This week I have been thinking about the catch-phrase of
the times ‘Responsible Travel’ and what this means. For some people this means off-setting their
carbon footprint for the miles they have flown, for others it means staying
somewhere “eco-friendly” where recycling and the use of sustainable materials
is maximised and non-organic waste outputs minimised, whilst for others it
means doing something to ensure local communities get the most out of your
visit – by ensuring the use of locally-owned businesses as much as possible or
by doing some volunteering perhaps.
As social and environmental consciousness continues to
spread around the globe and persist within our mindsets, so too has the idea of
ensuring that when we travel our moral standards don’t get left behind.
On my travels outside of Costa Rica, I have often been
saddened by the negative effects of tourism in places I have visited. In many parts of the world, cultures have
been eroded by Western influences, whilst communities continue to find
themselves balancing precariously on an economy dependant on foreign capital
and labour rather than locally-based development from the bottom-up. This happens here in Costa Rica too, as it
does in so many other countries on every continent.
Having now been at Tropical Adventures more than a month,
I have had the chance to visit several of
our projects around Costa Rica and see
for myself the benefits our volunteers are bringing to communities and wildlife
across Costa Rica. And it’s not just the
smiling faces of the children as their new teacher walks through the door, or
the site of a mother turtle being able to lay her eggs without the fear of them
being taken away by poachers.
Being actually based in Costa Rica, our close
relationships with local service organizations, government agencies, host
families and other national citizens not only ensure the smoothest volunteer
experience for our volunteers but maximum impact for the communities in
need. In addition, we have a contract with the
Ministry of Environment and Energy in the Guanacaste Province and share office space with them.
This allows us to have a deep knowledge of – and access to – the different
national reserves in this region and enables us to send volunteers to those that need the
In the last two years, Tropical Adventures has supported
over 400 volunteers of all ages and nationalities who have come to Costa Rica
to make a difference in the communities they have visited. For our volunteers, their trip has not only
enabled them to do something to help others, but has also enabled them to gain
an invaluable insight into the culture and nature of Costa Rica by actually
taking part in Costa Rican life.
One project I had the privilege of visiting last weekend
was the Bambu Cultural Center in the Bribri indigenous reserve close to the
Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo. The
Cultural Center is a beautiful thatched building built by traditional methods.
This is a place where volunteers come to teach local adults and children and
help with the running of the Center and cultural activities that take place.
The income the Center gains from hosting tour groups and travelers goes
directly to supporting 20 local families. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to stay overnight there but look forward
to doing so sometime soon.
In the village of Bambu, volunteers can also help at the
local school and the retirement home, which is
home to some of the most beautiful
people you could ever meet. Volunteering
in Bambu is sure to be a wonderfully fulfilling experience for anyone and is very
valuable for the school children, teachers, parents, elderly people and their carers
who benefit from the wonderful work our volunteers do. Where else would you get to experience living in an indigenous community and taking part in their daily life?
From there I took a tour, along with three of our
volunteers, into Panama with our friend, Danilo Gabb, a Bribri indigenous leader, and his
friend Ezekiele who run the Cultural Center together with Ezekiele’s wife,
Fulbia. I was happy knowing that the
money I spent on the tour was going directly into the running of the Cultural
Center. The tour (see pictures)
encompassed an hour’s boat ride in an indigenous, dug-out canoe along the
Suretka River and a two-hour hike through the Talamanca Mountain range and into
the UNESCO World Heritage listed Parque Internacional La Amistad (International
Friendship Park) over the Panama border to a farmhouse; a muddy yet absolutely
stunning journey. At the farmhouse
there was a chance for everyone to take a dip in
the waterfalls next to the
house and enjoy sleeping on a platform looking out under a sky
full of stars
before completing the return journey by horse the next day.
It was a once in a
lifetime experience for all of us. What
was so special about the trip is that it was a chance to see a side to
indigenous life that most other travelers don’t get to see and what was so
amazing is that the people who live in that area have to do the same muddy
journey every time they need to visit the local village. Of course, the saddening thing is that receiving a decent education and
healthcare is a challenge for the people who live in the area.
When we started in 2005, Tropical Adventures was here
purely to place volunteers in communities and projects that needed extra help. However, Scott and Isaac found that many
volunteers asked them to recommend tours and activities to do during their time
in Costa Rica as well. As a result, we now have a wide range of tour and
accommodation providers we work with to ensure our volunteers make the most of
their time in Costa Rica. While this means volunteers don’t have the hassle of
organizing their own activities, being a non-profit organization it also helps
us a lot too because the small amount of commission we make on each booking
goes back into helping us support all the projects we work with. Our Tour Coordinator, Susan Schuetze, is
always happy to arrange tours and accommodations to suit anyone who is visiting
Costa Rica, regardless of whether they are volunteering or not.
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