Ecuador Project Report: Renée Portanova, Apr.–Dec. 2004

Renée Portanova, Volunteer 

April 17, 2004  

Sorry for the delay, we had some electricity problems yesterday in Bahia.

Just to clarify, do you think we should continue to plant the dry-tolerant species and transfer the others into larger sacks?  Is it possible to get burlap sacks rather than plastic bags…they are biodegradable and more organic than plastic?

Attached is a detailed report of our activies for this past week.  It hasn’t rained in over a month so we have been watering and mulching all the sites this week.

Revegetation Journal

April 12, 2004

The weekend prior to this week concluded the traveling and schooling of several of us in the household.  Now with the fluctuation of so many of us coming and going in the previous weeks and with the recent departure of Brian and Koke, there was much to be done.  The week began with a heavy loaded schedule of greenhouse maintenance and watering of our recently planted sites.  I have come to accept the fact that the rainy season is not late or in remission but simply over as we phase into the second of the two seasons here, summer.  Verano or summer in coastal Ecuador is the eight months of dry, cooler weather that follows the rainy season.  Although we are in the southern hemisphere and are experiencing cooler temperatures, it is still referred to as verano, whereas as the hot, humid, wet season is called invierno (winter). 

Bevan and her friend visiting for the day tended to the sprouts at the greenhouse, while Riitta and myself tackled the more strenuous task of watering Jorge Lomas Canal.  Just shy of a hundred plants residing on fairly level ground, one might assume the task to be much easier when compared to the challenges presented by our other sites situated on steep hillsides, containing hundreds of saplings. The obstacle to overcome with this site is not defined by the characteristics of its landscape nor the number of plants to be watered but more by its rural location.  It is situated about half a mile behind the nearest barrio, Jorge Lomas, with only two impoverished households residing just adjacent to the site.  We decided the best way to approach the job was to carry as much water in as our backs could withstand and ask for water from residents only if we ran out.  Every empty plastic container we could collect from the apartment was filled to the brim and stuff into our backpacks.  We headed out to the site earlier in the morning with the heavy loads suspended on our hips and shoulders, carrying gallon jugs in the grip of each hand.  After we gave each transplant a health dose of water, we used a particularly abundant plant with wide leaves and a celery-like stem to mulch each individual plant.  We did run out of water towards the end and asked both the families in they could spare a few gallons to nourish the plants.  They happily agreed and offered to assist us in the future.

After a late lunch, Bevan, Riitta and myself headed out to the Bosque in Maria Auxiliadora to water the plants there.  On our way out we ran into Cheo and another local man and they assisted us with our duties.  Watering the Bosque proved to be a much easier job.  When we got there several children from the neighborhood decided to participate and water was provided by a nearby resident.  With the community’s assistance we finished in little time.  Since our last visit to this site, someone had removed all the markers we use to find the plants.  We discovered the markers stacked in pile off one of the trails.  I also took notice that an immature Ceibo tree had been struck several times with a machete. This was even more upsetting then the frustration caused by our markers being removed.  It is my understanding that mischief and ill mannered behave has previously occurred in this park and apparently continues to do so.

April 13, 2004

Today we started a through cleaning of the entire house quite literally from top to bottom.  The bat feces and spider webs were beginning to overstep their bounds.  In times of significant transition I always feel the need to purge and so it seemed necessary at this time to completely clean and reorganize the entire apartment. 

In the latter part of the afternoon we watered and mulched Jorge Lomas hillside using the same method described previously. Again the community supplied us with water.  A juvenile armadillo was spotted snooping around our belongings at the base of the site.  Her presence is a good indication that wildlife is returning to these revegetated areas.   

April 14, 2004

We spent the morning at the greenhouse today.  Aside from the traditionally tasks of watering and weeding, we also began some minor repairs to the seedbeds and replenished them with soil.  Next week we will undertake some larger repair projects.

After a hearty lunch and quick siesta, we concentrated our efforts back at the house, finishing the cleaning we started the day prior.

April 15, 2004

Again, we were in the field watering and mulching on this day.  Although some of the transplants are struggling with the drought, most are doing quite well.  I feel that if we continue our efforts throughout the dry season the success rate will be high.

April 16, 2004

Riitta and Bevan went to the greenhouse this morning while I hung around town speaking with people regarding the Amigos de Ecocuidad meeting that afternoon. 

Despite my efforts the attendance at the meeting was low.  But we were productive.  We mainly brainstormed prospective future events and addressed current environmental concerns.  One idea was the possibility of having an “Environmental Awareness Week” starting May 31st and ending June 5th.   The idea is to visit local schools, elementary through university, providing environmental education for all.  We also debated doing another mangrove planting. 

Revegetation Journal

Monday April 26, 2004

The three of us cleared trails at the Universidad Catolica site.  The unexpected rain over this past weekend initiated a green growth spurt and the undesirable vegetation has been running wild amongst our transplants. 

The thorough work we had done previously at the site paid off.  We were able to maneuver through the site much easier than previously (if you remember last time it took two days to complete the work). All the plants we found are in good shape.

Tuesday April 27, 2004

In late morning Bevan and I gathered supplies to construct new seedbeds at the greenhouse.  We hired a local truck to haul four 9-meter long pounded bamboo “boards” to the greenhouse.  It was quite an advantage.

In the afternoon we planted at Jorge Lomas Canal.   Twenty-two plants in total; 12 Algarrobos and 10 Guachepelis were placed in a semi-wooded section about 30 meters from the canal.  There is better quality soil in this area (containing plant debris and donkey manure) and I’m confident that the drought-tolerant sapling will have a better chance of surviving here.

Wednesday April 28, 2004

To the greenhouse we ventured to replace seedbeds and construct an elevated platform for our bagged transplants.  The elevated platform was constructed with the intent to deter transplants from re-rooting themselves into the ground (which they often do by ripping through their temporary bag homes before we can get them to a permanent residence).

The construction was slow and we did not finish the tasks at hand.

Thursday April 29, 2004

Michael and I finished the seedbeds in the morning.  Once we got our technique down the work flowed more freely. We re-filled the beds with our special soil mixture (sand-clay and compost).

In the afternoon I began to respond to ten new volunteer applications.  Some of the candidates show real potential.  Our recent advertisement has attracted quite the international crowd (Ireland, London, Portugal, etc.) and a nice diversity of skill sets and experiences.  I am excited about working in the future with many of these volunteers.

In the early evening I had an informal meeting with a local ecologist that is working on revegetation projects in San Vincente (the town across the river from Bahia).  Amongst other things, we discussed the idea of starting a local seed bank.  Collectively, we would work to gather the seeds of local plants in the Dry Tropical Forest, learning how and when to collect, store and propagate these native species.

Friday April 30, 2004

Back to the greenhouse to straighten up the remainder on the mess we left after two days of construction.

In the afternoon we planted 19 additional plants at Jorge Lomas, all Guachepeli.  It rained again last night (although not too hard) and we took advantage of the opportunity by planting more trees.


May 11, 2004  

Hey Peter,

The fencing project is giving me a pain in my stomach.  We bought some barbed wire and tried, unsuccessfully, to put together a prototype this afternoon.  I have some doubts about the use of barbed wire in areas where there are children (Jorge Lomas Canal and Hill). Also it seems the soil is just too unstable to place the wood stakes in the ground at Jorge Lomas Hill.

Anyway I called Mike Morgan and he uses a mesh wire cone to surround a plant rather than a barbed triangle.  Have you actually every done this before in Bahia…Brian never made any mention of it. I definitely see the need for it…I want to make sure we do it as effectively and efficiently as possible. We are also consulting internet sites and some restoration books we have at the office.  I will keep you posted.  I hope to get fencing up at Jorge Lomas Canal by the end of the week.  I think this site is most vulnerable.  Mike also had some good advice about watering. He is going to send me a n article describing a technique he found useful.  He also invited me tocome to Guayaquil to meet with him.  

