Kelly Galaski is the Program & Operations Manager/Assistant Technical Director of Planeterra, G Adventures’ non-profit foundation. Today on the Looptail, she recounts her recent visit to Peru for the grand opening of the Sacred Valley Community Restaurant, Planeterra’s latest development project.
When I first got into community tourism in 2007 in Costa Rica, I believed that it was the solution for so many communities to lift themselves out of poverty. As a result, I didn’t think about the demands of the market and the actual commercial potential of the community I was working with. Like most non-profit or consultant workers in the development field, I thought only about the need. My project failed, and a lot of expectations in the village I was living and working in were not met.
From that moment seven years ago I knew I would never repeat those same mistakes. Working with G Adventures and Planeterra, I get to connect communities to the tourism market and make small community tourism projects instantly profitable. G Adventures’ ability to bring a constant flow of travellers to each destination we work in makes this possible.
As I stood in the middle of the Andean village of Huchuy Qosco (“Little Cusco”) in Peru last week watching the community busily preparing for the inauguration ceremony of their brand-new village restaurant, I smiled and got just a little teary-eyed.
For about a year, we’ve been working on a “community meal experience” to offer G Adventures travellers and others passing through the Sacred Valley of Peru. Thousands of travellers pass through this region en route to Machu Picchu every year, about 15,000 of them with G Adventures alone. We at Planeterra knew this near-constant flow of travellers could provide a substantial amount of income to a village restaurant, and Huchuy Qosco was the perfect place to make it a reality.
Mountains surround the village and its 65 indigenous families. Some of the mamas (the nickname given to all ladies of the village) had received some basic training on how to host guests in their homes for a homestay. This is an all-too-common initiative in Peru and many other countries around the world that seeks to bring tourism benefits to rural communities. Like thousands of other projects, the Huchuy Qosco families received about 25 guests per year, hardly enough to earn a significant income. The women of the village had a dream to work in tourism, and a small building in the central plaza (a communal open greenspace) already existed where we could make it happen.
From the beginning, G Adventures and Planeterra worked as a team to design the concept in partnership with the community and the local government to ensure it would fit into the company’s itineraries as an added activity. The concept is “farm-to-table fusion” traditional Peruvian cuisine, with all ingredients sourced from local farms. So much work went into the planning, the construction of the kitchen and eating space, the budgeting (and re-budgeting and budgeting again), the purchasing, delivery, and installment of all the equipment. (If you’ve ever equipped an entire kitchen from the ceramic floor to each utensil, you’ll know there are thousands of things to buy!) And that was just the beginning; the staff still had to be trained.
We established an identification process to determine who was interested and most capable for the necessary positions. Employees would be serving up to 100 guests at lunch hour each day in the high season, so we needed to develop a really professional and efficient service system while at the same time keeping the experience authentic and interesting for visitors.
Joel Callañaupa, Planeterra’s field manager for Peru, led a team of consultants who worked on formalizing the association into a business so the staff could work with tour operators, set up daily training sessions in administration, cooking classes, and other workshops. The cooking classes were led by a chef named Jose Lujan, who recently published a book on the cuisine of the Andean region. His job was to take women – who had never used a refrigerator – and turn them into fantastic cooks. Did I mention they started this training in November and were ready for visitors by February? I must admit that I was worried it wouldn’t happen in time, but the passion of everyone involved and the determination of these wonderful women to reach their potential meant that they wouldn’t miss the opportunity for anything.
The result is something to behold. Each woman told us about how it makes them feel, how proud they were, and how shocked they were that they could do this. Hilda, one of the cooks, told us how on the first day that “real tourists” arrived, she was terrified that they would not be able to do what they needed her to do, “but now it’s no problem.” Luisa began to cry as she told us how she used to have to leave home at 4am and travel on multiple buses in order to reach a menial job, and that she always dreamed of dressing all in white as a nurse to do a job she loved. She said that she can now work in her own community, that the time she has with her family is priceless, and her dream to dress all in white (albeit in a cook’s uniform) has come true.
The 12 ladies and two young men currently rotate between the kitchen and the serving floor, and all 34 were trained for each position so that they can alternate roles when others move on.
This restaurant isn’t the first successful project Planeterra has established, but it stands as one more reminder that we’re doing something right. It feels good to know we’re making a real difference in people’s lives. And the food? So delicious! You’ll just have to try it for yourself. A visit to the restaurant is now included in all of G Adventures’ Sacred Valley tours. I hope you get the chance to experience it first-hand.
This project is part of a three-year initiative co-financed by the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American development bank and G Adventures, implemented by Planeterra. Click here for more info on this and our other work.