My family tree starts in 1907 in the small farming village of Wrocen in northeastern Poland. When I say small, I mean less than a kilometer across, with about 20 houses on one road. My grandparents on my mother’s side were raised in Wrocen and my mom was born there, too. Though I was born and raised in the States, I travel to Wrocen and the rest of Poland as often as I can.
In a tiny rural farming village that is an hour away from the nearest big city, you don’t expect much to change over the years, or even decades. In Wrocen, I thought that not much had changed at all since my grandparents were growing up there in the 1940s and 50s.
So on my most recent trip to Poland, I was surprised to find that a surprising amount had changed in Wrocen since my previous visit 2 years before, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
In the first drive through the small town a few weeks ago, I just could not stop thinking about how beautiful it was. There were flowers growing on every lawn, the houses seemed more colorful and updated, and even the sky seemed to be a special shade of blue. I even asked my mom whether I was just imagining it, or if something here had changed? My memories of a dinky rundown town smelling like cows and pigs was no more.
Then we saw it: a sign by the water that said “Agroturystyka.” Ecotourism. What? Tourism? In WROCEN? It’s not even on the maps! We were incredibly surprised that anyone would want to come visit Wrocen. It’s so… remote. Half the houses don’t even have internet!
So what is ecotourism and what are these people doing in my village?! Ecotourism is a form of nature-based tourism that involves visiting undisturbed and untouched natural areas, raising environmental awareness, and providing direct financial benefits for local people and conservation efforts.
Ecotourists have several principles that they base their travels on: minimizing their environmental impact, building cultural ties, and the empowerment of local people. Okay, that sounds like something I could get behind.
Recently, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has estimated ecotourism to make up 10-15% of all global tourism, which means its fastest growing sector. According to The Collaborative Partnership on Forests, ecotourism can return as much as 95% of revenues to the local economy. Now it all makes sense why Wrocen looked so beautiful.
Wrocen is located on the beautiful river Biebrza and near a large national park, Biebrzanski Park Narodowy. It’s seriously incredibly beautiful. Once I realized that people were actually paying money to come camp out and kayak on the river and get bitten by mosquitos and not have internet or cellphone reception for a week, my entire outlook on the small village I had spent so much time pining to leave had changed. Suddenly, I felt the urge to go milk a cow and camp outside and watch the sunset in a remote village far away from everything else.
Thinking about that life makes me jealous of my family that got to grow up in the untouched beauty of Wrocen, and makes me eager to visit again.
I made a video of the beautiful sights around Wrocen, so watch it here: