Monday, 31 December 2007

Community Tourism in San Juan

29th - 31st Dec

Homestay and guided tour in the Lenca Highlands, Honduras

Dos Hombres
View from our homestay door

I am sitting looking over coffee plants and chickens eating a salted taron grapefruit while the slap, slap of fresh tortillas being made comes from the kitchen where Doña Soledad is making my lunch. It is 11am New Year’s Eve and we are coming to the end of a visit to the tourism co-operative of San Juan, a village south of Gracias. We are staying in Doña Soledad’s house, a hearty and jovial 84 year-old who welcomed us in with a hug and a kiss. She spends most of her day in the kitchen, beside the wood burning hot plate. Her husband goes out to milk their cows, her adopted son Leonardo to work their land full of coffee plants, bananas, beans, maize and other fruits and vegetables. Meals have been mostly of food from her own land, much of it organic, including freshly squeezed milk, cheese, curd cheese, beans, bananas, free range yard eggs, coffee and maize tortillas.

Ggeorgia picking coffee
Georgia picking coffee

We made tortillas with her the first night. I would say ‘helped’ except for the mis-shapen attempts we produced. On the last day she demonstrated how she roasts coffee beans on her hot plate and we helped turn the beans so that they did not burn. As they roast, the smell comes increasingly of coffee, except in our case and because of our 'help' it was dominated by a heady aroma of charcoal.

Roasting Coffee
Roasting the coffee beans

Fresh Roasted Coffee
That's fresh coffee!

Soledad’s daughter Gladys runs a stationers cum button shop cum café which quadruples as the visitor centre for the co-operative. This was where we arrived to and were shown a well-produced information folder that explains the aims of the co-operative, how it benefits its members and the activities provided through it.

Leonardo picking coffee
Leonardo, Soledad's son, and Georgia pick coffee

Over the last couple of days we have got to know them all, especially Doña Soledad, and so got much closer to Hondurans than before. The co-operative is only four years old and was founded due to the plummeting coffee prices on the international market. With declining incomes a group of villagers and a Peace Corps worker identified the sorts of activities and infrastructure needed to increase small-scale community tourism. The current twenty members of the co-operative earn much needed income but also the visitor learns much more about contemporary and traditional Honduran life than if simply passing through and staying at a hotel. We have certainly got to know the people and lifestyles very well.

Danilo and Campesinos
Danilo our guide and Campesinos

We had a full-day 24km hike into the mountains yesterday to visit the Waterfalls of the Elves. While not seeing any elves we did spend a great day with Danilo, a small farmer who as a guide earns 50% over the average daily wage for a coffee worker. Not only did we learn about the plants and history of the area, we were introduced to other members of the community and felt like we were being right in a real part of Honduras.

Waterfall of the Elves
A waterfall, no elves in sight!

More photos are on our flickr photostream, link above left.

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