I’m confident that we will get the support of the community at both Jorge Lomas sites and the Universidad.  They are always receptive to our work.  I will make rounds with Bevan this week and explain to the residents the reason for the fencing, asking for their assistance in maintaining the sites.

I checked with Vladir at Genesis internet store and they do not have zip drives nordoes anyone else in Bahia…according to Vladir.   I would estimate that 20 discs are needed.  I have already gone through 7 discs in the four months I have been here.  They have a very short life span with the exposure to dust and susceptibility to viruses because of multi-computer use.

I submitted a paper on Bioregional Education to my academic adviser recently.  I could email it to you if you are interested.  I would love to get feedback from you.  I am really interested in development and implementation of such education and I look forward to reading your article.

I gathered the ingredients for the anti-termite solution.  I plan on applying it this weekend when everyone is out of the house.

The summary for the Amigos de Eco-ciudad meeting:  Basically they want to startmeeting every week from now until Ecuadorian Earth Week and the Municipio is going to invite everyone…the defensa civil, bomberos, presidents of all the barios and presidents of the marina… which we do every time and they never come. There was a lot of back and forth discussion and nothing definite about the week of medioambiente was determined.  So they agreed to set a specific agenda for the following meeting and no more. Just to clarify…Do you want PD to stop attending the now weekly meetings?  Shall I just inform the Muncipio that we will be available to give tours of our sites on that week?

I have to get back to Nicola on the compost course…I still don’t know when, where or for how long it will be.




May 29, 2004

Hey Peter,
I’m feeling much better!

Here is the week in review for May 24th thru the 29th.

Monday we started the barbed wire fencing at Jorge Lomas Canal.  We accomplished an amazing amount in one day, thanks to the help of two very enthusiastic sojourners from the USA.  Wes and Zan had been staying in Bahía since the previous Thursday. (I had met them in Canoa previously.)  They were passing through on their way south and offered to help out while in town.  In Bevan’s absence I embraced this serendipitous event and put them to work. They volunteered a couple days in the field and helped out around the house on the weekend.  Besides the manual labor they also offered music making and good conversation. I thank them both for their hard work and companionship.

Tuesday I was sick and slept the entire day.  Bevan took care of me.  I’m quite the invalid when I’m not feeling well.

There have been several cases of dengue in Bahía recently (including Laurita, Tanya’s daughter).  I had been running a fever off and on since Monday and therefore decided to take a trip to the emergency room of the hospital and get checked out by a doctor.  Fortunately, my blood test results were negative for dengue and by Tuesday evening I was feeling much better.

Wednesday morning consisted of running errands and preparation for our trip to Guayaquil that afternoon.  Not much more to say.

We arrived at Cerro Blanco in the late evening where a volunteer greeted us. Mike Morgan had arranged housing for us in a guesthouse.

Thursday we started early and got the grand tour.  Mike and his staff accompanied us through each of their projects.  Throughout the day we swapped information and restoration tips.  Mike is extremely knowledgeable and took time to answer all my questions.  He showed us all the methods they are implementing for irrigation at site, erosion control techniques using native plants, and the fencing he uses to deter animals from eating his plants.  As I mentioned in a previous email, they use a cylinder heavy mesh to surround individual plants, which I feel is more feasible for certain sites.

I know Mike takes the time to read my reports…Again I would like to extend 

my gratitude to Eric, Mike and all the volunteers at Cerro Blanco for their hospitality and support.  I feel it is crucial in our line of work to keep communication flowing and create a strong network of ecologists in which to exchange information and seeds!

Friday we headed back to Jorge Lomas Canal to finish the barbed wire fence. Two interesting things occurred this morning.  When we arrived at the site there was a burro tethered to our recently constructed fence.  The burro had actually slipped through the fence (it still needed another two rows of wire to be complete) and knocked a couple of the poles loose.  The good news is that it did not eat any of our plants!  I untied the burro and walked him to another area outside of the site.

Following this episode, shortly after we finished the fence, we were approached by a man who claimed to live in the area and said that we were on his friend’s property without permission.  He was very vague.  He won’t say where his friend lives or his name.  We explained to him several times that we had spoken to all the nearby residents both before we started planting in the area and before we started constructing the fence.  He wasn’t very responsive or threatening, he just stood there staring at us.  So we finished what we were doing and left.

Here is what perplexes me.  I was under the impression that we were on public property and that we were asked by the municipality to plant at this location.  From Brian’s instructions I gathered that we need to make a contract only when we restore private property such as the dairy farm.  That afternoon we went to see the architect that is working on the construction of the canal who had instructed us (Brian and myself) as to were it would be safe to plant.  He corrected my misunderstanding and stated that the land was indeed private and that if the owner did not want us there we would have to stop working there!  I do not understand why Brian did not formulate a contract with the landowners BEFORE we started planting on this site.  What is the proper procedure?

After the architect we went to the hardware store to pick up supplies.  The fencing material that I had hoped to use to construct the individual plant cages cost over 50 dollars for thirty meters!  I’m at a loss.  This means is would cost nearly 2$ to protect each plant!

Although it was a frustrating day I managed to end it on a more positive note. I fixed two leaky faucets and cleaned out the bathroom sink drain.  I’m happy to report that we are no longer contributing to frivolous water waste via inefficient plumbing! And that one can now brush teeth without the bathroom sink overflowing.

I spent the remainder of Friday writing back to potential volunteers.  We have over twenty people that are currently applying!  This carried over into Saturday as I took my time to organize all the correspondence and computer files. Saturday we also cleaned the apartment and applied the anti-termite solution.  I’m sorry to say that it only left an awful smell which the termites don’t seem to mind.

I will send the latest volunteer schedule before you leave should there be any additions.  What time should we expect you on the 7th?  I generally make the work schedule for the week on Mondays.  Should I leave Wednesday completely free for us to meet?

Bevan and I have to go to Manta on Monday to have our passports renewed.



July 17, 2004

We have progressed tremendously with the implementation of the bamboo watering system, which involves several steps: collecting bamboo, getting it cut, de-corking the pipes, painting them and finally placing them in the ground.  The entire project has cost us nearly nothing to implement ($6). We collect the scrap bamboo from local construction sites and them transport it to the lumber yard.  There it gets cut into the correct size pieces (20 inches or so), one end cut straight across and the other end cut on an angle. The diagonal cut enables the pipe to go in the ground easier and directs water closer to the roots of the plant.  After the lumber yard we lug the bamboo pipes back home for the next step.  The inner cork of the bamboo is removed and all the pipes are painted allowing easier recognition in the field. Currently we have placed over 150 pipes in the ground.  The Jorge Lomas Casas site is completed and I expect to complete two other sites this coming week. The new system made watering this week much more efficient.

We have also accomplished a good amount at the greenhouse.  We are taking inventory, which constitutes organizing the trees by species and size. Throughout the process, we have been transplanting some seedlings into larger containers (two-liter plastic soda bottles). Nearly all sixty plants have been  transplanted to date. The Fernan Sanchez we transplanted a few weeks ago look wonderful.  They have adapted to the new homes well.

Planet Drum house attended a community meeting on  Wednesday night. After the meeting we invited everyone upstairs to see our living space. They were so excited to come inside and have coffee and tea with us.  Many children joined us as well.  Some of the little boys played on the computer while others with some arts and crafts.  Two boys wrote on our whiteboard, “La mayoria de la genta estaba con ustedes.” which translates into, “The majority of the people are with you.” How amazing is that?!

I have made a new contact with a family that lives in Jorge Lomas just across from our hillside site. The man of the house has provided water for us and his helping hands the last several time that we have been there.  I discussed with him the idea of us purchasing water and  storing it somewhere near the two sites for future use.  He agreed that this would be a good idea and is willing to allow us to store it at his home. 

