photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary








tourist guide


El Punto, Ixtepeji, Oaxaca





Armando has been training in ecotourism for nearly one year, the same as his companions. Although he knows that publicity is fundamental for the success of ecotourism, as a good ciudadano of Ixtepeji he recognises that it has to be “correctly and well done” and that they must take things “step by step”.

Section 1
Since when have you been participating in an ecotourism project?
Well, we started in October of last year following an invitation by the ecotourism committee, together with the comisariado (office responsible for community property) and the comité de vigilancia (watchdog group, who keep watch over the community’s land), to participate in a mountain bike workshop. So they sent an invitation to El Punto and Carlos and I got to know about it there, and it was there that we started to get to know about ecotourism. From there, after that course, at the beginning of the year, we started to receive more funding through the committee and an office from where we could receive training. But there were some months during which my partners were working [on the project], but I was chosen to work in the agencia (community office) where I live, and I couldn't participate in one of the courses with Dr Servin from Durango, and so, I believe it was in February, I couldn't participate because of my (community) servicio (cargo service).

But after that you became part of the project?
Yes, after talking to the El Punto authorities and to the ecotourism committee, because they went to talk to the agencia where I was doing servicio and we worked it out well, we reached an agreement that I was to participate in the ecotourism group; we decided that I could take part, but not abandon my servicio. And then we started to receive some training in mammalogy, entomology, ornithology, environmental awareness (interpretación ambiental) and some other short courses, but the most important [courses] that were given were those on mammalogy and ornithology.

How did you get funding for the courses?
From the ecotourism project there is an exclusive committee for the project, and that committee is the one in charge of getting the funding. So I don't know how they did it but they found the WWF office, and it was them (WWF) who have been supporting us since January until these months, and we received the courses through them. But it is the ecotourism committee that is in charge of looking for and negotiating the funding of the project we have.
Section 2
How did the community get interested in having an ecotourism project?
Well, [the ecotourism project] started when it was discovered that here in the Ixtepeji area there is a type of pine that is not very common; they say, I think, that it is no longer found in all of Mexico, except, I believe that there is also a little in the state of Veracruz. It is called the seudotzuga pine. So, they made [a plan] to protect this area and there was a proposal that, with this, they could carry out an ecotourism project in order to continue conserving the area and to stop exploiting it, which is the activity in which the community of Ixtepeji is most involved – exploiting the mountains and forests. So this was how it was taken to an asamblea (community parliament), where it was said that there was a possibility of carrying out an ecotourism project. [And so] there is then a new project that is being carried out, but I believe that already it is taking off.

When did you start to organize the whole project?
In fact the one that is already in process is three years old, and the establishment of the committee [took] about two and a half years, and from there the committee was established, and from there we started to negotiate with the ecotourism offices, and from there the young were invited to participate as guides.

This invitation is for you to participate at any time?
At the beginning it was for when the committee sought us out, but as time went by, it was more out of our own will to be near the project, because of which we now have a camping site. So in that area there is a hostel where a lot of people come to stay at weekends, and so that was the commitment we had, that when people arrived we had to attend to them, so people are already getting to know about the project and are coming more and more, and that is when we work the most.

How did you apply the training you had, now that you are working in the project?
Well, the way we apply that is that lots of people say, well, “But what type of fauna or flora is there?” Then one can say, “No, regarding fauna there are such and such species.” Or if one knows that by another name, or he doesn't know the right name, he says, “Let’s suppose there are 10 or 15 mammals.” That is how we explain it: what kind of animal it is and maybe what it looks like, its size and so forth. It is the same concerning the plants, the flowers. Let’s say, some people ask you if there are medicinal plants. In fact, we can say that all are medicinal plants, but always the plants have to be mixed with others. Then you say which plants are edible plants. All that, if people ask you, we know how to answer.

