Issue - October 2008



October 2008
Editorial

What is ecotourism? Is this kind of tourism in Bolivia? Why? Who gets involved in ecotourism? How important is it to be responsible with nature and small communities? ...read more...

October 2008

Kawsay Wasi: House of Nature

Using tourism to help protect the forests of Carrasco and the communities which live within them

Catriona Knox

On a weekend of traveling in the Chapare, I was bumping along in the boot of a taxi, as usual not knowing quite what to expect. Our driver bounced along the rough cobbles for twenty minutes from Villa Tunari before pulling up at the entrance to Parque Nacional Carrasco. Here, at the entrance to the “Cavernas de Repechón”, we found the office of Kawsay Wasi with a guide ready to show us into the jungle.

Kawsay Wasi’s guide Julian led us down to the river where two cables were stretched across the water, a yellow car dangling from them halfway between the banks. Julian harnessed himself to one cable with a loop of rope and whizzed across the river Indiana Jones style to recover the cable car. Soon we were all inside, Julian tugging us by hand along the cables towards the protected jungle on the opposite bank.

As we neared our destination, we heard raucous calls echoing from the caves. “Jaguars!” Julian teased, but luckily for us they were the cries of the Guácharos: large nocturnal birds which live in the caves by day and fly out to feed by night using echolocation to navigate. These fantastic creatures are one of the chief conservation focuses of Carrasco Park and Kawsay Wasi.

Kawsay Wasi is one of the 18 community tourism organisations which together form the TUSOCO network. The group was founded in 1991 through the joint efforts of 15 local partners from seven surrounding communities. Its foundation coincided with the opening of the Parque Nacional Carrasco with the aim of catering for the increased number of visitors to the area whilst providing new economic opportunities for the Villa Tunari region. The organisation consists of a group of practiced guides who run a number of tours through the park, educating its visitors on one of the most diverse regions of flora and fauna in Bolivia.

Kawsay Wasi upholds many of the principles which define true ecotourism resulting in genuine benefits for the environment and community alike.

20% of the net income from tours is channeled directly back to local communities supporting projects in healthcare, education and conservation. Previous investments have included the construction of a community hall and a new roof for a local police station. This group’s ever-growing reputation has lead to an increase in tourists to the park whose visits support local businesses in the Villa Tunari area.

However Kawsay Wasi´s most significant contribution to surrounding communities is undoubtedly the empowerment it offers to individuals through employment. The organisation currently employs 15 guides, all trained to exceptional standards. Between them, staff have undertaken 23 courses representing over 800 hours of learning. This training and employment of local people represents an extremely important new economic opportunity for local residents.

In Quechua, Kawsay Wasi means “House of Nature” and environmental conservation is a chief focus of this organisation. “The jungle is the home of our communities and for this reason we are committed to protect it,” said Julio Saavedra, legal representative. “The objective of the guides of Kawsay Wasi is to generate an environmental awareness in all our visitors and to identify conservation strategies”. Guides educate visitors to the park, but more importantly, teach the local residents methods of conserving their own natural resources. There are 100 communities still living within Parque Carrasco to whom this knowledge is of paramount importance. Guides also conduct frequent tours of school children within the park. To date over 2,500 young people have benefited from this environmental education.

Kawsay Wasi’s guides offer two principal services for tourists. Day visitors can take a short guided trail through the jungle to the “Cavernas de Repechón” home to the Guacharos and a number of bat species. A longer walk from these caves leads to the home of the Gallitos de las Rocas, famous for their vibrant red plumage. For those more adventurous, the guides also run a 3 day trail, the “Camino en las Nubes”. The trek leads its visitors from mountainous cloud forest down to the tropical Amazon 4000m below.

Kawsay Wasi represents an excellent example of a community initiative which, with minimum initial investment, has created sustainable opportunities for local people. Its guides hope news of their work will soon reach the wider community in order to attract more visitors and encourage similar ecotourism projects in the area.

Destinos

Destinos was born two years ago to promote the tourism initiatives of the villages of Cochabamba but it soon developed, extending its field to include the whole of Bolivia....

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