El Silencio

 

 

Over the past week, we have spent our time in El Silencio, Quepos, and Manuel Antonio National Park. El Silencio is a small farming coop located 28 kilometers from Quepos and the gorgeous Manuel Antonio National Park. About 27 years ago, the United Fruit Company closed its operation in this region and sold the remaining company homes to the rural families and to the Instituto de Desarollo Agricola. About ten years later, 42 families and squatters created Coopesilencio, a farming coop. Currently, El Silencio has 10 cabins, all constructed from local wood and bamboo and an open thatched restaurant which serves local and typical Costa Rica cuisine (Antkiw, 1999).

 

 

Economic Aspects of the Co-op

 

As a way of fighting unemployment and abandoning their lifestyle and culture to find a job in San Jose, rural communities now have a way of generating their own income (“Costa Rica,” 2002). Tourism also has grown in recent years to be a large contributor to the communities’ income. Their tourist lodging is centered on ecotourism activities in the surrounding area. Also a bar was built to accommodate tourist who come to stay in the town.

 

With the help from many organizations, these rural families can continue living in their original community and make a living at the same. One such organizations, COOPRENA RL, aids many rural cooperatives in promoting ecotourism and creating a self sufficient business like economy. COOPRENA is very active in Silencio.

 

COOPRENA RL, or the National Network of Cooperatives in Ecotourism, is an organization created in Costa Rica that strives to improve the life of rural community members by developing nontraditional tourism products (“Costa Rica”, 2002). The organization works to integrate the livelihoods and talents of each cooperative with the tourism industry. Currently, COOPRENA is working in several different locations throughout Costa Rica including: Alburgue San Juan, El Silencio, Cerro de Oro, Ecoverde, Heliconias, Cataratas, Mirador la Paz, Reserva Biologica Las Quebradas, Canto de Ballena and several others (“Lodging: Simbiosis Tours”, 2004). COOPRENA strives to market to tourists who are interested in being immersed in Costa Rican culture, learning the language, eating typical dishes, and creating a meaningful relationship between the tourist and host. Each coop or location is facilitated by COOPRENA to generate new alternatives to diversify community products and create a sustainable way to utilize natural resources.

           

Volunteers also bring a substantial amount of economic assistance to the community. When someone comes to volunteer for the community they pay a fee, part of which goes to the community and the other part goes to the family who the volunteer is staying with. In the case of the wildlife refuge volunteers, part of their fees goes directly to that project. Other alternative sources of income include a small lumber project that recently started up. A small egg operations run by the women of the town, they have approximately 190 chickens that produce about 750 eggs a day.

 

 

 

Coopesilencio is dedicated to its massive African Palm Plantation which yields an important economic staple: palm oil. The small community of roughly 400 depends mainly on their African palm plantation located on the communities 1,100 Ha landholdings. From April to November is their harvest season. Then from December to March the plantation is in reproduction mode to get ready for the new harvest. To maintain their crop, different sections of the plantation are harvested every year to ensure the sustainability of their crop. One ton of the heart of palm will earn the community 30,000 colones and with 143 African palms per Ha African palm is their largest industry.

The coop is dedicated to conservation projects and education, palm oil, basic grain crops, reforestation and sustainable ecotourism. Because of its fantastic success and location, COOPRENA created Simbiosis Tours, a social marketing scheme to help the community generate income by utilizing their talents. Simbiosis is the first tour operator in Costa Rica specializing in Rural Community Tourism and is known internationally for its devotion to environmental sustainable development. In Silencio, Simbiosis employs locals and contributed immensely to the local economy. This tour system markets to travelers who are interested in living the tico way, learning the language, eating authentic food and interacting with the locals (“Simbiosis Tours,” 2004). Simbiosis offers products that benefit the locals and improve the quality of life in Silencio and across the countries rural communities.

            Unfortunately last year most of the industries in the community were harmed significantly by a hurricane. They lost 30 Ha of the African palm plantation, lost wood that was drying for the lumber project and bridges and roads were destroyed which prevented any tourists from coming. In Total the community lost 500,000,000 colones across all their projects, 18,000,000 of which came from tourism.

 

 

Huricane Destruction

 

 

 

 

Social Interactions

 

 

The most visible positive aspect of Coopesilencio is the social atmosphere. The most important factor emphasized in this community is the host/visitor interaction. In order to gain a significant travel experience, Coopesilencio believes it is necessary to have a meaningful cultural exchange. Over the years, COOPRENA has successfully created a tourism market that caters to responsible and sustainable tourism. In each location, COOPRENA and the local community have developed rustic cabins to simulate an authentic and rural Costa Rican experience. The market is aimed at culturally aware travelers who respect local culture and help contribute to the community development. Throughout my time spent here in Silencio, the locals have been extremely generous and kind, always offering help or another cup of coffee. Every child I have met greets me with a smile and asks my name and where I am from. In this short week, I have made many friendships and have met many amazing people.

 

 

A strong cultural exchange can also have immense negative impacts on a society. In the case of Coopesilencio, it is quite evident that outsiders and media have impacted the community. El Silencio is a very isolated cooperative that is trying to keep its workers within the community. Unfortunately, the young people have decided to look else where and end up working in the city Quepos. In Quepos, they are exposed to mass tourism, many various cultures, drugs, alcohol, and media. These teens and young adults bring these drugs, ideas, and issues back into the community and share them with others. This is also the case in tourism to Silencio. The community strives to attract responsible and caring ecotourists to the area who will not leave a negative impact on the people, and most importantly the children. Tourists in Silencio may bring negative ideas to the area and reveal unnecessary information to children or teens. Currently, Silencio is struggling with contemporary globalization. They are having a diffivult time keeping their young populations within the boundaries of Silencio. When the young adults are exposed to Quepos or the America’s, they begin to realize that there are greater opportunities outside their small, less exciting coop. This is a large problem that Silencio is currently trying to solve.

 

 

 

Environmental Goals

 

Aside from economic and social aspects, Coopesilencio prides itself on community wide devotion to the environment. Through the years, it has had its up and downs with improving environmental qualities. Currently, Silencio is home to a Wildlife Refuge, which is extremely important to the entire country. In this refuge, community members of Silencio care for injured monkeys and birds and most importantly, the dwindling scarlet macaws.  While I was there, a member of the community, Juan Carlos, brought the group on a tour of the refuge.  Although it was obvious that there had been considerable effort and care put into the refuge, it is still in the early processes of development.  Over the years many people in Costa Rica have illegally taken birds for pets and for profit.  It is the goal of the refuge to see that these birds are taken from these people and either rehabilitated or returned to the wild.  The refuge employees showed great passion for their work and love for the animals.  They recently built a veterinarian center to expand the refuge and attract students and biologists to help contribute to the effort.

The town members share a desire to keep their community clean and environmentally sound.  Unlike Quepos, they are trying to keep tourist to a minimum and to attract only environmentally conscious tourists who also share a love for nature and learning. 

 

 

 

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