A Travellerspoint blog


Eco-Tours and Not-So-Eco-Tours

A Reflection on the role of Ecotourism in our Travels...

Here in Peru, we've found ourselves on a number of treks: through snow-capped mountain ranges, desert canyons, and the Amazon jungle. Before everyone, we gathered information and debated about how we might be able to do it safely on our own. In each case, trekking with a guide turned out to be comparable in price, or even cheaper than doing it ourselves. So, after deciding to go with a guide, we made a goal of going about it the most ecologically-friendly way possible.
Tourism is guilty of having laid waste to much of the natural world. In Latin America, countries such as Costa Rica deign a blue ribbon in ecotourism, for its extensive regulation designed to preserve and protect the natural habitats that millions of tourists visit each year. It's neighbor, Panama, newer to tourism to its islands and coasts, has far less regulation. The upshot is local people tearing through shallow coral reefs in speed boats so tourists can chase dolphins (this was my experience in 2009).

What is “ecotourism” exactly? It is socially responsible travel to fragile or protected habitats.. As an alternative to commercial “mass” tourism, ecotourism designs to educate the tourist about the environment, to support conservation programs and to the empower the people of the communities visited, rather than exploit them.

By and large, ecotourism throughout Latin America has a long way to go.

While been conscious of carrying out our trash in areas where we know trash might be thrown into the nearby river, for example, we've been unable to produce no garbage ourselves. Organic materials that should be composted are generally thrown into the trash as well, unless there are pigs around. Unfortunately for people's general health and for the ozone, trash of every kind is generally burned. So one measure we have found somewhat effective is recycling plastic bags.

A word on the plastic bag phenomenon here: if you buy beans at the market, your beans will be put in a plastic bag, followed by another small plastic bag, and then a bag with handles to carry the beans. No matter where you go, anything you buy will come in a little plastic baggy, and no matter how many times you declare “No, gracias ya tengo!” and wave your own plastic bag in the air, vendors will still bag and double-bag. So we've gone to every market equipped with our own, fighting a seemingly losing battle with the plastic bag manufacturers of Latin America. With dozens of vendors selling bagged meals on buses, countless bags of garbage are tossed out of the windows on every bus ride. The only upside of plastic bags, T.L. points out, are that fewer to-go containers and Styrofoam cups are being consumed here.

Our Not-So-Eco Tour in Colca Canyon

Across South America, certain tours function under the guise of “Ecotourism”. We decided to go with one such agency called “Ecotours” of Arequipa, in order to visit the Colca Canyon. And boy, did this guy talk up his “ecotour”: his Eco-conscious tour guides would be sure to carry all trash out of the canyon, and we would stay in sustainably designed eco-huts along the way. We gave him the benefit of the doubt that there might be some more eco-friendly practices about the tour we would discover later on, and so chose his tour at a higher price than the other mainstream tours offered.
Upon arriving to the canyon, we were shuffled among hundreds of other tourists to form a group of 8 people. Our guide, who we were assured would speak English, spoke not a word, and had apparently not guided this trek much before. It turned out, we were not on an eco-tour at all, as our guide wasn't even familiar with the “EcoTour” agency. After he realized we were interested in the environment, he began to point out plants, making up names and facts about each one. Finally, after misidentifying some of the most common plants in Peru, I assured him it was alright that he didn't know about the plants, but that he please stop inventing stories. While he was a nice guy, he was unable to answer a single question we had the entire trek. He did manage to point out a field of corn, and describe how it is used here: it is eaten, a lot, in many different ways. Suffice it to say, we didn't learn much about the environment in the Colca Canyon, nor did we notice any ecologically friendly measures being taken along the tour.

Our Eco-Tour of the Amazon
Our EcoTour of the Amazon went a lot further to earn its designation. We came into the tour because we were couchsurfing with David, a guide with many years of experience, who began leading his own tours called “Descubre Costumbres” (Discover Customs) a few years ago. David, having family out in an Amazon river community, has been working to bring awareness to the problems of deforestation there.

