Posts Tagged ‘local economy’

The Dos And Don’ts Of Voluntourism

This article first appeared in Gadling. To read the original post, click here. August, 2012.

voluntourism--courtesy-of-world-uniteIn Juarez, Mexico, a group of American university students build houses. In Quito, Ecuador, medical professionals spend two weeks correcting cataracts – pro bono. In Kenya, handfuls of Hollywood stars try “making a difference” at orphanages. At the same time, these volunteers are having a travel experience. They stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and try to bond with locals. They are volunteer traveler hybrids known as voluntourists. Can they really see the world and save it too?

A rising tide of do-good travelers

“Voluntourism,” writes David Clemmons, founder of, “is the conscious, seamlessly-integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination with the traditional elements of travel and tourism – arts, culture, geography, history and recreation – while in the destination.”

To keep reading the original post, click here.


08 2012

Product Review: Faux North Face Jacket from La Paz, Bolivia

A North Face store? Really? Walking through the tourist district in La Paz, Bolivia, I passed by a combination of artisan souvenir stands, tour offices and, out of nowhere, “The North Face Adventure Store,” logo and all.

It might make sense, I thought, given the altitude and proximity to some hardcore Andean summits. Adventurists come from near and far looking for nearby peaks to bag. Huayna Potosi, for example, is an especially popular three-day feat.

faux North Face in La Paz 1

Bolivia is the only country in the world where McDonalds franchises pulled out completely. Has North Face really set up shop where even the Big Mac failed?

Curious, I walked into the unlikely “North Face Adventure Store” wedged between an artisanal alpaca sweater stand and an internet cafe. I started to browse.

“Do you think they’re real?” A fellow tourist looked at me and asked, North Face soft shell in hand.

I was wondering the same thing myself. “Goretex XCR” read the stitching on the cuff of the soft shell I decided to try on. “Summit Series” claimed the label on the right shoulder. And on the chest, of course, was the “North Face” logo, convincingly embroidered.

The "North Face" storefront in La Paz, Bolivia

Alongside the jackets was a rack of hiking shoes and Timberland boots. In similar outdoors shops, big brands were everywhere — Columbia Titanium, Chile’s authoritative outdoor label Doite, France’s Quechua, even Marmot. Jackets, backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, all with labels. Was any of this merchandise legit?

In Spanish, I asked the woman attending the shop. “Is this jacket really the brand it says it is?”

Looking down, she said “no, but they’re made with the same material.”

“Is it waterproof?”

The woman took an uncapped bottle of water, pressed the top against the jacket, and turned it upside down. Not a drop of water leaked through. The jacket passed her test.

The fact was, I had lost my soft shell jacket (i.e. essential travel layer) earlier on the trip, and I needed a new one. The woman in the store had a kid with her, and she could use a sale. So, I bought my “trucha” North Face jacket for 300 Bolivianos (about $42 USD). Was it worth it?

faux North Face in La Paz 2

What I like about my fake North Face jacket:

• I’m nearly convinced it is indeed made of Goretex. Light, breathable, waterproof, windproof. Everything I was looking for in a soft shell
• The purchasing episode taught me a new word in South American Spanish slang. “Trucha” (literally “trout”) is the word for anything knock-off
• It’s lined with micro-fleece, which gives it a little extra insulation
• It’s a great souvenir. I don’t know anyone else with a real fake North Face jacket from Bolivia

What I don’t like about my fake North Face jacket:

• It’s a bit crispy and stiff. Maybe it just needs to be broken in a little more
• The stitching on the seams is shoddy – the thread isn’t a good match, and it doesn’t look very high quality
• The zipper gets a little stuck sometimes
• The color isn’t awesome. It’s this mossy tree trunk shade of brown. I opted for that over bright magenta

Bottom line: If you lose an essential item of outdoor clothing while you’re in Bolivia, the fake North Face stores got your back. If you’re planning to outfit yourself entirely with “trucha” gear, however, there’s no telling how long after your trek it will last.


06 2012

Bolivian Highlights and Haircut Economics

In my tourism masters degree program, I took a class called ‘International Trade and Tourism,’ which turned out to be one of my favorites. A large part of our grade came from a debate on whether or not small island economies benefit from tourism specialization in the long run. Interesting stuff for tourism geeks.

Another concept that has stuck with me from that class was the difference between ‘tradable goods’ and ‘non-tradable goods’. Tradable goods, such as sugar or electronics, are produced for export and purchase with foreign currency. They will have to compete internationally. A non-tradable good is produced for the local market, for purchase with local currency, and does not compete in the global marketplace. The classic example given is a haircut.

cochabamba bolivia tukumanas

Tukumanas are a good example of a non-tradable good (and why I don't cook here)

Global tourism has a sly way of turning non-tradable goods into tradable ones. With enough tourism, a city like Cochabamba Bolivia can essentially ‘export’ non-tradables like restaurant meals and haircuts by selling them to travelers who are buying with foreign currency that they’ve exchanged. The implications are many, but this is part of why global tourism is generally considered to be a positive thing for local economies.

cochabamba bolivia orange juice

fresh-squeezed orange juice is my favorite non-tradable good to buy daily

During my three months as a tourist in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I’ve taken every opportunity within my budget to turn local non-tradable goods into exports by buying them. My data is less than perfect, but here are some estimates:

  • Average meals out per week: probably around 12 (cooking is not my gig here)
  • Average glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice from a street vendor per week: 10 (yes, some days are two-juice kinds of days)

In my final week here in Cochabamba, I decided to turn that classic textbook example of a non-tradable good into an export. I got a haircut. I figured that D’el Las Peluqueria (salon) might want to export some highlights as well.

cochabamba bolivia highlights

Highlights at D'el Las Peluqueria in Cochabamba

I’ve had a number of haircut abroad experiences, from a not-so-great cut in Mexico that framed my face like two parentheses, to some unsolicited bangs in Albania that I’m still trying to grow out. No matter the results, I like the adventure of it. I also like finding one more way to contribute to the local economy. Sofia at Del Las Peluqueria did a fantastic job on my trim and some subtle blonde highlights. This time, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Total price: 110 Bolivianos (about $15 USD)

cochabamba bolivia highlights 2

Sofia at D'el Las Peluqueria exported some great highlights (color miel profundo)


09 2011