Report from Carmen Castrejon, Master in Visual Cultural Studies, University of Tromsø
Financial support for the project: “A simple life: Protecting nature, changing culture”
When I started my project I wrote about ecotourism in Mexico. I am concerned with the cultural as well as the natural implications of tourism that is why I decided to do my fieldwork about ecotourism in Mexico. Tourism has a major and increasing impact on both people and nature. Inappropriate tourism development and practice can degrade habitats and landscapes, deplete natural resources and generate waste and pollution. In contrast responsible tourism can help to generate awareness and support for conservation and local culture and create economic opportunities for countries and communities.
I set out to do my fieldwork in Chihuahua, Mexico. I was hoping to study the exchange of culture between the native people (Raramuris or Tarahumaras) and the tourists visiting this place. I was also interested in finding out if this kind of tourism was being developed in Mexico, where conservation is promoted, has low negative visitor impact and promotes socio-economic involvement of local populations.
After a series of bad experiences in the area where I found out it was not the kind of situations I was looking to study, I decided then to contact a place that I have read about in some reviews about ecotourism in Mexico, it was a reserve that has been awarded several prices for ecotourism and conservation.
That is how I arrived to Las Cañadas, a 756 acre land trust, home to one of the few remaining cloud forests in the central zone of Veracruz, Mexico. It has been designed with the goal of modeling and sharing alternative methods of food production, responsible travel and sustainable living practices.
Ricardo Romero is the main owner of Las Cañadas which in the beginning was dedicated to intensive cattle grazing for beef production. But with the time Ricardo noticed that the impact of such intensive grazing was severe soil erosion similar throughout other parts of Mexico.
Ricardo sold all of the cattle and reforested 150 acres with 50,000 native trees. “In the remaining pastures we did nothing” he said, “simply allowing nature to take its course.
The initial intention of Las Cañadas was to model a successful “green” business. They hoped to demonstrate that one could succeed using conventional business practices such as regular financial growth and increased market share, while respecting and caring for the natural environment.
But now they have come to understand that the goal of developing a “green” business or modeling what is sometimes described as “sustainable development” is insufficient. They recognize the need to identify “sustainable life practices” which go far beyond simply substituting conventional inputs and practices without altering the fundamental orientation of the larger system. They are attempting to re-design their practical life systems – how to meet basic needs for food, shelter, the education of their children, and honor their relationship to their local community and the environment. In short, they are re-defining our culture as a whole.”
Since 2004 that Las Cañadas started becoming an intentional community, which is now formed by 8 adults and three kids and together they share the responsibilities and benefits of living in that place.
Through ecotourism they are trying to teach and research about new ways of taking care of the land and improve ways of living, preserving local cultures and local knowledge.
That is how my project went from ecotourism to a wider topic, environmentalism and all of the political, economic and social issues involving the discourse.
At the moment I am writing my thesis about a group of people coming from different parts of the world trying to create a community based on a concern on environmental issues. Trying to learn and preserve local knowledge from local farmers in Mexico.
I thank the Center for Sami Studies for the 10000 NOK grant I received from them to conduct this fieldwork from April to August 2006 in Mexico and helped me cover my expenses during this period.