Final Week of Activities with Study Abroad Group from University of Oregon 2017

The final week’s program of afternoon classes were focused on struggles between development and conservation with reference to the concept of Buen Vivir (Good Living). Buen Vivir is actually the Quechua phrase Sumak Kawsay and refers to the coexistence of social and ecological well-being. The term is used in Ecuador’s 2008 constitution.

The week was also packed with a variety of field excursions.

Study abroad students constructed an elevated bamboo seedbed and then filled it with soil. All photos by Clay Plager-Unger, unless otherwise identified.

On Monday, the group made their last visit to the greenhouse. They helped construct two elevated seedbeds there. The students planted Chirimoya and Laurel seeds they had collected during their visit to the Cerro Seco Biological Reserve in one of the seedbeds.

The seedbed is planted with Caoba, Laurel, and Chirimoya seeds.

The students also gained hands-on experience watering trees during the dry season by carrying gallons of water to a site near the previous greenhouse at the Catholic University.

The group carries gallon jugs to water trees at a revegetation site near the Catholic University.
Ege waters a Ceibo tree.
Jade waters a Guachapeli.

Tuesday we took a walk through town to the Municipality (City Hall), which is currently operating out of bunkers across the street from the former building, which is being repaired from because of earthquake damages. Two city officials kindly agreed to meet with us and discuss city planning strategies. Sergio Zambrano, from the environmental department, explained several projects the city government is implementing to generate employment. One project supports cacoa growers and another produces farm-raised fish (Chame) in artificial ponds. Vicente Leon of the planning department talked about how various projects are planned, approved, and financed. He also gave a brief history of the Ecological City movement and Bahía’s declaration as an ecological city.

Professor Abrams holds an afternoon class underneath the Planet Drum house.
Ernesto Muñoz, an Ecuadorian business development consultant, gives a guest lecture to the class at the Planet Drum house.

Wednesday was a particularly special day because we went to visit the Isla Corazon wildlife refuge. One of the local guides and an old friend of Planet Drum, Don Francisco, gave us an extra long tour that included: a visit to a nearby shrimp farm, a boat tour to Isla Fragatas and a visit to the community of Puerto Belo.
At the shrimp farm, Don Francisco explained some of the social and ecological impacts that the massive shrimp farming industry caused to the region. We also learned how shrimp are farmed in the large pools built on top of what was previously mangrove habitat. Everyone got to try out replanting an area of mangroves which had been severely damaged during the earthquake.

Everyone plants a mangrove seed (or two, or three) below an embankment, which was damaged during the earthquake.
Don Francisco, Isla Corazon Community Guide, shows Mangrove seeds to the group explains how to plant them.
The group inspects a shrimp farm pond.

After the shrimp farm visit, we walked to the docks and prepared to board a panga boat for the water portion of the tour. Don Francisco directed the boat to Isla de las Fragatas, where the Fragata colony now resides. The bird colony used to be located on part of Heart Island, but many mangrove trees there were killed by the earthquake, and the birds subsequently moved their colony to nearby Isla de las Fragatas. Tens of thousands of Fragata (Frigate) birds filled the sky around the mangrove island.

Riding in the panga boat during the Isla Corazon tour.
Don Francisco sets his sights on Isla Fragata.
Fragata birds circling above the mangroves. We were the first group to ever receive an official boat tour to Isla Fragata.

From Isla de las Fragatas, the boat took us to the back side of Isla Corazon (Heart Island). We could see all of the dead mangrove trees, where the frigate bird colony used to be located. Other guides were waiting for us with canoes to take a tour through a tunnel in the mangrove trees. We climbed from the boats into the canoes and were paddled through the mangroves. After returning to the panga boats we were taken back to the docks and dry land. It was just about lunch time, so we walked from the Isla Corazon headquarters, through the shrimp farms, to the town of Puerto Belo.

Riding in canoes through the mangroves.
Isla Corazon tour guide Don Francisco invites us celebrate his mother’s 100th birthday with his family.
Becca, Drew, and Kelsey ride in a canoe through the mangroves at Isla Corazon.
Kelsey, Sarah, Dean, and Philip in their canoe.