When people come to visit, have they asked you for any comments on your project?
Yes, lots of people say, “How is it that you are interested in doing an ecotourism project?” Because a lot of people know that ecotourism is something new – perhaps not in most of the country, but for us here in Oaxaca, we hardly ever hear about ecotourism projects. So they ask how we came to do this, how we started. I also think that, besides the people from around here, [outsiders] can see how it was that we started, how the idea [came about], but the project is advancing and I think that those who are out there at the front of (leading) the project, well we have to work harder.
Section 3
In what way do you think people heard about the project and so have come to know of the project and the Ixtepeji mountain?
In fact, a lot of people pass along the road, because we have a federal road that goes from Oaxaca to Tuxtepec. It is a road that is very busy, so lots of people pass by, and we are not very far from the city. How far? 40 minutes or less. So there are a lot of people arriving here and they see the whole forest we have and they see the cabin. Then, many people stop to ask what is there, or sometimes they ask you, “Do you have a place to sleep?” Then that is the way that this place gets known. And already we have some brochures where there is all the information, all the services we offer and the telephone number to make reservations or ask some questions about the ecotourism project. And that is how people are getting to know about it. We also have participated in some publicity events for the project. We have gone to Mexico City, and that is how we are doing publicity, sometimes exchanging experiences with other people from other projects in other states, and that's how we started doing publicity about the project.

How do you do the publicity?
Directly through the committee and the guides. At the moment, currently, we don't have any operator to do publicity for us, because we know we lack a lot of things, there are more services missing and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves and say we have cabins and everything when the truth is that there is nothing. We are going step by step. I think there is further to go, but we have to begin to do a little publicity about what we already have.

What does the ecotourism project consist of?
Well, up to now it is only a project. In the last asamblea (community parliament) we did a proposal for turning the project into a business, but for now we still don't have it that way. The people of the community have not given a positive answer concerning whether they want this project to become a business, but the idea is that we make it a business so that it can improve. [So that we can] have an office in the city, and do better publicity for the project, but at this moment it is only a project.

Do you have cycling activities as part of the project?
Only a few, but we’ve sometimes had guided routes for mountain bikes and we had – in June or July, I think – a mountain bike race in La Cumbre.

Were there a lot of people?
There were around 50 racers from the city of Oaxaca too, and then, in all this, we also participated, and yes, in the mountain bike course, by preparing for any flat tyre or if somebody had a problem with their bike, so we could have the knowledge and we could give them that service - and providing security too, to avoid anybody taking a risk or having somebody ask them why are they in that area.

Do you have any infrastructure for the activity of mountain cycling?
Well, yes a little, but not in the main area, because all mountain cycling is based more on adventure. If there is a narrow path and you see that the bike can go through, well, that is better for the people, it is more exciting for them.
Section 4
How do you know how many cyclists you can allow in your forest without it having a negative impact?
That is something very important; we need to know the carrying capacity. And up to this moment we are handling between 10 and 12 cyclists. No more than that, because if we take a lot like that we cannot control them.

And for the other activities such as hiking and walking?
For hikes we let them know the routes we have, to the scenic viewpoints and all the attractive places we have. Then they decide which place to go and they say how many people there are [in their party]. But my partners are 4 men and 3 women. There the women can help us and sometimes we can put out 3 or 4 guides and it’s better this way, walking rather than biking, because all have to have the same [physical] condition.

Do you have different routes for different levels of difficulty?
Yes, that's right. We have, let’s say, the Ixtepeji mountain which is 3200 metres high. Then we have to check all that, people’s suitability - sometimes people say “No, because height affects me. Why faint?” Then it is better not to take her [up the mountain], and we take her where she will feel more relaxed. And we have mountain biking, camping places, places for fires, and these are what we can count on. In fact if they come like this, we have the community of Yuvila where there is the chocolate factory, and a mushroom farm – there’s a carpentry workshop too. There you can go by car. We can take people there but by car, you can arrive in those places, but with a vehicle you can get down in the community and walk around a bit. This is something that interests people.

Do you have a vehicle for the project?
Yes, as part of the unit we have a production unit for raw materials from the forest; on their part they gave a vehicle to the ecotourism project.

