My friend Sonsoles has set up ZUVY, an innovative initiative that aims to put in touch independent travellers with NGOs and community organisations. Zuvy’s web service helps travellers find experiences to include in their itineraries, so that they can experience and share the day-to-day of those projects for one or two days. Travellers pay for their visits and thus contribute to the projects. Perhaps more important are the benefits that could stem from raising awareness and promotion back home. I suggest you browse Zuvy’s website to find experiences that suit your travel plans.
Through Zuvy I signed up for the experience “Flavours of the Andes”, offered by local organisation “La Tierra de los Yachaqs” (the sages, in quechua), in the small community of Huchuy Qosqo. On my arrival, Paulina, the president of this locally run organisation, offered me a warm welcome with flowers. In the kitchen, I met the rest of the women with whom I’d share a very special day. They told me about how this idea started, and how they’ve been preparing to start receiving tourists. Codespa, a Spanish NGO, has helped them out with training and promotion of the initiative.
The activity consisted of cooking a meal with local ingredients and cooked in the traditional way of the Andes. And so, we started cooking. First, we peeled the maize (corn) and olluco (akin to potatoes).
While two of the women stayed in the kitchen to keep an eye on the stove, the rest of us went to collect maize and potatoes from the garden nearby. They grow almost all the products essential to their diet, including the main staples: maize and potatoes (in both cases there are thousands of varieties and colours). It is 100% organic farming, with no artificial products added. They offered me to take home a choclo (corn), which I later gave to a friend in Lima, and he assured me it was tasty.
Back from the garden we continued cooking. As a starter, a soup with maize. The main course was made from olluco. Sitting in the kitchen, they tought me about local products and their diet, but also about their culture, their language (quechua), traditions, clothes and so on. They also inquired with great curiosity about my trip to Peru, how we live in Spain, whether we eat the same food, etc. In short, it was a great opportunity to interact with the people of this community for the whole morning, and share with them ideas and experiences. From the outset, I noticed they were behaving in a very natural manner, doing the same things they’ve done for ages in their day-to-day lives, a very hard-to-find authenticity (particularly in the region around Cusco, where tourism is a bit of a circus)
After finishing work, we sat at the table and enjoyed the result, and actually the food was excellent!!
This organisation also offers other activities in other communities along the valley, such as textile weaving or routes through the land of the llamas. In this community they also offer accommodation, and are ready to receive visitors. Seemingly, it is quite empty, probably just because travellers don’t know about it – yeah, Lonely Planet doesn’t mention it.
There are an increasing number of activities of this sort. It is all part of an understanding of responsible tourism, shared by Sonsoles and me, Codespa and many other organisations: tourism that is respectful with local communities, managed by locals, so that it contributes to improve their standard of living.