Friday, April 13, 2007

Ecotoursim in Izabal II-Article, Destination Peten

Eco Tourism in Izabal:

Izabal is one of 22 departments in the Republic of Guatemala and with its 9 reserves it truly is a natural wonder. Izabal is nestled in two large valleys the Motagua and the Polochick-Izabal lake, both watersheds empty into the Caribbean and are important from a hydrological point of view: the first is Guatemala’s longest river running all the way from western Guatemala ( In the Quiche) and the second is the largest body of fresh water and navigable waterways in the Western Caribbean Basin and the best “Hurricane hole” in the area. This combination of forests and water can be the backdrop for a remarkable experience in Eco-Tourism .

The reserves are clockwise from the south: Sierra de Las Minas, Bocas del Polochick, Sierra de la Santa Cruz, Rio Sarstun, Parque nacional Rio Dulce, Biotopo Chocon Machacas, Cerro San Gil, Punta de Manabique, Sierra del Carral. With these natural assets Izabal is probably one of the best protected areas on the planet and one of the most valuable as well from the point of view of the potential for eco tourism, it is world class birding area and in its forests are kept myriads of creatures large and small making this on of the worlds most important gene pools. Not all the reserves are properly managed and neither are they accessible to the occasional traveler on a modest budget and with little time. Nevertheless it is to be noted that Bocas del Polochick, Cerro San Gil and both the Parque Nacional Rio Dulce (PNRD) and the Biotopo Chocon Machacas are accessible and organized tours are available.

In fact the Rio Dulce park has Hotels and Marinas in its midst such as the Hacienda Tijax Jungle Lodge and Marina, Catamaran Hotel, Hotel la Ensenada, and Finca Tatin the first three are member of Eco-Rio an association of conscientious Hotels and other business that contribute to the effort of protecting the PNRD. From these hotels you can get tours on launches to go see Manatees (hard to find most of the time) at the Chocon Machacas reserve and some of the NGO.s that operate in the area also offer very interesting experiences: for example Ak’Tinamit is a Keck’chi (a Native Guatemala Mayan ethnic organization) offers a one night two days guided tour starting in Livingston (at the end of the Rio Dulce) which includes hiking for two to three hours to a Keck’chi village and spending the night at their Tourist center and experiencing what life is like in the millenary fashion of a Mayan village, amidst the jungle and the corn fields. I have done this hike myself and just the scenery getting to and from the village called Plan Grande Tatin is breathtaking: in front of you the jungle, on the sides; cornfields in the karstic hilltops, and behind you the full view of the Caribbean opens up as you climb, once there you will find the villagers are friendly and well versed in eco-tourism and one should feel good after all to contribute to their financial success and support their community initiatives in areas such as health, nutrition, education, etc.

Another worth while visit in the Rio Dulce Area if you are a nature lover or just like tropical plants is don Emilio’s botanical Garden ‘El Siritcote” located just 6 kms. From the Rio Dulce on the road past Seja village, Don Emilio speaks English and is a wonderful person that has collected and planted thousands of local plants like pepper, vanilla, orchids, gingers, heliconias and hundreds of varieties of trees and he has samples of the wood as well. Don Emilio accepts donations and he well deserves them, you will have spent a very entertaining and educative two hours at his place.

At the other end of the lake Bocas del Polochick can be visited as well and here we recommend you contact the tourist office in El Estor, there they can make arrangement for you to go with a guide who is a knowledgeable fisherman who takes passengers out early in the morning to see manatees, monkeys and crocodiles, dona Eloyda is in charge of the small office across the street on the north side of the Park she guarantees sighting of the wildlife as the fisherman is knowledgeable of the area, both are members of Amigos del Lago, another association that works on behalf of the preservation of the Lake Izabal. Another must near El Estor is the “Boqueron Canyon” you can catch a chicken bus and arrive in just a few minutes from El Estor or about an hour from Rio Dulce. Once there you can hire some local kids with a dugout canoe to take you up the canyon. I recommend floating downstream looking up at the trees as often there are monkey there and toucans as well, the waters are generally calm once you get past the one rapid and it easy to swim about. For a really cool adventure in that are contact Maya Expeditions (see their ad in this magazine) and ask for their White Water package for the Cahabon River, This is a world class level 3-4 white water rafting adventure. Ask for the one that ends in the Rio Dulce and that way you get to see the whole area and take a nice relaxing break after three days of non-stop excitement. You can top off your vacation in Izabal with a sailing experience anywhere from a “sunset” tour around the lake to a full charter and end your trip in the Belize keys or return to Guatemala to continue your trip southwards.

