Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:Having given Sunday Gleaner readers an inside perspective of their Taino artefacts last week, the next big thing on Bluefields' agenda is geotourism.
Geotourism, a term coined by the National Geographic Society's Center for Sustainable Destinations, is defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographic character of a place - its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.
"Geographically, Bluefields has a beautiful bay which spans 10 miles long. It has a mountain which is 2,629ft high. There is agriculture and fishing, which is as old as the area, plus the German culture of Westmoreland, which is rich," Wolde Kristos, founding member of the Bluefields People's Community Association (BPCA), tells The Sunday Gleaner.
The community's thrust is heightened by its rich cultural heritage, highlighted by its recent find of Taino artefacts that date back to 1200 AD. The historical gems can be found on land and in the small bay.
Four areas of focus
Under the geotourism concept, Kristos says the plan is to work in four areas to benefit the community - 'education for all', 'jobs for all', 'protection of the natural environment' and 'food for all'.
The vision of educating themselves started 20 years ago and, in the last three years, they have been working with the Belmont Academy, a high school built by the Government.
"We have set up a Memorandum of Agreement, which states that when the students are walking out of the classrooms, adults are walking in," said Kristos.
In addition, the community has sponsored a number of persons with university grants to study economics, agriculture and tourism, so they can return and build the community. Kristos describes this move as the rearing of partners in the development of Bluefields.
The BPCA is also working with agencies such as HEART Trust/NTA and the Tourism Product Development Company, offering training in order to realise the 2020 vision which they conceptualised. HEART Trust, will be embarking on a programme geared specifically at training fishers to participate in community tourism, so they can give tours. A meeting with the training organisation has been set for Wednesday, November 9.
With food security one of the major issues in the Caribbean, the forward-thinking community leaders are not about to wait for this problem to take root at their doorsteps. Already they have established an organic-farmers group, which is now growing vegetables and ground provision for the community.
Protecting the area
Environmentally, they are ensuring that the Bluefields Bay is protected from destructive fishing so there will be seafood for many years. In addition to setting up fish sanctuaries areas, there is an aquaponic project where they are growing tulips and vegetables in one small space.
For the BPCA, the visitors to the area must come prepared to experience authentic Jamaica.
"If we have a wake (a celebration the night before someone is buried), any tourists (locals and foreigners) in the area must be able to attend," states Kristos.
There is no party for foreign tourists and a separate event for locals. "Everything we have will be inclusive."
Overall, the aim is to ensure Bluefields becomes the first choice for Jamaicans, who may jump on a bus or in their car exploring their native land.
Accordingly, there are enough rooms in the area to accommodate individuals as well as large and small groups.
"We have over 70 rooms, some offering bed and breakfast-styled accommodation and others such as Sandals Whitehouse European Village and Spa, for those who want all-inclusive. We also have upscale villas, such as Bluefields Villa, which is a like a five-star villa, that comes with butler service and a driver," said Kristos.
A number of guests utilise helicopter service to get there, he says.
Ideally, the BPCA says Bluefields has tremendous appreciation for local history and culture, and is desirous of being a part of the decision-making process surrounding heritage management and development.
"We have a very different vision for tourism, determined to create an alternative model to the overdevelopment that has plagued north-coast resort areas, with adverse environmental and social impact," they argue.