Do you have other activities like adventure tourism?
Yes, we do, but sometimes what we don't have is the equipment for the services. Like I said, we still need a lot of things and maybe in two or three years’ time we could buy them. But we have crags and that kind of thing.

How is the ecotourism project seen by the people of Ixtepeji?
On the one hand, there are those who are aware [of the environment] - because it is easy to chop down a tree, but to plant one and let it grow and reach a normal size - well this takes a lot of work and many years. For this reason I believe that the intention behind carrying out new projects for the community, not just this ecotourism project but also others, is to generate jobs without the need to continue destroying our forest, which we know is our life, and not just ours but also that of many more people, because water comes from here and there are also many animals. Therefore we don’t want all this to be destroyed.

Are there conservation areas here at Ixtepeji or are all areas open for exploitation?
There is [forest] management, and also what it is being done now is a technical study, so the forestry engineer who is in charge of the study, he tells them what is going to be used and that they should leave this area for conservation. Then in this area of Yuvila is where exploitation is taking place now, and the camping site is where there is the nature conservation area, which is the area which has not been used, up until now.
Section 5
Is that nature conservation area part of the project or is it separate from it?
No, it is part of the project, even the pines I told you about, the steudotzuga pines, which are unique here in Ixtepeji and in all of Oaxaca… that's why, it is for those pines that we decided to do it.

Do you have any regulations?
Some studies were done, the measurements of the area to protect were taken, and regulations were made. So let’s say there are a lot of flora out there. Then, since many people are involved in extracting moss and woodland flowers in that zone, the point is made that there is an agreement, a regulation about not extracting anything from that place. Then people understood that in that area they can't touch or cut anything, in accordance with the agreement made by the asamblea (community parliament).

Where do the ecotourism activities take place?
In the nature conservation area there are the routes up to a scenic viewpoint which is called Pena Prieta, and from there we can see the type of pines I am telling you about.

Do you have any animal inventory for the ecotourism project?
In fact we have a small handout but we need more than that.

How do you organise the work?
Well, at the beginning we started working, all of us, but after that we noticed that we were too many and there was very little work. Then we decided to do it in shifts, so one person goes one weekend and someone else the next. So sometimes in the week a big group arrives, and we have to do the camp cleaning or pick up rubbish. But that is one of the problems we have, that people don't understand that they shouldn't drop litter - and then we have to go and pick up the rubbish and that is when everybody gets together. But most of the time we are just in pairs, to do the work better, rather than being all together when some people work and some don't do anything. We had a talk with the committee and said that at the weekends we would work like that and that they could see we had come to work and could support us in the work.

And that rubbish you have to pick up, who drops it? The people who come to visit or people from here?
Well it could be either, because when people from outside come here we tell them about the regulations we have here. Because there is a regulation about the project, about cutting plants, not scaring any animal - even though some people bring their dogs or their pets. But we tell them that this is not a place [for that], because this is an area that we need to protect, since a group can disturb the peace of a rabbit or a squirrel that is inside. And the people - well there are a lot of them who understand that if there is a squirrel or a rabbit [they should not disturb them], since they come from the city where they don’t see them, so they understand. Sometimes those same people drop rubbish, and then - because up in the camping area there are some television aerials and telephone masts - some people are not very aware and drop litter and we have to clear it so that the place doesn’t look bad.
Section 6
What do you think of the other projects you have known?
The one that is closer and is more advanced is the pueblos mancomunados (joint communities sharing land) project. But maybe it is because of the time that they have had, they have more knowledge, and because of the type of flora in the place, because it is a little less abundant, you could say – because they cut down a lot of trees, exploited [the forest] a lot, and there are [only] a few trees left. In that respect we are better off, but regarding facilities they are. Here with us the dining room has already been made, and by the end of the year it will be ready and we will buy more equipment.

Is there an environmental education programme for the people who come or for the people from the town?
Not up to now, but there are other things that are very important.

