To me, traveling isn’t just about being in a new place. It’s more about experiencing a new community, interacting with people, and learning about the way other people live. It’s also about investing in and giving back to their community.
Tourism is a cultural exchange, but it’s also a business. You can make sure that your money stays in the community and helps the individuals you meet. Shopping with local artisans, staying at locally owned hotels, and traveling with a local guide helps the community you’re visiting immensely.
And you get to meet some amazing people.
In the north of Ecuador, just near the Colombian boarder, there is the small community of Salinas. This area is so different from the rest of Ecuador, from everything I’ve seen so far. It’s very dry and hot, and it’s a community of Afro-Ecuadorians. A slave ship crashed off the Ecuadorian coast in the 1500s, and the would-be slaves escaped. They fled up into the mountains to avoid being caught, and settled in Salinas.
The community is very poor, but there are a few entrepreneurs who are working very hard to change that. There is a train that travels from Ibarra to Salinas, bringing travelers into the community. There are some very dedicated people who are developing small businesses in the area to attract travelers.
I am so impressed with the passion, skill, and dedication they are bringing to their businesses.
A group of ladies in La Victoria (just outside of Salinas), have been developing their ceramic business for two years. They create, fire, paint, and sell their pottery in La Victoria.
Selling their ceramic art is the hard part. Their community is off the beaten path, so they don’t get many visitors to their workshop. And traveling to sell their pottery is a challenge.
In Salinas there is a group of families that have invested in a commercial kitchen. There they make blackberry syrup, piña colada, ice cream, and lots of other tasty treats. A few years ago, 40 families participated in building the commercial kitchen, now just 4 families are using it. People dropped out for various reasons, mostly the length of time and the amount of initial investment it took to get the kitchen operational. But people who stuck with it are finally seeing a return. The piña colada was delicious!
Arte Negra is a collective of artists making masks. They have a thriving shop, and some very talented artists.