Ecotourism “7 Mbokaja”
The project is looking to promote the appreciation for the local environment; to educate Coratei’s youth on the flora and fauna species that exist in the remaining forest, and; to exhibit the trail to tourists.
When I arrived, ecotourism was one of the original project ideas put forward by Coratei’s primary environmental youth group, Jóvenes Unidos Coratei. A previous Peace Corps volunteer identified a livestock trail, no more than a few feet wide in many areas and approximately two kilometers long, between the nearby Río Paraná and a large wetland, that had potential as an attraction for the tourists from Asunción and Brazil who frequent the area for fishing. Although it was, and is still, a lesser known part of the town, it is known by the fishermen who use it as “7 Mbokaja” for the palm trees that are found alongside an adjacent pond. The idea behind the project is three-fold: first, to promote appreciation for the local environment; second, to educate Coratei’s youth on the flora and fauna species that exist in the remaining forest, and; third, to exhibit the trail to tourists by marketing it in local hotels and bed & breakfasts and inviting horse owners to provide tours on an as-needed basis.
The development of this project has been gradual and gone through various stages. Because the trail was hardly known, the first step we took was to bring people – whoever was interested (which ended up being mostly children and youth) – on walks down the path. Navigating the cultural norm of getting to places on anything but one’s two feet has been tricky at times, but we experienced a lot of enthusiasm and have introduced the trail to more than thirty people. Thanks to visits by a nutritionist (and a few powerful medical anecdotes…), the residents of this community were more open to exercise last year. We took advantage of the moment and decided that the most logical next step would be to add distance markers at every quarter-kilometer to encourage anyone who decided to make the trek over to the trailhead. We also painted a simple sign reading “Sendero Natural – 7 Mbokaja” for the entrance, and put a sign at the part of the trail closest to the pond.
Further progress on the trail has been temporarily delayed due to a lack of materials. We continue to clean the trail and cleared two areas that overlook the river, where we hope to put benches and picnic tables. They are extraordinarily close to the entrance - just 0.25 km and 0.5 km in, respectively – which we expect will make them more generally appealing and utilized by all who wish for an easy escape into the woods. After winter break, I will begin teaching a unit on local flora and fauna to high school students. Pairs will research a species of each (e.g. the karaja and the ka’i kyhyjeha) and, at the end of the class, present their findings to the class and place identity plaques by their plant species on the trail. Like any nature attraction, there is always room for growth – additions, beautification, and maintenance. The sustainability for this project will depend on how it is utilized long-term and maintained by the youth group and hotel partners.