When we hear the term “conscious-travel,” we think of globe-trotting trends to take care of the environment, or expeditions that invite the visitor to help repair the damage caused to our natural world every day. Rarely do we consider a kind of travel which asks us to remember how to connect.
In Argentina, any travel agency can sort you out with an unforgettable trip to see icebergs, waterfalls, vineyards or multi-coloured canyons. For a little over a year, the dedicated team of two at Tierra Natural Viajes has been developing a different kind of tourist experience under the banner of conscious travel; a stimulating alternative to the standard idea of tourism, encouraging travellers to fall entirely in tune with all that they encounter.
Formulating a stronger connection with the self is an important strand behind agency founders Julieta Salvi and Rossana Pua’s concept of conscious-travel. With a real zest for what they do, they explain that, “travel is an experience which allows us to stop trying to be the person we believe we should be and allows us to become the person we really are.”
With this premise in mind they develop programmes that nurture a heightened sense of contemplation. Every travel experience emphasises the importance of healthy eating and a number of their excursions place the practice of yoga and meditation at the centre of the visit.
By way of example, in October 2012, Tierra Natural Viajes is offering a four-day travel experience to a Buddha retreat, located in the Traslasierra region of Córdoba province.
In this trip, visitors can practice yoga, meditation and walk in the Condorito National Park Canyons. Daily activities are scheduled in the organic vegetable garden and both accommodation and meals – natural, homemade and organic – are included in the price.
All the programmes offered by Julieta and Rossana promote a cognizant care of the environment. They openly focus on the social integration of the traveller within native communities, such as those connected to the Caburé-i jungle retreat in Misiones, and deliberately ensure that local economies are developed and supported by the tourism they generate.
Even though the idea of conscious-travel at Tierra Natural Viajes encompasses more than the standard notion of caring for the environment, ‘grass roots’ eco-tourism remains an important focus for Julieta and Rossana.
Their excursions regularly introduce interested travellers to the immediate environmental concerns plaguing a number of areas in Argentina. This is the goal of one of their most popular one-day travel experiences, an environment-conscious horse-back ride through the Nature Reserve in Pilar.
The day begins at 8.30am at Retiro Train Station, where a 90-minute train journey carries the small, intimate group to Villa Rosa in Pilar, some 60km northwest of Buenos Aires. At Villa Rosa, the group enjoys a two-hour horse-back ride in the capable hands of the local gauchos, including a quick mid-morning pit-stop for mates and home-baked, organic cake, before arriving at the reserve.
Even though it will only be turning nine this year, the reserve has already suffered considerable environmental abuse. Two problems in particular are proving difficult to overcome. The first relates to the tonnes of waste from the surrounding factories in Pilar which is continually dumped into the Luján River. The second is the result of an infestation of the foreign tree species, known as Black Acacia, which is preventing other native species in the reserve from growing.
The good news is that municipal financial support is now in place and helps fund the efforts of the new, four-strong team of park rangers who are responsible for the care and redevelopment of the region.
However, whilst the municipality may be providing wages for the park rangers, it does not provide funding for the on-site grounds that enable them to work effectively, nor does it directly sponsor the environmental repair projects. All of the work going on at the reserve to revive the ecology and educate the local community is funded by The Natural Heritage Association (La Asociación Patrimonio Natural) and individual donations.
Tierra Natural Viajes works to educate visitors about these challenges. All those who take part in the horse-back ride to Pilar are given a thorough and in-depth tour of the badly affected areas on the reserve and then invited to take direct action by planting young, native trees under the guidance of the park rangers.
The support that Tierra Natural Viajes provides goes beyond that of its eco-conscious travel day. Both Julieta and Rossana are deeply involved with the reserve’s redevelopment and are able to help anyone interested in volunteering intensively on the project at any time.
This kind of additional effort is what makes Tierra Natural Viajes stand out as a truly authentic travel agency concerned about the environment. In another popular tour – a one-day bike ride to the Sabe La Tierra Market in San Fernando, in the north of Buenos Aires – the emphasis is not just on cycling, an environmentally-friendly means of transport, but the special recycled bicycles that Tierra Natural Viajes offers to those who don’t have their own wheels.
Julieta and Rossana have personally recycled each and every bicycle available for use on the tour, constructing them using discarded materials that have been salvaged from a number of neighbourhoods across Buenos Aires. Each bicycle has its very own story to share and listening to the owners recount these stories is a truly magical travel experience in itself.
Tierra Natural Viajes concentrates on nurturing a synergy of experiences. If you do decide to journey across Argentina with Julieta and Rossana, be prepared to fall in love with what you encounter and don’t be surprised if you still find yourself planting trees on the Nature Reserve in Pilar many years from now.