When Bruce went travelling after University in 1989 he realised he had limited options: he could either go backpacking or stay on a resort. Returning to Canada, he set up a company that bridged the gap and offered young professionals an affordable way to immerse themselves in the culture of different countries. Bruce gave some of the profits back to the communities he passed through. Today he has offices in 38 countries and runs a travel foundation that builds projects all over the world; he is adamant that all staff adhere to his original business model of sustainability and happiness.
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This company has operated on responsible tourism values since its inception. From an environmental perspective, our initiatives extend from our company offices to our tours. Our head office and stores are powered by a local green energy provider, we encourage cleaner transportation methods for staff, and purchase all supplies from a local green business supplier. Our office is as paperless as possible and our brochures use 100% PEFC certified sustainable paper.
Supporting communities is and always has been at the heart of our tours. We provide business opportunities to local people by employing local guides and tour operators. The majority of accommodation used on our tours are small-scale hotels. Our tours mainly use public transportation wherever possible and are small in size to keep our impact on fragile sites and communities as minimal as possible. We monitor the sustainability of our tours through traveller evaluations in order to allow for continuous improvement. We support the local economy and business initiatives by visiting locally-owned shops, restaurants, and markets on our tours.
Many tours incorporate community projects as a way of supplementing community income and supporting community development projects. In 2003 we founded a non-profit organization as a way for our travellers and our company to give back to the people and places we visit. We develop community projects around the world in the areas of health, education, small business development and environmental conservation. Funds are raised through traveller donations and fundraising. The company pays all administration fees which means that 100% of each individual donation goes directly to the community projects. Each year, we continue to support and develop new partnerships with more community projects and community-based tourism initiatives worldwide, in Latin America, Asia and Africa. On most tours, you have the option to visit a project as part of your trip.
Tour leaders provide travellers with information about local environmental issues in their respective regions, and provide suggestions of how we can best protect the local environment and culture. To reduce the amount of waste created on tours, tour leaders also encourage travellers to use refillable water bottles instead of disposable plastic, cotton tote bags, reusable batteries, etc. We also include destination-specific information in our guidebooks, which are provided to each traveller including information particular to the local culture and environment and tips on how to be a responsible traveller.
On this trip:
Low Impact Accommodation: The accommodation used on a trip can make the difference between local people receiving many benefits or none at all. It can also mean huge impacts or minimal impacts on the environment. On this trip we’ll be Bush Camping. We choose "bush camping" as an alternative both for the ability to camp in some incredible locations and near to some fascinating villages, and because there are limited options. These bush camps are not established campsites with facilities such as toilets, showers, restaurants, since this type of campsite simply does not exist in northern Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso. Bush camping refers to the fact that we set up our own camp in the bush, or in an unused, public piece of land. As such, there will be no electricity or running water while bush camping. We carry our own water for cooking and bathing, and oil and gas lamps for light in the evenings, and food and cooking equipment for meals. Tents are 2-person nylon pop-up dome tents, with mattresses provided. The bush camp shower is a hanging bag of water within a small, enclosed area. For a bush toilet, we carry a small, portable seat, dig a hole below it, and place a curtain or something similar around it. Facilities thus are extremely basic, but most travelers find that such days as much rewarding as they are challenging.
Camping is a very low-impact style of accommodation because the structures are temporary! Camping means little to no electricity consumption, low water consumption and definitely no energy sucking air conditioning!
Despite the challenge that a few days “roughing it” may pose to some, the experience of being that close to nature, camping under the African stars, and seeing incredible wildlife at your tent door-step is not just gratifying but ultimately an experience of a lifetime.
Appreciating Local Culture: Togo is a country that is very different to anything you will have experienced before. Although this means it is not the easiest place to travel, this is also what makes it so special. On this great adventure, we are able to experience a vast rang of local communities and their varying cultures and traditions.
