Image via: Author's collection.
Hiking the Inca Trail. Ahh, the mythical allure of getting in touch with a culture that is hundreds of years long gone. Walking in the same steps of these mighty people, for some, is something of a bucket list item. Yet, as more and more people check this trek off their list, the trail is now overcrowded and its hard to keep this hike as green as the many landscapes around the trail. Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) offers an environmentally and socially responsible alternative.
If you want beautiful mountain vistas and breathtaking landscapes, then hiking Machu Picchu is for you. If you're not interested in hiking the same crowded trail as everyone else, then consider an alternative route that also gets you to Machu Picchu but also helps over 200 local families. MLP is a series of four different eco-lodges that are strategically placed along the route from Salkantay to Machu Picchu. Socially Responsible Hiking
First, MLP wanted to develop a system that also helps community members, and therefore at least 80% of employees and staff at each lodge come from the surrounding town, but MLP didn't stop there. When the idea for the trail/lodge system was created, the owners wanted to use local tourism to support the communities that are supporting the tourists. So, MLP created a local organization, Yanapana Peru, to alleviate poverty and improve education for hundreds of families all along the 230 km route. Yanapana Peru provides resources and education for local entrepreneurs to develop a product or service and then MLP, helps make the businesses sustainable by bringing tourists through to purchase items.
Image via: Author's collection.
While at 'basecamp', we met with a local woman who makes all-natural marmalade and honey from locally harvested items. Originally she was making several food items, but the machinery and resources needed to make the items were too expensive, and then she found out about making natural marmalades. Using local fruits and produce, she is supporting other farmers, but then she is also using materials that are known to have natural healing and preventive properties. One fruit, the aguaymanto, is used to lower cholesterol, prevent osteoporosis, as well as offer 23 other preventive and 4 healing properties. For just a few dollars, she can make the products and then sell them for two or three times this amount. Plus, she feels good about making a product that is good for tourists, but also beneficial to the local community by offering additional nutrients to their diet.
Another type of project MLP supports is a local women's textile cooperative. Several women got together and realized that they could offer a product to tourists that would provide them with additional income for their families. Yanapana provided the resources and education to train the women on how to use local plants for dyes, how to work with the wool and then how to make ponchos, scarves, hats, coin purses and a variety of other items that are both good gifts, as well as, helpful for tourists climbing at high altitudes.
How is MLP Greening Hiking in Peru?
First, the MLP lodges are built in areas where they are almost impossible to see from the main trail so that the buildings are not a huge eyesore to tourists looking to get away. MLP also established an EcoTeam to make sure that each of the lodges incorporates green practices and reduces its carbon footprint. Each lodge has a gray and black water reclamation system that filters out the bad and produces water that is then used for irrigation and some also goes through a "lake fluvial system" where plants filter the water.
Another eco-project that MLP supports involves the community and forest reclamation. The first, and largest, lodge in the system of four has a pilot project to work with community members to grow native trees that will then be replanted in the area. Last year 7 area families were involved in the project and planted over 100 trees in the community. This year, MLP hopes to double those numbers. Families involved in the project are given the resources and supplies by MLP but are then empowered to take the project on their own and run with it. Compost is provided to the families from all the lodge kitchen waste that is collected and put into two large compost "pits." Community members fertilize the trees in the forest reclamation project with the compost soil that is generated.
While these lodges are beautiful, they do have a larger carbon footprint than say just camping in tents for the week which is what most people do on the trail. If you don't like sleeping on the ground and want a warm, well-cooked meal, then consider hiking with Mountain Lodges of Peru. (Speaking of well-cooked meals, every dish is specially designed to use locally-grown food but with a twist so you feel like you're eating gourmet).
The downside is that the buildings themselves are not exactly green. The accommodations, while very nice, include amenities that are resource intensive, like a towel warmer in your bathroom, which is particularly strange for an area that still runs off of a gas-powered generator. Some of the decorations in the lodges are from community artisans that MLP is supporting, which is nice, but many of the accommodations are contemporary furnishings that had to be heliocoptered in from miles and miles away. Just bringing in all of the materials (wood, tile, furniture, etc) for four lodges, into an almost completely undeveloped area is not green, no matter how you look at it. Then again, the group is helping to improve the lives of families throughout the region and offering an alternative to keep a trail safe from overcrowding and resource depletion.
Image via: Alexander Yellen
A trip with Mountain Lodges of Peru doesn't come cheap, at almost $3,000USD per person for the entire trek (not including airfare).:Mountain Lodges of Peru :Green Living Project
This spring Green Living Project took their crew down to South America to capture sustainability in action, learn from the stories of the people on the front lines of conservation and prove that something can be done to improve the planet. Brazil, Peru and Ecuador were the target countries for this trip, and I was asked to tag along. Over the next few weeks I will be reporting from the front lines.
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