Community-Based Tourism (CBT) is a type of tourism where the local communities are the protagonist of the experience offered. It usually happens in rural and traditional communities, but it can also exist in urban and modern environments. In CBT projects, tourism is generally only a complementary activity for the communities, and the tourists are invited to encounter them in their own homes and explore their lifestyle and daily activities with them.
We have decided to shine a light on the relationship that CBT has with food and we are doing this by travelling through the Americas. Enjoy the flavourful trip!
In our journey through food and CBT, we will now leave the southern continent to reach that slim strip that bridges the two enormous halves. In a region where CBT seems not to exist, we have been led to dig deeper into the varied nature of the relationships that food allows, sharpens and nourishes.
In Guatemala rich and fertile land of volcanoes, from the tallest peak of the Sierra Madre on Central American soil we dive into the manifestations of food as an encounter.
We celebrate when Guillermo Montoya, and the other group guides at The Walking Tree find the stayover guests, elbow to elbow with the mamá, speaking foreign sounds to each other’s ears while preparing maize for breakfast. They will be clapping their hands around the dough or tapping their fingertips on the table, depending on whether we are in the South or the North. Secret codes of identity disguised in the food preparation.
Food, a silent messenger that bridges diversities, carries the ability to connect the unknown worlds that have gathered around it. It also brings joy and human connection, like the daily lunchbox lovingly prepared by the host and received with happy curiosity by the hungry visitors which turns into a conversation topic for the rest of the day.
In Costa Rica we discover how food can be a stimulating form of education, both for the visitors and communities, not formally included in the programmes of the World Leadership School, Vida Volunteer or Raleigh International, but still highly effective.
Visitors and students learn a lot about different food habits and local plants, while communities learn that questions like ‘Shall we cook burgers for them?’ are superfluous, and potentially dangerous too. In fact, CBT has shown that while feeding foreign guests, communities learn to value their own culture, becoming prouder of it and more willing to preserve it.
If it is true that we need to decolonise our taste, as the Colombian anthropologists has reminded us, we would agree that we need to experience the diversity in daily life. And even though the very traditional piccadillo stew can perhaps have a weird taste, I attempt to say that it might taste somehow more familiar if we have used our own hands to collect it from the soil, wash it and prepare it, carefully shadowing the simple but confident moves of the natural cook.
Sara Lavell smiles at the memories of the mutual surprise: ‘Do they really like our food so much?’ and, in another language, ‘Do they have all they need in their backyard garden?’
The astonishment is even greater when they discover that in some rural Guatemalan villages there are no fridges. There is the land and the local street market, and this is all they need.
The Caribbean Sea has always been a kaleidoscope of cultures, and along the centuries many of those have crossed their paths in these regions. In the Caribbean Costa Rica, especially, the African and Northern American influences have been mixed up with the ones of the indigenous Bribri, originally from South America, while the influence of the Antilleans speaks through the Jamaican-born Mekatelliu dialect, as well as the food. Europeans and, in the last two to three generations, also the Chinese have been welcomed into the mix.
By some sort of dark spell, though, the dynamic richness of the cultural combination – which adds further variety to the celebrated biodiversity – magically disappears in the conventional tourism experiences, the victim of an unfortunate and ever so typical cultural oversimplification that reduces its cuisine to a handful of dishes.
Luckily, the traditions re-emerge in rural areas, but these diversities are so hidden and distant that, even for a Costa Rican, gastronomy at the community level can be a continuous surprising discovery.
You might realise that you can eat several types of bush leaves – like the zorrillo – and that they change according to the geographic location. Visitors learn that the apparent chaos that reins in the Bribri-Cabécar indigenous gardens, has a name, ¨Skönwak¨, which means ‘of our people’, and that it is a well-known example of the polyculture practice that manifests the native care for Iriria (Mother Earth). The system – which is a replica of the forest surrounding the village – is a reflection of their cosmovision: everything is connected, and nature is only borrowed, thus respected.
Read Part 2 of “The Relationship between Food & Community-based Tourism: Central America” here