El Hatico cattle ranch: The problem is the solution October 30, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Colombia, Latin America, Nature tourism, ecotourism , add a comment
VALLE DE CAUCA, Colombia – When Alicia Calle, an environmental scientist with Yale’s Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative, first told me of El Hatico Nature Reserve, her face lit up for the first time since I’d met her an hour ago. We’d been talking about the state of the environment in Colombia, a subject with much to lament, given the spread of mining operations, cattle ranching, vast monocultures of sugarcane and African palm and coca, deforestation, water contamination, the same story throughout the Americas.
What is it that gives you hope, I asked her, as I do in every interview. It was then that she pulled out a booklet and started showing me photos of El Hatico.
“Let me be clear: I don’t like cattle farming; I think it’s created terrible environmental problems and social inequalities throughout its development in Latin America. But this is a place I’d really like you to see, a place that’s turned a major problem into a part of the solution.”
COATEPEQUE LAKE, El Salvador – The palms are swaying restlessly in the electric darkness, waiting for the storm to arrive. Lightning flashes over Santa Ana Volcano on the far side of the lake; just a few minutes ago I was walking along the shore with Elmer, catching the last bits of sunset over the lake.
He sensed the storm coming before I did. “Ya viene el agua,” he said. Literally, “Now the water is coming.” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect; rainy season notwithstanding, El Salvador gifted me with a blue sky my first full day in the country, perfect for visiting the pyramids of Tazumal and Casa Blanca, then catching a bus to this sparkling expanse of blue amid the volcanoes.
Calling my bluff on Los Cabos November 17, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, ecotourism, voluntourism , add a comment
(Melissa Gaskill photo)
Eco-travel writer Melissa Gaskill called my bluff on my Los Cabos story last month. “Los Cabos is, unfortunately, an example of the worst kind of development and tourism,” she wrote. “No sense of place, no sensitivity to the landscape, destruction of natural resources, excessive use of water, ultra-luxury developments staffed by underpaid locals… And I’m afraid too many people think that swimming with dolphins is an eco-tourism activity (a misconception we’d do well not to encourage).
Sorry, I love your newsletter, but just had to vent on this one. Baja California is one of my favorite places in the world and my worst nightmare is that the entire peninsula will end up one great big Cabo.”
Truth be told, I have never been to Los Cabos, so I’m not in a position to judge. I wrote that story as part of a series for The Buzz Magazines, in which I interview local travelers about their experiences. I do, however, trust Melissa’s judgment; she’s an excellent Texas author and journalist (here’s her blog and profile), and one whose environmental sensibilities match my own. So I did the only sensible thing: I invited her to write her own piece about Baja California as a guest post, and she kindly obliged.
Here’s Melissa’s story about a voluntourism expedition into the wilds of Baja California, a program aimed at saving the endangered sea turtles there, and the spectacular slide show that accompanies it. Enjoy!
Turtle Rescue on the Eco Side of Baja November 17, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, Sustainability, ecotourism, voluntourism , 4comments
by Melissa Gaskill
A tent on the sand with a solar-powered light, solar shower hanging nearby, composting toilet behind a gnarled palo blanco tree. Travel doesn’t get much more eco than this.
Organized by Baja Expeditions, one of the oldest outfitters on the Mexican peninsula, and SEE Turtles, a non-profit promoting conservation tourism, this trip includes three days in the Gulf of California and three on Baja’s Pacific coast with a night in La Paz in between. We also take part in a local sea turtle monitoring project that, once a month, puts out nets to catch sea turtles, measuring, tagging and then releasing them. The data helps determine the success of efforts to help these endangered animals.
The first day, the group gathers in the hotel lobby for a quick van ride to Baja Expedition’s office for breakfast, wetsuits, masks and snorkels. Then we load onto a panga, one of the blue-and-white fiberglass boats common along both coasts of Baja. Our route crosses La Paz Bay to Isla Espiritu Santo, an uninhabited mountainous island. A line of white tents along a fingernail of matching sand overlook a gem-blue bay where pelicans, cormorants, and brown and blue-footed boobies crash into the water on a dawn-to-dusk pursuit of fish. Two cooks prepare our meals on a gas stove inside the kitchen tent, using fish straight from the nearby waters, peppers grown north of La Paz, hand-made tortillas, and other fresh, local ingredients.
