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Dialogue between Bruce Yerkovich and Aubin Arroyo

50 Minds for the Next 50. Sustainable Tourism, Sustainable Heritage

Bruce Yerkovich

Founder of the Linden Tree Retreat and Ranch and biophysicist

Aubin Arroyo

Mathematician and a researcher at the Institute of Mathematics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico

Vision for the Next 50

In the Next 50… Establishing sustainable communities is recognized as the first step for sustainable tourism. Tourism truly empowers local communities and protects their heritage and surrounding environment to enhance their livelihoods.

In the Next 50… Mathematics and culture serve each other and cooperate to create a new form of experience. Heritage is inspired by this interdisciplinary approach to moving towards sustainable tourism.


During the dialogue, Bruce Yerkovich and Aubin Arroyo introduced their innovative practices that create positive change in people towards sustainability. Bruce underlined that sustainable tourism can truly empower and enhance the lives of local communities. Believing that sustainable community comes first for sustainable tourism, he manages his ranch based on local knowledge and techniques to safeguard the environment. Aubin shared his own similar experience exploring the relationship between mathematics and art. He believes mathematics can broaden our understanding of culture, tradition and heritage. In turn, heritage helps us better appreciate ancestral knowledge and its legacy in mathematics and science. He thinks this intersectionality creates a new form of tourism through which people learn and experience.


Aubin, you come from Mexico, and I found its culture very inspirational when I was visiting. Indigenous cultures have a very innate understanding and knowledge of mathematics, astrophysics and astronomy. Were you inspired by this cultural heritage of yours?

I think the legacy of our culture, the ruins, the pyramids that we see, all of that has made me think about how wonderful science is, since I was very young. Because for many years now I have been wondering how the world works, how the stars move and how we can find our place in this reality in a way that is significant for development. And I've thought about how this has lasted over the centuries in pictures, in engravings, all the writings that we have from these cultures. All that has had a very profound influence on me.

I think mathematics is the greatest collective effort ever made by humankind, and what I'm trying to do is communicate mathematics to people. It's a bit like tourism. because we want people to visit it and see it with enthusiasm and wonderment.

Bruce, you have that intention, to transmit things to people so they can have an experience in a free, natural and sustainable environment. If you could tell us a bit about your project, how it came into being in this particular place in Croatia? To what extent do you think it contributes to protecting the environment? How do you use this natural space?

The work that you and I do has the same grounding point: we are both changing people from within. This is why I draw on this beautiful grounding, the UNESCO protected mountain, as a safe resting place. Whatever we do is designed simply to facilitate the transformation within: it’s called transformative travel.

The outcome of a visit to the ranch, and subsequently to the mountain and this UNESCO biosphere behind me, is that people who come leave changed. And when I personally travel, I'm always seeking out places like that, where you have permission from your surroundings – where you are not known – to change. And so I recreated that same paradigm of travel, meaning people have permission to change while they're here.

I know mathematics can be a struggle for most people. But I always said, because I took quite a bit of mathematics, when you stare long enough at these formulas, then the beauty starts revealing itself. Can you tell us if that's what pushed you to work with artists, so that it's more accessible to people? What is your experience of how people perceive mathematics, and of trying to promote the way it’s viewed through other forms?

Indeed, people tend to see mathematics as difficult and complex. It puts people off. Even though mathematics is part of our education, therefore part of our culture. Art as images can actually be used to show people this marvellous world of mathematics, and we create for them a meaningful experience, in the world that they consider arid or dry. It's a way of bringing them closer, to help them to understand.

It's almost as if they had an appointment in a beautiful place, and this exchange can also bring about a transformation in these people. For example, when you set up an image and then point out there's mathematics behind it, people ask you, but what's the formula? What’s behind the image? And sometimes you have to say to them, well, there isn't actually a formula. It's a process, it's about bringing the two worlds together.

The activities that you have in your ranch, how do they transform people? How does provoking a change in the environment contribute to a better future?

I use a lot of knowledge that I had in my previous life and career.

When we are setting up a backdrop or stage for information here, we are drawing on a lot of experience and knowledge. Both in a biochemical and economic sense, the first step is to allow for change – to give the client permission to change.

So you need first to create a safe environment, where there is no judgment. Second premise, you have to dismantle any blocking system a person may have. This is why the design of the ranch is a little bit eclectic and purposeful.

We are very careful in communicating our message to the clients. They know what they're getting and why they're coming here. Then you very gently guide them through this process. This is something you cannot rush. We use everything around us. The natural unspoiled environment helps the process, but also we’re very mindful of the food we serve. And at the end I can now flip this coin and say basically how this ties into the local community, because there's no sustainable tourism without a sustainable community.

Fifty per cent of the work we do here is focused on the community and it’s the community here that supports this project.

As you can imagine in the rural communities – this is probably the case around the world – people who stayed in rural communities stayed because they pretty much couldn't leave for one reason or other. And if you teach them how to put a higher value on their resources, they're going to start changing their perspectives about their life in the rural area and benefiting from it.

There was this famous violin builder from Cremona in Italy, and to build his violins he used only maple trees from Velebit Mountain, which is where the ranch is. And this art of selecting proper maple trees has been forgotten, but we were able to find a man who understands how to select trees to be used for the instruments. We did a local workshop and helped people learn these techniques again and today in our village, we have three families who are growing and selecting the trees at the right time of the year and selling them to instrument makers, instead of letting people crisscross the mountain looking for these proper maple trees and destroying the natural environment.

This is just one simple example of how sustainable tourism can truly empower local communities and their work to enhance sustainable communities.

Aubin, could you please explain your view on how the art you make is transforming people? How does it change people’s view when they're looking at the art?

I think this work changes people because it brings them closer to the mathematical universe, and it shows in a gentler, more appealing way that they might be drawn into this universe by their own curiosity. If everybody knew even a little bit of mathematics, it would change the way that we view things. It's not about memorizing formulas, but it's about learning how to question things, trying to understand how we can look for patterns in the world in which we live.

And it means that people can capitalize on the information that is at their disposal. In other words, the culture of mathematics can be within their reach.

It's about opening people's minds to mathematics, it's an invitation to see things differently. And that is exactly what our culture ancestors did. They left us all this mathematics in the form of pictures, carvings; they didn't leave us boring formulas, they left us something more – art.

Watch the dialogue

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Explore other sessions

Five dialogue sessions covering five themes take place in 2022, each joined by thinkers in paired dialogue from diverse regions. The interdisciplinary dialogues inspire new visions for the next 50 years of World Heritage.

Safeguarding Heritage against Climate Crisis
Imagining Heritage in the Digital Dimension
Heritage in the post-COVID World
Sustainable Tourism & Sustainable Heritage
Towards a Balanced Representation of World Heritage Sites