Eco-Tourism: Preserving South America’s Wilderness Photos and Text by Adam Reichardt Thanks to the people at Ecolé, La Granja Organíca and Los Largartos for being such gracious hosts.
G reen has been on everyone’s ing as a student, I was intent on ab- largest economy in the world and mind lately. The movement the second largest in the Americas) towards more environe- Quickly I learned we are not that leads the way in total amount of mentally friendly industry, energy, different. Focusing on environmen- exports at $137.8 billion dollars, and lifestyles is growing stronger talism, I was seeking to question the followed by Chile at 58.12 billion by the day. People desire to make Chilean mindset regarding “green.” . In 2003 Chile signed a free trade less of an impact on the planet while Many Chileans saw green as pride agreement with the United States. still mantaining some of there tradi- in their country’s world renwoned This actions by the Chilean gov- tions. One being travel. People love wilderness and biodiversity. Chile is ernment has the potential to bring to travel. Travel offers a chance to long, narrow country with a climate Chile’s GDP to unprecedented get away from the mundane hap- that varies greatly, ranging from the levels, positioning to Chile as a penings of their daily life, and enter world’s driest desert-the Atacama- great power in the global commu- into unknown territory. As people in the north, through a Mediterra- nity. With this new role comes the nean climate in the centre, to a rainy responsibility towards their people destinations, they are beginning to temperate climate in the south. Most and the global community to pre- question their impact on these coun- spoke of the tourists who came for serve their environment. tries. With these concerns, enters this reason, to experience so many Within South America, Chile the industry of ecological toruism unique climates in a short time. leads the GDP per capita at $14, or eco-tourism. The act of touring With this new growth in wealth through a country while gaining that we are experiencing here in the comes a growing middle class look- education about the environment United States, has not yet proliferat- ing to emulate the spending and ed in Chile, but it certainly going in consumption habits of their neigh- that direction. Chileans were more bors to the north, the United States.Sunset over Seno Última Esperanza animated when discussing topics As these South Americans spend(Last Hope Sound) in Puerto Natales. regarding the preservation of their more of their growing wealth onThis tiny little town is more or less wilderness, and what to do regard- technology, goods and land, theyregarded to be the basecamp town ing polluting and destructive energy will begin to confront many of thefor one of Chile’s natural wonders, the sources in the country. environmental issues that plague industrialized societies (waste, pol-mountian,Torres del Paine. Chile is gaining popularity on the global stage. South America lution, energy shortage and obesity). relies heavily on the exporting of Frankly, many of these issues are I recently spent six months trav- goods and Chile is a major player in already emerging in their society. eling as an eco-tourist through Chile this economic market. On an ex- Akin to the energy problems in the and it’s neighboring countries. Go- change rate basis Brazil (the seventh United States, Chile is creating high
levels pollution due to their reliance law that requires new energy con- sound energy sources. on electricity produced with coal A massive hydropower su- technology. energy from non-traditional renew- per project is planned for the Aysén As global climate change gar- able sources. The government has region of Chile, which is part of ners more attention in the interna- also paved the way for up to US$400 the awe-inspiring scenery of Pa- tional community, the pressure for million to be spent on renewable en- tagonia. The companies ENDESA renewable energy sources increases. ergy projects. In the meantime there and Colbún S.A. have planned the Chile has mounting reasons for its is a large push by corporations such HidroAysén project. In this joint own interest in alternative energy. as ENDESA and Colbún S.A. to in- Santiago experiences heavy layers vest in more hydroelectric projects. damns – two on the Baker River and of smog as a result of industry and Sixty percent of electricity genera- three more on the Pascua – along automotives. These clouds of smog tion in Chile is based on imported with 1,500 miles of transmission - fossil fuels (mostly natural gas and tions for the residents of Santiago. coal) and forty percent on domestic Moreover, the cloud’s toxic particles hydropower. T have the potential to travel to neigh- he Andes mountain range boring rural