Tag: Ecolodge

Industry Bloggin’

The next installment of my posts for World Nomads.  The original can be found here, or copied below

Peru: Empowering Women Through Tourism

Women and the Impact of Tourism

Women in developing countries have it pretty tough.  Sometimes very tough.  Often viewed as 2nd-class citizens, commonly marginalized to very limited activities and privileges, some women struggle to earn even very basic rights.  One of the biggest challenges preventing women from rising to equal status is  dependence on their husbands, as men are the traditional breadwinners.  Particularly in rural communities, the only paying work available is manual labor, leaving women unable to earn even the smallest wages.  It’s an unfair cycle – no work, no money, no power, no decision making, no work, no money,…

For all the negative impacts tourism is blamed for (environmental degradation, cultural exploitation, economic dependence, etc), the empowerment of women is one of the industry’s most consistent and commendable positive influences.  Granted, many of the most common jobs for women in tourism are low-skilled, low-paying positions that may actually reinforce existing gender stereotypes.  But, when approached with cultural sensitivity and commitment to the community, responsible tourism can provide opportunities beyond some womens’ wildest dreams.

Women’s Empowerment Project in Peru

I recently visited with a phenomenal example of a women-supported tourism project in rural Peru.  The  Yanapana Foundation is a local NGO dedicated to supporting the communities along the Salkantay Trek through sustainable social programs and income-generating projects.  While the empowerment of women is not cited as part of the organization’s mission, many of its projects are focused on small business development for women-run cooperatives.

A bit of background: The Salkantay Trek is a stunning 4-6 day hike, beginning in the town of Mollepata, and culminating with a visit to Machu Picchu.  With many travelers looking for an alternative to the heavily trekked and regulated Inca Trail, the Salkantay has experienced a significant boom in recent years (and having recently finished a trip along the trek, I can personally vouch that you should absolutely choose the Salkantay over the Inca trail).  While traditionally trekked with tented camp accommodations, the Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) has pioneered a lodge-to-lodge version of the trek.  Before their first lodge was even built, MLP established the Yanapana Foundation, understanding that the well-being of their guests was tied directly to the well-being of the local communities.

The Impact

Ok, so what’s really happening to support women along the Salkantay?  Yanapana has helped to establish a cooperative of women weavers and garment makers.  Previously only making garments for family members, these women are now earning fair wages for creating clothing and blankets that are being sold to MLP guests and other trekkers on the Salkantay.  Yanapana has helped to create and build a women-owned and operated jam making business that supplies all of MLP’s lodges as well as local grocery stores.  Yanapana has also worked to provide language and professional training for women along the trek to assist them in obtaining jobs at MLP lodges.  Oh yeah, and then there are all the other community projects facilitated by the organization, including providing free health care to local communities, gathering clothes for children in need, cleaning up the trail, providing health services and school supplies in rural schools, and teaching sustainable farming techniques.

So this is an impressive list of projects, and surely the organization’s impact is substantial.  But what really moved me about the work of Yanapana was talking to the women who have been supported by its projects.  To look into Maria’s eyes while she tells me that her husband now treats her with respect and dignity, and that she feels empowered to be contributing to the family’s finances is a moving experience.  And to hear from Mercedes, the Yanapana Director (also a woman), that in 3 short years, they have transformed the lives of dozens of women along the Salkantay Trek, with grand plans to expand their impact, is inspiring to say the least.

This is all possible thanks to a responsible travel company who recognizes that its success is tied directly to the success of those in the communities that support it.  Whether MLP’s guests are purchasing goods made by the Yanapana cooperatives or not, simply by using MLP’s services, guests are supporting the empowerment of women and the well-being of local communities.  As a traveler, your choices of operators or hosts truly make a difference.  Do what you can to seek out providers that have a similar commitment to the people in your host communities, and if you can, give a little extra to support their work.  Your choice may have a bigger impact that you realize.

About the Author: Ted Martens

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?

It’s a Hot One in the Jungle

Our next trip research assignment for Adventures Within Reach took us to the jungle. We flew from Lima to Iquitos, Peru which is the largest city in the world that can not be accessed by road! There are over 500,000 people in this place and you can only get there by boat (on the Amazon) or by flying. Immediately after we landed we were sweating. This place is hot! I mean, damn hot! Not only is the temperature high (in the 90s), but the humidity was the main challenge as we had gotten used to the dryness of being at altitude.

Taking our transport into the city, I kept getting the feeling we were near the beach – everyone is driving around on mopeds and wearing skirts. The bars are advertising tropical drinks and the weather is hot and sunny. However, though there is no beach nearby, there is plenty of water, and that water is the Amazon River.

We took a boat for over two hours up river before transferring to a smaller boat and continuing up a tributary for another half hour before reaching Muyana Lodge. Muyana is perched on stilts in the middle of the rain forest, hours away from anything. We were visiting towards the end of the dry season so the water level was quite low, but during the wet season the river comes up all the way to the stilts and rooms are essentially islands connected by the boardwalk pathway.

