A few nights ago I was spending a typical evening online, surfing the web for everything related to ecotourism, national parks, and/or South Africa, when I stumbled upon the incredible Bulungula lodge. It’s only a couple hours from East London, where I’ll be spending the next three months, and appears to be a seamless example of ecotourism. They’re environmentally sustainable, using solar, wind and even bicycle power to generate their electricity. They’re very dedicated to the local community, providing them with jobs, educational programs, and training in organic farming. And they teach all visitors about the Nqileni village culture, and about the importance of being environmentally and socially responsible. I was very impressed with the mission of this lodge and their efforts to accomplish it. I contacted the owners (since that’s what I do these days) to express my enthusiasm and ask for more information about the establishment and management of this kind of an operation, and I’ll be adding it to the table as a possible mid-semester retreat. I don’t know about the other girls in my group, but I would love to see this place in action.
I made another happy discovery a couple hours ago, while on the flight to Joburg (which I’m still on, and have been on for 11 hours). Flipping through Sawubona, the South African Airways in-flight magazine (you run out of things to do after 11 hours), I found that they have a regular feature on my favorite kind of tourism! It’s always nice to see that something you think is a current issue in a certain place actually is a current issue. This week’s article is titled “Angels of the Dry Country” and tells the story of the women of Namaqualand, in Richtersveld. These women live in a traditional Nama community, and are very proud of their culture as well as their beautiful natural environment. They became concerned a number of years ago because of the increase of 4X4 traffic on their dirt roads, and the accompanying influx of people who would take cultural artifacts as souvenirs.The community banded together to apply for World Heritage status, the article says, “to protect their way of life and their land” and when they achieved the status as a World Heritage Site in 2007, “they started seeing an uptick in tourism and, even better, a genuine interest in the customs of this isolated population.” In this case, the community itself initiated ecotourism, and through it they have been able to protect their land, generate income and share their culture, while refreshing members of their own community with traditional aspects of their culture which many had forgotten. I love this as an example of how tourism can help and protect a community, and this case is especially pure because there is no third-party to work through: all profits go directly to the community.
Bulungula Lodge and Namaqualand are very different types of ecotourism, but both are great examples where efforts to benefit the environment, local community, and the tourist have been sincere and primarily successful. It’s very encouraging to see these, after many of the articles I’ve been reading have a very pessimistic outlook on the industry as a whole, calling it a lovely fantasy that’s already dying. But as long as I can find these kinds of positive examples, I’ll trust its potential. And I’ll soon be able to see whether South Africans feel the same way. (3:20 am, Monday, August 23rd)