areas, affecting both the provides Chile with a rich crops and water supplies. source of hydropower. The annual glacial melt swells Chile’s rivers providing its eight hydroelec-Patagonia’s natural parks offer a rare tric plants with around 3000 Mega-up close glimpse at varied wildlife. Here Watts (MW) of electricity. This pro-are the famous Alpaca (left) and Gray vides a whopping forty percent of Chile’s electricity energy. In compar-Fox (right). Both hiking and auto tours ison, Hydroelectricity is only sevenare offered through the park. percent of the United States energy production. With an expected an- Chile and Argentina’s aging nual increase of six to seven percent electricity grid and limited energy over the next ten years, That’s an sources make it increasingly dif- annual increase on the order of 450 MW produced. Chile is confronted growing populace as electricity de- with the dilemma of whether to mands grow. The president of Chile, continue to pursue hydroelectric Michelle Bachelet, signed a bill into sources or invest in ecologically
lines. The placing of the dams with- of 450 MW. This growth in capacity - in these rivers will cause massive is necessary if present consumption rates continue. If built this project is past the dams. It is a rare mo- of transmission lines a winding cor- expected to have a capacity of over ridor almost 400 feet wide must be 2,750 MW, twenty percent of the na- environmental activists working cleared, destroying thousands miles tion’s current total. The urban and together, this illustrates that giant of native forest . In addition to industrial areas around Santiago impact the HidroAysén project will the forest destruction, the towers are would consume some of it, but most have on Chile. more than 200 feet high and will be is needed in the mining operations a massive eye sore for those looking that lie further north. Those living to gaze upon Patagonia’s majestic scenery. The visually and environ- they should suffer for the produc- mentally destructive elements of tion of electricity to be shipped up the project are being met with great north. In response to this project, envi- industries, as well as environmental ronmental activists, affected indus- activists. tries and villages have drafter a longThe Perito Moreno Glacier is the most list of negatives. To achieve propervisited glacier in the world (left). In fact function, hydroelectric dams must create a reservoir that submergeslocated in the Argentinian town of large swaths of land upstream.El Calafate, many tourists travel over W ith the present brownfrom Chile.The mountians of Chile’s riverside habitats, which are rich in and blackouts occurringcentral valley also offer a peak inside biodiversity; the destruction is likely in Chilean towns andsmaller glaciers. Here a ice waterfall is to cause ripples in other habitats as cities, hydroelectric dams may be ashown (right). necessary evil to allow the contin- Chile fears the repercussion of the ued development of Chile and its Firstly, what are the positive as- dam on the salmon habitats. Stud- freedom from foreign energy de- pects of the project? In Chile in the ies have shown that dams along the pendence. Some in the economically next ten years, an annual increase depressed regions surrounding the of six to eight percent in electric- America have reduced salmon proposed dam locations are eager ity consumption is expected. This populations by preventing access to to welcome the employment the corresponds to an annual growth in spawning grounds upstream. Fish dams will provide. Displacement of power plant capacity on the order ladders that have been installed to local populations is expected due
Concerning the displacement of these farmers will testify, its re- that adequate replacement housing and destruction of people, Sin wards are great. One farmer would will not be provided, in addition to Represas stated “we at Sin Represas, boast how long it had been since he the proper compensation of farm- and the people of Aysén, whose old- had gone to town. Nearing the one- land lost to the dams. Many in the world existence may one day soon month mark, he wore his seclusion tourism industries are worried that be destroyed by those old-world as a badge of honor, showing his the power lines will dampen their energy solutions.” The organization true commitment to the land. C industry, especially when they are is referencing Chile’s strong pastoral hile has a strong agricul- trying to promote ecological tour- communities who have subsisted on ture history and currently ism, or eco-tourism. herding and agriculture for genera- exports forty-two percent tions and continue to do so today. of its food to the Americas, thirtySin Represas (Without Dams) com- These agricultural communities also percent to Asia and twenty-fourmands