The Hacienda Tijax Jungle Lodge and marina located just north of the bridge spanning the Rio Dulce is part of a larger farm with a rubber plantation and a nature reserve which offers a guided tour through their privately owned and managed Tropical Forest. The 2.5 kilometer trails has canopy bridges for better observation of the flora and treetops, great bird watching and a lookout tower offering a panoramic view of the entire area. Tours to the Cerro San Hill reserve can be arranged through some of the Hotel mentioned above, the trip is quite an adventure and well worth it. It takes a full day from early morning to sunset and it involves renting a minivan or a pick up truck to go to the foothills of the reserve, there one orders chicken for the return trip and then an hour’s hike to the Research station San Gil Sur, one must contact Mike the bird watching guide he has an incredible knack for finding birds and San Gil is known to have over 350 species of them, the amazing thing is that since the reserve is really pristine birds aren’t scared of humans so as you bathe in the pristine waters of the tributaries to el Golfete like Rio Frio the hummingbirds will buzz you less than a meter from your face, Howler monkeys are quite common and at night (if you stay in the rather austere station) you might spot an ocelot or a leopard rifling through the chicken bones in the yard.. The San Gil reserve is managed by FUNDAECO another NGO active in the region.

The other Hotels such as La Ensenada offer a canopy zip line and boat tours can be arranged through almost any Hotel. A warning: most boat operators will try to get you out of the Rio Dulce park and on to Livingstn thus having missed all the attractions on the way or on the lake and river, other tours are available but one has to insist, say you’ve read it on your Guide book or this magazine and point out the name of the place where you want to go. Unfortunately not all the inhabitants are eco friendly so many will just as happily herd you to the next place on a fast speed boat rather than go to the trouble of giving the proper directions to the more remote but beautiful destinations. Please remember to be a responsible traveler, do not buy wildlife, or take out rare species, avoid sleazy places and danger spots, always ask at your Hotel for security related information or the local Toursim Comitte (CAT’s ) there is one in every town in Izabal. See the list below for relevant phones and web sites. I sincerely hope you enjoy your vacation here as much as I have enjoyed living and cruising here the past 25 years…

Eugenio Gobbato

Eco Tourism in Izabal- From Destination Peten

Eco Tourism in Izabal

If you are reading Destination Peten you’re on the right track as you will probably reach the Rio Dulce – Lake Izabal area while on your way to the highlands of Guatemala or further south to Honduras. Izabal, now one of 22 departments of Guatemala was during the Spanish colony part of a larger territory known as the Verapaces (True Peace) as it had been colonized by Dominican Friars led by Fray Bartholomew de Las Casas in a less violent fashion than the remaining parts of Guatemala. Later in the 17th and 18th centuries Izabal became the scenery of more action such as the Pirate attacks on the fort of San Felipe de Lara spurred by the increasing trade in the Caribbean and from the Capital city to new colonial powers such as England, Germany and France. It is towards the end of the 18th century that coffee becomes introduced to the upper Polochic valley by German settlers.

The presence of the German ended with the World War II debacle and the expropriation of their farms by the government which had belatedly cast it’s lot with the winning ally forces. From then to the late 1980’s the only important event was the establishment and failure of a large Nickel mine and the opening of a road to connect the Peten with the rest of the nation as it had been isolated throughout all those years. The roadway required the building of a large bridge (the largest in Guatemala) to span the deep water of the Rio Dulce. The point is that for nearly a half a century Izabal was nearly abandoned and forgotten by the rest of the world. Lack of access and the reigning instability of the country made it nearly impossible to reach this wonderful watery playground. The hundreds of kilometers of shoreline remained forested and the lagoons, creekes and swamps that conform the Golfete and it’s tributaries such as the Chocon-Machacas remained as mirrors surrounded by lush exploding greenery with it’s water teeming with fish and wildlife. In those days it was common to see deer on the shores of the Rio and to hear the Howlers along stretches of shoreline.

