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Conserving Tourisim?

September 6, 2011

 

Bex making trail signs for the trails at Reserva Las Tangaras

Local Taxi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindo has been found. It´s in the lonely planet, and it´s on the gringo trail. Binocular clad, zipoff pant-wearing 50-somethings stroll the main street purposefully while rambling groups of 20 somethings loiter in hostal gardens. On weekends and holidays, throngs of domestic tourists from Quito, (2 1/2 hours away, Ecuador’s 2nd largest city) flock to mindo, en masse. It´s a popular wee place, and the locals know it. Everywhere you go there´s new development. Its seems every new street you stroll down there´s another cluster of hostals, hotels and the like. And, like every self-respecting tourist town there´s the ´Reggae Bar – open 24 hours´. There´s plenty for tourists to do in Mindo, you can ra

 

ft the rivers, swim in waterfalls or ´zip´through the canopy on kilometer long flying foxes. You can rent bikes, horses, even quad bikes and there are (excellent) bird guides a plenty. The scenario is one that is repeated in a thousand other tourist spots, from Thailand to Tijuana, along with the same problem. Does the development that goes along with the tourist flocks destroy the reason they actually come here. If they clear the canopy trees for more hostals and Bob Marley bars, then what will they zip through? Who will be swimming in the murkey pool with plastic bottles and human waste? …etc…etc…etc… I don’t claim to have done extensive research into the topic but on the face of it Mindo seems to be overcoming many of the hurdles that come with a tourist rush quite well. There´s recycling efforts and a community development association. Many hostals have large gardens with tropical plants, to attract hummingbird. Most of the tourist activity is based around the environment and locals seem to truly value the economic activity it brings. Not in a Koh Phi Phi “look at the beautiful coral we´re destroying” way, but they seem to value the longterm, sustainable economic benefits it can bring. A nice attitude to see in a major oil producing nation – (Diesel is 25 cents a litre here). Bex and I have spent a lot of time since we arrived at the reserve trying to start bringing a few of these tourists down to the reserve. Lifenet´s (www.lifenetnature.org) goal for the reserve is “to maintain a small research facility and ecotourism location that is NOT widely marketed… and encourage a light level of visitation by ecologically minded people”. We´ve put up signage at the gate, marked trails and made posters. In the last week I´ve walked all over wee Mindo, visiting hostals, putting up posters and talking to locals about the reserve, where it is and whats it aims to do. I´ve been asking locals what things the reserve could do to help the local community, how conservation and tourism can work together to ensure that tourism doesnt destroy the very thing that attracts tourists in the first place. (quite a workout for the spanish – try discussing how a low-level of tourism, if treated right, can have positive effects on conservation and community….phew….) But what I´ve found in talking to locals is overwhelmingly pleasing. People passionate about their town and cool things happening here. People protective of their sustainable cash cow. I have learnt a lot over the last week. And so far we have had 7 guests. Enough entry fee donations to pay for the posters and a few materials for maintaining trails. And for Mindo another few hotel nights, taxi rides and meals. The value for the environment of people going home with a fond memory of those bright red birds they saw in the Ecuadorian cloud forest? Who really knows…

 

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