Geneseo’s work to promote tourism in El Sauce, Nicaragua, takes off.
Note: ENCompass Editor Kris Dreessen is in Nicaragua with Geneseo students, who are participating in improvements in El Sauce in the College's service-learning program. This story details the first work day, tearing down a wall to build a new one. For more information, visit the On Scene blog at http://geneseoonscene.blogspot.com
At Alfonso Martinez’s small coffee farm near the top of the peak, 30 farmers arrived on horseback and on foot to talk about the new tourism initiative to entice visitors to trek up the mountain and see what rural life is like.
Thirteen new people joined the fledgling cooperative on the spot based on the success of Ocotal’s very first tour. Volunteers from Rochester and Arizona who are helping fix houses with the Peace Corps 4 Walls Project rode horses through the Ocotal pine forest, saw how coffee is grown, cut plants with machetes at Alfonso’s and hiked to the top of the ridge for a panoramic view of valleys, northern mountains and Managua in the distance. The little community of Las Minitas in Ocotal was now on the map.
“The first tour was a historic day in Las Minitas,” said Alfonso at the meeting. “For me and the community it was a really special day. There was a lot of joy.” After the tour was over, he said, “We didn’t want to leave.”
Kellan Morgan ‘06 has been in the El Sauce region, which includes Ocotal, for nearly two years working full time for Geneseo with the city’s mayor, community leaders and residents on improvement initiatives. Tourism is the newest. Morgan, who is director of the College’s El Sauce service-learning program, and Yacarely Mairena-Dávila, have been training teen-aged tour guides for two months to give walking and bike tours of El Sauce, the church and outskirts of town. On the bike tour, visitors pedal along the old train track to discover a part of town a tourist wouldn’t typically see. Ocotal residents wanted the program; Geneseo is key in organization and helping Alfonso and the others realize their goal. Irene Barcos, who is in the Peace Corps, is another organizer. Yacarely recently won a $10,000 grant for supplies from the Millennium Challenge Corporation for the Ocotal program. The trio went to Ocotal Monday to meet with the cooperative and prepare for the next step — tours next weekend in the Cristo Negro festival, which will bring 30,000 visitors to El Sauce, who just may want to see life in Ocotal.
The people of Las Minitas prepared for eight days for the first tour, organizing cooking, horses and a full mariachi band. The musicians even serenaded the group on their steep climb to the lookout. All the food was grown on the local farms and the coffee grown, cut and roasted at Alfonso’s. A few of the mariachis had to leave at 3 a.m. on their horses in order to meet the group, said Kellan.
“It was amazing. It was the best,” said Bonnie Yannie, a Fairport resident and 4 Walls volunteer, who said they are all going to tell their friends that they must go.
In a short time, Geneseo and the mountain cooperative has accomplished much. They’ve united the coffee farmers with the tourism advocates, for collaboration. A nonprofit organization that works in Nicaragua has offered to provide new cooperative members the required 48 hours of training they need to be able to sign on, for free. And, that first tour was better than the Ocotal people had hoped.
“It really became a party,” said Alfonso. “A tourist said they didn’t feel like a tourist, they felt like family here.”
The entire community worked together to make it a success, said Alfonso. Mauricio Martinez has even donated some of his farm land for the center and cabins.
“For me it’s like there’s a new vision,” he said after the meeting. “A lot of people heard about it (the tourism) but don’t believe it. They didn’t think it would happen … It was a great satisfaction for me.”
This weekend, Geneseo will have a booth at the festival, selling handmade pine-needle baskets from Ocotal and offering the mountain and city tours. Irene also put flyers in hostels in Léon. The city is one of the biggest tourism draws in Nicaragua.
The whole vision will take years, Kellan said, but now they have shown it can be a success now. With 13 new participants, the commitment is stronger.
At the meeting, a resident got the farmers laughing, saying how many people think they are crazy to think tourism could work in Ocotal. Before, some residents were worried they had to have nicer houses or better infrastructure and roads before it could take off.
“I felt really good. I felt really proud,” said Anival, who was in charge of horseback guiding. In the future, he said, he wouldn’t have to leave his family to find work in Costa Rica. “I want to join.”
Read more at http://geneseoonscene.blogspot.com
January 13, 2009
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