Christina and Celena are doing great.  They are both hard working, proactive, creative individuals who have  taken sincere interest in our projects.  Christina is considering pushing back school this fall until the spring and continuing on here!   Celena is enjoying herself as well.  They both have taken it upon themselves to make some improvements around the house. 

I set up a meeting with Marcelo and Juan Carlo to discuss the seed bank project. We are holding it at the office on Tuesday.  In preparation for the meeting I asked everyone to do some initial research. I am spending the week-end going through all the information I have to see what is useful.

I wrote the advertisement (click to see it.)  for recruiting a volunteer to implement the bioregional education program.  I will post it once I edit it.

Every day seems the same in regards to weather, cloudy and cool in the morning with the sun coming out in the mid-afternoon. It did rain a few times over the past two weeks, although not nearly enough to combat the parched earth.



July 22, 2004

The week has been extremely full and lively thus far.

In regard to finding new sites:  I will connect Miguel this weekend.  He seems like a good lead and I’m excited at the prospect of planting in the El Torro basin.  Perhaps our presence there will encourage Pedro and his brothers to commit as well.

We have the ridge walk from La Cruz to Leonidas Plaza scheduled for this afternoon with Marcelo and his volunteer Ben.  The intension is both to scout for potential sites and to gain further insight into seed collection.  (We had an amazing meeting on Tuesday for Project Seed Bank and decided this ridge walk and a trip to Cerro Seco would be a good place to start researching and collecting information about the different species.)  

The Fernan Sanchez, as well as a few other plants, will go into the ground once we have completed the installation of the bamboo pipes.  They are doing well although they are still going through their “shock” from the transplant. I don’t want to move to quickly.  I feel they should be thoroughly recuperated before we put them in the ground.

With respect to placing water containers on site in Jorge Lomas:  I can identify pros and cons for both options: cistern vs. barrels.  If we actually place barrels on the sites we have little control over them being stolen or vandalized, however it would be more convenient. Also, if I wanted to have a truck deliver a large amount of water periodically I’m not sure how accessible the sites would be for the water truck. If we went the cistern route, it would be more likely that our water supply would not be tampered with yet we would not have free access to it (being that it is in this man’s, Coco’s, cistern and we would only have access when someone is home).  Coco resides in a gated house.  We could easily overcome this by arranging a schedule with him so he would know when to expect us.  I feel like the latter is the more sensible option.

New volunteer news.  Celena is from Toronto, Canada.  She is a nursing student that recognizes the relationship between ecological health and human health.  She has some hands-on experience with horticulture and extensive experience with community living.  Her friend, Natasha, volunteered for us last summer. She will be here until mid-August.

The newest volunteer is a woman by the name of Christina Rivera. She is from the Pacific Northwest until September initially.  She will be traveling in Ecuador for the next nine months and if everything goes well, she will volunteer for us on and off throughout that period of time.

The Kiwi (Jackson) we were expecting to arrive this week got delayed. Christina Knott and I will meet him in Quito next week at the Forum.  While we are there Celena and Christina Rivera (who also goes by the name Sol and this is how I will refer to her from now on) will maintain the watering schedule, transplant and various other tasks.  They will also attend the International Mangrove Liberation day festivities that will take place in Bahía on the 26th.  I have already asked them to write an essay on this for the website.

I have a few more comments from folks regarding the website.  One suggestion has been to add pictures from Bahía to the website.  Sol has a digital camera had has offered to send pictures to the web person.  Another suggestion is to create an alternative web page specifically for our work here. We thought it could also be used to post seed and native species information in English and Spanish. One of our goals for Project Seed Bank is to have the information easily accessible to others.

En paz,


July 23, 2004 

We finished another site with the bamboo pipes and the last two are near completion.  We also transplanted another forty plants.  We have been  collecting our plastic bottles (which we use as containers for plants) from the beach.

We went on the ridge walk from La Cruz to Leonidas Plaza yesterday.  Astounding!  We all enjoyed it immensely. With Marcelo as our guide, I was able to gain some interesting information.  I will walk it again soon to further explore future sites.

Speaking of Marcelo, we had an excellent meeting on Tuesday regarding Project Seed Bank.  We identified twenty-five species to begin researching. We also identified our objectives for the project and constructed a list of questions which we want to answer for each species.  (Click here for Project Seed Bank information)  

I stopped by the Mayor’s wife Michelle’s office to follow up on the conversation we had last week.  She wasn’t in however.  I left a note that I would stop in again when I return from Quito. Christina and I are leaving for the Social Forum tomorrow night.  We will be back the following Saturday.  I’m leaving a detailed work schedule for Sol and Celena.  I’m confident everything will go well.  While in Quito I will be checking email regularly, keeping up with volunteer correspondence.

We ended the week with a hike through Cerro Seco, again with Marcelo and his volunteer Ben.  Marcelo identified two or three species of trees where we can begin collecting seeds.  The Ciebo tree is one of these.  Marcelo and Ben have been extremely supportive and generous in sharing their knowledge with the Planet Drum crew.  I appreciate and respect their dedication to La Pacha Mama (Mother Earth).

Project Seed Bank

Objectives for Project

  • Trade seeds in order to increase the biodiversity of each Dry Tropical forest species as listed below
  • Increase partnership between ecologist in Ecuador
  • Create a comprehensive reference manual in English and Spanish
  • Create a website to increase awareness and trading seeds


For each Dry Tropical Forest species know the following:

  • How to store seeds
  • What time of year seeds fall, when to collect the seeds, and when to plant the seeds?
  • How does the species fit into the ecology of the ecosystem; what species depend on it, what benefits does it have to the ecosystem?
  • What type of root system does it have?
  • What is its growth rate?
  • What soil does it prefer?
  • Is it shade or light tolerant?
  • Terrain preference
  • Life cycle; when it seeds, male, female, or hermaphroditic
  • Type of Species; Latin and common names, category of species
  • Rate of succession 
  • Range 

Dry Tropical Species

  • Algarrobos
  • Amarillo, Centrolobium paraense
  • Balsa,
  • Balsamo, Myroxylon balsamum
  • Colarado
  • Caoba, Swietenia macrophylla
  • Caoba del Carmen, Platymiscium pinnatum
  • Cascol
  • Cedro, Cedrela oderata
  • Chirimolla
  • Ebano
  • Fernan Sanchez, Triplaris guayaquilensis
  • Flor-del-Niño 
  • Frutillo
  • Guachapeli, Albizia guachapele
  • Guasmo 
  • Guayacan, Tabebuia chrysantha
  • Hobo
  • Jabon Cillo
  • Laurel, Cordia alliadora
  • Madera Negra, Tahebuia ecuadorensis
  • Moral Fino, Chlorophora tinctoria
  • Moyuyo
  • Pechiche
  • Zapote De Perro

August 13, 2004

Due to the volume of volunteers we had this week, we generally broke up into two groups each day.

At the greenhouse:  More plants were transplanted into larger containers.  The past transplants are at various stages of ugliness while in  recovery.  The fencing around the compost pit was fixed, replacing some poles and tightening the mesh.  We arranged for the university students to water the greenhouse daily.  We have befriended this group of young men and women who have taken a real interest in the work we are doing.  They often ask us questions and how they can get involved.

At Jorge Lomas Casas:  We fixed old cribbing bars and added additional ones to desperate areas.  We also covered bare hillsides with sticks and other plant debris to help stabilize the soil and deter people and animals from using these vulnerable spots.  All the plants were watered and are doing well.  We had a couple of plants that looked a little gnawed on, however it is hard to say what the pest may be at this time. We obtained a signed contract from a homeowner who has agreed to our complete use of her cistern.  A water truck filled the cistern for $13 (the water itself is free, however the cost is for the service). It is located just across the street from our site.  We are the only ones that have access to the pad-lock.

