We talked with Aland Álvarez Alday from the Ruta Huasquiña venture, who tells us about the history of his venture, its roots, its town and its plans for the future.
1. Aland, you, together with your family, have a business related to tourism, how did this idea come about, this business?
This venture was born because in our town there used to be horses, there were troops. My father always kept this memory, this longing for those experiences, because when he was little, (5 years old, up to 15 years old) he and all his cousins would go to town to spend their vacations and share there. His grandfather owned a troop of horses, so what my great-grandfather did was take and sell vegetables in Huara, since my great-grandfather had 12 children, many of them worked in the pampas, they were calicheros, they were in Humberstone, what he did was that the The women or the older children stayed working, and the younger ones went to school and some stayed on the farms, what they did was take the troops along the Chintuya road, they went up a pampa and took the merchandise to La Carona, which He was accompanied by all the people of the town, there were about 5 families and they all had horses or some mules, etc. In fact, where we currently have the Hostel was the corral for mules, from there the idea starts.
My father always wanted to, since he is very passionate about the "cowboy's" theme, the Pacific War, the War of Independence, and he is closely linked to Jorge Inostroza, as he liked the character of Manuel Rodríguez, so it is a mix of many influences. This was added one day together with a businessman friend named Pedro Videla, since he has many animals, both were enthusiastic and set out with one horse, then with two, etc. So since they basically didn't know, between the two of them they didn't make “a huaso”, eventually they learned to do everything.
After the first, our first two horses were a mare, Gretel, who has already passed away. When this happened, we did a ritual and sacrificed her on the pampas, then we left her corpse on the pampas for Pacha Mama herself to take away, and the other was Farkas, who continues and has sort of "rejuvenated", he is much more handsome now.
So this started because of a “hobby” issue, then my father bought another horse, China, another mare that also died, because we did not have a good notion of care. Since my father had his horses on his friend's farm, it was a long time before we brought the horses to Huasquiña. And we started little by little, first with a corral, for a horse. Then, at one point, my father made an investment and bought 5 horses, and those were the first we had; “La Gringa”, “El Potro”, another mare, in addition to “La Estrella” and “La Canela”, pure quarter horse with Arabian, very beautiful, they are the most beautiful of those we currently have, and that's how he started.
My father at that time with Pedro and a group of friends got together and there was a movement called the San Andrés de Huasquiña Cavalcade, so they always did this cavalcade in November, I remember that in my university days I was told; "Look, we're going on a horseback ride, you have to come in November" and that's how they put me on a horse without knowing much and I left Huasquiña for Pica and spent four days in the pampa, crossing the desert, sleeping at night in the middle of the pampa , etc. So all this started in a very familiar and hobby way.
After my experience, I realized, as many people had gone through the horseback riding, in addition to the fact that we have been horseback riding for more than 15 years and doing many routes, as people do trekking routes, so I have done many troop routes through the towns, then I have two sensations left, one that is a "steak" experience, very nice and that could be replicated, could be sold. We did it for the "love of art", all the costs were covered by us, but I told myself that there was a business opportunity in this, but we had to "put Lucas" and patience, because apart from that we still have to discover a world on the horse theme. Thank God things have happened, in the sense that many people who have come to be with us, that is, who have contributed to us; we had a worker named "Jimmy", who helped us a lot and unfortunately passed away, we had "Quico" who is in the south now, he helped us a lot, he was the real "huaso" who taught us everything we know and he was the backbone of the horseback riding, I still miss him, he had to go south for family reasons, and today we have Jonny in our work team; So we started with a horse, then four, then a corral, we have gone through a lot of hardships, our horses lost weight for a while, also the whole issue of the pandemic that hit us, and that's how our idea of entrepreneurship arose, to take this initiative that It is a hobby that we have and that can be a product, because sometimes we think that we could have 4 horses and be for the family, and they would be enough, but I think that we would be ignoring the most important thing, that our grandfather, for example, a few years ago 4 years ago, it was our grandfather, Uncle Corsino Pereda, well known in the Tamarugal pampa, who rode a mule, he must have been between 74 and 75 years old and he made our horseback riding route, he went through Chiapa, Jania, Sotoca, Chipisa , Huasquiña and took us through those roads and he was fascinated. So, in addition to seeing this as a business opportunity, we see it more as an opportunity for the people, the history, the roads, not to get lost, and that's where we are.
2. And what challenges and difficulties have you had to face?
The challenges and difficulties that I have had to face for this have been enough; To begin with, my father and I are not people who have grown up with horses, so we have depended on other people. We do not have the time and it has cost us a lot to learn, etc. Also the issue of workers, since it is difficult to have workers in Huasquiña who are 100% with the horses, only now, after years, we have a good and more complemented work team. We saw that to do this business it was necessary to disburse Lucas, paying salaries, etc. We have invested money in having a work team in accordance with what we dream of. That is one part, the other is that we did not know anything about horses, if you ask me "do you know how to shoe a horse?" My answer is no, I bought a hardware kit and I still need to learn, all this pandemic has taken away the opportunity to go to courses because it has limited travel. So there is knowledge that we need to acquire and is pending. In addition to the fact that horses have died because we did not have veterinary services here, because there is also a lack of horse professionals, so the necessary care was not available. Horses have died from colic, horses have fallen, etc. and not only horses, we brought cows and we realized that the ravines are very rough for cows, cows died on us, horses fell, thank God we have not had accidents with people.
