Reflections on Ecotourism (1)

Three Sided Ecotourism

The noise from the undergrowth was intense and loud, from all kinds of bugs, happily beavering away in the August sunshine. The great herds of wildebeest stretched out before us, undisturbed by our visit.

Tanzania, copyright Lonely Planet.

Tanzania, copyright Lonely Planet.

As we walked around the designated lunching spot, above the shores of the vast Lake Manyara, Tanzania, a few years back, we could easily and relatively justifiably tell ourselves that this, truly, was Ecotourism.

 We were conscientious tourists, eating only our packed lunch free from excess packaging, leaving no litter, making no unnecessary noise, resisting the urge to poke sticks into the colossal termite mounds. We overnighted in tents, put up for our visit and taken away with us. They were in designated camping areas close to, but not within the national parks. After our departure, we were satisfied that there remained not a trace of our passage.

Our guide and cook were both locals, from Arusha and working for an indigenous tour company based in the sprawling town under conical Mount Meru, one of Africa’s highest mountains.

Indeed, we had specifically decided not to use any foreign tour operators, in order to see our money spent directly in the local economy. We flew into Nairobi, Kenya, without even our first night’s accommodation booked. All we had was a return airfare, which we had even managed to book with Kenya Airways.

Were we Ecotourists ? To a degree, certainly. However, as the saying goes, there are precious few true deep-green tourists. We certainly didn’t shower too often, we didn’t throw litter and we didn’t waste electricity or other scarce resources. We certainly respected the locals and their customs and, indeed, we sampled as much of it as we could. We drank in local bars and ate in local eateries. We avoided the trappings of western culture and ‘imperial’ legacies.

In Nungwi, northern Zanzibar, however, something went askew. Arriving at a beautifully appointed and bustling office for scuba diving and snorkelling, we booked our day trip to an atoll off the east coast of the island. Between the island office, the people kitting us out and the guides on the actual boat trip and dive, we encountered not a single Zanzibari or Tanzanian. To our great disappointment, all the personnel were white South Africans. Having spent our Shillings diligently around Arusha and Dar, were we now seeing our holiday cash transferred to some bank account in Cape Town ?

There must be three sides to Ecotourism, not just the obvious one.

First, of course, there is the notion of conservation and sustainability, incorporating the landscape, flora and fauna of the visited area. This is the one we all pat ourselves on the back for protecting, through simple steps, such as water conservation, non-usage of chemical detergents, minimal impact on environments and local biodiversity, not taking souvenir samples of rare flora, not throwing litter, etc. Our safari tours stuck to the designated tracks, never deviating from the prescribed routes. We never descended from the vehicle in the wrong places. We did pretty well.

But watch out. There is the second area of preservation of and respect for the traditions and customs of indigenous populations – the social sustainability pillar. What do we, as tourists, do to the culture of the visited area ? We often see European sports jerseys adorned by local guides and shop workers in Africa. While this is relatively superficial, nevertheless, it scratches the surface of the impact tourists have on the socio-cultural norms of the host community. Nor did we do anything ‘wrong’ here.

Thirdly, Ecotourism requires that the local community be empowered economically. This is where we know we fell down on Zanzibar. Yes, we remained conscious of our impact upon the marine environment we were observing while diving. Yes, we appreciated that the boat transporting us out to the reef was small in size and passenger capacity, with a weak engine and limited environmental impact. But where was the economic benefit to the local islanders ? I don’t believe our diving trip sustained the livelihoods of any locals, at least not directly.

Look out for tourism offers that are sound environmentally, culturally and economically, with the local population firmly at the heart of the offer and in control. Let’s not fall into the trap of believing Ecotourism is all about us and our well-being and self-congratulation. It must also be about the families and communities who welcome us in.


Interesting Research from TripAdvisor

I liked this research by TripAdvisor.

Most annoying travellers in the world :

1. Americans – 18% of respondents.

2. French – 12%

3. Germans – 10%

4. British – 6%

5. Chinese – 6%

Followed by : Travellers from Russia, Japan, Italy, India, the Emirates.

Most annoying things during travel :

1. Children kicking your seat back – 31%

2. Rude seat recliners – 21%

3. Loud mobile phone conversations – 16%

4. Passengers taking too long to stow overhead baggage – 12%

5. People getting up before the seatbelt sign is off – 5%

6. Armrest hogs – 4%

7.  Passengers consuming smelly food – 4%

8. Travellers blocking moving walkways – 3%

9. “Shoulder surfers” reading over your shoulder – 1%

10. People wandering in front of airport service carts – 1%

The copyright is entirely TripAdvisor’s.

What those people need when they get to their destination is a good walk in nature.

A Winter’s Walk on the Bangor Trail

The Bangor Trail, Co. Mayo

The Bangor Trail, Co. Mayo

Would you like to join me on a four-hour walk along Mayo’s magnificent Bangor Trail this winter ?

What, you cry, are you mad ? No, trust me. Winter on Ireland’s most remote, tranquil and wet waymarked way is a great treat. Why ? Because you’re not in charge.

Nowadays, the human is in charge of everything – controls the environment to a worrying degree, if you think about it. Not out here, not in winter.