At Jorge Lomas Canal: We have left two detailed messages for the landowner out there.  I’m hoping that he will stop by this weekend, as we requested in our last phone message.  The site itself looks good.  We watered here as well. We also repaired some of the fencing in this area.  I’m thinking we need to go back and reset some of the poles and add an additional string of barbed wire.

At the Bosque: The site was watered and we arranged a “park clean-up” (minga) with the community, which will take place on Sunday.  We intend to remove trash and replace railings and broken steps. In two weeks we are giving a tour of the park to a group of students from the Genesis school so the timing seems appropriate.  We will teach the students about bioregionalism and guide them through the park.  Both these projects will be a great way to recruit participants for the Bio. Ed. Program.

New Sites: We surveyed the Mot Mot site this week.  After a run in with some angry bees (I received six stings in my right hand) we found a place to plant next wet season.  It is a plateau located on the right side of the canal about five minutes from the trail end.  It is about 30 meters in width and 80 meters in length.  Currently it holds a variety of grass and some chirimoya trees.  Behind it is a hillside that we can plant as well, probably an additional 50 meters.  The hillside is full with frutilla trees. We will actually have to cut back some of them to plant different species on the hillside.

Ing. Miguel from Guayaquil was contacted this week.  He stated that we should locate a woman that works in Bahía to discuss planting on his property.  This woman lives on a farm that is part on his property.  We haven’t found her yet, all we have are two street names and a description of the storefront where she works.  I will try to reach her this weekend.

Seed Bank: More information got translated and pulled into the spreadsheet.  We also made contact with a professor at the Universidad Catolica that has been emailing us information on native tree species.

Renewable Energy: I spoke with Vladir this week and his opinion was to hold out on making any further advancement until we got funding.  He mentioned speaking with some friends, however they were a little skeptical about the need for passive solar hot water.

Well the week was full as always.  We didn’t get to some things I had intended, for example I was hoping to plant seeds this week.  It was in the original schedule however things got a little behind on Tuesday when I had to dedicate an entire morning to being at the bank.  The bank upgraded their system and I needed to get my account updated, which constituted giving them photocopies of my passport and standing on line for three hours.  Besides the long wait the experience was harmless although I’m not sure your signature is still valid because I couldn’t produce a copy of your passport.

Some of the vols. made it to the soy cooperative, Los Caras, this week.  We are enjoying a tasty array of soy products that we have delivered to the door.  It saddens me to know that I have been here for seven months and only now am I indulging in the best tasting carne de soya (soy meat) ever.


August 24,2004

In the field: 
Everything got watered both this week and last. We also managed to mulch all the sites over the past two weeks. We used a combination of plantain stalks and cornhusks as mulch. Once the material is collected from the food market (we secured a sympathetic source for the plantain stalks and cornhusks), we have to break it up into manageable pieces. The mulch mixture is then taken to the sites and strategically placed at the base of each individual plant.

At the greenhouse: 
Another 25 plants were transferred into larger containers. All previous transfers are doing well. The soil beds have been turned and a mixture of compost and soil were added. We also have begun planting seeds for the  fast approaching rainy season, four-dozen Colorado tree seeds so far.

Regarding the Jorge Lomas Canal site: 
Pablo, the landowner, came to the office on Wednesday morning. He  explained to us that this was indeed his property and talked of his plan to sell the land to be made into lots for housing. We accompanied him to the municipality to discuss the situation with the architect, Vicente Leon, who  originally asked us consider this location for revegetation. After an hour of consulting maps and deliberating we came to no solutions to our problem. Vicente invited us to the Canal on the following day to reiterate what we discussed in the office. We agreed and on Thursday spent the morning walking the partially constructed canal. Vicente said that all the property on both sides of the canal is privately owned with the exception of a six meter (in width) area that runs parallel to the canal on the west side. Four of  these six meters is designated to become a road. The canal’s ending point is just after the first site (the one to the left of the road when you walk in). The plot in the upper-most section on the canal is unaffected by both the canal’s construction and aforementioned property being sold. It seems at this point that we will inevitably lose the lower site either via the construction of the road or after the property has exchanged hands. The silver lining to this dark cloud is that both Vicente (the architect) and Pablo (the landowner) recognize the need for a forested buffer zone between the canal and the barrio. (According to Vicente, there is going to be a lot of development on the west side of the canal.)  They both insist Planet Drum submit a proposal to extend the width of the area that is designated for the road, allowing a space for revegetation. The proposal would be discussed between three parties: Planet Drum, the municipality, and CorpeEcuador (the company that is constructing the canal). It is estimated that it will cost ten thousand dollars to buy the land for a buffer zone. (Vicente did the calculations for the estimate.)  He is also willing to assist in writing the proposal and providing maps and diagrams to illustrate our point. 

I do not want to harp on this misunderstanding and yet I must say I’m a little put off by this whole situation. Why wasn’t a contract implemented by Brian and the municipality from the get go?  Is it because we (Brian and myself) believed this to be public land?  In a recent email Brian sent he confirmed that he too was under the impression that this was indeed public land. What is the exact procedure for securing new sites (contracts, verbal agreements, etc.)?  Is there one?  If not I could come up with a proper procedure.

In Bahía: 
The electric power has failed at least a dozen times this past week and the taxi drivers and buses went on strike again. Political rallies are growing with intensity daily, causing much unwelcome street noise late at night. We are without water for a day or so because apparently Emelia did not pay some bill. This occurred Tuesday while I was in Guayaquil. Emelia came to the door asking for money to pay a $230 water bill. She spoke with Sol since I wasn’t around. Sol was reluctant to give her anything in my absence. Emelia supposedly went to the mayor’s office and got the bill knocked down to 100 bucks. Sol waited for her to collect from all her other renters first then gave her the last twenty dollars. The water got turned back on in the afternoon on Wednesday. I spoke with Emelia regarding this matter and the twenty is being subtracted from our rent.  

A man named Jose came by and spoke with Sol regarding some land he wants to preserve. He has 60 hectares of land containing primal forest. The forest spills into his neighbors homestead (another 20 hectares). Apparently his neighbor is thinking of clear-cutting it. Jose is opposed to the idea and came to us for advice on how to preserve it. He has no intentions of deforesting his land and put a lot of emphasis on bringing consciousness to the community. He has requested that we survey the forest and identify some of the old growth tree species. He inquired if he could obtain some kind of “official document” (by a foundation) stating how valuable the primary forest is (due to its native full grown species that he’s never seen anywhere else). He would use this document as evidence in his “argument” to make sure the other half, owned by his neighbor, is not sold and cut. We have his contact information and he stated he would check back with us in a month. It is unclear as to where the property is exactly.

Belqica, the wife of Jorge Lomas barrio’s president, dropped by yesterday. As it turns out she is finishing her thesis and came by to get the correct spellings of our names and titles to include in her acknowledgements. She also invited us to see her project in Jorge Lomas, which we are planning to do next week.

At home…volunteer update:

Celena left on Tuesday as I mentioned to you before. Christina is leaving this evening. Sol got her tourist visa straightened out so she is undoubtedly staying throughout October. Jackson is feeling better. I had not mentioned this before but he has epilepsy. He has to medicate himself heavily on a daily basis to avoid having a fit. His meds had some ill side effects, including rolling vision and drowsiness when he combined them with other medication for stomach problems. I admire his dedication to living his life to the fullest with this disability. We have, unfortunately, experienced Jackson have two epileptic fits, which consist of a short period of unresponsiveness followed by a longer period of short-term memory loss. We are all comfortable enough with this situation and responding to his needs when he has a fit. He has been traveling and volunteering in South America for well over a year.

