In northern Brazil, the state of Acre, mixing facts and legends,Â is drawing up a new route in its quest for sustainable development of local tourism. The place is betting on the culture of the local population and on the vast supply of natural resources to attract attention in Brazil and worldwide.
The history of Acre is the history of rubber exploration, which started with the migration of people from the Brazilian Northeast in the late 19th century. It is also the story of the Indians who, up until then, inhabited the region.
The struggle of the rubber tappers, whose icon is deceased union leader Chico Mendes and the culture of more than 14 different Indian nations settled in the state provide the raw material for tourist routes in the state.
Currently, Acre receives approximately 200,000 tourists per year and, according to the state secretary for Tourism, Cassiano Marques, the local government is making efforts to "insert the state into the context of domestic and international tourism."
The capital of Acre is one of 65 destinations that should boost local development and are priorities in terms of investment from the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism. From 2003 to 2008, the ministry invested 6.8 million reais (US$ 3.6 million) in projects turned to infrastructure and professional training across the state.
Eco-friendly lodge Seringal Cachoeira, located in the municipality of Xapuri, is a successful example of a Public-Community Partnership (PPC). The government of Acre has built the premises, trained the labor force and entrusted rubber tappers from an Extractive Reserve with management.
The building, which is a replica of a rubber tapping house, employs 30 people and posts monthly revenues ranging from 25,000 to 45,000 Brazilian reais (US$ 13,200 to US$ 23,800) per month, depending on the season.
The strong point of the lodge is eco-friendly tourism, with incursions into the Amazon jungle that surrounds it. Tourists watch demonstrations of latex extraction from rubber trees and may hug centennial trees, such as a 500-year-old Sumauma.
Guide Nilson Mendes, a storyteller, knows everything about the woods: the uses of plants, the scientific and common names of different species, the habits of the animals and even the charms of the spirits that inhabit the place.
Handicraft from Acre is also being revisited through training to artisans. The aim is to retrieve the people's cultural identity, bringing in components of the Amazon's flora - seeds, straws, fruits and aromas - to the handicraft items.
"Our culture goes into our handicraft, and thus we add value to the products,"explains the president of "Casa do Artesão,"Carlos Taborga, who was awarded the Top 100 of the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Sebrae) for the manufacturing of aromatic candles.