Let me throw some dates out there.

Anybody for Thursday, December 11th ? We can meet in Castlebar at 8.30 am, get 4 hours walk in and be back by 3.00 pm. Send a comment if you’re interested and indicate your preferred date. If we can get a small group together, we’ll go for it.

What would you need ? A reasonable level of fitness, very good hiking boots, waterproof clothing, courage, some food, a camera, etc. Please don’t bring any unnecessary packaging that might get dropped, mobile phones (they won’t work up there anyway), MP3 players and all that kind of stuff.

Winter Sun over Connacht

I’ve been lucky lenough to be up and around and out in the beautiful Connacht countryside often enough recently to appreciate the winter sun over this western end of Europe.
I hope you enjoy these pictures – I know they’re not exactly professional, taken with a cheap Fuji camera, but they’re okay.
The Gaelic Chieftain, N4, Boyle.

The Gaelic Chieftain, N4, Boyle.

The first is of surely Ireland’s most magnificent roadside piece of art – The Gaelic Chieftain, by Maurice Harron – located just north of Boyle, one of the prettiest towns in Connacht. Standing proud above the stunning Lough Key below, the sculpture commemorates The Battle of Curlew Pass in 1599. I guess you could say he’s riding off into the sunset.

I’m not going to mention the rubbish that gets discarded here and that Roscommon County Council doesn’t collect often enough. 

Carrowkeel cairns, near Boyle.

Carrowkeel cairns, near Boyle.

The second is of one of my favourite spots in the province – perhaps my very favourite. The Carrowkeel cairns sit atop the Bricklieve Mountains of south Sligo. Often, when you visit megalithic sites, it takes more than a fertile imagination to comprehend what you’re looking at. Up here, you simply climb inside and you’re transported back.

Pity some people feel it necessary to leave their little candles behind them. I always carry them away anyway.

Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo.

Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo.

The third is sunrise over Ben Bulben, taken from slightly north of the mountain, at Grange. My positioning is not quite right to get the impression of the sun rolling up the mountain. Still, better to have tried and failed than not at all. You get the idea.

Back in October, I was walking along the top of Ben Bulben, from the Glencar Lake side out towards the sea end. The wind was mad.

River Shannon flood plains, near Tarmonbarry, Co. Roscommon.

River Shannon flood plains, near Tarmonbarry, Co. Roscommon.

The fourth, I took along the Shannon flood plains of east Roscommon. These flat lands invite the river to burst its banks every single winter and spill quite some distance from the river bed. I remember about eight years ago when the then N5 between Tarmonbarry and Strokestown was completely cut off by the flood waters, forcing people some 12 miles out of their way. The road has since been moved.

My father used to tell a great story of an English boat owner, who came to Banagher in Offaly to buy a river boat during the off-season. Cock sure of himself, he took possession of the boat straight away and only got a few miles before running aground, not one but two fields away from the river bed.


What a legend of a place Kippure Estate is.

I was down there yesterday for some training. Funnily, I have often been up the road and over the Sally Gap, but never noticed the place. When I lived in Tinahely as a young lad, our father used to drive us all over the place at the weekend. More recently, I have walked Djouce beyond.

On the way up there yesterday morning, I stopped for a sec and out pops a lovely deer from the conifer trees. There are magnificent Scots Pines on the boggy uplands, across the young River Liffey below the Centre. I wonder will they ever have children. They all look to be the same age, suggesting the young are not able to get a grip and survive. The older trees stand like lone sentinels over the wonderful Wicklow Mountains.

Anyway, check it out some time.

Thursday Trees – Ash (An Fuinseóg)

Ash leaves, autumn 2008

Ash leaves, autumn 2008

The Ash is the last of the Irish native trees to get its new leaves each year – generally not arriving until May. I am lucky enough to have three and a half Ash trees in the ditch that forms two sides of my back garden. The “half tree” is now eight years old and I enjoy watching it grow each year and keeping the ivy from climbing its slender trunk.

The Ash has quite slender leaves, aligned in pairs on opposite sides of the stem. As a deciduous tree, it loses its leaves in autumn, although it is one of the more easily recognisable trees in winter when bare. This is thanks to the large black buds it develops during this season.

In Ireland, the Ash grows to around 25 to 30 metres and can have a width of some 20 metres. Of course, its wood, strong and flexible, is used to make hurls (although the wood is now mostly imported from The Baltic States).

Ash tree in autumn, Mayo

Ash tree in autumn, Mayo

Leave No Trace

I was delighted to be able to take my place on a Leave No Trace Trainer Course at the weekend.

I became aware of LNT over the last year and immediately wanted to get involved, particularly as a trainer. Leading walking groups to various remote spots in the West of Ireland and Poland, I have been conscious of not leaving traces of our presence behind us. But I wanted a structure and a “Cert” to my name would be even better.

LNT originates in the US and has at its core seven principles. They are :

1. Plan ahead and prepare;

2. Be considerate of others;

3. Respect farm animals and wildlife;

4. Travel and camp on durable ground;

5. Leave what you find;

6. Dispose of waste properly;

7. Minimise the effects of fire.

I like it because it’s simple, practical and clear. Thanks to Úna and Aodhnait for a good time.