Our good friends, Jesse and Dave, recently introduced me to this cool new blog feature that allows for a picture slideshow within a post. So I decided to feature some slideshows of our Best Of photo albums. Here’s the first – back to August 2010 in Ecuador. Enjoy…
Before I even knew I wanted to work in the tourism industry, Sarah and I were planning this round-the-world journey. It just so happens that over these past 5 years, I have immersed myself in the world of eco and sustainable tourism as a career, and conveniently, our big trip is now doubling as a professional development endeavor (can I write this trip off?!?). Don’t worry, I’m not working too hard.
Among a few different hats that I’m wearing on the road (representative of STI, trip research for AWR, etc), I am contributing bi-monthly to the Responsible Travel Blog of World Nomads, a travel information and insurance provider.
You can find my first contribution, Trashing Ecuador, at this link, or copied below.
Dealing with waste (trash, recycling, composting) is one of the biggest issues that cities and destinations have to deal with in their pursuit of sustainable tourism. Generally speaking, it’s rare to find recycling and composting infrastructure outside of the western world. Imagine my surprise when I saw this image (Otavalo Waste Sorting Photo) walking down the streets of Otavalo, the famous market town north of Quito. Otavalo has composting?!?! Boulder, Colorado – the hyper-enviro-conscious- hippie-haven doesn’t even have city composting pick up – how can these Ecuadorians have a more progressive program than my home town? Well, they do, and it’s not just the businesses. Across town, there are separate garbage cans are labeled “Organico” and “Inorganico”, and city workers follow this dump truck help to sort any misplaced trash.
I mentioned my enthusiasm for the program to a friend who lives in the neighboring community of Cotacachi, and he quickly corrected my misconceptions. “Oh, all that organic waste just goes to the landfill. They separate it, but it gets re-mixed at the dump site.” Really?!? Why go through the trouble (and costs) of separating organic waste if it’s just going to end up in the same place? Apparently, Otavalo used to compost their organic waste. But that was under the old Mayor. The new Mayor doesn’t see the need to pay for a composting program, and so he discontinued it. The sorting infrastructure was kept in place to continue to educate the public, because at some point down the road, they might start composting again (when funds become available).
While the cities are pulling a fast one by their citizens and visitors, there are some inspiring examples of waste management in the Ecuadorian tourism industry. I just finished a short stint at the Black Sheep Inn, an eco-focused accommodation in the Quilotoa region. BSI is famous for their toilets…seriously. There hasn’t been a toilet flushed on the property since they opened their doors in 1996 – they are all composting toilets. It helps that the views from these waterless waste disposals overlooks gorgeous Andean mountains and valleys (View from the toilet). But that’s just the start of their waste management strategy.
BSI is nearly a zero-waste operation – everything consumed on the property is either recycled or reused. Guests are asked to separate their trash into plastics, metals, and paper. All food waste is either fed to the on-site animals (of course there are some black sheep) or composted for the gardens that grow food for the restaurant. Glass bottles are re-used for artwork. Grey (dirty) water is used for irrigation. BSI, in their efforts to benefit the local residents, also funded and built a community recycling center, as well as a recycling pick-up. Andres, co-owner of BSI, is known to the locals as “The King of Trash”.
Otavalo and the Black Sheep Inn have one thing in common when it comes to trash – they are both trying to educate people about the importance of proper waste management. As a responsible traveler, you have the obligation to the destinations you visit to properly deal with the trash you produce. Think about what resources you use during your travels, what you can do to minimize them, and how to properly dispose of the trash you create. Avoid excess water bottles when traveling (bring your own refillable bottle!). When you do drink out of glass or plastic, try to find recycling options, even if that means packing the empty bottle in your pack for the afternoon. Refuse unnecessary plastic bags. Seek out accommodations like BSI who are dealing with your waste responsibly. You get the idea – the less trash you create, the more the destination benefits.
Written by Ted Martens
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Ted’s journey into the travel and tourism industry started the summer after a two-month backpacking trip throughout Europe ignited a life-long passion for international travel. With a master’s degree in Tourism Development, Ted has focused his efforts on helping non-profit Sustainable Travel International promote responsible tourism across the globe as their Director of Outreach & Development. After working too hard for the past 5 years, he is on the road again, escaping the office for some field research… is the responsible travel movement taking seed across the globe, or not?
We’ve managed to get in quite a few amazing hikes so far on our trip. They can conveniently be divided into two different types – hikes that require a machete and rubber boots (aka hiking in a cloud forest), and hikes that do not require a machete and rubber boots (aka hiking along the rims of volcanic crater lakes).
