Shifting the Focus: The Vanity Fair Changing Your Mind Travel Awards 2021
Vanity Fair Travel Editor Michelle Jana Chan on this year's inspiring winners.
BY MICHELLE JANA CHAN
FEBRUARY 26, 2021
With travel slowed or stalled, we've viewed the world through a different lens this year. More appreciatively. More conscientiously. And yet often not firsthand, but rather through stories, written or told through the still or the moving image. Taking us away in almost every sense, except literally.
That's why the Vanity Fair Changing Your Mind Travel Awards feel even more critical this year, when important work might go unnoticed, while a pandemic ravages and our freedom is curbed. Our 2021 winners have plugged on, undaunted, and are profoundly deserving of being acknowledged here. Read on and they might flick a switch in your head or your heart, make you reconsider, maybe even change your mind.
Amazon's Prime: Marivelton Baré
He's one of Brazil's most notable indigenous leaders, with a knack for including everyone in the conversation, from children to intellectuals, shamans to government officials. Long fighting on behalf of his people-trying to halt land invasions, illegal mining, fishing and logging-he's also been the architect in changing the rules on tourism on indigenous land-no small feat-so that his people could host visitors from outside.
He is now launching indigenous-led Amazon expedition tourism in his region of Iwitera Maramuywera Tapuruquara Suiwara, around Rio Negro in northwest Brazil: limited small-group trips on a solar-powered river cruiser offering authentic experiences with local communities. That doesn't sound particularly original. Until you hear that the community vets "applicants" who want to join a trip by questionnaire and interview; if they don't believe a potential visitor has good intentions or is prepared for the trip, they're rejected. Those who sign up are always guided and must obey a strict code of conduct. Yet the community insists this is not about creating distance; instead, they aim to share their lives generously, teaching visitors about their agro-forest techniques, sustainable fishing skills and storytelling traditions. In the itinerary there are numerous "open talk with villagers" sessions. In exchange, they hope visitors will support their campaigns and bear witness to crimes happening on their land.
If it sounds too worthy, think again. Anthropologist Camila Barra, a consultant for the non-profit Garupa, which promotes sustainable tourism, says the initiative feels anything but. "It's a party, full of joy," she says. "The conversation is intimate, involving everyone-and under a roof made of trees. I believe without Marivelton's leadership, it would have been too hard." Trips launched last year, initially for Brazilian tourists, but are now on hold because of Covid. When they relaunch, they will bear all the hallmarks of a revolution in indigenous tourism.
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