Some pioneer and visionary families settled here and started small hotels such as Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Lucas of the Catamaran Hotel, Doña Sara of Tienda Reed and Abel Ramírez of the Astillero Magdalena along with the Marimonte Hotel were some of the first establishments in the area. Towards the end of the 1980 the first sailing yachts appeared on the river, ghosts of an earlier times graced once again the tranquil water of the Golfete and anchored in the nearby bays. It became evident that with the new road, the bridge and the democratic aperture of the country the area offered a pristine environment for the tourists industry. Soon other small hotels and lodges opened up for business and many more tourism related shops opened up such as restaurants, banks, mini buses, launch water tours, travel information and now even internet are available. This year for the first time a fully private reserve with an interpretative path and a canopy tour has been established at the Hacienda Tijax Jungle Lodge a pioneer Eco Tourists operation in Rio Dulce since 1990. .

Simultaneously to these developments a series of parks and reserves were created over the past twenty years making Izabal one of the best protected areas of Guatemala. Cerro San Gil, Bocas del Polochic, Sierra de Santa Cruz, Rio Dulce, Sarstun and Punta de Manabique are some of the reserves that come to mind spanning many hundred of thousand of acres. Non Profit Organizations such as Ak Tinamit, Fundaeco. Fundary, Defensores and Eco-Rio are some of the NGO’s that operate in the area, all catering to tourists interested in nature. Unfortunately the last twenty years have also witnessed uncommon growth un terms of population and recreational homes. More recently there is talk of reopening the mines, new concessions as well as oil exploration.

Soon the region will have to choose which kind of development and what sort of a future we want for our children.. The old agro industrial models of export oriented products and cheap labor may soon be a thing of the past as prices become lower for commodities such as coffee. Mining and oil would probably destroy the habitats and the nature that tourists demand to see upon their travels. Recently Izabal has made the news as protests over the proposed Oil concessions have begun in some townships like Sarstun and El Estor. Most important and what may finally tip the scales in favor of the environment is that over the years all those involved in tourism have noticed that visitors from overseas and other countries are awed at the beautiful natural sights available in Izabal, the extensive waterways, forested mountain ranges, the world class bird watching, caves, springs and lush jungle sceneries such as the Rio Dulce canyon. Hopefully consciousness of the value of nature will overcome specialized interest and the majority which already now depend directly or indirectly on tourism will prevail.

We welcome you to come and enjoy our wonderful nature and share with us the adventure of conserving our natural wonders for posterity and for a better lifestyle in the present.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Gracias Simon...

La idea de iniciar este blog es de crear un foro al cual pueda publicar mis ideas y experiencias luego de vivir por 17 años la incomparable experiencia de compartir la creación de este espacio llamado Hacienda Tijax y como esto se relaciona con mi vida y la vida de las personas que me rodean, de cómo nos relacionamos con el medio ambiente y la sociedad en general, bueno es un asunto un tanto ambiciosos pero aquí vamos.

Primero debo agradecer a Simón Gandolfi por inspirarme a través de su ejemplo en este esfuerzo del bloggear. Durante seis meses fui su fiel lector de la bitácora del viaje desde Veracruz hasta Tierra del fuego en su Honda 125 repartidora de Pizzas, Bravo Simón! Que hazaña!! En realidad me encanto leer casi diariamente tus notas de viaje y tus observaciones que siempre comparto contigo como mentes afines. Espero pronto volver a tener el placer de seguir de cerca tu viaje de vuelta....

Otro objetivo de este blog es informar acerca de temas, proyectos y programas que se desenvuelven bajo la sombrillas de la Hacienda Tijax pero que por razones de tiempo y espacio no están publicadas en nuestro sitio web ya que este mas bien sirve para brindar información general y administrar nuestras reservaciones en el Hotel y por ende es un tanto comercial y no presta informaciones de índole filosóficas ni operativas.

