Judy’s Journal #2, (includes Planet Drum’s Eco-Ecuador Work)

March 24-28, 2008
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Overview: Last week there were seven Planet Drum volunteers who concentrated work on one large neighborhood site. Only three volunteers remained by the beginning of this week, and by midweek only one. Regardless of fewer numbers we weeded four previously planted sites as well as the greenhouse.

The work: Weeding involves locating saplings planted in the new sites and “cleaning” a space about two meters in diameter around the tree. Sometimes the canopy of other trees above it needs to be cleared as well. When working alone this can be a very meditative experience—you could redefine/reevaluate your life while working.

Also involved: Vines grow incredibly fast and can overwhelm saplings unless the trees are released from their grip. Paths and spaces between trees that tend to disappear into fast-growing vegetation during this wet moist season need to be cleared

The Sites, the People & the Work:

Monday, March 24, 2008

All of the volunteers except me joined foreman Jaime to deal with a site that is close to the greenhouse at Universidad Catolica. Meanwhile, Clay and I cleared the recently planted saplings on the side of a long staircase in the city center that leads to a neighborhood with a vista area at the top of a hill that has a large cross on it. The hill and the site are called La Cruz (The Cross).

The day was sunny and very hot. In two months since the saplings were planted, grasses had grown higher than them, so the trees were hard to find. The lower areas were planted in short rows next to the staircase, but at the top the land flattens and about half of the trees were planted there. We used machetes to do the clearing—a first for me. I spent some time figuring out how to cut effectively. It took about two and a half hours to clear the whole space. When we finished both of us were completely drenched—actually we were drenched after about only five minutes work! The morning ended with us resting and chatting in the shade. On the way back down Clay pointed out a view of the Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas below, Planet Drum’s very first planting site in Bahia that I had previously only seen in photos and had often puzzled over the location from which the photos had been taken.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The site for clearing today was Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas. It is large and at a further north end of town than any others. One of the volunteers was feeling sick and one was preparing to leave on the afternoon bus so Jaime, so Darline and I walked to the site unaccompanied and began weeding. The first places we worked had been recently planted (i.e. during this year’s rainy season). Because it was started more than five years ago, this site has quite a few large trees so we were working both in and out of their comfortable shade. Young trees were easy to see and work was steady. After finishing the new plantings we continued clearing older ones. It was gratifying to see how large the earlier plantings had grown. Most of them originally had short bamboo sections inserted next to them both to mark the tree and to transport water directly down to the roots. Back in the San Francisco Planet Drum office there are photo albums from each year’s work in Bahia. How enjoyable it was to recall the photos of tiny trees being planted with bamboo sections while working around the same trees now 12-15 feet tall! Several other methods of marking trees can be seen in this site, which brought to mind the various project managers over the past years, each with unique contributions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bosque Encantato, which is on a hillside above a farm at the end of the Fanca neighborhood (a 15-minute bus ride—plus the walk past the farm), was our work destination. Darline was departing today and Jaime was sick, so Clay, Jill and I went to the site. It contains about 300 trees on seven paths up a long hillside. We each took one of the paths, planning to meet at the top where they ended. The paths serpentine around and meander up the hill. You could hear rhythmic chopping from the neighboring paths while we wound around the hill. Just as it seemed to be reaching the top, my trail descended and looped around again. I called to Jill at one point to see the spectacular vista that emerged behind us.

Eventually Clay came down my path and helped finish clearing the last 8-10 trees. He had already completed two more paths and Jill was just reaching the top too. We found a shady spot and exchanged experiences all of us had with caterpillars (large bright pink and green with long body hairs—which could cause skin rashes.) and butterflies (completely black, white and red; yellow and black; and bright orange ones with a wing span of about a foot.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Finishing up Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas and Bosque Encantato sites. Jaime, Jill and I walked back and cleared the older and oldest plantings at Ruinas. Some of the trees were so tall and broad that they hardly needed clearing because their canopies shaded out intrusive plants. Clay joined us after about an hour and was amazed when he realized that we had almost finished. The four of us then spent some time clearing the extensive walking paths between the trees after first finding them because most were so overgrown. Together we covered most of the paths and all the plantings.

Near the large Ceibo tree that marks the top entrance to the park, I heard a loud two-noted bird calling, repeatedly. I’m sure the bird was in the Ceibo but remained a haunting mystery because it never showed itself.

It was still early when we walked back from the Bosque, so Jill, Jaime, and I bussed over to the Bosque Encantado site about six kilometers away where there were still three recently planted paths that needed clearing. Instead of each person taking one path, we did all of them together. Since they were fairly short it was all finished in about an hour. Took a breath in the shade and then returned to El Centro (City Center).

Friday, March 28, 2008

The site—Planet Drum’s greenhouse next to the Universidad Catolica at Kilometro 8, the last stop and turnaround of the city buses. It was about two weeks since I had been there planting seeds in one of two outside beds. During that short time, a prodigious number of weeds had grown both inside the greenhouse and around it.

Jill and I followed Jaime’s instructions and first cleared weeds in the indoor seedbeds. There are about eight of them, and except for one or two, everything had to be cleared through a combination of hand pulling and swinging machetes. What a change to be using machetes without tromping up and down hills!

Next we worked on the indoor paths between the beds. It seemed amazing that weeds could even grow on them, since they consist of very heavily compacted earth. About the time we finished Jaime returned from working elsewhere at UC. When he checked all of the plants we had not pulled out, thinking they were saplings, he found that only about half of them actually were desired plants and the other half were weeds.

Then we attacked the two outside seedbeds, one of which I had helped to plant earlier in this visit. It was a delight to see a few newly planted seeds already sprouting up. Following this we returned inside to weed the many species of saplings that were growing in 2 liter plastic bottles. By now many of the weeds could be easily identified. Occasionally the sapling in a bottle had died. Some bottles had just a few weeds, and some had giant intruders. A few saplings were inadvertently “weeded”—a sacrifice is how I thought of them. Fortunately there were only one or two of those all morning.

While Jill and I were working inside, Jaime cleared tall grasses that had grown up outside to surround the greenhouse. Our final project inside was to weed along the interior walls. When we finished and had weeded both inside and outside completely, the greenhouse looked wonderful. Finishing up, Jaime watered all the plants and the crew walked to the bus stop. On the way there was a swarm of yellow and white butterflies and Jill danced through with her arms in the air. It was a lovely way to end the afternoon.

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