Sticks as the only defense in the wilderness of Nepal.

And through a lucky accident I found the solution to the woes that can accompany ecotourism. It’s not about wildlife or the environment making sacrifices. It’s about you making the sacrifices.

Like many people, I want to experience nature, and this shouldn’t require an apology. If we are ever going to move forward environmentally, it will come from seeing what we will lose. On top of this is the undeniable fact that the best way to conserve a place is to make it worth more as it is, than as cattle farm. As such, ecotourism has been hailed as the solution to all. A way to see amazing places without causing harm to either the local people or the environment. So why have my ecotourist experiences left me feeling guilty and frustrated?

The Azores, off the coast of Portugal, promised eco-conscious boat tours, but instead gave a flurry of ships ignoring the distressed fin splashes of the common dolphin. India’s Ranthambore Reserve promised a look inside a jungle I had only read about in books; rather it consisted of a packed race between jeeps hunting down tigers. With the reserve itself surrounded by a layer of swanky hotels for the ecotourists, followed by a second layer of intense poverty for the locals.

The word ecotourism now appears to be used as an advertising ploy, and just like the ‘superfood’ story, it promises so much but gives so little.

Our Meghauli guide peering over the undergrowth, looking for rhinos

That was until I stumbled across Meghauli, a village on the outskirts of Nepal’s Chitwan Reserve. There I slept in the clay hut of a villager’s home, bricking the cold showers and delighting in the home-cooked food. Before the first morning had even begun I found myself at the wall of the impenetrable jungle. Our guide was solemn, serious as he described each of the dangerous animals inhabiting the area and the necessary actions if an encounter occurred. Zig-zag for rhinos, stare down a tiger and be as noisy as possible for bears. Behind us a siren sounded, warning the village that a bull elephant with a human death toll had entered the area. With visibility at less than a metre, I couldn’t help but notice that our guide had neglected to give us the escape plan for elephants.

At first glance the clay hut urged me to leave, but by sticking it out I saw a world of dancing woodpeckers, leaves that close to touch and deer that are short and long like sausage dogs. There, the realisation hit me, that if you want to be an ecotourist, then you must be willing to sacrifice your luxuries. Because only by putting up with a few discomforts will nature let you see its true wild side. 

Julia is a Biology graduate from Oxford University and a former A\J volunteer. She is now volunteering in India where she teaches Environmental Science. Her ambition is to become an environmental science communicator, with the aim to explain, enthuse and create positive global change. Twitter @JuliaGalbenu.

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