One of the more common practices contributing to deforestation in the Amazon today is the practice of cutting down and smoking logs to create “carbón”, or charcoal, for energy use in the cities. It is a filthy practice, characterized by all of the official corruption and land abuse you can imagine. Then of course, there is your traditional felling of huge amazonian trees for construction. We had a chance to witness all of this in action: there's little attempt made at hiding it, nor is it controlled. It was not the big, mean, corporate power dressed in black coming in to deforest... it was local people, looking to make money quicker than they otherwise might growing and selling plátanos. In less than a week's work, people turn a profit clearing hectares of forest for carbón than farmers will earn in years of selling their produce.


Still, while the effort at awareness was present, practices along the Amazon river do not look to be changing anytime soon. To convince people that saving the environment is more important than quick cash in their pocket is a hard sell, considering many people down here cannot get by without immediate remuneration.


David, our guide, was also well informed about many other ecological issues of the land and the water, including climate change and the record-high flooding in amazon villages that had caused a state of emergency in Iquitos and the outlying areas.


I am happy to report, aside from our time in the Amazon, I have not noticed any horrific signs of environmental destruction in the areas we have visited. Still, the pure volume of people traveling to certain sites, continues to degrade the habitats and historic sites so widely visited here.


Posted by AmyERichards 08:55 Archived in Peru Tagged peru amazon ecotour colca_canyon descubre_costumbres Comments (1)

The Heights of Macchu Picchu

Neruda speaks to the splendors of the most renowned wonder in South America...

Then on the ladder of the earth I climbed
through the lost jungle’s tortured thicket
up to you, Macchu Picchu.

High city of laddered stones,
at last the dwelling of what earth
never covered in vestments of sleep.

In you like two lines parallel,
the cradles of lightning and man
rocked in a wind of thorns.

Mother of stone, spume of condors.

High reef of the human dawn.
Spade lost in the primal sand.
This was the dwelling, this is the place:
here the broad grains of maize rose up
and fell again like red hail.
Here gold thread came off the vicuña
to clothe lovers, tombs, and mothers,
king and prayers and warriors.
Here men’s feet rested at night
next to the eagles’ feet, in the ravenous
high nests, and at dawn
they stepped with the thunder’s feet onto the thinning mists
and touched the soil and the stones
till they knew them come night or death.

I look at clothes and hands,
the trace of water in an echoing tub,
the wall brushed smooth by the touch of a face
that looked with my eyes at the lights of earth,
that oiled with my hands the vanished
beams: because everything, clothing, skin, jars,
words, wine, bread,
is gone, fallen to earth.

And the air came in with the touch
of lemon blossom over everyone sleeping:
a thousand years of air, months, weeks of air,
of blue wind and iron cordillera,
that were like gentle hurricane footsteps
polishing the lonely boundary of stone.

Climb up with me, American love.
Kiss the secret stones with me.
The torrential silver of the Urubamba
sends pollen flying to its yellow cup.
The empty vine goes flying,
the stony plant, the stiff garland
over the silent mountain gorge.
Come, miniscule life, between the wings
of the earth, while—crystal and cold, a buffeted air
dividing the clash of emeralds—
oh wild water you come down from the snow.

Love, love, until the sudden night,
from the Andes’ringing flintstone,
to the red knees of dawn,
study the blind child of the snow.

Macchu Picchu, did you set
stone upon stone on a base of rags?
Coal over coal and at bottom, tears?
Fire on the gold and within it, trembling, the red
splash of blood?

Give me back the slave you buried!
Shake from the earth the hard bread
of the poor, show me the servant’s
clothes and his window.

Tell me how he slept while he lived.
Tell me if his sleep
was snoring, gaping like a black hole
that weariness dug in the wall.

The wall, the wall! If every course of stone
weighed down his sleep, and if he fell underneath
as under a moon, with his sleep!

Ancient America, sunken bride,
your fingers too,
leaving the jungle for the empty height of the gods,
under bridal banners of light and reverence,
blending with thunder from the drums and lances,
yours, your fingers too,
those that the abstract rose and rim of cold, the
bloodstained body of the new grain bore up
to a web of radiant matter, to the hardened hollows,
you too, buried America, did you keep in the deepest part
of your bitter gut, like an eagle, hunger?



