Ecuador Project Reports: Simon Winch, November-Dec. 2002

Simon Winch
Planet Drum Volunteer

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Things are going well here, and I am loving it in Bahia. At the moment I am working with two short-term volunteers, Justine and Maggie, but they leave for Quito in a few hours These two volunteers, a work party of Maria Auxiliadora residents (Elba, Benito and co.) and I installed benches throughout the park, with very nice log benches at the viewpoint near number 8 sign. Also we’ve put up a railing for tired hikers to lean against and take in the fabulous view, and installed three swings of rope and old tires. 

Jeff and I went to a village called San Jose de Minas north of Quito last weekend to view a permaculture initiative there and meet Deborah, a friend of mine and professor of forestry. 

Currently I’m researching dry tropical forest fruit tree species native to the Bahia region – I’ve arranged to talk with Marcelo Luque and one of the American volunteers at Fanca who has a degree in forestry. Any pointers, websites or books you could tell me of would be appreciated. Marcelo is going to help me identify the seeds we have – they aren’t labeled and I don’t know which is which. 

In the last week Chris, Kristen, Jeff, Sara, Matt and Rita have all left, so we are into the second generation of volunteers since I arrived two weeks ago. The binder that Rita and Sara started provides some continuity between volunteers past and present. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Maria Auxiliadora:

Today we collected the sign for the bottom of the Maria Auxiliadora hill and brought it to the PD house for painting. I’ve also paid Phil Collins to get the t-shirts for the guides. We’ll try to sell the excess t-shirts to tourists and local tour companies. Any “profit” money will go to Maria Auxiliadora or be invested in more t-shirts, as they wish. 

Today some of the Genesis school volunteers came over to help clean up the house. The kitchen is clean and sparkling, and the ceiling-wood has been safely stowed out of the way in the roof. The apartment is looking better than ever, and beginning to look more like a house than a workshop. We plan to make a mural on the wall by the table, and screen off the area where the computer is to store cement, etc out of view. Need to discuss the roof with Cheo. 


We have a few at Fanca (700 in total of 9 species). They were only planted a few days ago, haven’t checked them for a couple of days but no signs of growth. 

Bosque Park: 

Today I discovered a problem – in the park are a few hives of nasty bees which attack people and seriously harm them. While they are there we can’t really encourage people to go into the park. I’ll ask Marcelo for the Latin name of the species and research it – if it’s not native to Ecuador we can kill them, if it’s common we can move them, if it’s endangered we’re stuck, and if it’s rare we can make it a tourist attraction. The MA residents are considering making the park private (a reserve) so that you can only enter with a guide. No steps or trees have gone in the past week. 

Fanca Produce: 

I have no idea what’s happening. I need to go there with Cheo and work out what’s going on. 

Uni Cath Greenhouse: 

Nearly finished – has roof but not a rainproof one – it’s more of a shadehouse than a greenhouse. Large enough for 3 or 4000 seedlings per month we hope. The beds haven’t been finished. 

Private Landholdings for Revegetation:

No idea. Jeff was working a lot on that, I’ll need to ask him and Marcelo. There’s a lot of burning going on around the university right now. 


Bosque is on schedule. Uni Cath is on schedule. Fanca I have no clue about. New timelines need to be drawn up as we’re nearly in the last stage of each one. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Current volunteers are just Sara and me. Justine and Maggie left last week, and Alexis hasn’t turned up yet. We are enjoying a lot of help from other people in the community, though – Genesis school volunteers, various friends of Cheo, and other gringos. An American living in Canoa last night offered to help us – he’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, which is what we need. Hopefully he can help us get some new shelves up. The house is looking really great. 

Maria Auxiliadora residents are planning a minga (workday) soon to build steps on the old trail to the park. It needs doing, only fit and able people can use the trail, and in the wet season it will be impassable without steps. 

I haven’t talked with the police about MA park security, but plan to go with Cheo to talk the possibility of making the park private (accompanied visits only) and the chances of getting it guarded by the police. 

We’re not losing any more trees or steps. The heightened community awareness of the park seems to have scared the thieves off. The excellent work Rita and Sara put into publicizing the park may be paying off already. Local residents are guides (currently two of them, 4 later), but don’t maintain the park. PD can call mingas to clear the park, but I’ll suggest to Elbita, the leader, that MA residents themselves arrange to tidy the park regularly.

“Planet Drum House, Bahia de Caraquez,” December 10, 2002

With election fever over, calm has once more descended upon Bahia de Caraquez. The Planet Drum house too has descended into relative tranquility, with only two volunteers living in the space previously occupied by seven.

Work on community liaison has surpassed expectations with residents of Maria Auxiliadora, the community worst hit by the El Nino disasters. In a hectic week about 50 people were guided through the community park, a residents’ group was set up, a steering committee for guided tours started and a re-inauguration ceremony held, to which over 100 local residents and members of the Municipio attended. Vandalism in the park hasn’t been a problem in this time of heightened community awareness of the park. Local residents really seem to value this green area of the city, and respect its’ history – 16 people were killed here by mudslides in March 1998.

A local artist has been painting signs for the park – two fairly small ones to mark the entrances to the park, and one enormous sign to place at the bottom of the hill the park is situated upon. He is also making t-shirts for the guides to wear. T-shirts are also being produced to sell to tourists, carrying the beautiful logo of the park. Given time we hope the t-shirt and merchandise revenue may pay for the upkeep of the park and bring money to one of the poorest parts of Bahia de Caraquez. One of the largest tour companies in Bahia de Caraquez has agreed to stock the t-shirts for us.

A group of residents have visited the Municipio to discuss how to make the guided tours fit in to the Ecuadorian legal system – the easiest way seems to be by starting a ‘non-profit enterprise’. Leonardo Maya, one of the guides, has prepared a portfolio demonstrating what has been done in the park and what there is still to do – ideas include building a museum – and presented it to the Municipio. An official of the Municipio is preparing it as a power point presentation for us to use. Hopefully the portfolio will be integral in winning Maria Auxiliadora grants for future projects in the park.

Work on a greenhouse to raise seedlings for reforestation has nearly finished – the structure and covering is complete, and once a raised bed has been built and filled with soil it will be ready for seeds. We estimate it to be able of producing 3000 plants every 2 to 3 months, which is ample for our needs. Now it only remains to collect or buy seed. At one revegetation site we are contemplating using a hand dispersal method instead of using hand-reared seedlings. The pioneering tree species we will use are frutillo, a fast-growing, hardy tree with red berries similar to redcurrants, algorobo, a very pretty tree which is in seed now, and moyuyo, which has a willow-like quality of sprouting from stakes hammered into the ground.

A lot of work has gone into improving Planet Drum’s volunteer center. The walls of the kitchen have been painted, and the entire house given a thorough ‘spring’ clean.

There is a busy time ahead. We hope to get tourists into the park before it may have to close for the duration of the rainy season, and there is a race against time to raise seedlings to plant in the January – any later and they won’t be well enough established to survive the subsequent 8 month drought.

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