How to Bring Intention to the Global Impact of Travel

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2022

Passport, hiking boots, fanny pack, binoculars, travel notebook, and Covid vaccination card: all set for Panama! I was invited to attend the AdventureNEXT Latin America conference, organized by the Adventure Travel Trade Association. The ATTA is an organization designed to promote sustainable and regenerative tourism around the world, which encompasses the idea that tourists will discover new places, travel sustainably, and participate in eco-adventures such as hiking, cultural tours, and agrotourism. This is a style of travel that is, fortunately, starting to gain a lot of attention and traction all over the world! The multitude of events planned by the ATTA travel the globe, showcasing different locations that are promoting eco and sustainable travel. The annual AdventureNEXT events are specifically developed to support getting more emerging destinations on the adventure map, and they are not ‘hang out at the beach’ gatherings. On these programs, participants travel to dense jungles in Panama to learn about the indigenous Ngabe-Bugle people and their traditions from the community members. There are hikes through the desert in Jordan to eat meals with the locals. Or, the opportunity to camp on a remote island in the Caribbean to see the most pristine coral reefs in the world. This is what ATTA is all about - not just amazing adventures -  but a network of knowledge available to its members. ATTA has been at the forefront of gathering together adventure travel organizations, like us at AGC, to create a space to learn, grow, and connect with like-minded individuals and tour operators. As a member of this organization on my adventure to Panama, AGC had the privilege to learn from the local people how they want us to travel in their country.


From my experience at this event, I believe AdventureNEXT Latin America was successful in breaking many barriers this year. They hosted a 3-day conference, and also offered “Pre-Adventures” to open up the country of Panama to the conference attendees. There were four different Pre-Adventures, each going to a different region in Panama. The Ministry of Tourism chose to work with ATTA to ensure they included all of the different styles and facets of Panamanian culture and travel. I was fortunate to be able to spend four days in the mountainous region of Chiriqui, bordering Costa Rica in the North of Panama. 


Boquete Panama excursion


From the moment we exited the airport, the adventure began! We went straight to a kayak trip through mangroves and saw white-faced capuchins playing in the treetops. Then the 45-minute drive to the adventure town of Boquete was beautiful. When I imagined Panama, my mind immediately went to the Caribbean blue sea and Bocas del Toro, but we got to spend all of our time in the cloud forest. Our base camp was the beautiful Finca Lerida, a coffee-growing plantation offering a B&B on the grounds of their native plant garden. We were high in the mountains and had an amazing view to the eastern side of the valley of Boquete. We did a coffee plantation tour and a rainforest hike (we spotted two quetzals!) We woke up early to hike to the top of Mount Baru, the highest point in Panama, and our whole group decided to wear our robes from the hotel because it was so early and very cold (which made for very funny photos). From the top of the mountain is one of the only places in the world where you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea - a very unique and special experience.


Mount Baru the highest point in Panama


All of the folks attending a pre-adventure got together in the small coastal town of Pedasi to participate in a Junta De Embarra. This centuries-old tradition gathers a community together to build a house for a newlywed couple, or a family in need of a little extra support. Mud and straw are combined to create a thick, cement-like paste to line the wooden skeleton of a modest house. The day is anything but ordinary. We stomped through the mud singing local songs, eating homemade meals, and drinking the local rum. This gift from the community to a newlywed couple is a way for the people to gather and enjoy a very festival-like day with music, food, singing, and dancing. After spending all day stomping arm in arm through the mud lining the walls of the house, I have never felt so connected to the people of Panama as I did that day. Everyone helped out in some way, whether it was making meals, leading the singing, or throwing handfuls of mud at people to make them laugh. Sadly, this tradition has gone out of fashion as newlyweds are choosing to move to the city, instead of staying in their hometowns. The Ministry of Tourism is making an effort to revive this festival tradition by making it more appealing to the younger generations encouraging rock musicians to play concerts at the Junta De Embarra. The idea is catching on again as more of these events are happening all around the country, and the older generation is proud to see this tradition return.


Junta De Embarra Panama


After five days of adventures around Panama and a good effort toward washing all that mud off, the official conference kicked off with the welcome theme of “Climate, Community, Connection.“ Throughout the event and amongst the keynote speakers and presenters, I noticed a recurring wave of excitement. I realized that though the pandemic has rocked the travel industry, we now have the unique opportunity to press the reset button on how we travel. As an industry, we had a chance to take a step back, and take a hard look at why travel is important. How can we do it better and be more carbon-neutral? Why is travel meaningful? 


I realized that I want to be a part of the change that makes a difference in the places I travel. I want to learn about the local people, the language, and see the special places in each area. Travel is not about ticking boxes off of famous landmarks, it is about the connection and spirit you feel when you share a meal with a new friend, when you learn how to say “cheers” in the language, and when you can penetrate the less-traveled, and therefore more special places of a country. Everyone is craving connection; connection to the land, connection to the people, and connection to personal growth. This conference gave everyone the opportunity to think more thoroughly about how to make a global impact with their travel. 


We also listened with enthusiasm to the speakers talk about how Panama specifically was trending in a direction towards more outdoor recreation and sustainable travel. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails are in the next five-year plan, and many local biologists are very vocal about the importance of Panama and its ecological diversity. As a connecting corridor between the North American and South American continents, Panama has very special biodiversity unlike anywhere else in the world. Panama is on track to become the next eco-travel hot spot, and we at AGC are excited to be a part of this emerging evolution with our adventures to this very special destination. 


At AGC, we are thrilled to have been invited to be a part of the AdventureNEXT event to continue our efforts at being a leader in sustainable travel and to further our belief that travel can be a force for good, both in introducing our participants to new cultures and in providing economic benefit to the places we visit. We recognize that any form of adventure travel is inextricably linked to impacting the places and people that are visited. Our goal is to have a positive impact on the environment and cultures of the places we visit and to minimize the adverse impacts of travel. Our gratitude goes out to the ATTA and their comprehensive efforts to inspire, connect, and empower the global community to do good through travel.

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2/28/2022 1:41 PM
I enjoyed reading about Janie's experience in Panama. A trip that combines adventure travel and community service (such as participating in the Junta De Embarra tradition) is something I think anyone who is interested in adventure travel would love to do. Definitely something for AGC to consider when creating and planning future AGC trips. Be well and stay safe.