A leap of faith in Guadalajara October 24, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Esperanza Project, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, ecotourism , 5comments
“This is my office,” he says with a broad smile and a sweep of his arm toward the mirror-like pool in front of him, the basalt formations all around and the forest beyond. We’re in a place he’s dubbed “Naturaleza Mistica” or “Mystical Nature,” where water has carved these crystalline pools into the rocks all around.
It’s a place that invites contemplation, inspiration and renewal. Birdsong ricochets from tree to tree in the stillness of the afternoon; the water drips from pool to pool, and a cricket chirps from a nearby crevice. I can’t imagine a better place for an office. Luis is the founder of Eco-Tours Guadalajara, the area’s first tour company dedicated to outdoor adventure. Now he and his 10-member crew lead adventures in rockclimbing, rappelling, ziplining, mountain biking, scuba diving and canyoneering. Today he leads a group of travel writers, in Guadalajara for the SATW convention, through various degrees of terror and exhilaration on the first three, beginning with a rappel down a 50-foot sheer wall and a clamber up another one, followed by a leap from a cliff on a zipline.
Now we’re following him through a grassy field to a rocky forest as he interprets the geological and biological wonders of this place.
It was a leap of faith that brought Luis to this place in his life. He was an excellent secondary school teacher – so good that he was promoted to school principal. He enjoyed education, and his wife Lucinda taught there, too. But something in Luis kept calling him to the great outdoors, to the wilds of the mountains that encircle Guadalajara.
“Finally I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “I needed to be outside, in nature.”
So after 11 years in public education, he and Lucinda left their jobs and founded Eco-Tours, taking their teaching skills to a new audience. Now their pupils learn to overcome their fears and bond with the natural world around them.
“Ecotourism in Jalisco? There’s no demand for it,” he was told. But he persevered, and now business is booming. His is one of four ecotourism companies in the Guadalajara area.
“We have one of the most spectacular sites in the country for ecotourism – excellent walls for climbing, beautiful landscapes, amazing canyons, and all just 45 minutes from Guadalajara,” he says. “This place is a natural for ecotourism.”
Mexico City Ecological Park: A wilderness restored October 22, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Esperanza Project, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, Sustainability, ecotourism , 3comments
This could be any other forest on the outskirts of any other city, I think to myself as the path curves through a grassy field, past a burst of orange sunflowers and into the shade of a mossy oak grove. Then Guadalupe stops and gestures for us to take a seat on the cool boulders in the clearing.
“Close your eyes,” she says. “Breathe deeply. Feel the peace that is in this place.”
Far in the distance, the murmur of traffic dissolves into the timeless rustle of the wind in the trees.
I do feel the peace; but my mind is straying back to what Guadalupe has just told me about this place, and it defies imagining.
Just two decades ago, this ferny hillside was virtually indistinguishable from the city below. And had it not been for Ajusco’s position as one of the most important aquifer recharge zones in Central Mexico, and a political drama that is still playing out to this day, it would have remained that way.
Bite of El Diente, and Tips for Climbers October 7, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, ecotourism , add a comment
Most climbers tackle their art with a passion that could only be called contagious. I exposed myself to that particular virus this spring, carried by veteran rock climber/writer/attorney Jamie McNally, and I suppose that’s why, as I prepare for a week in Guadalajara, I’m packing my climbing gear.
One of the menu of outings offered by the Society of American Travel Writers in its pre-conference lineup was “Eco-Adventure in El Diente,” and with a name like that, how could I resist? Especially with the excellent training provided by Jamie, who nearly killed me in my first exposure to rock climbing this spring. It wasn’t until I went online today and googled it that I realized that where he failed in May, he may have succeeded in October.
El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me…
My account of my May adventure will appear in the Dallas Morning News this fall (posthumously, perhaps) so I asked Jamie to provide a few tips for beginners as I prepare to punish myself on the cliffs of El Diente. (El Diente pic compliments of Marc and Kristi, who climbed there a year ago and made it sound like a piece of cake in their excellent blog… Thanks, guys!)
OK, so after reading Marc and Kristi, and after going through Jamie’s tips (below, for the very brave), I’m feeling better about the climb. Honestly, it’s the mountain biking that I’m kind of freaked out about. I’ll keep you posted – if I’m not in traction.
