Ecuador Project Report: Renée Portanova, March 2004

Renée Portanova, Volunteer 
Planet Drum Foundation

Revegetation Journal

March 5, 2004  

Tree Species
(Latin names available by contacting    

  • Guayacan
  • Colorado
  • Muyuyo de montana 
  • Jigua
  • Canela
  • Jigua bedionda
  • Cascol
  • Amarillo
  • Guachepeli
  • Chirimoya
  • Algarrobo
  • Fernan Sanchez
  • Ceibo
  • Pechiche            

January 26, 2004

Although it is the rainy season in Bahia de Caraquez it hasn’t rained in nearly three weeks.  The trees we have planted are in dire need of water.  Today we watered two of our sites in which transplants have recently been placed, Jorge Lomas and Catolico Unversidad.  Due to the fact that Brian is ill, we hired Cheo, a local volunteer, to assist in the laborious task of watering.  We don’t have any fancy equipment for watering. The Unversidad site has a huge barrel in the lower section.  Three hoses are strung together to reach this crucial point.  From there, three-liter soda bottles and buckets are carried up and down the hillsides loaded with water to nourish the plants. At Jorge Lomas it is even more difficult.  There isn’t a water source available as there is at the Unversidad.  We rely on the kindness and generosity of the community that allows us to pillage water from their wells.  A local boy helped with the watering.  Barefoot and shirtless, he moved with ease through the hillside watering the upper region of the site.  His family gave us lemonade when we returned the buckets.

January 27, 2004

Greenhouse maintenance is the generic term used to include a number of tasks.  The greenhouse, which is located at the Unversidad, is where we propagate all the trees to be planted at our revegetation sites.   Maintenance of the greenhouse includes tending to the compost pit, transplanting immature trees, watering seedlings and transplants, and hacking away at weeds with a machete.  Today a variety of tasks were performed, with special emphasis placed on the compost pit.  At times the compost pit looks more like a rubbish pile with countless plastic bags and condiment packaging mingling with the organic waste from the school’s cafeteria.   Numerous efforts have been made to discourage people from throwing inorganic matter into the pit, but our pleas continue to be ignored.  Once the trash is picked out, fresh food scraps are added and the compost is turned and watered.  Inside the greenhouse, cinder blocks are used as a seat while plucking weeds from the seedbeds and transplanting immature trees.  The weeds are added to the compost pile or used as mulch.  The transplants are neatly stacked in vacant spaces where they sit recovering from the trauma of being removed from the earth, anxiously awaiting the time until which they will be moved to their permanent home on a hillside.

January 29, 2004

Fifty pound sacks of soil filled with compost and sandy-loam dirt, are stacked in a heap on the far side of the greenhouse.  With one swift swing of a machete the bag splits allowing access to its contents.  The soil mixture is scooped into little black plastic bags in which saplings will soon reside.  Gently, each tree is removed from the seedbed and placed into its own individual plastic bag.  It takes a bit of patience and skill to recover the tree with the root intact.  Once this skill is mastered the task becomes meditative; the songs of birds and the smell of greenness become one.  After a few hours nearly a hundred trees can be transferred.  The remainder of the time is spent watering the thirsty newborns.  The beds are so dry from an inadequate rainy season.  Fortunately this day water is available at the Universidad and plants are able to drink.

February 2, 2004

Well, some rain has finally come and the greenhouse, inside and out, is overwhelmed with “weeds.”

Some are nearly as high as my shoulders (I’m 5’6’’). With a machete in one hand and an “L” shaped stick in the other, I begin the tedious task of clearing the paths surrounding the greenhouse and compost pit.  The stick in my left hand is used to push back the grass-like stalks, exposing the base of the plant.  It is necessary to trim low to the ground.  If done correctly the machete is swung parallel to the ground with most movement coming from the flicking of my wrist.  The sharp tool being swung inches from my calf consumes my thoughts, as I try to ignore the masses of mosquitoes that have come with the rains.  Following the removal of the undesirable plants, I create life.  Well, not really create but assist. Over 200 Algarrobo seeds are placed in the empty seedbed and covered with nutrient rich soil.  The seeds will break through the earth in a few weeks and be transplanted some weeks later. 

