Issue - October 2008

October 2008

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? more...

October 2008

La Ruta del Che

Following the trail of a revolutionary

Catriona Knox

Ernesto “Che” Guevara is a controversial figure: for some a hero, for others a ruthless leader of tyranny. As a young medical student, he traveled through Latin America and was struck by the poverty he witnessed. Inspired to make changes, he dedicated the rest of his life to a revolution against capitalism and imperialism across the continent. In 1966 he founded the National Liberation Army in Bolivia, a group of guerillas committed to national revolution. But to the authorities, he was a threat. On October 9th 1967, after 11 months of evasion in the remote Santa Cruz region, he was finally captured. He was dragged to the nearby village of La Higuera and shot in the arms, legs, and finally and fatally, in the chest. He is alleged to have died proclaiming “the immortality of the revolution.”

41 years later, Che’s legendary story lives on in a unique community tourism initiative: The Che Guevara Trail or “Ruta del Che”. The trail stretches over 80km from Santa Cruz de la Sierra to La Higuera where Guevara met his end. Che’s admirers from across the world flock here to follow his last footsteps through the rugged landscape to his execution site, and finally to the laundry house at Vallegrande hospital where his body was displayed to the press. Visitors can travel small sections of the route or the entire trail by foot, mule, or car meeting locals along the way who met or traveled with Che himself.

The remote Santa Cruz and Chiquisaca areas through which the trail passes are among the poorest in the country. Lives for the residents of La Higuera are still just as hard as they were when Che and his guerrillas passed through the region. Children here cannot expect to study past 9th grade before they must begin work to help support their families. The trail represents a crucial means by which the region’s impoverished Guarani farmers can supplement their income. “This project offers local communities an alternative means of sustainability, and an opportunity to improve their quality of life," says Jacqueline Peña y Lillo, manager for the Che Guevara Trail at CARE’s Bolivia office. The project aims to minimise environmental impact, and contributes towards improving local health and communication services. It is estimated that around 3,000 people benefit directly and 12,000 indirectly through its foundation.

The trail was founded in 2004 by the British International Development Department (DFID) and CARE International in conjunction with the Bolivian Ministry of Tourism. Ironically, the project was also supported by the Bolivian Military, the same group responsible for Che´s execution. Despite its initial dependence on international sponsors, the management is now being turned over entirely to local staff providing an important means of community empowerment.

The trail has resulted in a number of new economic opportunities for local residents including simple cabins and eateries for tourists, a Che Guevara museum, and employment opportunities in transport and guiding.

Tips for responsible travelers
A responsible holiday starts with choosing a tour operator who upholds the values of ecotourism. Ask to see an ecotourism policy before booking. If possible, it is always best to travel with locally based companies or international ones which employ local people or invest a percentage of their profit in the community...

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