Tag Archives: ecotourism

Lukomir

War and peace merge in Bosnian landscape

By Tracy L. Barnett
for BBC Travel

“This is the bridge where the war started,” said Mustafa as we crossed over the sparkling Miljacka River that divides the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.

Latin Bridge, Sarajevo (Tracy L Barnett photo)
Latin Bridge, Sarajevo (Tracy L Barnett photo)

I had walked over this bridge before, just to admire the view, but had not realised its significance: on the afternoon of 6 April 1992, this is where snipers mowed down two young women as they joined a peace march. Multi-ethnic strife disintegrated into full-blown war as Serbs laid siege to Sarajevo and began killing Muslims and Croats as they tried to carve out a Serb Republic.

It was just one more marker in a picturesque city engraved with such dark memories. And on this day, it was the starting point of my journey with a man, who like most Bosnians, has spent the two decades since the war reconstructing his peace.

Mustafa Sorguc (Tracy L Barnett photo)
Mustafa Sorguc (Tracy L Barnett photo)

Mustafa, my guide, was only 17 when the Bosnian War began, but he still defended his Sarajevo neighbourhood when Serbian forces began shelling his apartment building. A Bosniak, or Bosnian Muslim, he fought alongside the Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs of Sarajevo against Serbian nationalists who wanted to take over all these lands to create a Greater Serbia.

With his blue eyes, close-cropped hair and Balkan good looks, he could be his own action hero. He studied to be a dentist after the war, but the cost of setting up his practice was prohibitive. Instead, he became a tour guide who makes his living sharing the stories of war and the places of peace that his exquisite country has to offer.

Read the rest of the story at BBC.com.
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Green tourism builds alternatives in post-war Bosnia

By Tracy L. Barnett
For BBC Travel

During the war, American Tim Clancy and Dutchman Thierry Joubert got to know each other in working together in the refugee centers. The two of them were equally inspired by the stunning landscapes of Bosnia’s Dinaric Alps. On a trip to the highland village of Lukomir in 1998, three years after the war had ended, Joubert began to think about starting a tourism organization in the mountains and highland villages; Clancy, it turned out, had been thinking along the same lines.

Thierry Joubert
Thierry Joubert

“To put it into perspective, nobody looked at Bosnia in those days as a tourism destination at all,” recalls Joubert. “Most of the World Bank-type funders were looking at it as a site for heavy industry. But we were saying Bosnia has more in terms of tourism than people realize.”

The other challenge, Joubert said, was to somehow help stem the flow of people leaving the rural areas for better opportunities, and to provide an alternative vision that would keep tat least some of them on the land and connected with their traditional culture. Most villagers made their living through subsistence farming and sheep herding. A steady stream of tourists would provide another way to supplement their income.

In 2000 they launched their first tour with a daytrip to Lukomir. (See related story in BBC Travel)

“The Bosnian population was like, ‘What? Why would we want to go there?’” Tourism or daytrips never existed before the war, he explained; most of the tourism was in the winter because of the Olympics, or there were mountaineering clubs that were limited in scope, and mass buses taking people to the Catholic pilgrimage site of Medjugorje.

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El Hatico cattle ranch: The problem is the solution

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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.”
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Santa Ana, El Salvador: Volcanos at sunset and a bittersweet sorbet

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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.
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Turtle Rescue on the Eco Side of Baja

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.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

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.

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A leap of faith in Guadalajara

Luis Medina, founder of Eco-Tours Guadalajara: "This is my office."

Luis Medina must be one of the happiest men alive.

“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.

"Naturaleza Mística"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.

On a recent El Diente tour, travel and outdoor writer Bob Sehlinger makes the first descent.
On a recent El Diente tour, travel and outdoor writer Bob Sehlinger makes the first descent.

Now we’re following him through a grassy field to a rocky forest as he interprets the geological and biological wonders of this place.

A lava flow over basalt bedrock yields clues of El Diente's origins, Medin explains.

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.

El Diente (The Tooth)It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Luis approached local tourism officials for support, but they were skeptical.

“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.”

Click here to take the photo tour

Contact Luis and his crew at promociones@eco-toursguadalajara.com or call (011) (52-33) 13 68 93 11. The Spanish-only website is at www.eco-toursguadalajara.com but Luis is conversant in English.

Mexico City Ecological Park: A wilderness restored

Dahlias were first cultivated here by the Aztecs.
Dahlias were first cultivated here by the Aztecs.

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.

Nature is a classroom for Guadalupe Nuñez at Mexico City Ecological Park.
Nature is a classroom for Guadalupe Nuñez.

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