Accessible Ecotourism: Brazil Eco-Adventures for Everyone

Ecotourism for people in wheelchairs? You may wonder what that looks like, how it’s done. You’d be pleasantly surprised to learn that in many destinations there are efforts in place to improve tourism infrastructure to better serve people with disabilities. Brazil is one such example.

Accessible Tourism
Travel and Tourism is recognized as the largest service sector industry, and as such it is imperative that people of all ages and abilities are allowed access to its activities. Accessible Tourism is a movement that has evolved to represent this important concept, as well as to represent a group which is too often denied desired travel experiences due to inaccessibility and a lack of knowledge at many destinations worldwide. Groups such as the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) promote extended travel opportunities for people with disabilities by establishing partnerships, networks, educational material and certifications/guidelines pertaining to the accessibility of service sector facilities and operations.

Accessible Tourism recognizes the universal right to participate in tourism by having access to “independent travel, accessible facilities, trained staff, reliable information and inclusive marketing,” and notes its wide-spread benefits. “Accessible tourism benefits everyone. More individuals enjoy the opportunity to travel; the tourism industry gets more visitors, longer seasons and new incomes. Society as a whole benefits from new job opportunities, more tax revenue and an accessible environment for both inhabitants and visitors.” (ENAT, 2011)

Virtual Accessible Tourism Project
Thankfully, these days one can find many accommodations and operators in Brazil that have adapted their facilities to receive individuals with decreased or limited mobility. Recently the Brazilian company Acessivel – Turismo Adaptado (Accessible – Adapted Tourism) has developed a new project featuring an online tour guide for travelers with reduced mobility.

This unique guide, only in Portuguese yet, is posted online through oviajanteespecial.blogspot.com and will soon become a website with information about Brazilian accessible tourism destinations. The aim of this guide is to enable people with disability and reduced mobility to travel throughout Brazil. Adriana Braun, who uses a wheelchair herself, is responsible for coordinating this project.

Accessible path Brazil

In 2001, Adriana was the first person in a wheelchair to travel to the Fernando de Noronha islands, a popular ecotourism destination in Brazil. Adriana realized that with a little guidance and specific training for local guides and service sector employees, accommodations could improve their offerings so that people in wheelchairs may travel more. Thus began her instrumental work in accessible ecotourism. For Adriana, ecotourism and responsible travel experiences represent an excellent tool for rehabilitation to people in wheelchairs.

wheelchairs on the beach in Brazil

Accessible Ecotourism in Brazil

Fortunately there are many ecotourism destinations in Brazil that can be visited by people in wheelchairs, yet there is one that deserves special mention: the beach settlement of Itacaré, in the region of Bahia on the eastern coast of Brazil.

Itacaré is revered as one of the most beautiful places on the coast of Bahia. It is synonymous with beautiful beaches and relatively few people, protected Atlantic forests, pristine rivers, amazing waterfalls, and a very lively town during the summer. Nowadays this small town of Bahia is very popular with visitors, and especially surfers, who are attracted to the local beaches and their famously rough waves.

If you are a traveler in a wheelchair and want to visit Itacaré, you can be assured that there are many opportunities for accessible tourism and recreation in the area. Many local service operators have met with trained ecotourism guides and consultants in order to enable them to better cater to the needs of travelers with special needs. Because of this, it is possible for people in wheelchairs to go hiking in the local forests, to visit the beautiful beaches, to walk in the mangroves, to visit stunning waterfalls, and even to enjoy adventure sports such as rafting.

Hiking Iceland a Locals Guide To The Troll Peninsula

Whether you believe in Old Icelandic tales or not, I have to tell you that Troll peninsula is believed to be the last home of ugly and quite dangerous giant trolls. They happen to be afraid of daylight, and a strong ray of sun can petrify them to eternity.

At the end of winter, forced by the ever-rising arctic sun, they make gigantic steps, crossing glaciers, plateaus, ridges and torrents to reach their secret hiding places, before it is too late.

Highlights of the Troll Peninsula?

Welcome to an awesome region of North Iceland, also known as the Icelandic Alps. Even though summits do not exceed 2000m, one shall keep in mind that when hiking in Iceland, they have their feet in the ocean.

Everlasting snow on its dominant peaks, luxuriant green valleys with small farms and cattle randomly scattered and much, much more is to be found in this tranquil area, suitable for trekking all year round. Hiking, biking, horseback riding, alpine climbing in the summer and skiing and ski touring in winter are just a few popular activities to be named.

There are also whales in the fjord, so whale-watching is always an option.It is truly special and very enriching, once you have a chance to enjoy hiking in the almost untouched Icelandic Alps in the North of Iceland, yet still being able to find some great service to make your stay a complete local experience.

