El Bosque en Las Ruinas (The Forest in the Ruins)

Roosters crowing, a dog barking in the distance, tropical birds chirping overhead, it’s a quiet morning in Bahia de Caraquez. Good day to go up ‘killer hill’ (as Tony and I have fondly named the climb up to the new park site in Maria Auxiliadora), and move dirt. Exciting to see progress on the paths that are being cleared and widened to provide access to the revegetation project, and the ruins that lie among the young plants.

Seems like more than a month has gone by since that first time that I walked through the site with Peter and Marcelo, getting a grasp of where the work needed to be done. Those roughly visible paths seemed so vague then, and now I could tell you each bend, each rise, each trash pile, and most importantly, exactly how far you are from the huge nest of abispas, aggressive wasps that swarm an enemy. Our first days of work on the trails in the site, we were ready to run at the drop of a hat, if more than two insects of the same species showed interest in what we were doing. Finding yourself in an entirely different eco-system, in a different bioregion, it takes a little while to settle in, and get comfortable with the insects that hover next to your face as you work, not biting, not stinging, just buzzing.

But now, after a month or so of spending nearly every morning up on the hillsides, in amongst the growing algorrobo shrubs and the amazingly successful frutillo trees, I feel at home looking out over Bahia from the site. Amazing progress has been made in the last few weeks, and much of it can be credited to the hard work of Manuel Quinones, and his son Ricardo, who have put many long days into building more than 100 steps into the steep hillsides. These new paths and steps make the native vegetation and the ruins more accessible to the community, and eventually, to visitors. The work seems solid, and carefully done, but I can’t help but be concerned about the heavy rains that are expected this year. The steps are meant to help hold the hillside, but there’s no guarantee against the natural process of erosion. I look at the small dormant plants scattered across the hill every day; they’re waiting patiently for the rains to come, and I just pray that the rains don’t hit too hard. I don’t think I’m alone in this prayer.

Memories of the slide two years ago are still vivid, people can recall exactly where they were, what they did, and how they felt. Marcelo recounted his experience of helping out when the hill first slid, before the sun had even come up, telling how when the first light of day showed the whole picture of fallen houses and everything covered in mud, his knees nearly shook him to the ground. It seems that these lingering visions of 1998 are part of why we have received so much support from the community. They see our efforts as a tribute to the families who lost loved ones, not so much as an attempt to prevent the same thing from happening again. Perhaps that will change with more community meetings, and more explanations of what we are doing. But for now, it is encouraging to have people telling us what a good job we’re doing behind their houses, in their barrio.

Since our small meeting with some community members a few weeks ago, there have been several people taking the time to climb up through their backyards to check out the work that we’re doing. And the kids from the neighborhood have adopted the area as their playground. Stopped a crowd of them the other day to tell the littlest boy not to kick the dirt off the hillside. Asked them if they remembered what had happened in ’98, they nodded yes slowly. We tried to explain that the plants are supposed to hold the dirt, but if it all gets kicked off, there won’t be any left for the plants. They all responded positively when asked if they’d help with the planting in December, hopefully they’ll round up some others to participate as well.

Eco-city revelation. Never really thought of soft drink companies including Coca Cola as particularly green, but I’ve just recently noticed that there is an unexpectedly high element of waste reduction as a result of Coca Cola’s bottling process here. Each day I walk by the huge truck of sodas being unloaded, and all the empty bottles being loaded to replace them. The bottles are sent back to the distributor to be cleaned and re-used. So important is this exchange of an empty bottle for a full one, that if you go into a store without an empty bottle to trade in, you can expect to have to drink your soda on the spot, or have it poured into a plastic bag to carry along with you. (Dealing with the mass amounts of plastic bags that get used and thrown away in this city is another issue altogether.)

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