Sustainablity in the Savegre Valley
How we minimize our impact
Sustainability has become the trendy term to define ecologically focused tourism projects. The concept is more profound than the word "ecotourism" that was coined in the 1990's. Travelers expect more of the hotels they visit, and want to choose places that minimize their footprint, making it possible for the hotel continue doing business without destroying the environment or threatening the livelihood of the local residents. Recently business owners are altering the way they build and operate their hotels in order to meet the demands of the world.
Rafiki Safari Lodge Roots
Rafiki had different roots. For us, sustainaibility was the ability to maintain our existence in the Savegre Valley. There were no conveniences, no short cuts, and no one to bail us out and no way for us to cheat and pollute.We simply did had to come up with a sustainable model in order to be able to operate.
Starting with a raw piece of forest and overgrown cattle pastures, the Boshoff family had to find ways to not only survive in the wilderness, but eventually we had to create creature comforts necessary to host guests for a hotel.
Community Involvement and Commitment
The other major element of Rafiki Safari Lodge's sustainability model comes from the relationship with the community. Since there are no other sources of human resource available in the area, Rafiki gets nearly all of its employees from the village of Santo Domingo. Rafiki has had to train all of the people from scratch, as well as teach them what it means to have a steady job, and even how to manage their money. At the same time, we have worked hard to prevent the local culture from being lost.
The modernization of Costa Rica has happened very quickly, so fast that towns like Santo Domingo barely have a place in the new model of success within the country. Lack of education of the current generation prevents people from being able to adapt from the agricultural lifestyles that they know to educated urban jobs that the country is demanding. In order to "sustain" the town of Santo Domingo, we have had to adapt our lodge to allow local people to find work. Whether it was helping a local family start a horseback rental service or providing a platform for a resident to start serving meals to tourists, or training raft guides to take people down the river; one by one Rafiki is finding ways to diversify the job opportunities so that Santo Domingo can grow with us.
We currently provide opportunity to about 15% of the residents of the town. Our jobs are not necessarily the best paid form of employment, but they are stable. The stability of getting a pay check on the first and 15th of every month has enabled the current generation to focus on the education of the their children. In the past 12 years the local education system has grown tremendously. Santo Domingo is one of the smallest towns in Costa Rica to offer a full education system (K-12). The town has even has its first college graduate. The next generation will have new skills and hopefully new opportunities to be able to make the Lower Saverge Valley a truly sustainable place to live.
Our Hydro-Electric System
One of the first major obstacles was the generation of electricity. At first a small gasoline generator was used to light the first camp site. The drive in and out of the valley took about 3 hours on a horrible road. This made transferring fuel into the valley not only costly, but very difficult. Fortunately, there is a lot of water on Rafiki's property. The Boshoffs built a micro hydroelectric system to replace the generator. At first it was not very effective, but through time it has become the principal source of the electricity consumed by the lodge and its guests. Rafiki only received public power in the year 2009, so until that year, the hydro system was responsible for all of the lodges power. Today, there is a feed from the grid. This has allowed the lodge to expand its kitchen and make it a bit easier to cool the beer!
The hydroelectric system not only powers the lodge, but provides the water for the water slide, hot tub, and pool below. After the pool, the water flows into the lake below before it makes its way back to the river. The water comes from a mountain stream, and is returned back to the river without chemicals, so if you swallow a bit of water going down the slide, enjoy it!
In order to minimize its impact on the environment, Rafiki Safari Lodge made several choices right from the beginning. The tents that our guests sleep in are not permanent structures, they are naturally climate controlled, and we use low energy light bulbs. The light bulbs not only save electricity, but they also keep the insects at bay.
Our lodge is constructed out of a thatch found in the forest called suita. No plants are killed in harvesting, and the resource is renewable. The roof stays dry in the rainy season, creates great ambiance in a rain storm, and keeps the lodge well insulated against the tropical sun. We make solar hot water for our guests to shower with. We also the sun's rays to heat the jacuzzi in front of the lodge. The pool is filled daily, which also allows us to not put chemical sin the pool. We utilize re-usable glass bottles for beer and soft drinks to reduce our waste. We buy bulk products to reduce packaging, use environmentally friendly soaps and detergents, and recycle whenever possible.
There are many details that have had to be worked out through the years, and anywhere we could make a "green"change we did.We do these things not because it gives us extra points on a sheet of paper or extra leaves for a government program, but because it makes sense. If we produce a bunch trash, we have to find a place to put it. If we make hot water with electricity, we have to pay for it. If we use bright light bulbs, the bugs will swarm around every light. We are committed to respecting the environment, but in all honesty being sustainable was the most practical for our business.