Christopher Shaw is the author of Sacred Monkey River, a book that traces the author's trips running the great Usumacinta River on the border between Guatemala and Mexico. He paints a remarkable portrait of the river and its watershed in an account that combines the best of travel literature and environmental reporting.
We recently talked about the development of responsible tourism in the cross-border Usumacinta watershed. The following is short excerpt. For the complete interview see www.planeta.com/planeta/01/0108qachrisshaw.html.
Ron Mader: Can you provide specific examples of how tourism can benefit local communities and the environment?
Chris Shaw: I can't give you any better examples than those outlined in the book at Lake Miramar and even more decisively at Uaxactun, Peten.
At Miramar, Fernando Ochoa and Ron Nigh have persuaded the Maya communities surrounding this pristine lake to agree to shift to organic agriculture and direct marketing, and refrain from cutting timber and hunting in the steep lake basin in return for proceeds from wilderness-style tourism. It hasn't made them a ton of money but it has raised awareness of the advantages of a nonmotorized existence and of the actual, continually replenishable value of their piece of the world.
At Uaxactun, Roan McNab has organized the community around attracting tourism and refraining from uncontrolled hunting, helping to build hotels, restaurants, nurseries, and, most importantly, attracting money from outside to pay for an official government charter not planned around timber extraction. It's working there, and being passed down through the generations, and worked into the plans of various indigenous organizations and communities.