Posted by AmyERichards 15:00 Archived in Peru Tagged picchu heights neruda macchu poetry pablo Comments (0)

Bitter Interactions in a Beautiful Place

Yet again, we've found ourselves in another country for longer than expected, but unlike Ecuador, our prolonged stay cannot be chalked up to enchantment for the country. Sure, there is endless to do and see in Peru and every region is certainly unique in its culture, history, climate, and indigenous population. Unfortunately, however, the common thread we've experienced is the degraded, cheap and saddening interactions we've had with so many people here. Beyond rudeness, we have encountered a downright meanness that I have never before experienced in Latin America.

Upon arriving to Peru, about 7 weeks ago, we crossed the border and stopped for a simple breakfast. The woman who worked at the restaurant was cold and proceeded to overcharge us with no explanation although 2 of us spoke Spanish. Our second meal in Peru, at the market in Chachapoyas, was served in a likewise manner, with the woman literally snarling at us as we ate. I brushed off both instances, as I has been forewarned about the less-than-friendly way foreigners are greeted in Peru. As we pressed on, however, we have been disappointed to find that we have been constantly lied to, taken advantage of, and disrespected. I don't know that I have ever felt so dehumanized in all my travels.

The change in attitude we have encountered, between other countries and Peru, is certainly related to the fact that we've had less volunteer opportunities here, and so have been regular tourists for longer stretches of time. I've been yearning for settling into a volunteer project run by Peruvians, but the opportunity has not been there: unfortunately, thousands of people pay thousands of dollars a month or even per week to come volunteer in Peru, making the options for volunteer work, in its purest sense, very slim. The willingness of so many foreigners to pay exorbitant sums to volunteer here only feeds the sense that foreigners are made of money and nothing else.

Another difference that has impacted our experience here is that we have had fewer opportunities to participate in the CouchSurfing network in Peru, which has left us meeting fewer Peruvians in the friendly, altruistic way that one meets people through CouchSurfing. Still, it is important to note that many people who have put themselves on CouchSurfing in Peru are actually trying to charge people to stay at their homes, which of course, runs counter to all that CS stands for.

A number of instances have left me near in tears as people demand money for no apparent reason and I battle to be left alone. You have literally to say “No me engaña” time and again when making purchases, because most everyone we encounter during exchanges seems to be looking to take advantage in any way possible. Taxi drivers attempting to charge double rates after you've just learned their childrens' names on the ride, waiters who will add 10 soles to your bill for no reason and after correcting them will short you 10 soles in change, women at the market who will add 4 soles to your total unless you stop them: The result has been my complete loss of trust in the people here and near constant suspicion in my interactions with them. I can only expect to be lied to at this point, and I have been made to feel like I am constantly defending myself.

So why are we still here? Well, a change of travel plans and a steep tourist visa for Bolivia has made
Peru the best option for us for now. Further, the difficulty with leaving has been that we have still hoped to see all of the wonders that Peru's tourist industry has roped off and charged up to 18 times more for foreigners than nationals to visit (Compare to Ecuador where Presidente Correa has made all national parks free to the public, whoever the public may be!).

Other travelers we have met making their way through South America have expressed similar sentiments about the people here- quite a few of them actually decided to pass through the country as quickly as possible to make it to friendlier lands, Ecuador or Bolivia. One Spanish man pinpointed that he never once felt like anyone was actually listening to him here. Questions are often met with a dirty look or no response at all. While I speak the language, the people here have put up a barrier in communication that is often impossible to break through.

So, tourism. Does it totally annihilate people's ability to treat others as people and not just a credit card? We hate it and fuel it all at the same time. But while I have visited the pyramids of Giza and the Vatican in Rome, I have never felt so disoriented by the way tourism has totally ravished daily human interactions with foreigners. I can only hope that the parallel relationship between the amount of tourism and the amount of cheating, lying and dehumanization is not universal.

Every year here, thousands of students graduate with 5-year degrees in tourism, in which time, it seems some of the key things they have come to learn has to extract money from these objects, these “extranjeros” and quite little about the actual places they have been “studying” to lead tours to.

So while I am sure we have been guilty of many of our own blunders in interacting, I know that I am familiar enough with manners and customs here to know that we aren't doing anything terribly offensive when we interact. Nor are we unable to communicate.

This is a strong reflection on the people here, and of course, this is what we have experienced mainly as tourists here. I know that most Peruvians are kind and friendly, as we have seen with the few CouchSurfing experiences we have had. I place a great deal of value on the human interactions I have while traveling, and so the degraded ones I have experienced here have certainly shaken up my understanding of Latin America and left me feeling downright awful and sad.

Posted by AmyERichards 07:58 Archived in Peru Tagged people peru difficult disenchantment interactions Comments (0)

Traveling Sick

an account of my health over the trip (original version was written to seek advice from my travel doctor)

sunny 79 °F
View To the equator and beyond! on tltisme's travel map.

Febuary 18: Baños, Ecuador, diagnosis myself with parasites due to following symptoms: fatigue (energy one day but not the next), joint aches, easily blistered skin, consistent gas, occasional and small amounts of blood in stool. Our WWOOFing host, an aging Canadian ex-schoolteacher/hippy explained to me how she had been experiencing the 'sulfur burbs' and was afraid she had parasites. She pulled out the pills she said she takes at least every six months 'just to be sure', and for $2.80 it seemed to make sense.
Take Parasi-kit: 2/18 evening, 1 tablet albendazol 400 mg.
2/19 evening, 2 (1 g each) tablets secnidazol

I feel substantially better over the next couple weeks, higher energy levels, better digestion, less gas, less aches. No more parasites!

March 8: Puerto Lopez, Ecuador. On the bus to this coastal town I feel like I am fighting a sickness. The following evening I go to bed early with swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. My lymph nodes return to normal but my energy level remains low the following two days in Puerto Lopez. Amy and I prepare delicious fresh fish (cooked!) meals at the hostal including beet salad. My urine is red.

March 12: Cuenca, Ecuador. Severe and consistent fatigue though little other symptoms finally prompt me to consult a doctor. After hearing Amy's translation of my past months health and self-prescribed parasite medication, the friendly doctor has a quick listen to my stomach and intestines and declares I have a bacterial infection. She writes a prescription for antibiotics as well as pain and bloating medication (neither of which I really suffer from) and almost as an afterthought tells me to go across the hall to get my stool tested. After successfully obtaining a stool sample with the miniature spoon and dish purchased for $0.07 I wait fifteen minutes for the results. Amy convinced the lab worker to test for parasites as well as bacteria ($4 for the former, $1 for the latter). The doctor emerges from the lab and exclaims “muchas amoebas!” were found in my stool as well as bacteria. She scribbles another prescription for Flagyl that I am instructed to take following my antibiotic regimen and we ask her how these intruders may have found their way into my digestive tract. “Comida del calle” (street food). She thinks I have probably had them for many weeks and not parasites but the steroids in the Parasi-Kit made me feel better for a little while. We happily pay her the $5 consultation fee and are on our way. I feel a little squeamish at the thought of all the things living inside me at the moment but am relieved I have gotten a diagnosis and prescriptions for treatment. I hypothesize that I ingested an amoeba cyst more than a month prior, after cleaning out pig pens in San Agustin, Colombia or while eating the double servings of blood sausage served at every meal there (Amy gave me hers). Impossible to know, bacteria or amoebas could have been contracted from any number of grilled street meats, unwashed or washed with contaminated water fruits or vegetables, juices made from unpurified water or chilled with unpurified ice, or any other food or less than purely hygenic situation we have been confronted with but embraced in the spirit of traveling.
March 13-March 18: 1 tablet Bactiflox 500mg every 12 hours, morning and night for five days.
March 20-27: 1 tablet Flagyl 500 after lunch and dinner, 2 pills a day for seven days.

I feel much better just a couple days after starting the antibiotics. My energy returns and the trip goes on into Peru. After finishing off all the medicines I still have some indigestion (perhaps because much of my beneficial digestive bacteria has been eradicated) but also some slightly sulfurous or stomach bile tasting burps and I worry that there are still some things going on in there that shouldn't be.