Por ejemplo durante muchos años bajo los auspicios de la Hacienda Tijax se participo en la formación de la Asociación sin fines de Lucro ECO-RIO, dicha asociación reúne algunos miembros honorables de la comunidad Hotelera de Río Dulce y vecinos interesados. Con este instrumento legal hemos enfrentado serias batallas ambientalistas como lo fue la oposición a la empresa maderera Simpson que pretendía utilizar el Parque Nacional Río Dulce para la extracción de pulpa de madera para la producción de papel. En otro oportunidad monitoreamos los procedimiento de la empresa Shell Oil durante la exploración sísmica del Lago de Izabal. También hemos acompañado a el CONAP y anteriormente al CONAMA en la preparación de diversos planes de manejo ambiental. Participamos y aportamos miles de horas a los Comités de Turismo local por cierto sin mucho éxito visible aunque a través de ellos logramos establecer al Río Dulce como uno de los destinos turísticos mas importantes de Guatemala.

Actualmente estoy mas interesado en acciones puntuales como es la certificación otorgada por SMARTWOODS de las plantaciones de TEKA que Hacienda Tijax comparte con Reforestadora Maya Izabal y las fincas vecinas ya que gracias a ello estaremos produciendo maderas tropicales de calidad para la exportación o producción local. Asimismo se han impartido cursos de carpintería a potenciales pequeños empresarios provenientes de aldeas no solo en Río Dulce sino que desde el Peten Gracias a los auspicios y esfuerzos de Carpinteros sin Fronteras provenientes del norte de California.

Al principio del blog publique varios artículos que he escrito a lo largo de los años y que se han publicado previamente en diferentes medios. Hago esto con el afán de establecer un entrono o un contexto lógico y filosófico a manera de dar a conocer al lector o a los usuarios de los servicios de Hacienda Tijax no solo la existencia de una filosofía y de una ética de operación mas aun deseo ampliar este horizonte. Deseo incluir nuestras acciones a nivel comunitario, al tema Ecología y Medio Ambiente, Conservación Finalmente espero también dirigirme a algunos temas actuales y puntuales (como el de la Minería a cielo abierto en Izabal) sino a algunos nacionales como el del Desarrollo Sostenible, Energías Alternativas y mas.

En parte hago esto con el afán de revindicar el rol de nuestro pequeño eco-hotel en el quehacer de esta esquina del planeta. Francamente estoy un tanto aburrido y decepcionado de tener que defender nuestro trabajo ante personas cuyo rango de percepción se reduce a criticar detalles como las arañas (supuestamente gigantescas) en las habitaciones, las hojas en la piscina, que el jacuzzi es frío o que el servicio es lento. En realidad hay medios en el Hotel para expresar las criticas constructivas y estas son bienvenidas y cordialmente escuchadas. Las aceptamos de buen modo ya que nos sirven para mejorar el servicio pero también hay personas cuyo interés es causar daño o tomar venganza y usan el Internet como foro para dar rienda suelta a sus actitudes y mentalidades neuróticas.

Hay personas que ofenden y menosprecian nuestro trabajo, ignoran lo mucho que se ha recorrido y mejorado para llegar a donde estamos y por último se castigan a si mismos ya que imagino la pasan de lo peor en toda Guatemala buscando y encontrando defectos por doquier: mas arañas, buses lentos y llenos, basura, servicios lentos e inexistentes, bancos sin dinero, ruido y que se yo cuantos problemas y deficiencias que nos afectan. Todo ello sin tomar en cuenta que es justamente nuestro sub-desarrollo que les permite aun tener selvas vírgenes, lugares remotos, ambiente relajado, y cerveza barata.... todo ello por lo que les cuesta la calefacción en sus casas del Norte.

Luego de haberme quitado esto del pecho quiero aclarar que la gran mayoría de visitantes la pasan de lo mejor en Tijax y en Izabal en general, gozan de la naturaleza, la buena comida, la cerveza, los paisajes y la gente. De hecho tenemos cientos de paginas de comentarios positivos quizás algún día tenga tiempo de cargar algunos de ellos a este blog.