Judy’s Journal #3

March 31-April 4, 2008
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Monday, March 31, 2008

This morning Jill, Jaime and I set out for one of the El Toro sites. They are along a river basin that slopes steeply down from the hills. In relation to other sites, they are located just before Bosque Encantado in the Fanca neighborhood, but behind it and much farther away from the road. A half-hour walk just to reach the site. Luckily, we had only light backpacks with just water, insect repellant and sun-screen. Jill and I discussed how difficult it must have been for earlier volunteers to tote several plants growing in bottles with wet soil.

The river that rises in El Toro is fairly large. During the El Niño flooding of ’98-’99 a high wall of mud raged down the river course wiping out a reinforced concrete highway bridge and completely blocking the main road into Bahia. After a day’s drenching rain a week and a half ago on our bus ride home from working, the flash flooding river could be seen almost level with the bridge again. Erosion on the nearby riverbanks is impressive, 90 degree angles above the river. For Planet Drum it always seemed a particularly important area to plant, but especially daunting because of its magnitude and the difficulty obtaining access to sites.

A main objective of Planet Drum’s revegetation project is to control erosion. The depth of the bottom of both Bahia Bay and the Chone River which leads into it has visibly risen due to soil washing down from the hills. At low tide during this visit sandbars were apparent along the south side of the bay. The El Toro Basin, which is a major tributary of the Chone River, covers an extremely large area, and most of the land facing the river is in private ownership. There have been continuing discussions with the owners and a few have agreed to have some sites there revegetated.

We rode the bus to just before Fanca, about 15-minutes, and then walked first down the road, then along the riverbank, then down along the river itself (which had subsided and was quite small), and finally back up along the river banks again. In some places the riparian erosion had formed steep banks 30 feet high. At one place we saw a honeybee hive in the soil of the embankment. Honeybees in Ecuador nest only in the ground, so it was impressive to see one on this 90 degree embankment, in the ground but at a right angle to what we normally think of as the ground. 

This year’s saplings were planted in finger-like paths that branch horizontally from the left and right of a main trail. Fortunately work was under a canopy of larger trees and bushes so the sun wasn’t beating directly down. At one place a large flightless bird, flushed out by the chopping, revealed a nest on the ground with six eggs. We worked individually on what originally seemed to be single paths. The “single” paths repeatedly divided and it became hard to figure out which paths had been completed. I began taking the highest path of each fork and then came back and cleared the next highest fork, continuing down the hill. Paths ended in either a barbed wire fence or an impenetrable mass of vegetation. The trees at this site seemed to be doing well, and after more than a week of working together we had developed into an efficient work crew. Despite some disorientation early on, we worked quickly and when Jaime did a final re-examination of the paths looking for unfinished areas, he found none.

On the long walk back to the road Jaime pointed out a gray stripe in one of the yellowish vertical walls of the creek. He drew his machete gently along it and a few shells, clods of gray ashy earth, and some small red and black pottery shards dropped out. He explained that the gray layer was the remains of a Pre-Columbian site, just the thing that archeologists look for to locate potential digs. The area around Bahia has a truly high number of these sites. Remnants from ancient civilizations are found all along the coast, often when simply planting crops or walking through fields. Beyond this Pre-Columbian spot was a snake about two feet long which had folded itself in half and was taking a nap about 20 feet up the same vertical wall. Jill and I departed from Jaime, who decided to try and get some honey from the bee hive, and easily found our way back to the road and a bus to the city. (Jaime later told us that the bees had not produced much honey as they were busy constructing their hive.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Jill, Jaime and I went to the barrio of El Astillero and walked to an empty lot, which has a large Pechiche tree in it. Numerous seedlings had sprouted under this mother tree. The duff was so thick that it was easy to gently release the tiny trees from it with their roots intact. It was a beneficial act since the seedlings wouldn’t grow much larger otherwise. They were put into a half gallon plastic bottle partially filled with water. Then we continued walking to the new Reales Tamarindo site, which had just been planted about a week previously. The empty 2 liter bottles used for saplings had been left in a pile and were now stuffed into large sacks and awkwardly carried to the bus stop. It had been rainy and muddy when the planting had been done, so now on this dry morning it seemed to be a very different place. Some of the new trees already looked healthy, but some were still in shock from being transplanted. 