In addition, a large part of the investment we make is bringing food from the south. Today we have a percentage of 30% and 70%, where 30% is from what we produce for food and the other 70% is brought from the south, both pellets and bales of alfalfa. Therefore, part of this venture was intended for part of the food expense to be covered by the influx of tourists. So those have been the difficulties; the food, the workers, the learning, and also one cannot "fall in love" with the animals, because the animals "happen", they have accidents and you have to learn to live with that, so it is complex, so that has been the most difficult until now.
And now added to the lack of resources due to the pandemic, now we have made many investments in saddles, in marketing, workers, food, horses, veterinarians, and we projected that 2020 would be a fruitful year and nothing happened, and 2021 continues like this and we cannot "stop", the animals will not stop eating. There have been aids and palliative initiatives from entities such as Sercotec and Corfo, but a business of this magnitude is not currently sustainable. Thank God we have other sources of financing, which is the work of accountants, so that makes up enough for the operation, but until what moment? And apart from these difficulties, there is the issue of professionalizing this issue, since it started as a hobby but then when one begins to certify there are processes, and it is necessary to have a first-aid kit, fire extinguishers, you must have the processes that Sernatur requests, which means more investment costs without having a return. And honestly, we do not expect to have a great return with this, but at least to reach "zero" to a balance, which in the short term is not possible. Despite this, we must continue "giving it", Huasquiña was not built in a day, so we must continue.
3. How has this incursion into tourism affected your environment, the local community?
It has been a fairly wide spectrum, there are people who at first "didn't get hooked", they really didn't want to, they preferred to have the town in "peace" and later, little by little they fell in love with it, so I have seen how it has happened a proactivity and little by little people have been "realizing". Well, my great-uncles, those from the fourth generation upwards, they only "see", they give their opinion and everything, but they are already living their life. Those who have been most interested are those of my father's generation who are the ones who see the most opportunities with accommodation services, and that there is more "movement" and more people, because another of the objectives of this venture is to help that Huasquiña was repopulated, then tourism is an option for people to go and live. Some uncles already went to live in Huasquiña, my parents also went to live, and several other uncles. So all this gives movement, there are opportunities for there to be a small economy, and on that side the issue of people seeing the positive side has been quite fruitful. Also, as I was saying, a large part of this initiative is to rescue the history and traditions that are otherwise being lost. That is why the issue of taking the horses, and taking professionals from different fields, has been quite important, given that I, for example, interact with professionals from different fields, such as psychologists, anthropologists, historians, teachers, marketing people, tourism, then all this is "increasing the value".
4. How has the whole issue of the pandemic and lockdowns affected you?
The pandemic has affected us for two reasons, the first due to the issue of mobility, although my parents live in Huasquiña and have a residence there, I and the workers no longer had such an easy journey, because on weekends I went to work in the fields, to cut grass or wood, and that was cut. That limited our mobility quite a bit, apart from the quarantine issue that there have been no tourists. Very few go, one or two have arrived. In addition, the economic issue, because the issue of horseback riding is still quite expensive and it is an investment in a unique experience, so it is not so easy for people to go.
5. What type of support and external help have you been able to implement?
What I have learned from this whole process is that there is no trick in asking, last year I applied to Conadi, to the Conadi Turismo investment fund, and there marketing helped me a lot, in terms of photography, advertising material, and the most important was the acquisition of mounts, and all the tools for the rides. It happened that I had some frames, but they were very old, so he bought new frames.
Then I applied to these Sercotec funds, as a digital route, with that I leveraged myself in the digital issue, I bought canva, promotion was paid on Facebook, and the cell phone I have now to be able to upload photos to Instagram and manage social networks. Then I applied to the PAR Impulsa Tamarugal, which is in force and we are developing and implementing with the theme of cost recovery and we are going to make some advertising capsules that we are working with TarapacArt , that and I continue to apply to different funds because it is necessary. Unfortunately, this enterprise, if it had been otherwise, would have ended, I cannot tell my animals “there is no money, there is no food to eat”, so I have to keep giving it. State aid has been very fruitful and good, the issue of employment subsidy for my workers, but on time this is complete. In the subsidies you also have to invest, you have to put the VAT and today I have no money. The subsidies have been limited by tourism, but it is necessary to be there. I'm thinking about the next 10 years, not the next year.
6. To anyone who wishes or has the idea of undertaking in a similar way, what recommendations and lessons have all this arduous path left you?
I think that I identify with the grandson or the descendant of the native peoples of the north, as if he thinks that if what one really has is a product that can be sold, if it is something that can be marketed, I think so. In another interview I said that I thought we were millionaires because our culture, our land is beautiful, so there are things that we really don't value and should be valued. Last year my grandmother passed away and she took a lot of history with her that I feel that I would give everything in the world to listen to it again and be there again. So my town, the quinces, the roads, the stories, the stars, all that is everything. And since we are on a day-to-day basis, we end up going to the town to drink, eat and have barbecues, and we are not really reciprocating the enormous value that this land has. I feel that this is a good measure to do original tourism, to show the world what we are and that world will really monetize it in the true value that this has. So I really urge you to generate networks, I urge young entrepreneurs not to start with so much, the mistake we made was to start with many animals, start with a very large investment, but it is not that difficult to be a guide, suddenly tell a story , start little by little, try it out, so you are a day-to-day guide. Tell stories of your town and so little by little it will come out. One of the things that the land teaches you is that you don't plant the seed “on the fly”, it takes time, so don't do it with so much investment, do it more for services, and little by little go and do it. Because when the idea is good and it is done with passion, the people themselves will reward them, Pacha Mama itself will reward them and give them the results.