Our cloud forest hikes occured while we were living with a family and going to Spanish school in Pucara. The family lived in a beautiful area surrounded by a dramatic landscape of steep cliffs and flat mesas. They were also blessed with spectacular cloud forests (where they hadn’t already been chopped down or burned for farming).
Our friend Peter took us on our first hike down the side of one of the cliffs to the river on the valley floor. He also arranged for us to go on our second hike with a guide named Milton (seen to the right here) who is intimately involved in protecting and reforesting a nearby cloud forest reserve. Milton was a great guide and you could tell that he was passionate about his work with the preserve. After our first two hikes, I was under the impression that all hikes were led by guides wearing knee-high rubber boots and carrying machetes, as both Peter and Milton sported that uniform. It is quite entertaining to hike behind machete-wielding trailblazers, but much needed as the cloud forests are quite dense and the plants grow quickly covering the trails.
Our third hike was lead by Peter’s friend and best guide, Jose (seen left here). Jose was with us for 3 days as we visited different communities so we had a chance to get to know him well and also to learn that his English is better than he’d led us to believe!
Jose took us on a spectacular hike around Lake Cuicocha. It was a lake that formed after the Cotacachi Volcano exploded 3100 years ago. Though it’s not a particularly big lake (only 2 miles across), it’s extremely deep – nearly 650 ft. Because of it’s high sulfur content and the continued volcanic activity below, there is little to no life in the lake. We hiked around the nearly the whole thing (~7 miles) and had the place almost to ourselves – only passing one other group along the way. Jose teased us that only foreigners like to walk around the whole thing so that probably explains it!
Our second crater lake walk was around Lake Quilotoa at the top of the Quilotoa Volcano. The locals claim that this lake is bottomless (though geologists say that it is actually about 900 feet deep). We hired a truck with 3 other Americans that we met while staying at the Black Sheep Inn. The five of us and a guide rode in the back of the truck for an hour up to the top of the volcano. We were quite high in elevation at that point (12,800+ ft.) and it was extremely cold and windy up there – but the incredible view was well worth it. We then walked around a ¼ of the lake before descending down the edge and walking back to the Inn through beautiful Andean scenery and small towns.
This shot, captured at Lake Quilotoa, was taken by our new friend, Matt. We were hiking along the rim of this volcanic crater lake, when a herd of sheep, a few donkeys, dogs, and indigenous women came cruising by. More photos from this hike coming up soon.
I love this place! Owned by an American couple that has been living here and running the Inn since, 1996, this special place is way-off the beaten track but they certainly reward you once you get here. After 8 hours on two different buses, we were happily walking up the driveway and were warmly welcomed by Andres and his partner Michelle.
Ted was aware of this place because of his work with Sustainable Travel International. The Black Sheep Inn is one of their members and they have also been honored repeatedly in the travel industry for their commitment to the environment and the local community. I’ll let Ted write more about their initiatives and accomplishments in another post, but know that they’ve gone over the top (in a good way) with everything from composting toilets to solar-powered water pumps.
On the property there are:
- Accommodations for up to 35 people – including a dormitory-style bunkhouse, private doubles with shared baths as well private rooms with private baths.
- A beautiful guest house where we eat delicious vegetarian, family-style meals and where you can check your email, read a book and/or get a (free!) cup of tea or organic coffee at any time (from the Intag coffee cooperative, no less!)
- An incredible yoga room with everything you may need (Suz and Jay, you HAVE to come here!)
- A “weight room” with cleverly hand-made weights and equipment
- A sauna and hot pool. The heat emitted from the sauna heats the water in the pool. It’s not a proper jacuzzi, but it made our day and kept us warm enough!
- As well as many fun extras like a volleyball court, darts, a zip line, a water slide and a frisbee golf course!
We’ve also had the pleasure to meet other travelers from around the world. Last night we had dinner with an Ecuadorian woman and her young daughter; a couple from the Czech republic; an American ex-pat and his girlfriend who is originally from Taiwan but has been living in Ecuador for 20+ years; a American guy from San Diego traveling alone and two women from San Francisco. What a treat! Today we went hiking with the guy from San Diego and the women from San Francisco – amazing pictures and details from that hike to come!
Andres and Michelle have thought of everything and know how to cater to a Western tourists needs and desires – as they are gringos themselves! Though we loved our community homestay experiences these past couple weeks, it’s a welcomed treat to have a few over-the-top extras in our life these next few days. In fact, we just changed our two-night reservation to 3 nights. Needless to say, I’m thrilled.