When the bus came, the conductor obligingly opened a compartment in the back for our sacks for the trip to the greenhouse at Universidad Catolica. Workmen were clearing weeds in a field near the greenhouse when we arrived. The sacks of bottles were dumped and some soil, sand and compost were mixed  to fill them again. Jill described our work as “playing in the sandbox.” By the end of the morning 75 bottles had been refilled with soil and planted with the Pechiche seedlings. The greenhouse now contains almost 100 of these highly desirable native fruit trees. During the morning the workmen found and killed a pit viper called equix. It was only about a foot long, but is very poisonous. Looking at it with a number of the University professors constituted our break that morning.

This was Jill’s last workday, she left for further adventures in Cuenca on the next morning’s bus. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Most of today was spent preparing for a presentation and dinner meeting with over a dozen participants in Planet Drum’s revegetation project. We met at the restaurant in Jacob Santos’ Bahia Bed & Breakfast, a lovely space for a dinner meeting decorated with bamboo and large murals of country scenes. The tables were arranged in a square so that conversations would be easy, and a projector (with a sheet pinned on the wall for a screen) was set up for Clay’s slideshow presentation. The guests were the landowners of sites planted this year and representatives of city barrios were community plantings had taken pace. After Clay’s presentation about Planet Drum’s work, the various sites, and future potential for revegetation, we enjoyed a delicious dinner. Fish soup was the first course; followed by fish in coconut sauce, rice, red cabbage salad, and patacones (twice cooked plantains, an Ecuadorian specialty) as the second. Beverages included fresh Mora (a sweet blackberry/raspberry fruit) juice and beer. Questions and discussions continued through dinner and beyond. Everyone enjoyed the evening. More information about the content of the meeting is described in Peter Berg’s Dispatch #3 on this page. 

Thursday, April 3, 2008

During the morning Peter and Clay made a visit to discuss an access road with a neighbor of the land that has been bought just outside Bahia to house a future Planet Drum Institute. Accessing the land has been a matter of discussion for the last two years. 

In the afternoon, Patricio Tamaris and his mother Flor Maria Duenas picked us up for a visit and lunch at her ecologically sustainable organic shrimp farm. We had hoped to include some of the volunteers, but by Thursday all of them had left.

Most shrimp farms are barren industrial places. Shrimp are raised in rectangular diked areas and the dikes are simply compacted soil in a wide grate-like design. When I visited Flor’s shrimp farm in 2000 it was much the same. Since then she has planted thirteen thousand Mangrove trees along the dikes and changed from chemically aided feeding and collecting methods. Her shrimp are now certified as organically grown and are much more ecologically sustainable. After visiting the shrimp ponds we went to a slough where a pavilion was built over the water.  It is a beautiful ramada-styled building with low bamboo walls, a grilling area, and a large dining section in the open air. There are also two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a kind of living room/sitting area that were somewhat more enclosed. Originally it had been built for youth Eco-club meetings, now she is considering using it for volunteers who will be helping her. It was surprisingly breezy on such a hot day. 

Lunch centered on shrimp and other local foods continuing through many courses:

Pechiche juice tasting like tangy prune plums to start, then shrimp ceviche with chifles (crisp fried banana chips), lightly breaded fried shrimp balls with mango sauce, rice mixed with fresh corn cut off the cob, grilled whole shrimp, small tamale-looking packages containing pureed fresh corn with chicken pieces wrapped in a banana leaf, lettuce-tomato-cucumber salad, roasted sweet bananas, Maracuya (passion fruit) juice … whew, have I left anything out? Oh yes, fresh very sweet chilled watermelon for dessert. Delicious, but I was stuffed!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Clay spent most of the day discussing access rights to the Planet Drum land with lawyers and then finding every piece of formal paper that related to the land. By a miracle he uncovered all the old paperwork (it took several hours and included getting copies from a notary). He also created a legal document giving him authority to work with neighbors while Peter is not in Bahia. This last document was notarized and then all of them were copied so that a set could be used by Clay, a set remains with Peter for the San Francisco office, and a set stayed with Jacob Santos, who had facilitated the original land purchase and has continued to be extremely helpful in the continuing negotiations. With all this completed, a wonderful sense of accomplishment beamed from Clay and Peter. 

What a wonderful fulfilling visit this has been!

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