• Lome - The traditional religion on the Gulf of Guinea coast, all along the coast of Benin and Togo, Voodoo is an animist religion, passed down through generations and still practiced today. The religious experience is richer and more complex than most westerners realize. Voodoo practices are not a form of black magic; to millions both here and abroad, Voodoo represents a religion that gives meaning and order to their lives.
• Bohicon - Witness the Dancing Masks of Egun, a traditional celebration of the Fon and Yoruba of the region. Egun masks represent the spirits of the deceased, but as far as the local population is concerned, they actually ARE the deceased. Initiates of the cult wear the masks—representing Egun—and, dressed in brightly multi-colored clothing, they emerge from the forest and form a procession through the village streets, leaping towards any foolish spectator who dares to get too close. The belief is that if the Egun touches you, he brings the danger of death! Believers touched by the Egun immediately collapse into a heap on the ground. The masks then perform a kind of bullfight, which is designed to create fear…although whether or not it does depends on you!
• Fulani Region - The villages are composed of round huts covered with conical roofs protected at the top by terracotta vases. The upper part of the village is inhabited by the fetish priests, dressed in goatskin, along with their young initiates. This population has for centuries lived on an archaeological site: the first inhabitants, Kabye from Togo, occupied the mountain in the 9th century A.D. Gradually other populations joined the Kabye to form a kind of melting pot; each group has maintained its own culture and its own rites of initiation, while at the same time sharing common institutions of power and cult practices.
• Atakora Region - we may have the unique experience of meeting some Fulani people in their encampment (remember, they are nomads!). And then we continue to the Atakora region to explore on foot the villages in the Atakora mountains (4 to 5 hours along an easy path).
While on foot, we will see the fortified dwellings of the Somba peoples. Their villages are one of the most beautiful examples of ancient African architecture. In additional, as the Somba people are farmers, you will get an idea of the local agricultural products and techniques as well.
Later we cross the border into Togo and continue with village visits of the Tamberma people, in a continuous region where the people, culture, history, architecture, and landscapes ignore the international frontiers.
Support World Heritage: On this trip there are numerous opportunities to visit important heritage sites such the Royal Palace in Abomey. The Royal Palace in Abomey to see its famous walls of bas-reliefs representing symbols of the ancient Dahomey kings; their power and economy was based on the slave trade, fuelled by a perpetual status of war. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the palace is actually a group of earthen structures built by the Fon people between the mid-17th and late 19th centuries. The palaces form one of the most famous and historically significant traditional sites in West Africa.
Supporting the Local Culture & Economy: In addition to the wealth of opportunities to discover the vast landmasses and breathtaking scenery visited on this trip, optional activities that allow you to interact with the locals and really experience the culture are a good way (and a fun way) to make your trip have a positive impact in Togo. Activities that take you to homes, markets, and villages are vital to the local peoples’ ability to truly benefit from tourism. People in rural communities, especially in developing countries, often lack access to the economy due to their location, lack of funds, or ability to market their products. Visitors offer them the chance to supplement their income whether it’s simply by buying handicrafts, staying overnight in someone’s home, eating a meal at a family-owned restaurant, this trip makes contributing to the local economy part of the adventure.
Visit the central market with its famous “Nana Benz,” and their near-monopoly on expensive European pagne (cloth), sold all over West Africa. The colonial buildings in the administrative quarter are a photographer’s dream, and retain a flavour of earlier times. Of course, not to be missed is the “fetish market,” with its eclectic assortment of ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions. Locals head here to buy ingredients for amulets, sacrifices or treatments of diseases; we visit with a guide to help us understand the use of the various goods in traditional African religions. It’s wise to be cautious when buying in the market, as merchants tend to take advantage of tourists with inflated prices! Be careful to avoid being cheated.
Banfora in Bobo is famous for its market, with a large variety of handicrafts or sale; the groups living in the region (Gouin, Karaboro and Turka) supply the markets with items made of raffia, terracotta and cloth.