Our best and most memorable experiences of travel often come from the meaningful conversations we have with the local people that we meet. These conversations grant us a special glimpse into the daily lives they lead and genuinely connect us to a place that we once considered foreign.
In Oaxaca, in the south of Mexico, a non-profit microfinance organisation named Fundación En Vía runs tours to connect travellers to local women entrepreneurs, and then supports these women and their business goals by using the tour fees to provide them with interest-free loans. The tours provide a unique travel opportunity.
From the Local Host’s Perspective
Imagine being invited warmly into the homes of local people and their families. Imagine sitting down in a living room, patio or workshop and having a conversation with a local woman about what it is really like to live and work in her town. Imagine getting off the beaten tourist path and, at the same time, making a positive difference to a community. Imagine the conversations the women will have about you after you leave!
We often hear the story of the traveller. By listening to his or her recounted experiences, through humour or reflection, we learn about the world and the beautiful and distinct cultures in it. However, in keeping with the spirit of local travel, these stories are not lived only by travellers; the interactions that created these moments were shared and the conversations two-sided. But we rarely have the opportunity to hear from those people – the local hosts – who were met by the travellers.
To give that perspective, a few women from the En Vía program here share their own experiences and stories about meeting and welcoming travellers in their homes and communities on the En Vía tours.
Rosa, Pilar, Victoria and Carmen Talk Travel
Rosa, from Santo Domingo Tamaltepec, addressing a small group of visitors, expressed her amazement that they had all made the effort to come to visit her small town. “I just can’t imagine you all getting on airplanes in different places and suddenly being here to see us,” she said from behind the counter of her small corner store. Later she made me smile when she added, “A young man from Ireland bought some drinking chocolate from my shop during the last visit, but he told me he was single, so I still wonder if he knew how to make it when he got home.”
Pilar from the town of Abasolo was also excited to reflect on the experience of receiving a tour with En Vía to her home. “The visitors were very interested in the tools we use to sow the beans and garlic,” she said, “and my son and I were excited to show them the pair of sheep we had bought especially with the loan.”
During an En Via tour, Although there is a focus on learning about the women’s businesses and their experiences with the microloans, there is a lot of room for other personal talk. After her first experience with a tour of travellers, Victoria, also from Santo Domingo, said it was not as she had expected. “It was more like a visit from friends. Apart from the loans, we talked about our children and grandchildren and even about weddings.”
“As well as my business, we talked about where I was from.” This is something very important to Carmen, who, originally from the Sierra de Chihuahua, is one of the only women from the program in Abasolo who was not born there. She came to the small community five years ago and says that she can relate to the importance of making meaningful connections with local people, which is what sparked her desire to integrate with the women of the town and join En Vía.
There are small moments, based in cultural exchange and differences, that neither local nor traveller will ever forget. “We were cleaning the chapulines, or grasshoppers, ready for sale, when the tour arrived,” Pilar recalled to me. “Some of the visitors tried them, but others didn’t want to, which surprised me, because they are delicious!”
The En Via Local Experience in Oaxaca, Mexico
Our most enduring travel memories often relate to meetings with interesting people, making friends and feeling a connection to a local place, people and culture. Through tours, En Vía fosters a genuine and unique cultural exchange. Everyone – the travellers who visit and the women borrowers themselves – feel as if they are investing and participating in something special that benefits and supports the local people directly and broadly expands the idea of community. Take the opportunity to visit with En Vía in Oaxaca, Mexico. Have a real conversation with the people that make it such a special place. By the end of your tour, you may even feel a little bit like a local yourself.