Natalia Laverde-Bohórquez

Natalia Laverde-Bohórquez wears many hats. She is a talented conceptual photographer with a BS in Social Communication & Journalism as well as Master's degrees in both Organizational Communication and Social Anthropology. She is also an ANFT Certified Forest Therapy Guide, ANFT Certification Consultant, and Creator and Director of the Fundación El Bosque y la Niebla. Natalia is dedicated to researching and supporting socio-ecological processes of reconciliation in the (OEMC -UN) and the rehabilitation of La Ilusion nature preserve, where 45 hectares are protected and restored as one of the last pockets of humid Andean forest west of Bogotá.

Today, she takes time from her busy schedule to share the unique insights she has gathered from being involved in the certification process as not only a guide and consultant, but also the land manager. Balancing these loads is no easy feat but Natalia was gracious enough to explain how the process she developed allowed her to achieve success and bring her vision to fruition.

Tell us how you first got involved with certifying trails, spaces & places for ANFT?

I am an ANFT Certified Forest Therapy Guide. In one class, one of the instructors commented about trail certification. The nature preserve that we have, already had some trails but as we are always seeking  to improve the spaces to offer the best experience and the best access to conservation areas, it caught our attention not only to certify the preserve but also to offer that service, and contribute to the quality of the experience in Colombia and other countries. That’s why I got certified as a Certification Consultant.

Reserva Natural La Ilusión in El Rosal municipality, Colombia. Image courtesy of Natalia Laverde-Bohórquez.

Tell us about the project

Since 2007 my husband and I have been restoring an area of ​​45 hectares of cloud forest in Colombia, in the Andean region. We have seen how the forest and all its beings have responded positively to our actions and how the vestiges of ancient inhabitants have been left imprinted on the mountainous landscape. Originally, the property had a narrow road that the peasants used to go to the nearest town. Troops from the first civil war in Colombia in 1861 also passed through there, and of course we have also found Muisca indigenous elements left behind. When we arrived, that trail was still visible and was the only way to get to know the preserved cloud forest that was at the top of the mountain, a very steep trail covered with humid Andean jungle. Today it is still preserved but we do not use it much so as not to damage the vegetation. We needed a new path that would allow us to walk across the entire property from side to side.

The old pastures, desertified by potato monoculture and extensive livestock farming, adjacent to the most preserved forest, had the marks of the path that the cattle made to graze on those hills. To make less effort, the cattle climb the slope in a zigzag pattern, leaving the terrain very compacted in their path and without vegetation. We used part of those cattle paths to trace the “senda de reconciliacion”, which is the main two-kilometer trail that crosses the reserve (2008). We let the forest grow on the sides with spontaneous regeneration and seeding, so to build the new trail we did not have to cut down or deforest, it was the opposite: a process of reconversion of the forest around a path.

Not only is that path traveled by us or our guests, camera traps have shown how ocelots, sloths, rabbits, birds, and other animals such as porcupines use that path. They are also part of the history of the area and the preserve La Ilusión, and make their own paths that intersect with ours.

The trail was used for nature hikes but when we started guiding forest therapy walks, we realized that we needed to adapt a section to offer a better experience not only for the client but for the guide.

That's how it all started.

Trail map for Reconciliación Trail at Reserva Natural La Ilusión. Image courtesy of Natalia Laverde-Bohórquez.

What has surprised you most about the process?

What has surprised me the most is how a path can offer you a profound experience in just a few meters, and how small details in the place can be decisive in the quality of the experience. A trail can tell stories and be part of the history of a community, it is a encounter place between past and present.

What do you find most challenging about the process? Can you share what your experience was like being both the consultant and the land manager for this project?

In my case, being a Certification Consultant and owner of the property at the same time has required rigor and objectivity. Although I am clear that a Certification Consultant does not build the trails, I think the most challenging thing has been precisely playing with both roles.

My husband has been a key player in the certification process because although he has been in the entire cloud forest restoration process. He has not been directly involved in the construction of the trails, nor in the consulting, so he can give me his point of view, freely and with constructive criticism. I think that being an ANFT Certified Forest Therapy Guide and already having experience guiding on the trails of the preserve has made it easier for me to realize what type of elements are needed in certain areas. On each walk people live the paths in a different way and that is very enriching. Being a forest therapy guide -and an Anthropologist- allows me to translate what the walker experiences and how the spaces can be analyzed under the light of the “embodied space” concept, as Appadurai would say.

Rainbows over Reserva Natural La Ilusión. Photo courtesy of Natalia Laverde-Bohórquez.

Is there anything you learned during the process that would like to share with others interested in becoming an ANFT Certification Consultant?.

One of the things that I believe is important is that before starting the certification process for a given trail, you go as a consultant and undergo a guided forest therapy on site, that will give you a deeper perspective of the place. Connecting to or knowing the space, the place or the path from the heart is vital to understanding and respecting the nature and identity of the place.

Tea room interior at Reserva Natural La Ilusión. Photo courtesy of Natalia Laverde-Bohórquez.

What else can you tell me about your experience?

A trail is not only the physical space in which a guided forest therapy walk takes place, it is also a liminal and magical space in which people find answers and ask themselves deep questions with the help of the forest or the ecosystem in which they live. So, the consultant must think about the physical elements of the place that make these liminal states possible and somehow reconcile with the sacredness of the spaces to offer the best recommendations.

A teahouse in the trees at Reserva Natural La Ilusión. Photo courtesy of Natalia Laverde-Bohórquez.

Do you anticipate supporting and consulting with other land managers that are interested in pursuing certification?

Yeah. I believe that obtaining a certification of this type has to do with high quality standards. My greatest motivation is to help property owners who also do ecosystem conservation find the best ways to navigate their property and understand the ecosystem in which they live to solve the gap between humans and the more-than-human-world.

Mar 22, 2024
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