large crowds during it’s many provide a strong draw for eco-tour- percent to Europe . Gaining a 23 ists, particularly their participation billion dollar trade surplus in 2006,demonstrations in Santiago (left).The in the Worldwide Opportunities on the Chilean government invests amarches and demonstrations remain Organic Farms (WWOOF) organi- lot in industrial farms. With brandsrelatively peaceful with Chile’s police on zation. like Super Pollo, a subsidiary ofpatrol (right). WWOOF offers a rare possibil- Agricorps the largest industrial ity to today’s increasingly urban agriculture brand in Chile, com- Sin Represas (Without Dams) generation, a chance for people to manding 550 million US Dollars in is a collection of organizations seek- get out of the urban jungle and into yearly sales, competition is impos- ing to put an end to the HidroAysén the pastures and prairies where we sible for small organic farms. These project. While noting the possibil- farms can only realistically hope to ity of employment for the region, farms and eager volunteers across supply local farmers markets and a Sin Represas reports an April 2008 all seven continents, with a total of ninety-nine participating countries. percent of Chileans against the WWOOF was originally started in dams. Sin Represas implores Chile 1971 by a London secretary look- to focus their energies towards ing to offer urban dwellers access to renewable power sources and eco- the countryside. Volunteering for a tourism; two avenues Sin Represas small farm puts you in touch with believes will provide the power and people who are following a lifestyle development needed to continue not chosen by many because of its Chile’s development. arduous requirements, but as many
few stores. Francisco Rottman, the their frustration with being entirely for a great citrus fertilizer. As fertil- owner of the Chilean farm, Granja - izer is expensive, any cost-saving Organica, earns most of his income tor had broken down three months technique is adopted. from the farm stand he operates off earlier and was still sitting unused. Two interns visiting La Granja his property; selling around sixty- Their hope was a volunteer from Organica from a local agricultural WWOOF with mechanical skills school introduced me to their fer- - would arrive and bring it back to tilizer technique. Using chicken cent at a small store, Tienda Tierra life. wire as a form, they layered animal Viva in Santiago Central. At the end Manuel was very inventive waste, leaves, and any leftover or- of each harvest Rottman said he was with the limited tools in his pos- ganic food scraps to create a putrid just happy to break even. session. He was unable to afford a parfait. Most important was the staffThe horses of Los Lagartos are alowed steel plow; I watched him instead left in the center, which would be fashion a plow out of pine branches pulled out once the fertilizer settledto run wild, considering the thick brush and attach it to one of their horses. so as to allow air to circulate andof the surrounding native forests keep Though it cost no money it was still feed the aerobic bacteria which de-them contained. Here Giulia’s favorite able to effectively till the soil and composing material. Taking three toblack stallion can be seen trotting to- he left the larger stones for myselfwards the watering hole. and the other WWOOFers. Innova- allows La Granja Organic to save tions like this are necessary among money and avoid buying expensive Nearby Granja Organíca, the the South American organic farm- organic fertilizers. owners Manuel and Giulia Rodri- ers. Without access to the growing guez of the farm Los Lagartos (The organic market in the United States, Lizards) owners, have adapted a Canada and Europe, these farmers “organic.” For many it’s a matter of lifestyle devoted to farming in its have very little income. choice, due to the high price of seeds F simplest form and are trying to aced with the same income and extremely hardy pesticides. The eliminate monetary transactions all problems on La Granja Or- together. Moving away from the air- ganica, they too embraced any lost crops. Those at Los Lagartos conditioned tractor lifestyle that has innovation. While strolling through - come to dominate industrial farm- their land, I found the chickens cides sprayed on nearby farms being ing Manuel and Giulia are looking fenced in with the citrus trees. This to develop a spiritual relationship is struck me as an odd place for the with the land, allowing it to reward chickens, and when I asked Rottman surrounding labeling of an organic their devotion and hard labor with about the odd pen, I was informed food is another issue arresting the a bountiful harvest. Still they shared that their high nitrogen feces makes proliferation of organic farmers.
These farmers are a strong kilometers trail, The Chilean Trail, major travel and eco-tourism draw foothold in the rural communities from Visviri, on the northern Chil- for both Chileans and Foreigners of central and southern Chile. These ean border with Peru and Bolivia, alike. Many of the parks contain are the communities that would to Cape Horn, the southern tip of millenarian forests and have at- South America. This trail will be tracted biologists on a search for the eco-tourism options in and around one of the longest pathways in the world’s oldest trees long before the these areas. The income brought world for hiking or tours on bicycle arrival tourists. Those less interested in from tourism, would go a long in science, go to towns such as Vall- way in preserving the land, and the sustainable development initia- rica and Pucón for stunning vistas, agricultural way of life followed tives was inaugurated on April 7, native wildlife, and adventure. I by many in Chile. There are many 2005 in the town of Requinoa, some was fortunate to grab a few days who support eco-tourism, including 100 kilometers south of Santiago. away from Santiago and sample a governmental actors, environmental CONAMA and UNDP signed an sliver of this region at the small vil- activists, and the farmers mentioned agreement in late 2004 to provide lage of Pucón. In Pucón, tourists are above. The problem now is getting able to spend all their time lounging these different actors to work to- for a total investment of 310,000 dol- by one of the many lakes, rafting gether. lars. Irene Philippi, UNDP resident on the rivers, soaring through the representative in Chile described canopy on zip-lines or for the trulyThe land of Los Lagartos provided con- the project as ‘’on the path of eco- -stant activity for volunteer WWOOFers. tourism and sustainability.’’ ‘’It cano, Volcan Vallrica, to gaze into its smoking chasm. I opted for some-Freshly planted avocado trees required greater value to the Chilean Trail, thing a tad less strenuous, or so Icovering at night to protect against cold. bring revenues into its communities believed.Waiting till sunrise to remove the pro- and protect the environment.’’ This Through the hostel, Ecolé, I dis-tective covers. push shows the governments com- covered the Cani Sanctuary; a model mitment to eco-tourism. If the gov- for conservation and its potential Chile has garnered international ernment combines their power with in Chile. Found in the Huerquehue support for their bid to provide the devotion of it’s people, eco-tour- National Park, Cani offers a six-hour ecologically sound options for visi- ism can become a viable and strong hike through a well-marked path ac- tors to their county. With help from industry for Chile. companied by photo-friendly wild- S the United Nations Development outh of Santiago lies the lake life and plenty of cows. Ecolé has Programme (UNDP), Chile’s Na- region of Chile. The amazing long held a stake in the Sanctuary. tional Environment Commission landscape and diverse choices The original forty-two co-owners, (CONAMA) has planned an 8,000 of activities has made this region a both foreigners and locals, were all
conservation-minded people com- our money where our mouth is and organic growing. More income and ing down to Chile to build trails in move forward the environmental organization is needed to advance the Cani. One of the original found- tourism agenda.” the organic agenda. ers, Tracy Katelman, described the Through their vegetarian res- Katelmen continued to express taurant, the hostelowners have been her frustration with being more en- born out of the desire for a clean hard-pressed to start a change in vironmental. “It’s hard to be really bed and warm meal when they got they way food is handled in Chile. Eco in Chile…[we’ve] made a real off the trail each day. So they con- Katelman discussed her worries effort to recycling and composting verted their old haunt, Don Pepe’s, with “promoting [Ecolé] as an or- going in Pucón.” By showing an into an eco-minded hostel with an ganic restaurant.” Many of the local interest in recycling, now people are organic vegetarian restaurant. Some crops are being infested by the coming by to pick up Ecolé’s wine of the guidebooks claim the vegetar- Pilme beetle, a “strong little critter” bottles. Ecolé also has the obligatory ian food is better than that of San that as of now can only be stopped low-energy light bulbs. They do not Francisco and New York. by chemical pesticide. Though she change the sheets, but instead offer did mention a neighbor who had sleeping bags for renting. DuringManuel was trained as a chef before a homegrown recipe consisting of the winter, the hostel is heated bybecoming an organic farmer.Visitors old cigarette butts, which may be wood stove. Looking to improvewere treated daily to delicious meals a possible remedy to the infesta- their hostel more, the co-owners ofprepared with ingredients grown right tion. With the beetle infestation, the Ecolé had planned to install solaroutside.The only outside purchases