Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
Planet Drum’s plans to build a Bioregional Sustainability Institute (BSI) on property that was acquired for that purpose three years ago just took a great step toward. Jaeson Schultz, our land partner in the original purchase of sixty hectares of undeveloped land, is here for a few months and joined Clay and I on an exploratory visit accompanied by Mark Hebard and Steve Unger, the first time we have all seen the place together. Taking advantage of a night without rain when it would be possible to make an excursion without slogging through mud, we walked in over the entire road that has proven to be the best access route. This was another first since all previous trips have been by horse, burro or truck. The recently improved vehicle-wide dirt track we followed is at least two miles long and starts with a fairly steep uphill climb through young corn plants that made us grateful for a somewhat cool overcast morning.
It was necessary to crawl under a barbed wire fence to approach the BSI land’s northern border, which is a steep-banked estero (creek) that was puddled with rainwater from two days before. It was still relatively early in the rainy season so fast-growing vines had not yet clogged the paths and it was easy walking through the first potential building site where there is a stand of remarkably well-developed secondary growth with some century-old tall green-barked Ceibo trees. We agreed that it was such a beautiful representation of recovery from large-scale cutting perhaps fifty years ago that although on nearly flat land it should be preserved mainly intact. (I was already thinking of the Institute and what students could see and research.) There are less exemplary spots in equally close proximity to the entrance over the creek that is at the beginning of a slope leading to a ridge. They would be more appropriate for a large sleeping platform, outdoor kitchen, dormitory, and vegetable garden.
Next we slowly climbed to the top of the steep ridge. On the way I thought about those future students who may not be particularly fit and that we would need a switchback set of steps for them. There was increasing diversity of plants as we ascended, some I had never seen, and increasing size as well. It was exciting to realize that we might be entering a primary forest of old-growth vegetation. Near the top this hope became actualized as we passed fully mature Guayacan trees (increasingly rare because of their desirability as hardwood lumber), equally rare first-growth Balsamo, and an increasing range of plants. This would be a prime spot for a botanical research station to study interactions between Dry Tropical Forest species of plants and animals. An eagle flew away from a low branch near us as though to emphasize the point. It was also a natural location for a tank to store rainwater for gravity feeding to kitchen and sleeping areas below, and maybe for building personal residences.
After covering about a mile of the BSI property we began the long trek back. Every easy downhill stretch coming in was now a slow trudge up. It was the longest and most strenuous overall hike I’ve made at any time in the equatorial winter environment of intense heat or relentless rain, but the feeling of accomplishment that began while waiting at the side of the highway for a bus and later finally reaching city sidewalks and swagger-stepping from fatigue brought a sense of fulfillment that was supremely private and unduplicatable.
Planet Drum’s staff and volunteers have been carrying on clearing paths and weeds in the morning and also preparing for Eco-city Celebration Day during Carnaval. Mark handmade colored posters listing the events, Ramon with some volunteers and I separately collected donations for parade prizes. Clay wrote newspaper and radio announcements in between supervising us all. Because of the late start to organizing activities some volunteers have begun assisting neighborhood groups to make presentations when marching in the parade. Miguelito the Galapagos Turtle has been spared the indignity of riding on a cart to represent the barrio of San Roque in the Eco-city parade. Instead, a painted mock-up of him using recycled material is being created.
Other pre-Carnaval activities include a feria (fair) demonstrating ecological alternatives of various kinds, and the arrival of a Taiwanese magazine crew to interview eco-amigos and photograph different sites (they will tour Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas park and hear the teacher and students from our Bioregional Education classes). Excitement about Monday’s start of Carnaval is growing along with the increasing crowd that has already begun clogging streets leading to the riverfront Malecon.