Kaia & I went kayaking today out from Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos. Highlight: snorkelling 3 ft away from a HUGE sea turtle (4-5ft long)! Actually, it swam to us and surprised us. So fabulous, after seeing these guys nesting up in Tortuguero Park in Costa Rica (not sure if same species though). Yvonne and Jake went on two SCUBA dives and saw sea turtles, hundreds of rays, sharks, and fish all around – they loved it. So we had a great warm up day for our cruise tomorrow.
If you read the previous entry (posted last night) you’ll know we spent a few days hiking around Chugchilan. About 20 years ago a couple of young Americans – Andres & Michelle – were visiting this very off the beaten path area, and had troubles finding a place to stay. Long story short … they decided to put down roots and built the Black Sheep Inn.
They loved the fabulous landscape of the Andean paramo, the very welcoming people, and wanted to tread lightly on the world. They especially liked the remote feel of the area. Why did they name it the “Black Sheep”? Because there are lots of them around. Because it sounds good and is understood in lots of languages (eg. Oveja Negra), and because the type of traveler that would even find the village of Chugchilan could be considered a “black sheep”
They built an eco-lodge, and tried to create a community feel in their space. Lots of places call themselves eco-lodges. But I have to hand it to Andres and Michelle – they really thought this one though. Andres toured us around the eco-features.
– all walls are “adobe” in construction – bricks made from mud and sand on-site
– most roofing is thatch or tiles recovered from other buildings being torn down
– all toilets on site are composting. recovered compost is used in gardens around the property. water for washing hands and flushing the urinals is collected from the roof
– much of the furniture and other wood construction was recovered from demolition in town
– as much as possible, features were made from recovered parts. For example, the weights in the “gymnasium” were adobe or car motor parts.
– natural lighting prevails. For many years there was no recycling for glass bottles, so Andres and Michelle saved all their bottles and used them throughout the Inn for “windows” – for function, for beauty, for waste management.
– the Inn needs heating at night, owing to the 3300m elevation. They space heat with wood and use the scraps left from milling local lumber, and only the non-native pine and eucalyptus
– the kitchen uses as much local food as possible … but this is a challenge, so much does need to be brought in from Quito (this is the key challenge of remote eco-lodges)
– the operation is fastidious about waste generation – SO much is avoided or re-used, resulting in only 1 oz of non-recyclable waste per guest per day
Low environmental impact is of course a key aspect of ecotourism. But community involvement and benefit from the operation is also key. Andres and Michelle still own the lodge, but it is run entirely by Ecuadorians from Chugchilan (OK, save for a few months stint of dutch Tecla) – including the manager/operator Edmundo. The lodge started a waste management/recycling system in town, has contributed to the school, and funds the internet cafe in the library for local kids. Andres and Michelle have worked in the schools and helped maintain the water and phone systems.
Another key element of ecotourism is promoting understanding of local ecosystems and cultures. The Inn’s focus on hiking the surrounding hills and communities provides ample opportunities for this, as detailed in our my previous entry.
It’s also worth noting that the Inn has lots of fun, low impact stuff to do; yoga in beautiful studio, zipline, waterslide, frisbee golf.
All this aside, the Inn was lovely .. to look at, to eat at, to play, to relax, to socialize.
I recall Yvonne’s reflection on the challenges faced by Monteverde community in Costa Rica, as “development” marches on. Locals were worried about the impact of a new paved road on their rather remote town. Chugchilan is now at a similar crossroads. Our trip up to Quilatoa was delayed about 15 minutes because of road construction. You can now drive the 20km in from Zumbahua into Chugchilan on a beautiful paved road. Andres was really worried … even to the point of wondering if he and Michelle would ultimately have to leave as the “remote” part of the Inn disappears …
I will leave you with the following definition of ecotourism. It comes from Héctor Ceballos-Lascuráin who is considered by many as the “father” of ecotourism, with some modifications by Black Sheep Inn creator Andres:
“Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy, study and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features – both past and present), that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations”. This definition was officially adopted by IUCN – The World Conservation Union – in 1996. According to this definition, ecotourism denotes nature tourism with a normative element. Also, ecotourism should be seen as a component of sustainable tourism (which should now embrace all types of tourism, including city and beach tourism). In general, I may say that I am quite surprised and satisfied with the evolution of Ecotourism since I coined the term back in 1983. However, I am also concerned that the term has been variously abused and misused in many places. In my own country, Mexico, and in many others, I am sad to see that “ecotourism” is seen mainly as adventure tourism and carrying out extreme sports in a more or less natural environment, with little concern for conservation or sustainable development issues.”