Read on for Jamie’s excellent tips. And if the climbing bug bites you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
11 tips for a successful photo safari September 30, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Africa, ecotourism , add a comment
Giraffe, Crescent Island, Lake Naivasha, Kenya (Fred Tooley)
Good nature photography takes years of painstaking study and practice, first-rate equipment and a great deal of patience. But as Houston architect Fred Tooley discovered, spectacular shots are there for the taking on safari, and you don’t have to be a professional photographer to get them.
I asked him to share his top ten photo tips, and he was generous – he even gave us an extra. For a more extensive collection of his photos, and other Houston safari travelers, see African Adventures, and keep an eye out for their story in Buzz Magazines.
Bringing nature to the mall September 16, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Nature tourism, Sustainability, Utah, ecotourism , add a comment
Images featured the elegantly woodsy Swaner Ecocenter surrounded with waving grasses, long-necked waterfowl, blue skies and the dramatic Wasatch Range. So it was no small surprise that Nora, our guide, pulled into a shopping center right across from WalMart and dropped us off. “It’s right over there,” she said. “I’ll park the car and then come join you.”
I contemplated getting a gelato first, or maybe window-shopping at the little boutique. Then I remembered why I was there.
It turns out the the pictures didn’t lie. This is no ordinary shopping center, and the Swaner family is a big reason why. The ecocenter sits at the heart of 1,200 acres this family bought and saved from development and, land which has been restored into a surprisingly wild habitat right off I-80. It’s tucked into the Newpark Town Center, which is striving for LEEDS environmental design certification (the ecocenter has already set the standard with a platinum LEEDS designation, the highest ranking). Located as it is on the edge of this mixed-use condo community and resort area, it’s ideally located to reach out to shoppers and residents who might otherwise not give a thought to visiting an educational center dedicated to nurturing and raising awareness about the environment.
Here’s a sneak preview:
Park City: A summertime eco-adventure August 24, 2009Posted by Tracy in : Nature tourism, Sustainability, Utah, ecotourism , add a comment
Mention Park City and Gortex-clad skiers come to mind among the Christmas-card-pretty lodges nestled among the snowy peaks. But once the snow melts and the summer sun warms those picturesque peaks, another, greener scene emerges, and that’s the one we were treated to on this trip.
Park City is now marketing itself as an eco-destination, and notwithstanding its reputation as a getaway for the rich and famous, the city government as well as private citizens have worked hard to preserve the natural beauty of the place while lowering its carbon footprint, and some interesting initiatives have emerged. A vibrant arts community gives the city a colorful, quirky edge. All of this, combined with hundreds of miles of hiking trails and a landscape that begs for human interaction, give the green traveler multiple reasons to be here.
Our tour began with a trip to Olympic Park just in time to see the Flying Aces, an amazing troupe of Olympic skiers who wowed the crowds with a series of gravity-defying acts like triple-triple flips and twists before landing in a pool of water before our eyes.
Our next stop was just as amazing, but in a different way: The Swaner Ecocenter, an environmental study center and nature preserve located on the edge of a shopping mall. This was my personal favorite, and I’ll write more on this later.
But every Park City day must include a bit of decadence, so we paid a visit to David Perkings at High West Distillery. This turn-of-the-century livery building on historic Main Street is being converted into a high-class restaurant and whiskey and vodka tasting room that will be the first of its kind.
A favorite Park City pastime in the summer is mountain biking, so I signed us up for a class with Mike Broome, an expert mountain biker with Deer Valley Resort. Asked my biking level, I pondered a bit and responded intermediate; let me just emphasize, for the record, that a lifetime of road biking, even participating in a marathon, does not render one an intermediate mountain biker. Mike outdid himself trying, but after my hour-long lesson, I’ve reclassified myself as a mountain biker wannabe. More on this later, too.
Suffice it to say, we earned our apres-biking activities. Lucky for us, Sunday brunch at the Stein Eriksen is a sumptuous event in itself – consistently voted the Best Brunch in the State, and with everything from seafood to petit fours to accompany traditional favorites like eggs benedict with salmon and maple-smoked bacon, it was plain to see why.
Our final surprise was the Park Silly Sunday Market, an open-air market peopled with artisans and performers as well as farmers and foodies. Amazingly, the founders set out to make this a zero-waste event, and they’ve largely succeeded. But this one, too, is worth a story of its own. So stay tuned, and I’ll fill you in on that later.
Meanwhile, some images my camera found along the way: