There is a saying commonly shared throughout National parks across the globe, “leave no footprint behind.” If you pack in, you should be responsible enough to pack it out. And while many tour agencies up and down South America, from Colombia to Bolivia are marketing their tours to just about any attraction you could imagine as eco-friendly, green and sustainable – in attempt to stand-out from their competitors – most organizations are content just collecting their tour fees and packing the groups in and out – leaving the area no worse, but certainly no better than before they arrived with their tour groups.
Condortrekkers is taking “responsible and sustainable travel” one step further, they want to leave the communities that live and work outside of Sucre, Bolivia a little better off than they were before the tourists started trekking through their land. In order to help the farming families living outside of Sucre break the cycle of poverty, Condortrekkers is investing heavily in projects that benefit the local schools in the region. In addition to supporting the local schools, Condortrekkers is also helping out with specific needs addressed by the communities. In Irupampa, for example, the community requested a toilet and Condortrekkers got to work helping build the region’s first eco-friendly toilet.
It’s a business plan that not only raises the standard of living for the people living in and around Tarabuco and the Maragua Crater, but it also educates the tourists trekking though the area, as well. Most of the guides are from the communities and have first hand knowledge of what it is like to live and grow up in these communities. Therefore the trekkers not only benefit by seeing the beauty of the land, the people, and what life is like in these communities, but also get to see directly where their money is going and how its being used. Instead of trekking through as a tourist and exploiting the locals, you leave feeling more connected – feeling that you’ve done something to help leave things a little better off.
After my overwhelmingly positive experience with Condortrekkers during my 3-day/2-night hike to the Maragua Crater (which you can read about here), I was interested to find out more about the organization and a little bit more about the communities they were helping. Randall, the Founder and Director of Condortrekkers had temporarily returned to Australia, but the office administrator, Lidia was more than happy to answer my questions.
Administration, Sales Point
The two communities that our group spent the night in, Maragua and Potolo, how much would an average farmer maker per year? It is very hard to say. But here in Sucre maybe they could earn around 600/800 ($86.21/$114.94) Bolivianos per month, but in the communities they only receive money one time a year – they have corn, for example, potatoes and they only harvest them once a year and they come to Sucre to sell their produce, but its hard to say how much they can make in a year. Maybe 1,000 or 2,000 Bolivianos a year. (Roughly, $143/$287 a year)
Does the government help the families in the community at all? Nothing. Nothing. Sometimes they will get some products, for example, rice, sugar, and some flour. But the government doesn’t help the communities directly. Sometimes they will help the schools and give the schools support, books, notebooks, pencils, but nothing more.
And how long has Condortrekkers been working in these communities? Three years. In February 2010 we opened the agency.
The day we arrived in Maragua the library had just been opened and the town was having a party to celebrate . . . ah, yeah! We inaugurated the library on Tuesday. Condortrekkers and Biblioworks, (another foundation) together we worked on this project – it’s a very nice project. From the beginning we were supporting the schools especially. Every year we gave every school in the area money. We have twelve schools in the area, and in Poloto we gave them more money because this school is bigger than the others. And they use to the money for the things that they need. For example, one teacher bought an oven to make breakfast for the children. And in Maragua they bought books and notebooks, pencils. It’s different for every school, what their needs are.
What other projects do you have planned for the communities? At the moment we don’t have them, because we just opened this vegetarian restaurant. We need to raise money because do have a project in Maragua – we want to build a greenhouse because in that area it is very dry and they don’t a lot of vegetables. For the health of the children, they need to eat a healthier diet. But, we need a lot of money to build this greenhouse. We also have some projects, another area that you didn’t visit – we are giving money to help build a hostel.
How do the communities feel about having tourists trekking through their farms? Oh, they are happy, I think. Before, ten years ago, for example, they were very closed and they didn’t want tourists in their land. But now, we have a good relationship with them because they know us, they know we are there to help support the communities. We are the only agency that helps support them. So now, they are more open with the tourist and they are happy when the have tourist because they know that when you stay in their hostel, they have money that will be used for the community.
So the hostel in Maragua that we stayed in, does that money go to one family? No, it goes to the whole community.
As you and your organization continues to grow and develop, do you think you will expand outside of Sucre to other cities and communities throughout Bolivia? Well the focus is here at the moment, but our hope for the future is have similar agencies based in Potosí, La Paz, for example, But at the moment, here in Sucre, is our focus. But, we want to help the rest of Bolivia if it is possible. We need to grow here first.
To find out more about this organization, or to sign-up for one of their treks, Click Here.