farmers also have a problem with panels and create a yoga studio, as meeting food demands. They just well as a laundry room. Due to thewere sugar and butter. cannot produce enough to provide economic crisis that has shocked Ecolé and other organic restaurants. the world, however, they have had Ecolé and its owners have been Katelman spoke of an attempt by to put the plan on hold for the time a strong force in the surrounding the Komkellayen organization to being. E areas. In August 2008 they managed pull together Mapuche, those indig- colé is certainly a testament to suspend a developer’s decision to enous to central Chile, producers to the changing mindset in dam up a river delta in Cola Cola, in and possibly win a national grant, Chile, but also shows how far but unfortunately the plan fell apart. they have to go. Alas, it is essential Many of the small growers also suf- to plant the seeds of conservation in Through their hostel they are trying fer from logistical problems, such developing countries. More so, this to get people out to the Cani and as distribution. She believes, “Chile is not an example of the “enlight- educate them about the wildlife. is at least twenty years behind the ened westerner” coming into the Katelman said it was “time to put [United States]” when it comes to country and dictating was is right,
but an example of both local Chil- build an addition to his house for his pushing for more conservation in Chile eans and foreigners working side ill daughter. Habitat for Humanity’s and setting a trend for all of South by side to preserve this beautiful volunteer coordinator, informed me the America. Their model of dedication existing space of the house was unsuit- to the environmental cause is what is tourists, dedicated locals can use the able for the betterment of the daugh- motivating larger organizations like Sin income to educate tourists on the ter’s health. Repreasas to combat the destructive Habitat for Humanity organized plans of the HidroAysén project. to keep it going. Chilean students from a local trade The support of eco-tourists is what school along with a British volunteer to is pushing to keep global environ-British volunteer, Gareth Tye, is being build the additional room. Gareth Rich- ments pure. As global superpowerstaught how to tile by a Chilean student outsource their pollution and waste tofrom a local trade school (left).The lan- was looking to travel around South America and thought this would serveguage barrier led to most lessons tak- as a good introduction to the cultureing twice as long as expected. Newly and an opportunity to learn Spanish.sprouted plants on La Granja Organíca Many of these volunteer tourists areware kept in a warehouse until ready jaded from the sanitized tourists trailsfor planting (right). and prefer to get to know a city from the bottom up. This is considered eco- Volunteer work is a large draw for tourism, as it doesn’t negatively impact eco-tourists as it offers the excitement the environment of the destination. of a foreign country while offering Giving back to the community instead tourists a chance to give something of isolating yourself in a high-class other than economic support. Many resort, offers more to the people. second and third world counties, it’ll O organizations offer programs connect- rganizations like WWOOF be eco-tourists who give these nations ing tourists with local or international and Habitat for Humanity a reason to refuse. Restoring pride it a groups. One such group I became provide outlets for tourists nation’s wilderness, eco-tourists can involved with is the international and local alike to reach out to both an provide the income needed for people organization, Habitats for Humanity. urban and rural community showing to pursue ecologically sound paths of They were working in Santiago to aid devotion to their fellow human beings. development. All the while, it is essen- lower class families in need of more People like Tracy Katelmen, Francisco tial that these tourists remember that space due to special cases. I met the Rottman, and Manuel and Giulia they are not superior, and must work father of one of these families, who was Rodriguez are the driving force behind alongside the locals in preserving the happy to have Habitats for Humanity the grassroots movement; they are environment and it’s natural beauties.
References  – United States. Department of State. Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Background Note: Chile. 12 April 2010.  – International Rivers. “HidroAy- sén’s Severly Flawed Environmental Study.” August 2008.  – Sin Represas. “The Struggle.” 2009.  – Portland General Electric. “San- dy River – Marmot Dam’s removal in 2007 has returned the Sandy River 2009Outside Chile,Tourist attractions likePeru’s Maachu Pichu foster detbatesover tourism and its potential dam-age to historical treasures (left). Still,impoverised cities like La Paz, Boliviaearn many tourist dollars from thistourism (right).The push towards moreeco-friendly tourism continues in Chile’snorthern neighbors.