Judy’s Journal #1

March 8-21. 2008
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The weather is either hot and moist or hot, moist and slightly breezy. At  Jacob Santos’ B&B mornings bring fruit, fruit juice, scrambled eggs, rolls and coffee. Fresh pineapple with banana yesterday and pineapple with watermelon today. Took a walk for the first time this morning. Not too far, but a nice amount.

The Planet Drum volunteers are all women just now, though one man arrived today for a brief stay. Since it is the weekend they are all off to the beach north of here for an overnight. Went to the market this morning to buy  shrimp, limes and vegetables which will  be cooked for dinner tonight. Last night we all went out to a restaurant where the menu was fish with rice and lentils and or ceviche, both of which were good. 

Haven´t been to any of the new Project planting sites yet, but have had some conversations with Clay, the Field Projects Manager, about seeing them next week.. Also next week I will cook with Cheo, a local friend since Planet Drum started working here. He is an elementary school teacher and also a really good cook. We have already decided to make a “typical coastal Ecuadorian” meal of fish in coconut sauce, patacones (crushed fried platanos), etc. Last time he cooked it was ceviche for a party and it was delicious.

The women who make recycled paper products came by and picked up a medium sized order for Planet Drum. We were excited to see each other. I decided to also have some business cards made for Planet Drum, Peter, Clay and me. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I had planned to go out to one of the sites with the volunteers this morning to take pictures for a new slide presentation. Yesterday  I had the same plan, but arrived at the Planet Drum apartment after everyone had already left. The volunteers work for about 4 hours every morning, and it turned out that yesterday they had left at 8:30 in order to miss the mid-day heat. For this morning Jaime Andrade, the field foreman, had previously left a note telling everyone he wanted to be out of the house at 8AM sharp. So when I got up this morning I hustled and went down to breakast early. By the time I had drunk my juice and was eating my eggs it was about a minute before 8. So I drank about half my coffee and went right over to the apartment, about a half a block away. I could see the seven volunteers outside the apartment and caught up with them just in time to catch the bus to the site. 

We rode about 15 minutes to the outskirts of the city, then jumped off the bus and walked down the road to the site, which is called Don Pepe. The plan for the day was for half of the workers to push marker stakes in the earth next to already planted trees to make them easy to find. The other half of the people were going to a different place in the site and cutting more stakes to be markers. I joined the group pushing in stakes. 

We carried a bunch of stakes up a fairly steep hillside path to begin. There were rows of planted trees or each side of the path. I did about three of the rows when someone pointed out there were two kinds of stakes–ones with  a single red stripe at the top and some with two stripes. The two-striped stakes marked the last plant in a row. Hmmm. So I went back and checked the three rows where I had worked exchanging stakes where needed. 

Back on the path again, the other volunteers decided that we should go to the very top of the path and work our way down. The logic for this was simple–the day will become hotter and we will become more tired, so we may as well go to top now while we are energetic. (We had originally started about two-thirds the way up the hill.) So I picked up an armful of stakes and we went with the others to the top.

In some places the planted trees are obvious, but during the rainy season all the grasses, vines, etc. continue to grow rapidly. On one row I had to pick my way through bushes and grasses to find the last planted sapling. The end of the row was obvious because volunteers had previously strung barbed wire to keep cows out and that is where every row seemed to end. Jaime cleared excess vegetation while we put in stakes. 

There were some other routines that developed while we working. A few places where saplings had been planted the tree had died. Since those spots were already prepped for a tree, we staked the earthen bowl that had been previously dug so another tree could be planted there. Later in the morning Jaime came with Hobo branches, which will sprout if just pushed into the soil, and replanted the empty earthen bowls. We also worked out a way to keep track of rows where staking had been completed. This was necessary because when you start staking a row, there is no way to know how many stakes you will need, and the number of stakes that you can carry up the steep hills is limited. So when a row was started,  we positioned a stake on the ground next to the first tree as a marker and then continued to stake the row. When the last tree in the row was staked, we went back and put in the positioned stake next to the first tree. So it was easy to see which rows were complete, which were in progress, and which had not been started yet. Clever, eh?

About the time we began to run out of stakes, a light rain started. I went down the hill to bring up more stakes but couldn´t find any more. The rain became heavier. Others came down to help with carrying stakes up, but there weren’t any more and the hill was becoming more and more slippery, so we stayed at the bottom. When Jaime came down;  he said we may as well go and do work at the greenhouse instead. So we walked to a place in the road where there was a ramada to protect us from what was becoming even heavier rain while Jaime went to the other side of the site to get the rest of the workers. By the time they returned and we walked to the end of the road we were all drenched and it was almost noon, so instead of going to the greenhouse we took a bus back into the city center. 

On the bus ride back the extremely heavy rain we had been experiencing had flooded the road in some places so that there was only one lane in which traffic could travel. We were so wet from the warm downpour that our bus seats had pools of water in them when we stood up to get off the bus. 

Apparently  the entire downtown area had been flooded with about a half-foot of water. It had happened quickly as a result of the rapid rainfall and people had to wait for about a half an hour for it to subside.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Today I went out with the volunteers again. We worked in the greenhouse planting seeds both directly into a seedbed—about 500 seeds–and into plastic bottles filled with soil—about 120 saplings. It didn´t rain today and wasn´t super hot. Just in the 80´s probably. 

It is nice to be away from usual things in San Francisco. Went for a short walk today and also just sat in the park in the shade….very pleasant. 

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Went out with the volunteers at 8AM again. Climbed up and down hills taking photos. Came back a little early with Clay. Everyone is going away for the weekend so it will be a quiet Saturday. Some  reorganizing of the apartment is the plan and cleaning it up too. So much for vacation. Also planning to make a day trip to a small town with a friend to see their Sunday market hoping to see a horse sale as well as vegetables and crafts. 