February 4, 2004

A few hours are spent at the greenhouse this morning.  The weeds that have previously been removed are still at a respectably low level so my attention is devoted to transplanting.  After every ten plants or so I get up and stretch. At times I take a short break to chase the dog from the neighboring farm out of the compost pit or to follow the path of a wandering butterfly.  In the end nearly 70 plants of mixed variety have been repotted.   Following a hearty lunch in the afternoon, we traveled to our site in Jorge Lomas.  During my first visit there it became apparent that this site was so unstable that the impact of us walking through the site to water or plant was causing further damage. To help stabilize the site, we placed cribbing bars in the most vulnerable section.  Fallen trees are hacked into three-foot pieces.  The log is then strategically laid out and held in place with wooden stakes made from tree branches.  The reasons for placing cribbing bars are twofold. First, the log, once settled, acts as a step preventing landslides as we maneuver through the site.  Second, the log creates a secure platform in which trees can be planted.  At this time, ten bars were placed in a concentrated area at the bottom of the site. 

February 9, 2004

Today we maintained the greenhouse and transplanted approximately 50 plants.  The rains have started in full force, pouring down throughout the night.  Although the rain is essential to our work (life) here, it has become the cause of a horrible night’s sleep for us volunteers lying beneath the tin roof of our apartment/office.   The sound of hard rain bouncing off the roof is so loud it numbs the usual tranquil atmosphere.  Regardless of the drowsiness I feel, I’m anxious to get as many saplings transplanted as possible.  If the rain remains constant we will be planting continuously throughout the month. 

February 10, 2004

Another night of rain last night gave us the go ahead to get some plants in the ground this morning.  Sixty in all were planted in the Bosque park site.  The plantings are all hardwoods, mostly guachepeli, guayacan and jigua.  The Bosque is one of our first sites here in Bahia.  It is wonderful to see the succession of trees that were planted nearly five years ago.  We use a previously printed self-guided walking tour map of the park to indicate where we have placed the new trees.  It is a good practice to keep details of all our plantings.  The name and number of each species is written in my notebook and assigned its own authentic symbol. The symbols are sketched on the map to show exactly where each plant was placed.

February 11, 2004

With several sites well established, Brian and I recognize the need to expand our work to other areas.  Today we surveyed two new sites, Jorge Lomas canal and the dairy farm.  Both sites are in desperate need of revegetation.   These two will be major projects and take several years to complete.

February 16, 2004

We worked hard in the greenhouse today.  The better maintained we keep the greenhouse the more productive it will be.  The weeds are furious, constantly trying to overcome the seedlings.  Hours of plucking and hacking have left our hands sore and blistered.  The tasks go by quickly today with three of us working.  One person waters, while another weeds and the third transplants.  Friendly conversation passes throughout the humidity-heavy air as we conduct our tasks. 

February 17, 2004

Back to Jorge Lomas today for more cribbing and planting.  The bars we place earlier in the month have settled nicely enabling us to climb the hillside with little impact.  At the end of this long, hot, physically intensive effort 30 plants of different tree species are planted.  Additional cribbing is added to the upper section.  

February 19, 2004

As saplings are transplanted into their individual sacks the seedbeds continuously need to be replenished.  On this date, nearly three hundred seeds mostly Algarrobo and Chirimoya are planted.  The seeds we plant come from several different sources.  Some we collect by either going into the forest and searching for them or by saving the seeds from the fruit we eat, such as the Chirimoya.  The majority of our seeds come from Cerro Blanca Reserva in Guayaquil.

February 20, 2004

Back at the greenhouse the routine is the same.  This is the season when all of our propagating and planting occurs. It is an important routine to visit the greenhouse every few days. 

March 3, 2004

Performed greenhouse maintenance and transplanted 60 seedlings. Are you starting to see the pattern?

March 4, 2004

We worked at Jorge Lomas again this afternoon. Supplementary cribbing was placed in a new area.  Once the cribbing was placed we proceeded to plant trees throughout the section. 

