Hola, ¡Chévere que estás aquí!
Visit to Samiyaku Organic Permaculture Farm at over 3,500 meters above sea level
My name is Raffael Winkler (22) and I’m from Vienna, Austria. Today, I’m sitting on the sofa in the Atandahua’s casa comunal in Bolivar, Ecuador. On my left lies a guitar and near my feet rests our community dog, Zorro. Christmas is on the way and for more than two weeks this has been my new home, 2,900 metres above sea level in the Ecuadorian Andes.
I still remember the first day when I came here. The bus dropped me off at the wrong point and I had to walk up the hill with all my luggage. The first night was freezing cold and I didn’t have any heating at my host family. ¿Why the hell did I decide to travel to Ecuador? Within the following days and weeks, I would receive my answer to that question.
Salinas de Guaranda, a village known for its micro-enterprise and pizza!
I started my internship in Eco & Community Tourism in a region with limited development; but with many traditional practices I saw an opportunity. I would try to turn these cultural activities and beautiful landscapes into unique/authentic activities for tourists, while helping small businesses establish themselves. This was the aim, but I had no idea how I should achieve it.
Traditional sugar making process in the jungle farm Urku Yachay
After I received an overview of the project and the place where I’d live and work, then spent the first week travelling to different potential tourist sights and visited a variety of small tourism businesses in the area. Why do I call them ‘potential’ when they already exist? Well, I didn’t expect three things.
First, that this region has such high differences in altitude. A few minutes ago, I was in the subtropical forest at 850m wearing a T-shirt and sunglasses. Within less than an hour I’m wearing a thick hoodie at 3,050m!
Hiking down into the subtropics at dawn
Second, the region is so remote that you can’t find any of the tourist sights on the internet. Some streets at 3,700m were not even on Google Maps. Third, the places I visited are so beautiful, but need so much help at the same time.
Visiting the community of Pambabuela with spectacular views
After getting to know all the places, I sat down, opened my computer and started thinking. How can I help and what should I do within my limited time? The fact that I speak Spanish fluently helped me a lot. I started my work by writing several Spanish reports about the places I visited. Afterwards, I dived in deeper. I looked at the different accommodation and places and analysed what they needed the most.
I found out that almost none of them were on a website or were mentioned on Google Maps. They all lacked the most important things: tourists, and they all had one thing in common, that nobody knew that these places existed.
Wool factory, just one of almost 30 micro-businesses in Salinas de Guaranda
I revisited some of the places and took pictures and improved the information which I had received already. Slowly, but consistently, I saw progress. I uploaded the pictures on the internet, to help the local business but their accommodation on online booking platforms such as Airbnb or Booking.com. Less than one week later, they already had their first reservations and were happy that my work helped them so fast.
La Minga Hostal in the famous Salinas de Guaranda
All in all, I had a great time. Even sometimes things like no running water or cold temperature made life a little bit inconvenient, but that has not stopped me from continuing with my work and life here. I can recommend it because the place has so much to offer. I saw great things and helped people who need it most.
Thanks El Terreno for offering me the chance to improve my knowledge about sustainable tourism in Ecuador ;)
- Raffael Winkler, Austria