El Palero: sustainable community-based tourism in the highlands of Santiago Rodríguez
In El Palero, green has a life of its own. The green of the mountains that surround the entire area; the green of the waters of its clear rivers with a constant flow; and the green of the hope that keeps the spirits of its inhabitants alive.
All the excursions to the waterfalls, rivers and mountains start from the Ecological Park, the same place where the foundations of sustainable tourism were forged nine years ago in this community of Cenoví de Toma, southeast of Santiago Rodríguez.
There, in the spine of the sierra and on the slopes of El Gallo peak, in the zone of influence of the Armando Bermúdez National Park, a group of “muchachos” are making their debut in the administration and promotion of natural resources with a community concept.
And they have done very well.
The history of this community tourism runs parallel to that of Palero Eco-Adventure and is shared by Marcial Collado, its president, with Listín Diario.
It began when Elvia Hernández (Lucecita), a native of the El Gallo community (San José de las Matas), built a cabin in El Palero with the objective of “relaxing her mind” and retiring there from time to time.
Marcial says that it seems that the engineer went overboard and made it too big and that it was Elvin Collado, master builder of El Palero, who told him: “Godmother, but what you have to do is rent it”.
That is the country house Los Soñadores, the first lodging center of the community that from the top of a hill calls the attention of the traveler because of the enormous amount of flowers that grow in the garden.
Here we have many waterfalls; we always went to the falls, we bathed, but it had never occurred to us to use them for tourism,” explains Marcial. A young woman from our group, Clari, took a photo of one and showed it to Lucecita, and Lucecita, who has traveled to many countries, turned on the light and told us to take advantage of it”.
Marcial notes that while they were preparing the path to go to the falls to bathe, they began to publish photos and a young man from Monción (municipality of Santiago Rodríguez), Félix Manuel, from the website municipiomoncion.com, who had worked with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), came to visit the falls and recommended that they form a group and begin to develop “all of this”.
The next day Marcial gathered “the group” and formed a small committee that would later take the name of Palero Eco-Adventure, a non-profit association whose objective is to promote the attractions of the community taking into account the care and protection of the environment.
The heart of the village
When Marcial speaks of the “group” he is referring to the boys and girls who in 2014, before the existence of Eco-aventura, created an environmental committee for the construction of the El Palero Ecological Park because they wanted to have a place to do cultural activities, get together and share.
They took on the concept of recycling and received support from Plan Sierra and other institutions.
“After that, everything was done with our own effort: the design, the labor, everything; stage by stage, as we obtained the resources, holding raffles, parties…”.
The park has not yet been inaugurated; the construction of a small amphitheater and other details are in the pipeline.
It was this “group” that Marcial brought together to propose the start of the excursions.
The tours began in 2016. Ruta 42, the group of adventurers from the municipality of Monción, were the first. Eco-Aventura did not yet exist nor were the trails enabled, but the support they gave to the project with the diffusion is appreciated in the community.
What do you offer?
The packages include a visit to all or any of the falls, a climb to El Gallo peak and lunch. Whatever the visitor wishes to do.
The closest and most easily accessible waterfall, Los bañaderos, is 2.3 kilometers from the park and about a 30 minute walk. The more extreme Andrea and La Maravilla falls are 4.0 and 4.3 kilometers away, respectively, and take two hours to reach.
El Gallo Peak
At 1,300 meters above sea level and already in the Armando Bermudez National Park, the hike to El Gallo Peak is the most extreme of all. The 9-kilometer hike (there are no inhabited trails to climb by mule) takes an equal number of hours to complete. At its summit there is a lookout point built in 2000 by JICA and the Ministry of Environment. The peak is located beyond the Cenoví River, which separates this province from that of Santiago, and the excursions to this place are, therefore, a kind of “loan” to San José de las Matas.
The boys do not make a living from ecotourism. They receive the groups on weekends. There are about 22 volunteers who act as guides and facilitators, including the housewives who cook for the visitors.
Marcial refers to everyone as “muchachos” but in reality all ages fit. Raúl Durán, a real character in El Palero, says he “turned 60 17 years ago”. Guide and decimero, his spirit is contagious to the traveler who might be reluctant to explore the hills using age as an excuse. “I’m a walking machine,” smiles Raúl.
“We are trying to make sustainable community tourism; that all the people who live in the community receive a benefit. We want to create jobs for the young people, because most of them have to leave for the city when they finish high school. And the city is difficult right now,” says Marcial.
He maintains that the idea is to create jobs so that the young people stay; that they go to the city and study, preferably in an area related to tourism, “and come back with us”.
“We want our people to be able to sell their groceries and their coffee, because this is a coffee-growing area. Later on we want to make a coffee route, so that people can come and learn about everything from planting to harvesting and brewing, so that they can live that experience. There are many people in the city that drink coffee and do not even know the bush”.
Where to stay?
Eco-Aventura does not have a place that offers lodging, but they do coordinate it at the request of visitors. There are currently four cabins available for groups and families wishing to stay overnight: the cottages Los Soñadores, Nuevo amanecer and Paraíso Serrano, and a small cabin for four people managed by Elvin.
In La Laguna, a community next to El Palero, a new lodging project is being built.
Other communities have awakened after our initiative,” says Marcial. We have the vision, later on, of creating our own lodging, but everything we have done has been with the resources that the tourists leave us, basically to distribute it among the guides.
OF THE ROAD. Elvin Collado, Raúl Durán, Marcial Collado and Angelita Collado, founding guides of Eco-Aventura, ask the authorities to take into account the repair of the road that leads to El Palero.
“For us it is very important to have a road that is at least passable. The low vehicles cannot go up there and when it rains even the 4 x 4 vehicles are left behind”, they complain.
If you wish to cooperate…
The boys recognize that everything they do is empirical, that is why they are open to receive help both from the state and from institutions linked to ecotourism.
“We want to finish the park, with its amphitheater and a bathroom; in the river we would like to build a hanging bridge and a shelter with bathrooms. There are many little things. Anyone who would like to contribute, we would appreciate it”.
If you wish to collaborate, you can find them on social networks as @paleroecoaventura and by calling 809.759.5173 (Marcial Collado) and 829.294.6895 (Elvin Collado).
– El Palero is located in the Cenoví de Toma section. It belongs to the municipality of San Ignacio de Sabaneta. It is located between 980 meters (at the height of the ecological park) and 1,075 meters in Las Lagunas. It is located 43 kilometers from the municipality of Monción and 48 kilometers from the center of Sabaneta.
– Elvin Collado is the master builder, “the engineer”, of the town. The beauty of the buildings in and around El Palero owes much to his empirical knowledge of architecture and engineering.
– It is a coffee-growing area. In the community of El Palero a micro-hydroelectric plant is being built that will provide clean energy to five communities of Cenoví. Juan Márquez, coffee producer and community leader, is the local coordinator of the project.