The #AdventureLust Trip Ends but the Memories of Community-Based Tourism Live On
Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina
Our #AdventureLust travellers, Danny and Harry, recently got back from South America after four months of exploration. In a trip debrief we spoke to them about their experiences, discussing their favourite places, most enjoyable activities and what their travel tips are for those setting out on a community-based travel adventure.
Hi guys, welcome home. What were your initial expectations going into the first tour and how did they fit in with your actual experiences?
Harry: I really had no idea what to expect to be honest. Community-based tourism wasn’t something that I really knew about – my holidays all tend to be sport-related, so I was excited for something new.
Danny: I had a pretty good idea of eco-tourism and what it entails as I’ve travelled to all four corners of the world on some fantastic eco-trips to date! Yet, Sumak Travel offered us something unique with its community-based tourism model. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in!
Harry: Our journey started with a public bus ride from Mendoza bus station at around six in the afternoon. It was full of locals – no other tourists – and as the sun set we gradually got further and further away from civilisation. It dropped us off in what can only be described as a dusty cross roads – really Wild West style! Luckily our guide, Humberto, was already waiting for us when we arrived!
Danny: As Humberto walked us through the village a menacing storm circled on the horizon, the clattering thunderbolts were terrifying but simultaneously magnificent. A little further along the road, villagers from all corners of the community came out to greet us. Finally, we made it to our humble abode, a beautifully crafted clay hut, literally borne out of the earth! On our doorstep awaiting our arrival was an unwelcome host though… an enormous tarantula! After carefully ushering our little friend away we stepped into what was to be our cozy home for the next few days.
Harry: The three days we spent in La Asuncion with Humberto and the Huarpe community outside Mendoza were some of my best days of the entire trip in fact. We were new to the idea of this community-based tourism thing and were absolutely loving it! The community aspect, particularly for me, was very exciting. It was so powerful to be able to share authentic experiences and learn how these people live their lives.
Can you elaborate a little on your statement about “authentic” experiences?
Harry: Well, these are often people who have not been conditioned to receive and put on a show for tourists their whole lives, so the experience for them too is reasonably new. It means that occasionally there is a variation in quality, but the experiences that were more rough around the edges were often our favourite ones! One such example was the homestay on Lake Titicaca near Puno in Peru. You could tell they weren’t that experienced in tourism, but their warmth and family-centred lifestyle just made for an amazing experience.
Danny: Going off the beaten track isn’t for everyone, yet often what was lacking in creature comforts was more than made up for in hospitality. Yes we were often staying in basic accommodation, like the Chilean Ruka, yes we often had no electricity or wifi, but without all of those distractions we found some of the most hospitable, welcoming people I’ve ever met. It was the simple aspects of community life and the way we were welcomed into it which made the experiences so special.
What were some of your favourite activities during the trip?
Harry: I personally loved all of the hiking or horse riding activities the most. Just being outdoors in these beautiful countries is a blessing… and to have expert guides with us, telling us all about the flora, fauna, local myths and legends was brilliant! The volcanoes we saw in Chile while staying with the Mapuche of the forest and similarly the lakes we visited during our homestay with the Patagonian Mapuche were highlights for me. I learnt so much, more than I ever imagined I would, and enjoyed being out and in nature more than ever before.
Danny: As a self-confessed nature freak I loved anything to do with the outdoors, forests and wildlife. Every time we ventured through the wilderness accompanied by our native guides I was thrilled to bits. However, another aspect of the trip that I thoroughly enjoyed was the workshops – which took me by surprise. Taking part in some of the ancestral trades of the communities we visited really gave us a fantastic insight into their daily lives. And we learnt some pretty cool skills!
And how about favourite places?
Danny: If there’s one place that sticks in my mind it has to be Argentina and the Christmas we spent with a gaucho family. Rising early on Christmas day to herd cattle on horseback was a truly unforgettable experience. After an exhausting journey through picturesque mountain scenery, we finally came to a clearing in the forest where our gaucho guide gracefully hopped off his horse and started a small fire for our picnic of good Argentine meat and red wine. With our bellies full, we then dropped off one by one for a siesta beside the crackling fire. Good food and great company, what a journey! That Christmas will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Harry: For me, it was Bolivia. It was the wildest, most indigenous, least European destination of the whole trip. Sure, it was challenging – constantly being at a high altitude was tiring for one thing, but while exploring Bolivia from the Amazon to the Andes, we did some really fun things. We played football at 4,300 metres above sea level with some kids in a small village and danced in a town hall wearing the most beautiful, ornate local dress before ending up at Sun Island on Lake Titicaca, which might be the most amazing place I have ever visited in my life! The endless blue of the lake, the small size of the island with views wherever you walk, and a fascinating Inca history – just great!
Would you recommend the trips to others?
Harry: Yes – and I already have! I think that tourism has got rather stale nowadays, with people doing the same trips, to the same ‘touristy’ places again and again. These Sumak Travel tours will take you to places you wouldn’t normally think of visiting, places that are completely off the beaten track, and at which you won’t see other tourists. We hardly saw any during our entire trip, it was just us and the guides… Extremely relaxing, chilled and made for comfortable relationships.
Danny: Of course, without a shadow of a doubt! If you want to go and sit beside a swimming pool drinking cocktails and meeting ‘Brits abroad’ book a package holiday. If you want to try a truly authentic holiday, experiencing new cultures, taking part in the daily lives of remote, indigenous people in some of the most beautiful landscapes you can imagine, then you should give it a go. And the best part of all is that everything you spend goes straight back into the community, making it all the more possible to return the following year!
What advice would you give to people embarking a community-based tourism trip?
Harry: Be as open as possible to new experiences. Be prepared to stay in places that might not always have boiling hot water for showering, or the most plush, comfy bed…
Danny: Be prepared for anything! Your experiences could range from comfy log cabins with hot showers to mud huts with no electricity! As the saying goes, ‘travel broadens your horizons.’ Yes, you may have heard the cliché a million times before but community-based tourism really will leave you with a new outlook on life!
You can see all the posts from Danny and Harry’s South American adventure by checking out the AdventureLust category on our blog. Alternatively, start planning your very own community-based tourism experience by visiting our Tours page.