Saturday, April 19, 2014

Back to work? - in Honduras

I thought this was meant to be a holiday..

But now I find myself in workshops with sheets of paper, sticky labels and white-boards.  But I guess it’s not really “work”. Firstly, I’m not getting paid! And it is fun! After several visits to some of the local communities on Santa Barbara Mountain we have all got excited about further developing an environmental / ecotourism project on the slopes of MontaƱa de Santa Barbara. The people here recognize that their current activities - coffee and subsistence agriculture - are a threat to the cloud forest as the poor economy encourages ongoing clearing - if coffee prices are low, you need to clear more forest just to keep up. If coffee prices are high, you need to clear more forest to capitalize on the opportunity because you don’t know when they will fall again. Consequently, many of the people here are keen to break the reliance on coffee and derive alternative revenue from other enterprises that don’t require continuing forest clearing. 
To find a community that has already come to this realization is important - often it takes years to convince local people that there is even an issue that needs considering, let alone addressing. And the area is beautiful, with two spectacular national parks (Cierro Meambar Azul, and Santa Barbara) on either side of the stunning Lago Yojoa. Probably much of this realisation has come from the work of a couple of impressive Peace Corps volunteers, Alicia and Alex who have previously done great work with the community. With a ready supply of tourists in the nearby D&D Brewery / Hotel, most of whom rarely get off the Lonely Planet gringo trail, we have all of the ingredients for a potential project.

So...after a couple of visits to the mountain, I’ve decided to get involved and commit a bit of time here, to at least test whether we can offer an adventure that will get tourists out into the community.  After a bunch of workshops across three villages, we developed a vision for what they wanted the area to be like 5-10 years down the track and scoped the opportunities for bringing people here.  But that of course meant that I needed to get out and check out the opportunities for myself - so what follows is the makings of our offer - mountains, forests, caves and birds, which, combined with super-friendly people, some cultural activities based around seemingly idyllic local agricultural lifestyles, forest foods and medicines and history, will hopefully bring people (and their money). The challenge is to design a project where tourism doesn’t destroy the very values that attract tourists in the first place (the history of tourism world-wide) and where the locals retain control, rather than a couple of foreigners, or one or two families, capturing all of the benefits. 

If you’re looking for something a bit different for your next vacation. put this on your list!

Setting off to explore the region…no shortage of enthusiastic guides.

Washing the coffee beans
Coffee break

Cutting a trail to the cave entrance

The old guy has lived near here all of his life and never been inside!
We're going to need a ladder to get down here - some steps cut into a tree trunk should do the job.

At least we have light...

Phoenix rising??

The gang
The local shaman...

…with a collection of artifacts.

From caves to mountain vistas…..

Yet more mountains to climb
…some a bit of a scramble

but worth the climb
A random cool bird - wine throated hummingbird

…and a couple of good mates

I guess if this is work…. then I can cope!