This article was originally published in XelaWho, “Quetzaltenango’s leading culture and nightlife magazine.” To see it, click here. February, 2009.
At XelaWho, we do our part environmentally by passing the buck to those who are doing their part. With so many lodges, restaurants, and other tourist services claiming to be “eco” this and “green” that, our team of investigative journalists asks industry operators all the tough questions.
For anyone interested in labor rights, worker cooperatives, organic methods and certification, alternative energy and biodiesel conversion, waterfalls, coffee, macadamia nuts, and fun, Finca Nueva Alianza has it all.
Nueva Alianza is a cooperative of 40 families who have struggled over the past two decades to claim the land from its exploitative owner and to manage it democratically. Through investment and support from other organizations, the coffee and macadamia farm has recently gained organic certification and has a number of other fascinating projects underway.
The farm’s ecotourism project was initiated in 2005, when the farm’s former owner’s housing was converted into an ecolodge. Now, the farm receives guests and hosts weekend tours. The ecotourism project is a much-needed source of income for the whole community. In exchange, the tours offer an educational outdoor adventure for eco-travelers.
The weekend tour begins with a hike around the grounds, with explanations of local flora and some of its traditional uses. The guide will also explain the different varieties of coffee plants and the manual grafting process they employ to optimize coffee productivity without using chemicals. Later, the tour group visits the coffee processing plant, which has reformed its methods in order to lessen its ecological footprint. For example, Nueva Alianza has decreased the amount of water needed in the process and filters waste water before releasing it back into the environment.
Lunch and dinner are simple, tasty vegetarian meals served at the lodge. All meals include fresh fruit and, of course, lots of organic coffee. After dinner, one of the community leaders will tell the remarkable story of the land under exploitative ownership and its long hard transition to a cooperative organization. As a cooperative, the community has made a great deal of progress, but debts remain and adequate health services are still lacking.
Day two begins with a warm breakfast and tours of the farm’s other projects. The community purifies its spring water and bottles it for retail sale. Several members build beautiful bamboo furniture. The biodiesel processing room shows how old restaurant grease is converted into fuel suitable for any diesel engine. The farm uses this fuel for its vehicles and for some of its processing machinery.
Finally, the group learns how macadamia nuts are processed, then visitors can bash open the shells themselves and sample the nut inside. After another hike to a nearby waterfall, the weekend is complete. Way to unify and tread lightly, Comunidad Nueva Alianza.