Materials You Sent:

The Discovering Your Life-Place workbook mapping exercises are completely appropriate for the Bioregional Education Program. They are very creative and I am thinking the volunteers and myself will do the activities ourselves one afternoon. Thanks for copy of Earth Island Journal and the Mattole Restoration Newsletter. I look forward to curling up on the couch with them.

New Sites:

We have not yet followed up with the landowner from Guayaquil. I will do so this week. Also I had a chance to survey Fernando’s property on Thursday. It falls on the east side of the canal. We found an area ideal for planting if you are interested in this location.

Final thoughts: 
These past couple of weeks seemed to have lasted forever. Once again life in Bahía has been transformed. The plethora of volunteers, at the Planet Drum house and in the town in general, have come and gone as the summer approaches its end. I can’t get used to the intense experiences I share with all these people that inevitably slip away. The bright smiles of Christina and Celena will truly be missed.


September 3, 2004 

This week’s accomplishments include the usual dry season tasks, watering all the sites and transplanting saplings into larger containers, as well as some extra activities.

The greenhouse underwent a little maintenance. Some of the green covering had come loose and needed to be reattached to the frame. It was just general wear and tear that’s to be expected. I assure you that no vandalism has taken place. We planted nearly 200 Fernan Sanchez seeds this week as well. We are keeping a record of which seeds get planted, the date they are planted, and the number of seeds. I think it is useful to see how many of the seeds actually sprout and how long it takes, specific to each species. The information gathered from our record keeping will be added to The Project Seed Bank spreadsheet.

The sites are thriving. Most of the plants are growing with this new watering technique, not just maintaining. The Colorados especially have taken off. Most of the new growth is foliage. The plants are remaining the same height, however they are fuller with leaves. Insects have not been a problem thus far. I suspect that some grazing animals are still getting at our plants near the canal (in the areas enclosed with barbed wire fences.)  Fortunately, only the leaves are being nibbled; the plants themselves are still rooted and begin regenerating leaves within a few days. We will add additional wire to the posts and an extension to each end.

Getting on to the most exciting news, the Ciebo trees have began to shed their seeds. They form hundreds of giant cotton-like bulbs that eventually explode dispersing little round, black seeds and a white fluff everywhere. The phenomenon causes the surroundings to resemble the front yard of some suburban home ambitiously decorated for Halloween. Being the opportunists that we are, we collected Ciebo seeds twice this week, from two different locations, and plan to germinate them next week at the greenhouse. It amazes me to see the Ciebo trees go through their sensationally overt seasonal characteristics and we are all thrilled to partake in the seed collection process.

Also this week, we had the chance to disseminate some of our knowledge and love for the environment to the children of Bahía. We met with an ecology group from Vladir’s private Genesis School and gave them a tour of the Bosque “Wild Park”. We started by explaining the process and need for revegetation, using a poster and examples at the location as visual aids. Preceding the lecture, we walked through the Bosque and discussed the characteristics of various species. Each child (16 in total) received a worksheet that highlighted them. The worksheet also had a space for the students to draw their observations. Following the walk, each student was given a pot and some soil in which they each planted their own seeds. We left the students with proper instructions on how to care for their new “class pets”. We promised to follow up in a few months, at which time the seedlings will be big enough to move to a permanent space. It was a really enthusiastic group and our lesson plan worked well. 

I don’t think we need to put out any further appeals for volunteers right now. We are still receiving new inquiries from the ads I posted months ago, besides we have a full house scheduled until February with some crowded overlaps to cover us if people have a change of heart.  

There has been no real progress to report regarding the canal problem I discussed in my last report. We still haven’t sorted it all out or figured out how to proceed. The Fernando site I referred to previously is located on the east side of the canal (on the opposing side to where we have already planted). There is a great spot and I see it as a separate site and not an addition to what we have already started (which is likely to be destroyed soon). I also like that the property is privately owned and uninhabited. 


September 17, 2004  

The weather has returned to its dry, cloudy self and we have continued on 
our path of watering, repair and maintenance.We did finally got in touch 
with the landowner from Guayaquil (Miguel) and sent him a note asking to meet in person and a copy of the contract we have, written from the muncipality, that describes our services.  I hope to meet in person next week and see the property.

I heard from Ryan this week and he has received the book. Due to family obligations he had to postpone his trip till November.

I’ve been spending some afternoons organizing myself for this fast approaching new bioregional education program. I’m hoping the “newness” will help to freshen up my weekly reports.  They are becoming a little…repetitive. 

September 26, 2004  

This week we mainly stuck to the basics: watering, sowing seeds and maintenance.  Due to extenuating circumstances (expired visas needing renewal, illness, etc.), we were only two in the field for the majority of the week.  This lessened the opportunity for me to meet with folks regarding recruitment for the Bioregional Education Program. 

All the seedbeds at the greenhouse are sown.  We planted 120 Amarillo seeds and 100 Zapote de Perros this week.  These are both fabulous species that we have not grown in the past.  The Amarillo tree (Centrolobium parahense) thrives in well-drained soil and it is resistant to termites.  Zapote de Perro (Capparis scabrida) is a sunlight tolerant tree that does extremely well in droughts and protects the soil. 

The Amarillo seeds have to be watered for seven consecutive days in order for them to sprout.  I have volunteered to water them throughout the weekend.  To date none of the other seeds have sprouted yet.  We are all anxious to see green poking through the soil. Soon enough I hope.

I have some disappointing news.  A donkey managed to get into the upper site at the canal in Jorge Lomas.  Five plants were totally ripped out of the ground and others were nibbled.  The donkey was able to access the area because a section of the fence had collapsed.  It is unknown as to what caused the fence post to collapse in the first place. I doubt it was foul play and most likely just normal wear and tear; regardless we fixed the post temporarily.  Our priority for Monday is to fix it more permanently. 

Ryan’s delay was indeed unexpected and disappointing.  He has agreed to being volunteering at home in New York, mainly working to fill in the gaps of missing information on our Project Seed Bank spreadsheet. The reference book you sent him should come in handy for this activity. 

One last thing.  We would like to put together an online Photo Gallery for our projects.  We think this could be an invaluable asset for prospective volunteers and donors.  We would include photos of tree species, us working, us recreating and so on.  We figure it would only cost $30 a year to maintain the site and enough volunteers come through with digital cameras to keep it updated regularly.

October 1, 2004 

The week started off great.  We repaired the fence at Jorge Lomas.  Upon closer examination it seemed the pole snapped at the base. We replaced the pole and tightened the barbed wire.  We also added fallen vegetation around the end points to act as a further deterrent.  It is more secure now than it was originally. The plants that were nibbled are already recovering.

We spent the day at the greenhouse watering, weeding and transplanting.  To our extreme excitement a few seeds have started to sprout.  The site was watered as well.  The saplings here are thriving; leaf buds are emerging into thick foliage. There are few plants that have not shown improvement over the last few months with this new watering system.  We are continuously transplanting saplings from the small black plastic bags into larger plastic soda bottles.  These saplings are adjusting to their new environment with success.  The larger, heavier containers will be more difficult to transport to sites in the rainy season however they allow the saplings to form more extensive root systems and achieve greater height and durability.

To Jorge Lomas hill we went with our watering containers in hand.  Sol and I proceeded up the hill to the upper portion to attend to the arbolitos (saplings) planted there.  Jack remained on the lower hill and began watering.  The lower portion of the hill is the section that is most unstable, where we have placed and replaced numerous cribbing bars.  As he was watering a particularly vulnerable spot, the earth below gave way.  He slid down a ten-foot span and tore the ligaments in his left knee.  When we returned we found him hunched over his injured leg in agonizing pain.  We immediately gave him some painkillers, finished watering the site and headed off to the hospital were we spent the remainder of the morning.