Report #6
News & Journal

Renée Portanova, Volunteer 
Planet Drum Foundation
March 19, 2004  


The house is full with Koke’s cousin from Argentina here and all of us.  The other volunteer, Ramona, who was supposed to come this week decided to volunteer elsewhere.  It was a bit of a disappointment. With Brian’s illness holding him back and the other two volunteers taking some time to travel this month we will be short a few hands.  Not to worry, I’m confident we’ll manage. We all have been working extra hard to take the day off on Friday.  With the Spring Equinox this weekend we decided to go some place special to celebrate.

In addition to the normal tasks (greenhouse maintenance, planting etc.), we have been working on a number of other smaller projects.  We selected and cleaned another wall in the apartment to do a mural. Jimmy, a local artist, came to today and started a wonderful picture.  It is an encircled painting of Bahia surrounded by the several other nature-based themes.  He is only half way through but it is already pleasing.  Brian and I spent the majority of Monday and Tuesday taking care of a number of tasks: switching the bank account to my name, going through old files, sorting and referencing seeds, printing invitations for the next Amigos de Eco-Ciudad (AMIEC) meeting, which will take place on the 25th.  We also had a long meeting to discuss our agenda for the next month.  Everything is going smoothly.

We planted along Jorge Lomas barrio canal this week and have done a lot of work at the greenhouse as well (see following journal entries for more details).

I meet with Jacob Santos to discuss renewable energy.  We brainstormed a few ideas and identified a few obstacles. The report George Tukel wrote gives two recommendations, one for a house and one for a city. We discussed the possibility of a house project more in depth.  The report supports a passive cooling system and solar hot water heating. Shrimp packing factories and hotels would probably be interested in the benefits of these systems however we have no connections to these people. We both agreed to start a support group of community members that might be interested in renewable energy. A city scale project would be more ideal for this area because much of the electricity is used for lighting and electrical appliances.We intend to put it on the agenda at the next AMIEC meeting.  From there we hope to form a committee that will work toward starting a larger support group.  I plan on targeting Eco-Amigos, the community group from Maria Auxiliadora.  As I might have mentioned before, they have plans to build a community center.  They already have land that was given to them.  What better place to do a renewable energy pilot project then a community center? There are two Peace Corps volunteers who are coming to Bahia in early May who will be working with Planet Drum as well as a number of other groups in town. They have the ability to apply for grants from the US government to do projects they are interested in.  This could be a potential source of funding if they are interested in this project.

The city is finally going to hire someone for the specific purpose of environmental affairs. This is a huge achievement for AMIEC…we have been pushing for someone to fill the position for a while.

PS. the computer monitor would not turn on this morning…I literally had to carry the pc to the Genesis to email this to you….I think we may need a new computer.

Revegetation Journal

March 8, 2004

A bit of a slow start this morning at the Universidad.   Thankfully we had an extra pair of hands to help out and make up for lost time.  Jaime, a local man who is interested in doing similar projects on his property, assisted us with the daunting task of tree liberation.  “Tree liberation” refers to the process of clearing trails and removing unwanted vegetation that is smothering the “arbolitos” (little trees) we previously planted.  Carefully constructed trails have now become indistinguishable due to the rapid growth of grasses and other herbaceous plants.  These undesirables compete for resources, which jeopardizes the survival of our trees.  It is therefore necessary for us to periodically remove such vegetation.  This also allows us to retrieve overgrown paths and monitor the well being of our transplants.  We use mulch to protect the moisture in the soil once the vegetation is removed.  Nearly four hours of swinging a machete and we barely made a dent. The location and condition of several dozen plants were still unknown when we finished in the early afternoon.  At that point the temperature had risen to over a hundred degrees and the sun has scorched the pale skin of one volunteer who neglected to apply sunblock.     

