There is another reason that I like to travel with Intrepid Travel besides the fact that they have trips that are best suited to my style. This is because of their commitment to responsible travel. Responsible travel to Intrepid means the principles of “respecting people, cultures and local environments; in the distribution of wealth; in good will and cross-cultural sharing; and in contributing to sustainable development”.
I like that they use public or locally owned transport and stay in smaller-scale locally owned accommodation so that the local communities benefit from us being there. They make every effort to ensure that we support local artisans and restaurants, and that we have genuine interactions with local people so that we really do get to understand something of the everyday lives of the people we visit.
Not only do Intrepid support the local economy, they make sure that they build and sustain local communities. Some of my most memorable experiences are where I have had the good fortune to stay in a village where Intrepid had just started to introduce them to tourism.
In the High Andes in Peru, we had a homestay in a small village near the Colca Canyon. We were the second group that had ever stayed there. The accommodation was very basic and in order to be able to have guests stay they were required to have a squat toilet with a concreted floor and a water tap. We were split into pairs (there were only 3 of us and our guide) and allocated to our families. The families were rostered to have guests and the food we brought as gifts was shared amongst the whole village. We spent the late afternoon talking with our family in limited Spanish and learning how to spin and knit llama wool. In the evening we crowded into their tiny kitchen with our host couple, their two daughters and their husbands, two grand-daughters, 2 dogs and a 6-day old llama and helped prepare the evening meal.
In the morning we were invited to a meeting in the village square and asked to talk to the villagers (in Spanish) about where we were from and our travels. The message from this was ‘these people have come from far away and learnt enough of your language to be able to communicate – it would be great if you could learn some English words too’. After a walk in the valley to see some magnificent burial caves we came back to the village and helped them build a new visitor centre/museum. I’m not sure how much help we actually were but it was fantastic to be involved with plastering the stones and thatching the roof.
In rural Cambodia, we also had a homestay with local families. Two families provided sleeping quarters and another cooked the food for us. Our guide Mr T had gone for training in Phnom Penn – it was the first time he had ever left the village and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to again. But he had great English and a fantastic knowledge of the local history. We went with Mr T to visit ruins that had recently been discovered in the local jungle that, whilst not on the same scale as Angkor Wat, were still pretty amazing. In the evening we walked with him down to the lake and talked about our visit and what activities might entice tourists to stay longer in the area. It was fabulous to feel that we might be helping at least in some small way to the development of the community.
It was also great to observe first hand that working conditions for local people was of utmost importance to Intrepid, although awful to observe how other groups could treat people who were helping them. When we walked the Inca Trail we noted that our porters were fully kitted out in warm and waterproof clothing and footwear, had all the equipment that was required and a limit on how much they were allowed to carry. In contrast, many of the other groups on the Trail had porters in bare feet or worn sandals, with no rain gear and very heavy uncomfortable loads. We had been asked to purchase coca leaves, biscuits and other food to share with the porters on our journey. We soon realised that while our porters were appreciative of what we offered, they were well provisioned. It was the other porters that most needed our assistance. It was truly humbling to receive the smiles and gratitude from cold, wet and exhausted porters when we stopped to talk and share food with them (when their own groups often ignored them completely).
In so many places we visit we are taken for meals at restaurants that provide training and employment for disadvantaged youths and street kids (e.g. Makphet in Vientiane, Laos; Koto in Hanoi, Vietnam), to artisan centres that are supported by Intrepid, and to welfare centres for both humans (e.g. Cooperative Orthotic Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) in Laos) and animals (e.g. Animal Care Egypt (ACE) and Charles Darwin Foundation in Galapagos). All of these organisations and many others are supported by the Intrepid Foundation. We are encouraged to give as we are able while we are there, but donations are possible at any time. You can choose to support a particular project or country if you like, and there is also a global gifts programme where you can purchase medical support or school supplies etc (explaining to my nephews why I gave a family in Cambodia some chickens rather than getting another present for them was interesting).
I am glad to do what I can to support these very worthwhile activities whilst learning all I can about the lives of the people in the countries that I visit.
Intrepid Travel (a range of different travel styles – see my post on travel styles)
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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