The doctors at the hospital confirmed, with x-rays, that the knee was not broken, just badly sprained. We were sent home with a list of instructions and a prescription for stronger painkillers.  The doctors suggested that the injury should heal itself in five days or so.

Once we returned to the apartment Jack was put to bed and Sol and I headed out to water the Bosque.  As we climbed the stairs leading into the park we encountered a man heading out of the forest with a machete and several fallen trees.  When he saw us he immediately diverted his trek and headed in an opposing direction.  We called after him to wait, informing him that it was prohibited for anyone to cut down trees in this area.  He ignored our pleas and continued to hurry along.  Deciding not to chase after him we continued into the Bosque and completed the task we had set out to do.

On our way out another local man that had witnessed the incident approached us.  He expressed his concern over the occurrence, stating that the community is upset with the vandalism (the cutting and burning of trees, garbage, etc.) that has been taking place.  I had not noticed trees being cut or anything being burned in months. We explained to the man that we could only support the community if they themselves took action.  He agreed and promised to meet with the barrio president to hold a community meeting.  (I have heard this before I thought to myself.) As it turns out, he did indeed talk to the president and other community members. They stopped by the Planet Drum office the next day to inform us that they would be holding a meeting the following week and that our presence is requested.  The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday night.  We agreed to attend, reiterating that it is the community’s responsibility to safeguard their natural spaces and we would contribute to their efforts in an appropriate manner.

We began the day setting Jack up with the Project Seed Bank spreadsheet to continue translating information and plugging it in the computer.  Because of his immobility, it seems he will have to participate in only administrative tasks for some time.  Sol and I headed into the field to water the last site.  We also paid a visit to Ivan at the Department of Hygiene to see about getting compost delivered to the greenhouse in the near future.  Our supply is dwindling quickly and I want to secure a good amount before we need to start transplanting the seedlings. Ivan was unavailable however his secretary claimed I could get a hold of him this weekend.

With Jack in front of the computer again Christina and I went to the greenhouse.  While watering, weeding and transplanting, we became distracted by Shasta the dog’s excessive barking at what appeared to be nothing. Upon further inspection, we discovered an entire HERD of COWS in our site. Completely livid we ran up the hill and began herding them back home.  The terrified cows, being chased by to crazy gringas and a pint sized dog, reluctantly retrieved. The little boy looking over them was watching us from a safe distance on the edge of his property.  Once the cows were back in their pen, we gave a stern talk to the boy and his mother (who made her way over at this point).  I led then up the hill and pointed out where the cows had chewed our plants (thankfully they choose the much larger, resistant plants rather than the smaller plants placed this past year). 

October 15, 2004  

We had a great week to be ended by an even better weekend.  The Planet Drum house is heading to the beach for some recreating. I imagine that you are heading back home, finishing up your travels, as we depart for our weekend adventure.  It will be nice to have you back in the home office again.

Our spurt of growth at the greenhouse seems to be in a recession.  No new seedlings have emerged this week, which concerns me a little.  One bed has not had any growth at all, not even weeds! We added some more compost and a thin layer of mulch to help retain some more moisture in the soil.  A pleasant French man, volunteered with us for a day. As it turns out he is handy with a hammer and fixed the two small beds outside the greenhouse, which allowed us to sow more seeds. We planted another new species Jabon Cillo (new in the sense that we haven’t planted it before).  This tree is best known for its little, round black seeds that are commonly used for jewelry by local artisans.  It has a great deal of ecological importance as well, providing food for local birds and mammals.

The compost pit received some extra attention.  Our pit was suffering from too much green material and not enough brown, which resulted in a foul odor and maggots!  The pit had not been able to sustain the amount of fruit and veggie scraps added twice weekly by a house full of vegetarians, plus what the University contributes.  With a plethora of greens and an absence of browns the pit was not able to achieve its optimum heat levels, therefore allowing fly and other insect eggs thrive.  We mixed into the pile a combination of leaf detritus and newspaper that had previously been soaked in water.  By soaking the material first the browns absorb a good deal of water and then slowly leach it out, adding much needed moisture to the compost. We plan to add browns with more frequency.

All the sites were watered as usually.  We finished mulching the areas we couldn’t get to last week.  The saplings are sustaining.  There haven’t been any recent invasions by herbivorous neighbors.

Aside from our plants everything is so brown and dry it is frightening. What an amazing wonder nature is for there it be an ecosystem such as this that survives for so long without water.  It astonishes me to have seen tiny green buds forming on adult trees (appearing for the first time this week) this far into the dry season.  Perhaps the trees know something we don’t know, maybe the rains are coming soon.  The word around town is that this year is going to be a real wet one!  Not necessarily an El Nino but close.

With the reality of the rainy seasons approaching sorapidly I’m feeling a little pressured to secure sites for the planting season.  We paid a visit out to the dairy farm area one morning to speak with folks there.  As it turned out the landowners weren’t around, only their groundkeepers.  We left a copy of the convenio including our contact information.  I intend to follow up this week not really expecting them to find us.  I’m thinking of writing another contract to present to landowners, one that outlines our intentions and the responsibility of the landowners if we collectively agree to re-vegetate their land.  Has this been done before?

We have a new addition to the Planet Drum house. Lauren started on Wednesday. It has been extremely fulfilling to see Jackson and Sol taking the responsibility of showing her the ropes.

October 22, 2004  

The Planet Drum house had a wonderfully relaxing, sober time at the beach last weekend.  Without sun or alcohol (due to the mayoral election all of Ecuador sustained from serving/selling booze), we spent the majority of our time curled up on hammocks engaging in long reads and stimulating conversations. It was a nice weekend relief.

Upon our return, we set out to tend to our weekly endeavors. The fieldwork proceeded as usual with the watering of each site.  The plants are fine.  The weekly watering has carried them through the dry season nicely.  There has been little indication of herbaceous insects feasting on the saplings however we have noticed a few bamboo watering pipes teeming with carpenter ants or termites.  I suppose they are drawn to the pipes because of the availability of water.  We have been replacing all the infested pipes (three or four) that have been discovered.

Our hard efforts at the greenhouse last week have already begun to show rewards.  The compost pit is operating (and smelling) much better.  Now you can actually feel the heat of the aerobic processes as you turn the pile.  The seedbeds, too, seem to be in a better state.  The compost added last week has helped to retain moisture in the soil. We are also watering the beds more frequently. Of course weeding has integrated back into our greenhouse chore list.  The tricky thing about planting “new” tree species is that you are not really sure what the seedlings will look like when they emerge, which makes weeding difficult. We have been very selective in our weeding process, plucking only the obvious grasses. I can only say for certain that a few Ciebos have sprouted and that the Amarillos and Fernan Sanchez have not.  It will be easy to recognize these seedlings when they do appear because their seeds are partly exposed.  We planted more Ciebo seeds and Amarillo seeds, however this time we soaked them for 48 hours to help increase the germination rate.  With all the transplanting and replenishing of seeds beds we are running low on compost.  We were expecting a shipment from the municipality this week however it still hasn’t arrived.  Any suggestions on where we can purchase compost if we need too.  I plan to revisit the Dept. of Hygiene to see about our promised compost but I do not want to but too much pressure on them.  According to Ivan the municipality hasn’t paid anyone from that department in two months and they plan on striking.

As I alluded to early in the email, last weekend the mayoral elections were held.  And the winner is?  Well it is still undecided. Currently it is a toss up between the current mayor, Leo Viteri and Jose Mendoza (political party 10).  Apparently there has been much deliberating and recounting of votes in Guayaquil and we should have an answer soon.

Sol and Lauren spent a considerable amount of time this week developing the Planet Drum Ecuador Photogallery. I hope everyone enjoys the site!  (See www. )I’m anxious to hear your comments.  Where the instructions they sent clear?  It seems easy enough for anyone in San Francisco to upload photos.  