Both our room and the main lodge/eating area were entirely screened in, which did a fantastic job of preventing bugs from finding their way to us. Though overall the Muyana Lodge was quite nice, the fact that it is in the middle of nowhere means that electricity is a luxury. There is no electricity in the rooms (they provide you with a couple oil lamps each evening) and there is limited electricity in the eating area, depending on the time of day. No electricity means no air-conditioning (which we obviously weren’t expecting), but it also means no ceiling fans or any kind of relief from the heat. We would have paid good money for a breeze could such a thing be purchased!

Once we kinda adjusted to sweating all the time, we were happily distracted by our guide Moises (pronounced Moses) who was born and raised in the jungle. Our activities included:

  • A boat trip up the river looking for birds (herons and macaws) and wildlife (several kinds of monkeys and a sloth!), that culminated in a beautiful jungle sunset.
  • A hike through the rainforest with Moises who was amazingly adept at making a variety of bird and animal sounds as well as pointing out incredibly scary insects hiding in tree trunks, underground, etc.
  • Fishing for piranhas and other fish. I caught nothing but Ted snagged a couple piranhas and we then ate them for dinner!
  • A nighttime boat excursion where a different guide literally got out of the boat and caught a caimen (an alligator-type creature) with his bare hands!
  • Seeing pink-bellied dolphins and swimming in the Amazon!

I was pretty unsure about swimming in the Amazon after fishing for piranhas only the day before, however, after nearly 3 straight days of being uncomfortably hot, I couldn’t help but see any other alternative. Our guide led the way followed by Ted and another woman in our group. We all lived to tell about it and it certainly was worth the dip!

Ted and I loved our time in the jungle. It was an incredibly unique experience that we are happy to have had. That being said, we have decided that we are NOT jungle people and if it wasn’t for those cold-water only showers that we utilized at least three times a day, we might not have made it out without melting first!

Mixing Work with Play

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?

Best Trek Ever

Through Ted and I mostly have an open itinerary, we do have a few planned trips thanks to our good friends at Adventures Within Reach (AWR). AWR is a Boulder-based tour operator that we are working with while on our journey. It’s a pretty amazing “job” actually – AWR needs detailed information about different treks, hotels, and operators in some of the areas we are visiting, and we are happy to test, research, and report on them as it allows us access to some amazing adventures that would normally be out of our price range.  If you’re thinking about a trip to S. America, Africa, or Nepal, you should check out their website.  We’ve really been impressed, as you’ll see below.

Our first such trip arranged with AWR’s assistance was the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu with Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP). The most popular trek to Machu Picchu is the famous “Inca Trail”, but due to its immense popularity, limits have been imposed on daily access (500 people per day – needless to say, the trail is crowded).  In reality, there are many Inca trails in the region, and some of these alternative treks provide equally stunning scenery, and a much more private atmosphere. The Salkantay is one of these treks.

We knew ahead of time that the MLP trip would be fancy, but we really had no idea what we were in for. The 8-day trip was the most fantastic that either Ted or I have ever been on. We emailed our parents that we felt like we were on our second honeymoon! Anyone who is considering a trek to Machu Picchu that wants a “comfortable” experience should seriously consider the MLP trip. Hands-down amazing!

As I mentioned above, there are many different hikes that get you to Machu Picchu and most of these involve rather long days of hiking and then camping each night. The other companies usually make the trip in 3-4 days. The MLP trip is different, not only because they spread out the 24 miles of hiking over 6 days, but you get to spend each night in incredible lodges (with hot tubs!), eating beautifully-presented, wonderfully-delicious meals. In addition, the staff and guides provide over-the-top service and think of every last detail to spoil you rotten (why yes, I would love a cool towel and a glass of fresh fruit juice after my long day of hiking).

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves but a few of the many highlights included:

-Our first view of the Humantay Glacier. There we were walking along on our first day of the trek and then we rounded the corner to see the most beautiful glacier-covered mountain peak.

-The view from the hot tub at the first lodge (with the Salkantay Glacier and Humantay Glacier in the distance).

-The highest we’ve ever been! The pass on our third day of hiking took us over 15,000 feet! Ted and I have done a few 14ers (14,000 foot peaks) in Colorado, but this was certainly our first 15er.

-Wayra Lodge – the second lodge we stayed in our trek. It has to be situated in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  And, it’s only accessible by foot – no roads!

-The food. Peruvian food has been impressive nation-wide, but food we had on this trip was truly gourmet. We’ve never taken so many pictures of food in our lives. They were absolutely works of art.

-Our great group. We got to meet fun, unique people that are also in the travel industry. We were also lucky to have amazing guides and be accompanied by two cool MLP office staff members. You spend a LOT of time with your group, and we are certain that they were part of the reason we had so much fun.

-Oh, and by the way, did I mention it culminates at Machu Picchu, the most amazing historic site on the planet!  More on this soon!

So if you can’t tell, we absolutely loved the trip and would do it again tomorrow. It was literally the first thing we did upon arriving in Peru and it certainly set the stage for the amazing time we were going to have in this country.

More pictures?  Check out the full MLP album here.

The Black Sheep Inn

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.

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