. Built from 1605 to 1765, it is exemplary of Ecuadorian baroque style. This church was shaped by Jesuit priests who were skilled in architecture, painting, and sculpture. The church is gilded in 23 carat gold leaf, and the fusion of European and Indigenous Ecuadorian art in the construction of the church makes it truly unique. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but the door is exemplary of the artistry involved. 

We also visited the Convent of Saint Francis, which includes beautifully manicured gardens and a museum full of Franciscan religious art. 

After a lunch of some DELICIOUS empanadas, we drove about 20 minutes outside the city to the Mitad del Mundo. It is the location of the Equatorial line that includes a museum which we were led on a tour through. 

Quito is a diverse and colorful city that all of us have come to love, and that we are so thankful to have been able to hang out in for awhile. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Cultural Impact of Tourism

by Kristin Kimberlain

There is so much to reflect on after our San Clemente homestay. Going in to the experience, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. For some reason, I had the idea that somehow tourists coming in to the San Clemente community would interrupt their lives and culture.  I thought that legitimate culture could not be lived out with the introduction of outsiders into the community.  I think we found, however, that the introduction of tourists in to San Clemente has actually allowed the people there to appreciate and continue their cultural traditions and to create economic growth.  For example, most of the younger generation has learned about Quichua highland culture through teaching it to tourists. We saw that people like Tupac and Camilla enjoyed sharing their traditions with us while, if we had not been there, they might not have been interested.  The community was also running out of jobs for people before tourism was introduced.  Tourism has provided jobs for people so they don't have to leave the community to find work. I also enjoyed the fact that we were able to help with everyday tasks. It was great for us to learn how to do things like plant and pick potatoes and they were able to get help with their work.  It seems like community-based tourism in San Clemente is a win-win situation for everyone.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Community-based tourism -Agua Blanca

We got to see a great example of community-led tourism as we learned about the Agua Blanca community. This is a modern day mestizo/indigenous community that comes from the Mantena tribe. 

They have used ceramics found in the area to determine lineage. Check out the similarities below. 

The current community is self-sustaining through agriculture. They grow bananas and other tropical fruits among other produce. They also use tourism as a form of income. They developed a museum of their culture and heritage and lead guided tours within the community to educate tourists about their traditions

One of the most unique elements of the community was the fact that there is a natural sulfur lagoon fed by a stream. The lagoon contained 70% sulfur and locals swim their daily for its healing properties. MC students tried it out to heal some sunburns. 

The same lagoon water is used for agriculture. They highlighted this as one of their practices to better conserve water. 

The museum gave us a great look into Manteno past life. Below are a few examples of what we saw. 
Burial pots

How they sailed and hung anchor

Ancient tattooing

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fun In The Sun! - Isla De la Plata

For the last few days we have been staying in the beautiful fishing village, Puerto Lopez. During our stay, we were able to visit a near by island, Isla de la Plata, also known as "the poor man's Galapagos" due to it's similarities in flora and fauna to the Galapagos Islands. Isla de la Plata is home to many species of bird, including the famous Blue Footed Boobies! We were able to hike around the island, bird watch, and even snorkel in order to get a better look at the abundant sealife inhabiting the surrounding coral reef. It was very interesting to look at this excursion from a sustainable travelers perspective. It seems as though those working on the island really help to promote education about the island, its history, it's wild inhabitants, and also the importance of protecting such a landscape.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Tourism in Banos

Guest Blog - Kat White

Because Banos has a beautiful landscape, natural hot springs, and exciting adventure sports, many tourists are attracted to spend their vacation there.  By having this influx of foreigners in Banos, there are positive contributions to the economy.  With more tourists comes more employment opportunities, such as opening a stall that sells handicrafts, working at a hotel/hostel or working at an adventure sport location.  Another positive impact is the opportunity for local residents to learn new things that would otherwise be difficult to find access to. For example, when Caroline and I went to the market this morning, we ran into 2 girls studying English at the local Universidad.  They were trying to complete a final project and needed two native speakers of English.  We sat down in a park and carried on a. Conversation in English while one of the girls recorded us.  Because of the increase in tourist activity, an eclectic group of people travel toBanos and provide the locals with exposure to new things.  

However, one negative impact that tourists have in Banos is that they interfere with people's daily activities.  For example, on day a blogger was standing in the middle of the sidewalk recording a log.  He was unaware and inconsiderate of the people trying to walk.  Even though this is something very small I'm sure that the residents of Banos experience things like this quite often.  I imagine that over time this becomes quite annoying and causes the residents to become fed up.  

Another negative impact that tourism may have on Banos is the increased demand for housing and other resources.  As more tourists come, there could be an increased need for Hostals.  Trees will be cleared, animals will need to find new homes and the natural landscape would be affected surrounding the new construction.