Favourite spot for hiking on the Troll Peninsula?

There are far too many as the area is huge and very inspiring with only a few hiking trails being actually marked. Id recommend exploring treks in Skidadalur, Svarfadalur, Hedinsfjordur and Laheidi Plateau, with Dalvik, Olafsfjordur or Siglusjordur as possible starting points.

Favourite places to grab some food on the Troll Peninsula?

Dalvik cafe in a local cultural house called Berg: home-made bread and snacks as well as yummy home-made cakes.Siglufjordur any local bakerySiglufjordur restaurant called Hannes Boy is a place for a proper dinner made out of local ingredients and served with style in a pleasant atmosphere with the fireplace inside.Siglufjordur local fish shop selling fresh fish for your barbecue

Favorite places for a drink on the Troll Peninsula?

One of the best locally brewed beers in Iceland is in Arskogssandur. It is called KALDI and is one and only non-pasteurized beer in Iceland. Check it out, you can get a tour in this cute small brewery and taste the quality.When it comes to bars, its definitely worthwhile checking out the town of Siglufjordur and its cafe-bar by the harbour.

Whats the best time of year to come to the Troll Peninsula?

When you want to enjoy trekking in Iceland, then bright arctic summers (June, July, August, possibly September) are the best time for a visit. The everlasting days of those bright months permit hiking any time in a completely untouched nature. Its good to include places from which you can watch magnificent sunset of the sun that just gently touches the sea and carries on with the sunrise.

Anything else you need to share for people planning a muchbetter adventure to Troll Peninsula?

The area of Troll Peninsula is rather scarcely populated, concerning European standards (bear in mind that Iceland has around 300.000 inhabitants, out of which two thirds live in Reykjavik).

Its rather challenging to move between places here up north, using the public transport, though it is possible. Hitchhiking is a popular way and renting cars would do for those who come in groups.

Iceland is famous for its outdoor swimming pools with geothermally heated water. Theyre cheap, considering the service you get, including hot pots, so its definitely a must try in whatever small village you end up.

The swimming pool in a village called Hofsos is a special piece of art made in harmony with nature I highly recommend it.

When researching Iceland treks, its good to buy local maps in a bookshop called Eymundson (either in Reykjavik or Akureyri).

The weather in Iceland is extremely erratic and its good to be prepared literally for all kinds of weather in one day. The official webpage might be of help when planning your Iceland treks.

More tips on places to see and things to do on Troll Peninsula are also to be found here.

Why do I love going local, when hiking in Iceland?

I enjoy mindful travelling and thus love going local, whenever I travel. Iceland, the place where I live, is not an exception.

It can be tricky to find some quality service off the beaten track in Iceland, but its not a mission impossible. That is why Ill gladly share what Ive discovered so far, constantly adding any new discoveries.

Should you need any specific advice on hiking Iceland, do not hesitate and write to me.

Interested in going to Iceland?Check out other holidays and accommodation in Iceland.

Know somewhere in Iceland – or anywhere in the world that you want to share?

Share it! Put your favourite place on the map and grow your word of mouth travel resource (win somecool prizestoo!).

If you, like Lenka here, would like to feature your favourite places to hike, ski, surf, climb, kayak get in touch – we would love to hear from you.

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Yurt to Yurt Travel with Mongolian Nomads

Yurts are all the rage these days, with posh camping (glamping) sites springing up all over Europe. You are probably familiar by now with the yurt concept – rounded wooden structures, canvas covered, comfortable, spacious, more like a home than a tent. It’s no wonder they have converted many an ardent anti-camper. Easily dismantled and moved (in theory), Mongolian yurts evolved as the home of choice for the nomads of Central Asia. In Mongolia, one of the regions yurts originally hail from, an innovative foundation called Ger to Ger (or ‘Yurt to Yurt’) is working with nomadic families to invite adventurous soles to discover their world.

Since setting up in 2005, Ger to Ger have worked with dozens of Mongolian nomadic herder groups and their communities to develop a travel network of nomadic trekking, horse riding and 4×4 routes through the Mongolian steppe, taking you literally from Ger to Ger, staying with host families and sharing their way of life. It’s possibly as close as the modern adventure traveller will get to understanding life as a nomad. North, South, East and West, new trails are continuously being coordinated with the local communities. Check out their website for a full list: www.gertoger.org

For those less interested in being continuously on the move as the ‘nomadic’ lifestyle dictates, the agency have helped local community groups set up a series of cultural and homestay programs allowing you a rare insight into the local life and customs, including, for example, a trip that offers the chance to spend a week learning to train Kazakh eagles in Bayan Ulgii province. Here, Mongolian Kazakhs maintain a 2000-year old tradition of training female Golden Eagles to hunt foxes, rabbits, owls and even small wolves, and you will learn just how it’s done.

