Gralha Azul: a different perspective on tourism. An invitation to live in harmony
“We were always aware of the immense cultural variety and natural richness of our region”. This is how Maurício started to tell us the story of his initiative, Gralha Azul (portuguese for Azure Jay), now the winner of the Rural Youth Innovation Award in the Income Generation category. Gralha Azul is a one-of-a-kind collaborative tourism network and the product of an awareness and exchange program among the inhabitants of Turvo county, Paraná, Brazil.
The cultural diversity that surrounds the county consists mainly of the indigenous – guarani and kaingang, archeological sites and quilombola communities. The region also boasts impressive natural wealth, spread over a vast area that includes 16,000 hectares of indigenous reserve, housing one of the largest forests native to araucaria pines in the world, with particularly interesting rock formations, waterfalls and several rivers. Maurício is native to this region, of which he speaks proudly. After moving away for a few years to study Social Communication and Tourism Management, he came back to his home with the intent of sharing his knowledge and finding ways to advertise the immense wealth of his homeland.
Along with other local youths and rural families, he began searching for ways to generate sustainable revenue while respecting the values of the county’s inhabitants. The plan was to build together. Over the course of ten months, the young entrepreneurs cut paths, built bridges and organized new spaces dedicated to remembering. At the same time, they also trained the people of Turvo in tourism and rural cooking.
By the time they launched their initiative in 2018, the team at Gralha Azul already had 20 different activities for tourism that were multifaceted, sustainable, cultural, responsible and solidary. “We have adventure sports such as abseiling, bóia cross, aquatic hiking, cave diving, ecological tours on horseback and cultural hikes, which include visits to archeological sites in a guarani and local quilombola village. Every activity includes local dishes, prepared by the families who reside where the activities take place”, explained Maurício.
It’s worth mentioning that Gralha Azul works in tandem with 38 rural families and young collaborators, whom no longer needs to migrate in search of work: they bring knowledge and talent, acting mainly as guides, operators, craftsmen or cooks, and open the doors to their lands in order for people to experience them. These families’ commitment is such that they themselves also pitch ideas for activities about their own culture. “The true innovation in our initiative lies in our organization’s logistics, because the youth is responsible for organizing every activity and the local families, without needing to invest, just open their lands and their properties, which raises everyone’s income”, guaranteed Maurício.
Each of us has been a tourist at some point and has planned a trip. The difference with Gralha Azul, is that we’re not invited. They’re waiting for us. The tourists that Gralha Azul entertains today, thanks to their social media work, are mainly from close by, and stay in the county four days at most. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has been considering broadening its horizons by ways of intensively farming local fruits, in order to diversify its revenue stream and reforestation projects. They plan to expand their concept in harmony with the rural and cultural environments, and go beyond their commercial activity to become an educational and lifestyle model.
“As far as culture and experience, it’s really gratifying to the natives and quilombolas to see outsider’s interest and willingness to share with them” explained Maurício. Gralha Azul’s slogan “Time to take your feet off the ground” invites us to explore alongside them this path of coexistence where human contact is paramount and where, even beyond this exchange, our cultural differences enrich us.