Located at the base of the sacred Quininí Mountain Forest Reserve, a collective of 15 families joined efforts 2 years ago to create the Association of Protectors of the Natural Resources of Tibacuy (APRENAT).
As an organization, their aim is to promote coffee culture and the conservation of the forest reserve, as well as to preserve a significant number of rock carvings left behind by the indigenous Panche people. In close colaboration with the local comunity, we have developed a trail called La Ruta Histórica del Café, or The Historic Coffee Route. Guided by a local member of APRENAT, visitors are led through different farms to learn about the artisanal coffee making process. Not only do they get to taste fine-tasting Colombian coffee prepared by the farmers themselves, they are also wowed by spectacular views from the mountaintop reserve and are given special insights into the life of the Panche indians as they discover rock art along the trail.
Carlos talking about native vegetation during the coffee tour
As an intern for Andes EcoTours, I had the opportunity to spend several days with a community of coffee growers with whom we have been developing a cultural heritage trail. I was hosted by Carlos, one of the local guides, and his wife, Leomar, in order to learn more about their way of life as well as to do some language exchanging. We also worked diligently to boost the area’s tourism capabilities by completing a bilingual map of the region to hang in the new offices of APRENAT. Carlos was able to draw a perfect map from memory, a testament to his immense knowledge of the area. The map included interesting sites covered during the coffee tours, as well as the farms of all residents in the area. When some of the other families came to check out the map, their faces lit up thinking about its potential. They were also quite interested to learn what the English names were for the different sites.
A vital part of the process is knowledge exchange, because there is so much that we can learn from people with varied backgrounds and different experiences. During my time with the community, the local guides and I also participated in an anthroplogy workshop on rock art interpretation, conducted by a scholar from Cundinamarca University. The class lasted the better part of the morning and was incredibly informative. The interactive class had us all drawing petroglyphs that we had seen throughout the area, interpreting their meaning and comparing local oral history to existing academic hypotheses. Even Johan, our scholarly teacher for the day, learned a few new things about the locals' relationship with the petroglyphs. Everyone was so excited to demonstrate their insights about the native Panche art and learn new information in the process. Increasing knowledge about ancient rock art in the region is particularly important because it dictates how it is valued, utilized and ultimately preserved by the locals.
Anthropology lesson with Johan, checking out the petroglyphs
A local guide draws images of petroglyphs during the lesson
The accomplished works of APRENAT gives evidence to tourism's positive impact in the region. It complements existing agricultural processes, strengthens the local economy and contributes towards environmental awareness, whilst allowing visitors to learn about the environment, cultural history and farm life direct from community members themselves. Their future is bright, and as along as their coffee culture thrives, we have a chance at protecting some of the last remaining examples of Panche indian rock art through the work of sustainable tourism.