Several volunteers are finishing their stay this weekend and some who were previously volunteers and then left to travel around Ecuador will be returning. This means there will still be six or seven volunteers next week. 

Sunday March 16, 2008

Today there was a car trip to visit two agricultural towns nearby. Tosagua has a very big market day and the other, Calcetta, was crowded for Palm Sunday. On the way there were pick-up trucks filled with people going to the market, which our host  for the trip, Arfranio, jokingly referred to as “local buses.” The market was truly enormous and sold just about anything you could need. Different sections were devoted to clothing, music CDs, jewelry, kitchen supplies, saddles, farm equipment, and a food section that was about as big as a football field separated into vegetables and fruit and meats and restaurants. We had fun looking, bought a belt and also lots of fresh tomatoes to make a sauce for dinner.

At Calcetta, an older town, we went past the new church with many Palm Sunday church goers—everyone in town was carrying palm fronds intricately crafted with many circles—to  look at the old wooden church and the oldest part of town, which has the remains of a previously extensive railway system. We hoped to lunch on a specialty food from this area which is made from cheese curds. We checked around, but none of the restaurants was serving it. Then we learned it can´t be made right now because the rains have decreased milk production, so we returned to Bahia. The whole trip took about 4 hours. 

Last night featured a visit to speak with the local Constitutional Assembly woman, who is very ecology-minded, that was both interesting and  friendly. She is on the “rights” (human, women, indigenous, etc.) committee. It sounded like very complicated as well as long and tiring work. She is also interested in trying to help Planet Drum become an officially recognized NGO in Ecuador. (A process that has been going on for several years.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Just got back from a meeting with Patricio Tamariz, an old friend who has always been helpful to Planet Drum here. He is a very interesting person who was working internationally with a quasi-governmental tourist organization until recently. Now he is involved in setting up new coastal Ecuadorian tourism routes. Patricio has always been supportive of the Eco-city actions in Bahia, and we discussed the mandate for change that Planet Dum and the Amigos de la Eco-ciudad have just finished writing.

Patricio’s mother, Flor Maria Duenas, stopped by as well. She started the Eco-Clubs for kids movement in Ecuador and has worked in all of South America. It was a  friendly visit with people who we work with on various levels. We introduced Clay to them and they were very obviously impressed by what a solid person he is.

Later in the morning, one of the women who makes recycled paper products delivered some of the new business cards. All in all it was a good morning. 

Tuesday March 18, 2008

This afternoon all the Planet Drum volunteers went to see the workshop of the Arte Papel women. The women  demonstated how to make paper from recycled waste and encouraged the volunteers help a little. Then they showed the products they make and gave each of the volunteers a gift of a notepad which had been made but not yet decorated. The volunteers really enjoyed decorating their notepads. I was struck that the “demonstration and workshop” we had just experienced would be a lovely experience for tourists visiting Bahia. It was a very sweet trip. The volunteers joked that maybe they would rather work some days making recycled paper than doing tree planting. Later everyone agreed that with a little publicity Arte Papel could do presentations for visitors.

Friday, March 21, 2007

Happy Spring to everyone! Here the equal day and night of the equinox happen all year long. The moment of Equinox was just before midnight (i.e. March 19) and the sunset that night happened here at exactly 6:30PM (sunrise had been at 6:30AM). The sun sank into a purple, pink and orange bank of clouds. As it slid down to the horizon reddish embers glowed through cracks in the clouds. Really beautiful!  The volunteers and Clay toasted  the equinoxal change of seasons with a bottle of wine that night.

By Thursday morning a few of the female volunteers had left to continue their travels and that day the plan was to plant trees at a new site with a neighborhood called “Reales Tamarindos”. Clay thought it would be a good photo opportunity as some of the community would be joining us.

We left at 8AM in a rented pickup with equipment and people in the back, the driver and his friend in the front. Two volunteers and I were dropped off at the site with  marker stakes and the supplies to paint stripes on them. The others continued on to the greenhouse to fill the truck with saplings to be planted. So we set up to paint the stakes and had almost completed them when the truck returned filled with saplings in 2 liter soda bottles. We unloaded them from the truck to the side of the road, and then proceeded up the hilly path to the site. By now the president of the neighborhood and about six boys aged from about 7 to 12 who live there had joined us. The path to the site was hilly and wound past a house. The recent rains made the clay path difficult to navigate, so Jaime used a machete to cut steps in the most slippery places. Seven adults struggled about a half a mile up the hill each carrying three or four bottles filled with saplings. The kids were like mountain goats. The carried one or two bottles and fairly bounded up the hill. It took about 7 trips each to get all of the trees up to the site.

The next chore was to decide the placement of the trees. We had a number of species—some fast-growers and some slow-growers. The previous three days, Clay and the volunteers had cleared planting paths and dug holes where the trees would be placed. Now we placed saplings either in or near the holes, with the fast-growers on the steepest areas and the slower ones in the flatter places. At the same time that were we doing this, some people carried painted stakes up the hill, so we also pushed in stakes next to the holes. By the time we had about finished doing this, it was about 11:30AM and fairly hot. It was already a good amount of work for one day, but of course we still had to plant the trees, so we continued working. By the time we finished it was 1PM, and we had planted 162 trees. All the empty plastic bottles were collected into a huge pile (to be picked up another day), and we walked down the hill to take a bus back to city center. Everyone was hot and truly tired, but it felt good to have accomplished so much. The shower I took when I got back was just the best!

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