That might not be to everyone’s tastes, but is certainly going to be memorable, as would opportunities in different communities to, among other things, learn the language, work with horses, become a Mongolian archer, or discover embroidery and felt making techniques.

Ger to Ger is a unique travel foundation and social enterprise which takes an innovative approach to mobilize, train and support rural communities to develop sustainable livelihoods through community tourism.

Through tourism incomes, they say that rural nomadic herder groups and their communities are developing an understanding that they are custodians of nomadic culture and heritage, and guardians of local environment (as it becomes an income asset). The results are certainly tangible. One nomadic herder’s testimony mirrors that of many others: “Our household income has increased. So now, I can pay my daughter’s tuition. I have learned many things during the training and project.” (Mr. Chimiddorj)

Travelling to Mongolia to discover the origins of the yurt will certainly leave you with a different perspective on life, and gives you the chance to support others in their fight for a sustainable future in this brave new world.

The Tattooed Bunker: Colorful “Repurposing” in Shkoder, Northern Albania

In Albania, around 750,000 bunkers form a gray mushroom network across the country. This drab legacy of recent communism presents a creative challenge today. Albanians are transforming the bunkers into more purposeful structures, often with tourism in mind.

Remnants of a Paranoid Past

Built of thick cement and iron, the bunkers are phone booth-sized subterranean fortresses with rifle windows and cement dome roofs above ground. Communist dictator Enver Hoxha built them in the 1970s in paranoia of nuclear warfare and xenophobia toward the rest of the world. The bunkers were never used. When Hoxha died in 1985, the communist regime lasted about five more years and collapsed with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Only two decades later, this history still haunts the present. Most of the 750,000 bunkers are still standing and crumbling slowly where they were built. Moving or destroying them is no small task. Each one was built with 5 tons of cement to withstand nuclear warfare. Myth has it that Hoxha hired the bunkers’ engineer by instructing him to shelter himself in the prototype while it was attacked by military explosives. The engineer survived, so Hoxha ordered almost a million of his bunkers to be built.

Creative Re-purposing

Today, Albanians face the question of how to address these scars from the past. Most are simply worked around, while some have been destructed by explosives in order to build in their place. While the majority of the 2-person pillboxes continue to blight the landscape with concrete and iron, a rare few have been “re-purposed” into worthwhile structures such as planters, cafes, playground equipment, and pieces of graffiti art.

The creative re-purposing of cement bunkers is a telling metaphor for Albania’s recovery from its recent communist past. One project, Concrete Mushrooms, has secured resources for the research and documentation of Albania’s bunkers. The organization works toward “inverting the meaning” of these symbolic structures by “giving bunkers value instead of having them as a burden.” Concrete Mushrooms identifies ecotourism-related uses for the bunkers, such as tourism information points, cafes, and even accommodation, as an area with real potential.

The Tattooed Bunker in Shkoder

On the highland road north from Shkoder to Tamare, where population is sparse, bunkers are also fewer and farther between. Here, a bright example of creative re-purposing can be found. A large bunker has been converted into a tattoo parlor. This one is easy to spot – the concrete is colorful, with “tattoo” painted on the outside dome in graffiti-style lettering.

For fearless tattoo shoppers, ink enthusiasts, or those who are simply curious, it is worthwhile to pull over and see this place and the tattoo artist, Keq Marku Djetroshan, who works there mainly during the summer season.

Having lived in the United States for several years, Keq is fluent in American slang. When his time in the U.S. ended, he came back to northern Albania with his tattoo business. He serves mostly Albanians and Montenegrins who cross the nearby border. Inside the bunker-turned-parlor, the walls display more graffiti and an array of dog-eared tattoo art magazines sit on the table in front of the couch. Keq’s arms are covered with layers of tattoos, perhaps a re-purposing of his own scars from the past.

To visit the tattooed bunker, go to Shkoder & Albanian Alps Hotels, a whl.travel local connection, for accommodation and tour information about Albania’s northern region.

More about Albania

Reaching for Vuno’s clean beach at Jal, Albania
By Ethan Gelber – About 190 kilometres south of Tirana, Albania, between Dhërmi and Himara (Himarë) in the hills above the coast, the small town of Vuno isn’t on most tourist radar. Not, that is, unless they’re headed two kilometres away to two of the Albanian Riviera’s most beautiful waterside retreats: the Jal and Gjipe beaches.