If somebody comes and has an accident, how can you solve that problem?
If the accident occurred inside the community, we can count on the radio for communication, and if it is too serious, the truck we have can be useful and we have to transport the person. Always one of the recommendations that we give to all the people who come, not only to the British, is that since there is a risk with walking, they should take care to avoid that kind of problem, and if an accident occurs, the ones who help us is are the committee or the comisariado (office responsible for community property) - [we can use] any of the trucks in here.

Do you have any relationship with the Tourism Secretary?
Not up to now; the only support they gave us was the brochure. But it was only the brochure, that is the only support we have received from the Tourism Department, so we have to look somewhere else [for support].

Which places have you asked for help?
The strongest support [we have been given] is from WWF and Fondo Mexicano (Fondo Mexicano para la Conservacion de la Naturaleza; Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature) for the construction of this office where we are, and for other projects such as the signs or other facilities here in the campsite. So all that has been negotiated by el Fondo Mexicano and WWF; those are the ones who have given us more support. Because SEMARNAP (Department of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries) and all them, if they help you it is only like saying, “Well I will help you, if there is an event in some place and I’ll pay the trip for one person.” But sometimes in those places that we go to, there are people who are more prepared: they are biologists, engineers, lawyers, and as guides we have to catch the most we can. And the comisariado (community official), who is the one who moves about the most, he is the one who goes to the city and looks for support from PROCYMAF (Proyecto de conservacion y manejo sustentable de recursos forestales; Project for the sustainable conservation and management of forest resources), from SEMARNAP, sometimes with map drawings of the zone or technical studies of forestry exploitation so that everything comes out OK.

Why do you have to get support?
We look for it because - well, I believe that if the community had an income or was in a good economic situation, then there would be no need to look for help. The community itself would look for people to provide training. They would look for or buy the material to make cabins and all that. But we don’t have many economic resources. There are occasions when the people tell you - Yes [they will provide resources] - but they request a mountain of papers or a project that is already well advanced. So, sometimes, due to a lack of understanding of how to do a project, it isn’t possible to move forward.
Section 7
And as ecotourism guides do you participate in the project management or have relations with other groups?
No, we don't. The president of the ecotourism committee, the president of the comité de vigilancia (watchdog group), and the comisariado (community official) are the ones who make the agreements if we come to that decision. The body that has to move the most in this case, and especially look for support, is the whole ecotourism committee. And we are [expected] just to learn from them and do our job, which consists of getting all the people or the young who are interested in the project. We try to train them with the knowledge we have. We know it’s not much compared to that given by the experts, but at least it’s something.

How do the activities you did before compare with ecotourism?
It is different because I used to work in restaurants and that is about how you treat people. It is limited… not like here, because here you can move around, you can do even two routes in one day. If you want to go to Yuvila you can go now; if you want to go to the waterfall in El Punto, you can go some time later. Then I feel it is better, I believe I like it more than being in one place.

If you had the opportunity to continue for some more years, would you be interested in continuing to work in ecotourism?
Yes, definitely, yes, because in their invitation, they were clear about what it was about. And they preferred to get rid of those [guides] who weren’t interested, and didn’t name (re-appoint?) them in each place - whether they liked it or not – [the ones who behaved] as if it was a job which they were forced to do. But no, it was the other way around, if they invited us it was because we liked it; that is why we are here. Because if they say, “No, I don't want you to go because I see that you put in more effort”… I think we all put in effort and that is when things get done well. It’s possible that I will stay for many years; I will stay as long as is necessary.

Does the community support the project?
Well, up until now the community has hardly taken in what it is - but yes, I think that over time people will understand it well. They will respond well to it. Because in fact, they also already have some new [ecotourism] projects.
Yes, I think it is important due to our location and the diversity of plants, and the great quantity of mammal species that there are. In many places, sometimes even if it is very remote, if the people who live there are hunters, then they finish everything. Sometimes lots of people are surprised, coming here, so close [to the city], when you tell them there are deer here. But then they ask how? But if there is [forest] management.... From this area, from the city of Oaxaca, it is one of the main areas where the water that goes to the city comes from and it is very important that it flows to the rivers. Let’s say that from here it goes to the river that is the Rio Grande, from the iron bridge to the Papaloapan river.