Próxima aventura – viaje en el tiempo a Las Animas

A couple weeks ago we (RED Sustainable Travel) played a small role in organizing an event in the Sierra la Giganta, in the community of Las Ánimas. The community held the event to show the outside world – press, municipal, state and federal government agencies, NGO partners and academics, as well as representatives from other communities, what they have achieved over the last 2-3 years as part of a community planning process. In short, they have defined the path they will take moving forward to build a future that addresses their needs, always with an eye towards future generations. Their vision is to preserve their traditions and culture as well as their natural surroundings, and to take advantage of their unique mode of life and the unique artisanal products they create.

Lucky for us, tourism is one of the avenues the community identified on the path to improving their lot. So when they invited RED, at the behest of NGO partner Niparajá, to participate in this process, we jumped at the chance. Traveling to Las Ánimas is like going back in time. Due to its logistical isolation, just about everything consumed is made or grown right in the community. The three R’s in Las Ánimas have a distinct meaning – Reuse, Repurpose, and Reuse. An oasis community, they raise crops, although three dry years have mercilessly punished their yields. Goats and cows are used to produce cheese, or find their way into the birria pot on special occasions, and the hides are hand crafted into saddles, bags, and other leather goods. On any given day, the sound of hammers pounding against iron fill the air, telltale signs of the unique knives and daggers the men forge from recycled leaf springs, using techniques handed down from their Spanish ancestors. The picturesque canyons of Las Ánimas spontaneously fill with the songs of rancheros in search of animals that have wandered off. One old timer is still making wine using grapes and techniques that originally came over with the Jesuits hundreds of years ago. If civilization ended tomorrow, the community of Las Ánimas would be just fine.

Las Ánimas doesn’t lack for unique and genuine tourism experiences, that much is clear to us. Who doesn’t want to travel back in time? But I remember distinctly heading out over the dusty brecha with Luis and asking ourselves “do we really want to bring tourists here”? I think that the answer is that the fact that we ask that question is exactly why the community and Niparajá have invited us to work with them. In November we held a series of visioning workshops in the community and one of the comments most repeated and emphasized was that they didn’t want tourism that would alter or cheapen their culture. Every time Luis and I visit Las Ánimas we learn something new, whether it’s how to make tortillas by hand, petates woven from carrizo growing in the arroyos, or how best to avoid getting dumped on your butt by a testy mule. We feel lucky that this world has opened up to us, and that is the experience we hope to create. Las Ánimas has much to offer the outside world, if nothing else to show that there is value in staying tied to the land, and keeping traditions and culture alive. We will be working hard throughout 2012 with the community to launch their tourism program. Stay tuned and we hope to see you there soon…

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