March 31, outside Tarapoto, Peru. We are now in the fringe of the Amazon river basin and jungle and contemplate beginning to take our Malarone for malaria but hold off after talking to our volunteer hosts who say there has not been any malaria in the area. They say some dengue has been reported in Tarapoto but none in this small town 40 minutes down a dirt road. I am quite sore and tired after building steps in the mornings and playing soccer with the locals in the afternoon. My body doesn't seem to recharge or rejuvenate as I would like despite the thoroughly enjoyable bathing and swimming in the river every afternoon. As has been the case throughout the trip it is so hard to tell what is normal work, play, and travel wear and tear and what are symptoms of something else...

April 6, arrive in Yurimaguas, Peru on the river Maranon, tributary to the Amazon. Amy and begin taking Malarone, one pill at sundown each day to keep the malaria mosquitoes at bay.

April 7, we depart Yurimaguas on a large passenger boat/barge heading down river to Iquitos. I have some diarrhea and compulsively I decide to take the recommended three day regiment of Ciproflaxin (1 500mg pill morning and night) somewhat preemptively as I have read many people contract forms of dysentery on this trip. Probably totally unnecessary and not the best idea in hindsight, but I have the medicine with me and down it goes to ease my bowels and my mind so I can get back to relaxing in my hammock berth and watch the river bank go by.

April 9, arrive in Iquitos, Peru on the Amazon river, the world's largest city unreachable by road (over half a million inhabitants). End self-prescribed Cipro medication, feel good.

April 10, Iquitos, Peru. Following a delicious palm heart salad dinner and the best chicken I have ever tasted I enter the bathroom of the rotisserie chicken diner. After what seems to be a little diarrhea I wipe only blood. Many pieces of red toilet paper later I am finally clean and very worried. I wonder if a fish bone from lunch at the market earlier has punctured my insides or what else could possibly be causing so much blood. Amy asks our waiter where the nearest clinic is, we pay the bill, and hop in one of the thousands of rickshaw taxis racing around the city. I don't feel bad but I don't want to mess around when there is blood coming out of me. Amy has to do all the talking as usual at the clinic and tries to relate my health history over the past 6 weeks and explain the current situation. The doctor thinks the blood was probably full of dead amoebas being expelled from my system. He asks for me to poop in a cup but after extended effort I cannot produce anything. No blood, no feces, shit. I take the cup with me and promise to return before their overnight shift ends to avoid paying another consultation fee with a new doctor (65 soles or about $25). After four hours of sleep we return, I perform in the bathroom, and we deliver the specimen to the lab. Two hours later we receive the results: everything normal, no blood, but under 'celulas de almidon' the test finds 'escasos' which we understand to mean cell casings or probably dead amoebas. The test also finds Blastocystis hominis, a parasite. After these results the doctor prescribed me Colufan (I believe, difficult to read doctor's handwriting...) for the parasites but the pharmacies only had Noxzolin 500mg (Nitazoxanida) which I was assured was the same thing. I was also prescribed Bactim Forte, an antibiotic.
April 11- April 13: Noxzolin 6 tablets morning and night, every 12 hours for 3 days.
April 11- April 15: Bactim Forte 10 tablets, every 12 hours, morning and night, for 5 days.

During this period, from March 12th to the 14th we went on an eco-jungle tour where we slept in tents, went on hikes through the jungle and waded through multiple flooded trails, one in which we had to swim. We saw only two snakes and didn't find any leaches on each other but who knows what other organisms lurked in those murky waters. I stopped taking my Malarone after I began taking these other medications and hearing from our guide (who had contracted malaria multiple times and whose wife was a malaria researcher, actually they met when he was her patient!) that there was no malaria or dengue in the area currently. It was probably unrealistic, but I felt protected against contracting more parasites in the jungle since I was already on medication for them!