March 9,2004

This morning we approached our work with a little more wisdom.  We got to the Universidad just after 8 in the morning taking the appropriate precautions for working in the field all day: long sleeve shirts and pants, boots, sunscreen, bug repellent and plenty of water.  Although it was just three of us, Ritta, Bevan and myself, we were much more productive than the previous day.  The trails were completely cleared and the trees liberated by mid-afternoon.  The weather cooperated as well, for the temperature stayed at a respectable degree and the sun remained shy behind the clouds for most of the morning.  A cool breeze stirred every so often to chill the sweat that clings to every crevice of one’s body.  It was a pleasurable, satisfying workday and I appreciated the tranquility this remote site has to offer.

March 11, 2004

Yesterday we took the day off from the field to tie up some loose ends that had been lingering at our apartment…namely housecleaning.  You can only image the grime that accumulates in our shower: four women with long hair, dirt and plant matter from the field, sand from the beach, etc.  Needless to say, a battle to maintain a livable apartment is fought frequently in this apartment.  We also took the opportunity to construct shelves to store seeds.  

Anxious to get back to nature we spent the day at the greenhouse today.  Unfortunately, it has stopped raining again.  So in addition to the weeding and transplanting we spent a considerable amount of time watering the seedlings.  Before leaving we gathered 30 plants and a bucket full of compost to use for tomorrow’s planting.

March 12, 2004

Although the rain hasn’t returned, we planted at Jorge Lomas today.  Drought tolerant trees, such as Algarrobo, were selected and strategically placed in the upper region of the site.  Brian has been battling a severe case of giardia for some time now.  His parasites are so severe that he is anemic and his body is in a state of anorexia.  Unable to work in the field he has been resting at home and concentrating on administrative tasks.  To compensate for his absence, a local teen (Dario) was hired to assist with planting. 

While planting and cribbing at the site a local man came to thank us for our hard work and dedication.  Earlier, when we first arrived, we were spotted by an acquaintance of ours (Lena).  She climbed up the hill and told us the tale about what she lived through when the mudslides occurred just a few years prior.  Beneath the hill we had been working to stabilize there was once a main road leading into this barrio.  She pointed out several piles of rumble and identified whose house it used to be and where they live now…if they were still living.  When we finished our duties for the day we ate lunch that was graciously offered at Lena’s house.  Her kind words and those of the other man were unexpected rewards for our hard day’s work.

March 15, 2004

Ritta and Bevan journeyed to the greenhouse today and I remained in the city with Brian.  Brian and I have begun to prepare for his departure next month.  When he leaves I will take over as the Field Project manager.  Tasks at the greenhouse are repetitive and nothing worth elaborating on occurred this particular day.

March 16, 2004

Another day in town. Brian and I spent the afternoon sorting through a recent shipment of seeds.  Each species was identified and sketched for future reference.  Under each drawing, instructions for germination and planting were written.  I intend on making this reference book more comprehensive to serve as a manual for future volunteers and community members.  Next week I want to focus on proper storage of seeds.  We have quite a large amount at the time, enough to fill ten greenhouses with plants, and I want to make sure they will not spoil before we germinate them.

March 17, 2004

It has been extremely hot and dry this week.  With the arrival of Koke’s cousin, we were fortunately able to send two teams of volunteers into the field.  One group went to the greenhouse for general maintenance and watering while the other watered two recently planted sites, Jorge Lomas and the Bosque.   The team at the greenhouse also planted Fernan Sanchez tree seeds. 

March 18, 2004

Five of us put in thirty-three plants at a new site today.  Jorge Lomas Canal is located on the outskirts of the barrio.  It is a huge site and will take several rainy seasons to plant.  Besides the three of us (Ritta, Bevan and myself) we had two Bahian volunteers—the infamous Cheo, close friend and mentor, and Emilia our landlady.  The decision to start planting this site was tough.  Rain has been minimal to non-existent all week and there is a possibility it may not even return until next year.  However, we have the human power to do plantings at this time and therefore the decision was made to go forth with the work.  In the likely event that we will have to water this new site (in addition to our other sites) we planted all the trees in a relatively concentrated area.  Water is not readily available there and we will most likely have to lug it in from a residential area a mile away.  I have to say it was quite humorous to see our prissy landlady use a machete.  Though perhaps not as odd as I must have looked to the locals collecting the feces of a resident donkey to use as fertilizer.

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