That same day Don Francisco’s family was celebrating his mother’s 100th birthday and he had invited us to lunch with them. The menu was a traditional dish called Tonga, a chicken, rice, and peanut sauce meal wrapped in banana leaves. Don Francisco’s mother recounted stories about how their town used to be a large port, where ships docked and loaded up with plantains, tagua (vegetable ivory), cacoa, and coffee for international commerce. Her family made money by preparing and selling food to the sailors. Towards the end of the meal, they sang Amores Finos, romantic verses traditionally used in courtship.

Jade and Kelsey clear trails at the Las Ruinas park.
Machete class. Photo by Jesse Abrams.
Jesse practices his machete hand.

On Thursday, the group walked from the Planet Drum house across town and to the hillside neighborhood where the Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas (Forest amidst the Ruins) urban park is located. This is Peter Berg and Planet Drum’s original revegetation site in Bahía de Caráquez and the visit coincided with readings for the course from Berg’s book Envisioning Sustainability. At the Ruinas park, students received a class in machete handling from Clay and Orlando. The first order of business was to sharpen the machetes with whetstones. After receiving safety tips about wielding machetes, the students dispersed throughout the trails in the park and began to hack back weeds, which had grown during the rainy season. The trees that Planet Drum planted for erosion control over the years along this hillside are doing really well, with hundreds of trees of various sizes, some up to seven or eight meters tall with large trunks, and deep roots systems holding the loose soil in place.

The repainted mural in Las Ruinas park.
Kelsey’s mural contribution.
Orlando and Philip machete clear trails while others paint a mural.
Sarah, Jade, both Kelseys, Becca, and Philip (left to right) painting a mural in the Las Ruinas park.

In addition to the machete work, several of the students helped retouch the old mural and made new paintings on what is probably the remnants of a water cistern.
Friday was the final day of scheduled activities, the grand finale. The group piled into the van for transportation along the structurally challenged roads of Manabí to another small coastal city south of Bahia, Crucita. The Crucita community is one of the first to participate in the 2012 National Electric Company’s (CNEL) pilot project Árbol Eléctrico (Electric Tree). As part of the program, residents in areas receiving new electrical infrastructure also receive one native tree for every $500 the company spends there. It typically works out to be about one to three trees per household. Many of the rural residents around Crucita carefully planted and cared for their trees, which are now quite large and already bearing lots of fruit!
After introducing ourselves to various representatives from CNEL and community members from Crucita and taking a slew of group pictures, we got to work planting the trees that we had delivered a couple of days previously. At each of the four farms we visited, a handful of trees were planted. I actually could not recognize the areas that we had planted 5 years ago because of all of the new vegetation. Areas with literally nothing growing are now teaming with trees and plants.

Jesse makes introductions to a large group of representatives of the electric company and community residents in Crucita.
University students, electric company representatives, and Crucita community members unite to plant native fruit trees!
Planting trees in Crucita.
Tree planting in Crucita.
Kelsey plants a tree with an electric company worker.
Philip and Drew planting trees.
Clay, Crucita resident Don Rafael, Orlando, and Senor Eddy from the National Electric Company pose in front of 5 year old Planet Drum Mango tree.
Philip harvests fruit from a Planet Drum Mandarin tree in Crucita.

After a morning of socializing, fruit harvesting, fruit planting, and a visit to a fish processing site, the residents invited us all for a ceviche of Pinchagua (Sardine). Just as tasty, or possibly even better, was the maní quebrado (crushed peanuts), which had been locally grown and recently crushed, served with chifles (plantain chips). Many thanks to CNEL and the residents of Crucita for helping to organize a great cultural exchange and for their commitment to the planting and caring of native fruit trees!

A final dip in the Pacific Ocean before returning home… Photo: Jesse Abrams.

Overall, the trip went very well and the students gave positive reviews of the program. Thanks to Jesse and all of the University of Oregon students for sharing three weeks with Planet Drum’s ecological projects in Ecuador!

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