Here is the plant inventory we took some time ago.

Types of Plants:

Jorge Lomas02.04.043051555
Jorge Lomas03.04.043910209
Jorge Lomas03.12.04307779
sept. 048914213915
El Bosque02.10.04541041081615
sept. 0440541020415
Universidad Catolica05.03.0414815
Universidad Catolica05.07.04136142
Universidad Catolica05.20.041468
Universidad Catolica05.21.04241311
sept. 04492111116
Jorge Lomas Canal08.06.0410325
Jorge Lomas Canal03.18.042916535
Jorge Lomas Canal03.26.0430246
Jorge Lomas Canal04.08.043838
Jorge Lomas Canal04.21.041192
Jorge Lomas Canal04.27.04221210
Jorge Lomas Canal04.30.041919
sept. 04715401925

Cheo and Vladir have offered their assistance in helping us to locate further revegetation sites for the next planting season.  Cheo and I will be spending the day together on Wednesday checking out sites and speaking with landowners. Vladir intends to speak with some friends about our work. 

On a personal note my health continues to fluctuate.  It seems I am plagued with the same gastro-intestinal illnesses Brian suffered from; aside from the painful stomach cramps the parasites cause me to run a fever and feel lethargic at times. I am maintaining though!


Update on Eco Ecuador Project
By Peter Berg
November 29, 2004

Dear Friend of Planet Drum Foundation,

Thanks for the generous support from those who responded to our recent mailing.

We are glad to say that things are moving along very well toward reorganizing Planet Drum. Preparation of a Strategic Plan for completion by February is already underway. New members are being added to the Board of Directors, and we are building both a new Advisory Board and Advisory Council. 

The following is a recent report from Renee Portanova, Field Projects Manager of Planet Drum’s ecological city activities in Bahia de Craquez, Ecuador. Normally these reports are only posted on our web site. This one contains particularly promising information about the range and success of our work there. It is also pertinent to some of the educational goals featured in our reorganization plans.

Some Bahia highlights. Several new revegetation sites for erosion mitigation and habitat restoration in the Rio Chone watershed are being added to the four that already exist. One is at a high school and involves direct student participation from the onset. There are five new volunteers actively working at this time who are staying in the Planet Drum quarters. As usual, it is an international crew and they learn while working. The greenhouse is full of native seedlings ready to plant. (Seven hundred will be moved into sites when the rains are heavy enough.) Practical planning for the Renewable Energy Project is getting underway, and it may be incorporated into the Bioregional Education Program.

Enjoy the details in Renee’s lively account. Your support makes this work possible. If you haven’t had an opportunity to make a year-end donation, please take the opportunity now. Thanks.

In diversity,
Peter Berg, Director
Planet Drum Foundation
PO Box 31251
San Francisco CA 94131 USA

November 29, 2004

Things went really well this week [November 22-28]. We started on Monday by getting the watering done at the greenhouse and revegetation sites. While Ryan, Jaime and Brette took on the tasks independently (with a few days experience under their belts), Ric and Hanna (from Italy and Germany respectively) moved through things more slowly as I gave the spiel about the projects and so forth. The seedlings are developing nicely. We will begin transplanting them next week, Ceibo and Jabon Cillo specifically. The other species need a few more weeks to steady themselves.

On Tuesday we headed to the Interamericano School to prepare the new site for the following day?s planting. Originally we intended to put in steps to help stabilize the route we would use to access the new site. Our plans changed however, once we assessed the situation further. On the far end of the school property there was already a well-established, secure path that led to the site at a minimal incline. It seemed more logical to use this rather than create an alternative one on the steeper, eroded hillside. So while a few of us lined the path with plant debris, the rest used scrap wood (we transported to the school) to install water bars and check dams in rutted ridges on the hillside. Water bars and check dams will reduce erosion by slowing rain water flow or diverting water into vegetated areas. In the evening we went over the logistics of the following day, developing a mini-workshop emphasizing Dry Tropical Forest: the importance of revegetating a hillside, and plant names and characteristics.

Wednesday was the BIG day. We started early in the morning by going to the greenhouse to water seedlings and gather supplies for the planting (plants, compost, watering pipes, etc). Our posse of planters moved through these tasks quickly and we were able to get to the school early. We had plenty of time to set-up, hauling the tools and other necessities to their appropriate places. Next, we strategically placed the plants throughout the site depending on species’ preferences (sun, shade, flat terrain, etc). 

Then the Interamericano School kids arrived! It took a minute to get started with the workshop which then ran fairly smooth. (Just as the kids were getting settled for the brief lecture there was a small earthquake that got everyone all excited.) Aside from the information we provide a demonstration on how to plant the saplings. Following the demo, we broke up into smaller groups and began planting. With nearly 30 students, each one of us had our hands full. The students under our direction took turns at the various tasks involved with the process (digging wholes, fetching compost, watering). We worked into the early afternoon until all 38 trees, consisting of seven different species, where in the ground.

The rest of the week we stuck with routine tasks of watering other sites, maintaining the greenhouse seedlings, and managing the compost pit. 

Ric and I have had some good discusses already about getting him started on his specific project. I gave him all we have in the apartment on the subject of renewable energy and had him read the study that was done previously. Ric came well prepared for his work here. He must have brought 15 books on various topics from composting to renewable energy to permaculture and so on. I mentioned the comments you had in your last email about his role as a RENEWABLE ENERGY PERSON. He is interested to know the specifics about the hot water unit from Japan that might possibly be donated. What is the name of the company and what type of unit is it? 

He has some initial things to work out before he can say for sure what he is capable of doing here. What does he need to know? Well, what type of plumbing system is used here (specifications)? Where a good location would be to install it? What sort of problems will we need to overcome, such as single output of water? 

He has some other ideas for renewable energy products, such as biodiesel. First we will need to find out what is done with the waste oil from the restaurants and if there is a mechanic able to convert bus or cab engines to run on it. We could also holds workshops that address filtering techniques and preparing fuel. It would be amazing to get a bus company or cab company to work with. We also tossed around other ideas which we would also be able to incorporate into our Bioregional Education Program, and holding workshops, for locals and ourselves, on water reduction awareness, global warming, solar cooking, renewable energy (of course) and eco-construction. Ric has many of these workshops as PowerPoint presentations. 

I almost forgot to mention background on our young woman volunteer from Germany. She’s the one who needed letters written in support of her volunteering while PDF staff were in Japan, and they worked! Hanna is on her ?gap year? which is time set aside for experiential learning, common for European students between high school and university. She already has experience working on short-term environmental projects in Germany and Sri Lanka. She should be a big help planting during the upcoming rainy season and for the the rest of the time she’s here.

December 17, 2004

Happy Winter Solstice.

The week [Dec. 12-17] started early on Sunday, as Hanna and I headed to Guayaquil to pay a visit to Mike Morgan and the folks at Pro-Bosque Cerro Blanco.  As always Mike was very hospitable, spending the entire morning on Monday showing us around, discussing trees, seeds, restoration techniques, and offering us suggestions for our nursery.  He gave us seeds of ten different species of trees from his collection.  They consisted of some species we have grown in the past, such as Colorado, Guachapeli, and Amarillo, and many new species: Seca, Cedro, Saman, Laurel, Ebono, Tamarindo, and Pechiche.  I would estimate that we got about a thousand seeds in total, a very generous gift from Mike!  He also suggested that selling us hundreds of saplings if we had a truck to pick them up in Guayaquil.  He offered to give them to us at cost, which is 20 cents each. (I don’t necessarily think we are lacking in the amount of trees we have for the upcoming season but I still think getting these saplings is a good idea.)