Apart from a few insect bites I returned from the jungle unscathed and feeling fine. We flew to Lima, Peru on April 17th and that afternoon my temperature began rising, accompanied by body aches and a headache. I had a fever through the night, maximum measured temperature of 100.1 (my normal temperature is usually around 97) but my temperature was back to normal by the morning and I began to feel better. I had my feces tested again in the lab which I had been planning on before the fever and waited for results before consulting a doctor. That night I had severe indigestion and some diarrhea. The next morning we returned for the results which found no bacteria and all normal except for a small amount of Blastocystis Hominis. Later that day, despite trying to eat simple foods, bread, bananas, rice, and some vegetables, I developed severe stomach cramping to the extent that it was painful to walk and very uncomfortable in any situation. We went back to the clinic where my feces had been tested to see a doctor (5 soles for the test, 4 to see the doctor). After poking around my abdomen where a few spots hurt some but no shooting pain, just general cramping and pressure, the doctor wrote me a prescription for Ciproflaxin. We didn't understand since the test had found no bacteria but she believed that I have a bacterial infection in my stomach. After the 7 day regimen of Cipro she prescribed Nitoxozanida or Colufane (slightly different deciphered spellings on these doctors notes but I believe the same medicines as before) twice a day for three days to finish off the Blastocystis Hominis.
April 18-April 26: Ciproflaxin 500mg tablets at 9am and 9pm daily while abstaining from alcoholic drinks and trying to eat simple food.
After asking about probiotics, the doctor also gave me a prescription for Enterogermina, spores of polyantibiotic resistant bacillus clausii to take once daily for five days. I have been feeling a little better but my energy levels are still low and my digestion has not been good. I have not had diarrhea, just some cramping, bloating, and discomfort.

April 25, Arequipa, Peru. We got off an overnight bus from Nazca to Arequipa this morning and despite a slightly funny stomach I had plenty of energy to tromp around the city with our bags and find the best hostal deal. Walking into the seventh or eighth hospedaje of the morning I was greeted by a middle aged guy smoking a cigarette who said he could give me a room for two people for 30 soles (around $11). The place had Wi-Fi and a kitchen on a quirky but nice rooftop terrace, even a place to wash clothes, so I asked for 25 soles. The friendly guy declared it was his birthday so he would do it and asked if I wanted to have a vodka drink with him! I wished him 'Feliz Cumpleanos!' and gave him a chocolate Amy had picked up back in Ica. I then had to explain to him that I was taking antibiotics and despite the tempting screwdriver offer at 11am, I would have to pass. I felt good most of the day but had a lingering headache I made sure wasn't dehydration and this afternoon my energy abandoned me. My last Cipro pill goes down the hatch in the morning and then it will be on to the Nitoxozanida for three days. Maybe soon I will feel healthy again.

Posted by tltisme 21:34 Archived in Peru Tagged sick medicine health bacteria antibiotics parasites amoebas Comments (0)

My meager return to blog writing

I have not written much for the blog in a long while. Well, I have written brief descriptions of stops on the map and attempted to manage my mounting pile of digital images but I haven't continued my enthusiastic writing from the beginning of the trip. Luckily, Amy's blog writing has waxed as mine has waned and I have been able to contribute the pictures to go with her well-picked words. I have grown quite fond of my camera and enjoy pulling it out of my pocket to snap quick images in order to better share and remember experiences. I will blame some of lack of motivation for writing on the ameobas and bacteria that infected me for probably more than a month before I felt weak enough to get a test at the doctors (my self diagnosis of parasites was probably wrong but made me feel better for a little while). Now the little guys living in my digestive tract have been conquered by modern medicine I hope, I sure feel better.
In an attempt to get back in the swing of posting my writing I am publishing a couple brief little things that were written in my little pocket notebook. I carry it everywhere with me now and it is filling up with bus routes, hostal names and numbers, notes on plants and building techniques, email addresses of new friends, recomendations of destinations, and all manner of other jotted lists and numbers. One page contains ideas for pieces to write for the blog but many are still just titles at this point: Latin Futbol, Ecuador: Microcosm of South America, What does climate change mean for remote rural farmers? The microeconomies of buses, and others that have yet to take much form. Hopefully I will get the chance to elaborate on these ruminations soon, perhaps at our next stop volunteering in the eco-art village of Sachaqa or after while we float down river into the Amazon jungle. For now this is what is done. The poem was actually written in Colombia when I first experienced the Granadilla (a type of passion fruit) and sought for a way to share my fascination with it, now it has returned to my life for an even better price in Peru! The mountain list was inspired by our time at our last volunteer post in Ecuador just a week ago. Feel free to laugh at both!

Posted by tltisme 08:46 Archived in Peru Tagged writing Comments (0)

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