Growing Farm Stays and Agritourism in the United States

Agritourism and farm stays are common in Europe, particularly Italy, where they play an important role in preserving rural food traditions and protecting small farm livelihoods. In the United States, however, farm stays aren’t as well known. Two organizations, The Farm Stay Project and Farm Stay U.S., aim to change that – we’re working to spread the word about farm stays in the United States.

The Farm Stay Project consists of a blog of news and reviews and an in-progress guidebook of Eastern U.S. farm stays from Florida to Maine. Farm Stay U.S. is a newly launched web directory of nationwide farm stays funded in part by a USDA SARE grant. The goal is to connect farmers and non-farmers in order to help protect family farms and bridge the urban-rural divide.

The term “farm stay” simply refers to accommodations on a working farm, including cabin rentals, tent camping, or a farmhouse bed and breakfast. Some farm stays offer guests the opportunity to help out with farm chores, while others simply offer a peaceful country retreat.

We believe economically viable farms are protected farms that won’t be as susceptible to development. From 1992-1997, according to the American Farmland Trust, 6 million acres of farmland were developed, an area roughly the size of Maryland. Compared to urban sprawl, farmland provides scenic open space and community character.

Economically speaking, farms are great assets to local communities, contributing taxes, jobs, and real goods. From an environmental perspective, well-managed farms are also valuable wildlife habitat; while eating local means fewer fossil fuels are burned to get that delicious sweet corn from the field to your mouth.

As proponents of agritourism, we feel it should be the right of every child to hear a rooster crow before sunrise, to pet a new spring lamb, and to pull a radish from the ground. We think there is nothing else quite like spending a few days on a farm enjoying fresh air and fresh food. We see farm stays as playing an important role in the local food movement – after all, the best way to really “know your farmer” is to spend a few days exploring a farm.

We’d like to urge everyone to explore the farm stay map at Farm Stay U.S. For those of you who live in the Washington, D.C. area (like this author), here are four Virginia farm stays that are within two hours of the city. These four farms have all have been protected from development in perpetuity by conservation easements. All are historic farms, some with family histories stretching back for 200 years. They’ve adopted diverse strategies to continue farming and stay viable, including selling directly to the consumer and hosting guests.

Smith Meadows Farm is a 400-acre organic, grass-fed meat farm that has been in the same family for nearly 200 years. The farm sells its meat, eggs, and fresh pasta made with local organic ingredients at nine DC farmers markets. The farm’s elegant and historic Smithfield manor house offers rooms and suites for $175 and up, double occupancy.

Weatherlea Farm is a 1700s-era farm owned by Malcolm and Pamela Baldwin, who are retired from careers in environmental law and the Foreign Service. The Baldwins now raise sheep and wine grapes on 28 acres, and host weddings and guests in their one-bedroom “milk cottage” rental, which can sleep up to four. Rates start at $110/night.

Hedgebrook Farm is a third generation, woman-owned and operated dairy farm near Winchester. Kitty Hockman Nicholas and her daughter Shannon Tripplett are proud to offer guests the opportunity to stay at the Herds Inn, a two bedroom log home rental. Kitty and Shannon also offer an innovative cow boarding program for milk lovers, where customers buy shares of one of the farm’s Jersey cows in order to be able to enjoy the farm’s fresh, raw milk. Rates for the Herds Inn start at $125/night, double occupancy.

Oakland Green has been in Sara Brown’s family for nine generations, and has been a B&B since the 1980s. Sara has raised beef cattle part time since she was a child, and started marketing her own beef direct from the farm seven years ago. Sara hosts up to four guests (from one party) in the 1730s log cabin farmhouse. Rates start at $110/ night, double occupancy.

More about the Author: Michelle Nowak

Michelle Nowak is currently writing The Farm Stay Handbook, Eastern USA, and she blogs at www.farmstays.blogspot.com. Michelle first fell in love with agriturismo while studying farm stays in Italy. Inspired by the local farm food and remarkable farmers that she met in Europe, Michelle knew she wanted to work to expand agritourism in the United States. Michelle has worked as a farmer and educator in California, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Mexico. She also founded her own small business in Vermont, Aunt Shell’s Goat Cheese. Michelle has a B.Sc. in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University.

Michelle and Scottie Jones (of Farm Stay U.S.) will be presenting at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference 2010 (ESTC 2010) (September 8-10, 2010, Portland, Oregon, USA) on the panel “Creating and Promoting a Sense of Place.” Michelle and Scottie’s presentation will focus on farm stays and agritourism’s roles in protecting farmland from unsustainable development, which is crucial for both human and ecological communities. Join us in Portland to learn more about the Farm Stay Project/ Farm Stay U.S. and their efforts to support agritourism in the USA!