Meanwhile back in Bahía, Riccardo and Ryan covered the watering responsibilities and continued publicizing the Renewable Energy Project.  I feel Riccardo has been keeping you well informed about the progress of the project so I well not comment much further on it except in regard to the Municipality.  The current administration responded to us with enthusiasm.  We delivered the information to several departments and they offered to make photocopies and distribute it further.  Monday evening is our first general meeting and Riccardo intends on spending the day reminding people to come, including the Municipality.  (We have had several people stop by inquiring about the project after hearing it announced on the radio or reading a flyer.)   Unfortunately, the new mayor is in the US for the holidays.  I completely understand the need to meet with him as soon as possible and will do so when he returns.

The remainder of the week has been spent in the field and at the greenhouse (with the exception of Riccardo who spends most his time in front of the computer making PowerPoint presentations for the renewable energy course, researching the accessibility of tools and supplies, spreading publicity and working out other related matters.)  The rain predicted by CNN has yet to present itself so we are continuing with the watering schedule for the sites.

The activities at the greenhouse have been demanding to keep up with. Seedlings being transplanted, seedbed being turned, soil and compost being added, compost being picked up (this time from Fanca Produce patio, there is still quite a large pile of available compost there that is of much better quality then at the city dump) seeds being sown, etc has left us with sore backs and aching muscles.  Well worth it for a goods day’s work. The greenhouse is in really good shape.

To finish off the week, we headed to the Interamericano Colegio for an open house.  We had a little stand set up with various trees species displayed and two posters on Bioregionalism.  We also had a two page write up (in Spanish) on Bioregionalism and a Bioregional Quiz worksheet that we handed out to passers-by.  One class put together presentations on the different tree species we planted at the school and presented it to their fellow classmates.  It went well. A few of the kids where really excited to fill out the bioregional quiz, some of the adults, too.

Around town everyone is filled with the Christmas Holiday spirit.  Each block has built a nativity scene displayed in a public place.  Each family contributes some aspect to the display: lights, decorations, paint, etc. The one on our block is located just across the street from our house.  Each night all the neighbors gather around it and play bingo or read Christmas poems.  It is really a nice component of living in a small town.  They have even organized a Christmas pageant, which will take place on December 23rd.  Riccardo and I have been asked to play Saint Joseph and Mary, and Ryan will be playing Papa Noel! It should be really great; we have costumes and everything!

The group dynamics of the house have improved since our discussions last week.  We decided to have assigned responsibilities around the house (rotating cooking and food shopping for example) rather than trying to make it work out on its own.  This system is working to everyone’s liking and everyone has been in good standing with one another.

I still have not received any response to the Bioregional Educator ad.  In fact I haven’t received any general volunteer inquiries lately either. I looked at the volunteer schedule for the next few month and we do not have any volunteers lined up for the spring/summer.  I will make it a point to reconnect with past inquiries I haven’t heard from recently.

Hanna will be away for most of Christmas week and then when she returns the boys are taking off to celebrate the new year in Colombia.  I volunteered to stay local for the holidays and take an extended weekend in mid-January.

Have a wonderful time celebrating the Winter Solstice.  Are you having a gathering on the beach again this year?  I can hardly believe a year has passed since I first met you all in San Francisco.

In diversity, 

December 31, 2004

The Christmas Pageant was a huge success. The “show” started with me as the Virgen Maria (Virgin Mary) perched on top of a donkey being led around town (I kid you not when I say “around town” we paraded down Simon Bolivar until we nearly reached the beach then back up Montufar) by San Jose, played by Riccardo.  Following us was a group of neighborhood kids dressed as angels and some adult chaparones in all sorts of thematic attire.  As we returned to our block, where the main stage was set, we began verbal role-playing.  We went from door to door asking, “Tienes una posado?” (“Do you have a lodging?”) while the commentator read a script articulating our actions.  We continued until we come to the pre-designated vacancy at which time Jose and I ditched the donkey and went inside only to return with whom else but the Baby Jesus (played by a delightful infant that lives just a few doors down from us).   With baby in hand, we headed to the stage and took our seated positions.  Once there, we were brought gifts by the three wise men (three adorable boys from our block) and so forth.  Then, this is the best part, all the children gathered around us (the angels, the wise men, other children dressed as peasants) and everyone sang a Christmas song led by the kids.  They were spectacular; some even had instruments, flutes and bells, to compliment the singing.  This all took place in front an audience of 200 people or so (mostly the parents of the children participating and other neighborly families).

Once the nativity scene was over and Riccardo and I were dismissed from our roles, the show headed in a bit of a different direction.  The Reinas (Queens) of the Christmas pageant were announced, one by one, and lead on stage by their male counterpart.  They were chosen randomly a few weeks prior.  It was really sweet, decked out in fancy prom dresses and the little boys in mini tuxedos.  When all four couples were on stage they did a little ceremony where the boys placed sashes on the girls and gave them a kiss on the cheek.  Then for the Grand Finale…Papa Noel (played by Ryan) made his way through the crowd on his sleigh, which in reality was a creatively transformed tricycle. The kids squealed with delight as Papa Noel passed out presents. The crowd cheered in approval.  (Hanna was of course asked to participate, however she had to decline because she went to visit a friend in Rio Negro.)

After the show we had a party with dancing and a variety of food. Good times!  Of course we captured the whole thing on film and will be sure to post it on the photo gallery website soon. [See ]

Although Christmas decorations are still being displayed and Christmas music is still being played, everyone has shifted their attention to the Fiesta del Año Nuevo (New Year).    The plan is to burn puppets made by stuffing paper around a wood frame and then covering it with a papier mâché. The puppets can be anything from superheroes (Spider man is huge this year), to popular political figures (or unpopular ones such as President Bush), to generic monsters.  The constructing and selling of these puppets has occupied the sidewalks for several weeks now and anticipation for the inferno is growing.  The puppet burning signifies leaving the past behind and paying respect to major themes presented throughout the past year.  I look forward to being a spectator at the festivities tonight.  I don’t anticipate to a very late night as I’m still recovering from my “flu-like” illness.  Overall all I don’t feel very bad, just low energy!

The weather forecast remains unreliable in predicting rain that just hasn’t come.  Aside from a little sprinkle the other day it has been bone dry, with clear, sunny skies. So it remains that our little trees are hand fed.  There have not been significant changes at any of the sites to. Thankfully, we haven’t had any recent invasions by wandering farm animals or any tampering by human hands. 

Although the bamboo watering pipe technique we are using has been extremely effective in increasing the survival rate of the plants, I would not say that it has been highly effective in enabling the plants to grow substantially throughout the dry season, which is okay!  Many of the plants are the same height as they were five months ago, however they are green and full of foliage.  Of course there are many exceptions. At Jorge Lomas we have some trees in the lower region that are nearly waist high.  At the Universidad Catolica as well we have seen certain species continuing to develop through the dry season.  When we visited the Interamericano Colegio this week (our newest site), we were pleased to see that the plants are adjusting fairly well.   Aside from the Bosque (“wild park”) needing some serious repairs for many of the trails and handrails (something we have not had the time for) everything is in good shape.

With Ricardo and Ryan in Colombia for the New Year, it was just Hanna and I in the field.  We are feeling a little exerted from the laborious work yet proud of our accomplishments.  We were able to start sowing seeds again this week (the faucet issues at the greenhouse have been resolved).  In all we planted over two thousand seeds of seven different tree species .  The majority of the seeds are Guachepeli, Algarrobo and Saman but also included such species as Amarillo and Pigio.  Many of the seeds (depending on the species) were soaked in cold water for various durations of time, again dependent on the particular species.  Soaking seeds is known to increase the germination rate.  I cannot even imagine how long it would take to transplant that many seedlings, and we still have quite a few seeds to plant.  I’m positive we will have enough seeds to fill every bed two more times!  I just look forward to the rain coming so that we can actually get some of the older plants out of the greenhouse and into the ground.

Extend a Happy New Year from all of us here to everyone there.


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