Under the tin roof of a cinder block home in the mountains surrounding Esteli, Nicaragua, I sat with my classmates and the women of El Sontule, an agricultural village that was part of the Miraflor Natural Reserve. I felt like I was among the elders of a tribe as these women spoke Spanish in their thick, Nicaraguan accents. These women were part of a coffee cooperative in Miraflor.
Coffee plants, however, have been suffering from a disease called coffee rust, decreasing coffee production. To compensate for the loss of income from coffee, these villages have been opening their homes to ecotourism. Ecotourism allows travelers to immerse themselves in the lifestyle of the locals and not be as disruptive to the environment. In El Sontule the accommodations were basic, some homes didn’t have running water or electricity if they didn’t have solar panels, and the toilets were latrines, but the families were warm and welcoming.
The people in this village didn’t have much, but my goodness were they content. Their children were educated, their days were busy, spent doing honest work, they lived in unison with their environment, and they lived in a community that felt like a family. It was the closest thing to a utopia I’d ever experienced. Who would have thought Utopia used latrines!?
It is travel experiences like these that people often miss when they go abroad. A person can’t fully experience a country or themselves if they don’t experience the people. That is why I urge you to become an ecotourist, not solely because it’s important to travel this earth as gently as possible, but because it is important to walk into the homes of other people to see what this world is really about, to see what other people are really about.