Land Found But Not Quite Located

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Planet Drum Foundation’s efforts to assist in transforming Bahia into an ecological city have taken a progressively more educational bent. We have had a full-time staff member as Bioregional Educational Program Manager, Kristen Lansdale, for nearly half a year. Her reports on the progress of the first twenty-five high school age students have been a continuous revelation of expanding possibilities for place-located learning. On another front, Riccardo Clemente spent last winter teaching an adult course in alternative energy, building a successful passive solar hot water heater for a local grade school with some of his students, awarding certificates of accomplishment in the name of Planet Drum, and helping them to develop a company named Bahia Aqua Caliente Solar. (He returns later this month to write a report on the installation to earn a graduate degree.)  

It seems the right time to initiate a Master of Bioregional Sustainability Program for graduate students that would last a full year. Fundamental to this program would be development of sustainable housing and farming features on a piece of land that required revegetation and restoration of native habitat. Students can initiate building, infrastructure, agriculture, revegetation, and research projects for certification while learning and working with our ecological city programs. Inexpensive land that had no previously existing structures was found and purchased earlier this year. The following is an account of the first exploratory visit.

Up at 6AM Friday (9/2/05) for horseback ride over our new land. Brought everything I thought was necessary from long-sleeved shirt and hat to water and sandwiches. Caught bus at terminal for 16 kilometer ride and sat on steps by door to look for dirt road where I’m supposed to meet guide and horses. Arrived 15 minutes before appointment at 9 and jumped on horse accompanied by “Lucho,” Jacob Santos’ land steward. We rode down the highway a kilometer to Quijije’s (pronounced key-he-hay) farm to get permission to enter his land to take a trail to ours. Ride was straight up from there 3 kilometers according to Lucho hanging onto the horse’s mane at times to avoid falling off. My “del campo” mount was extremely responsive and wise about trails and barbed wire, but not considerate of having a rider three feet above its back smashing into branches and vines. Also ate everything all the time which impeded travel. But generally alert and eager in vast contrast to burros I’ve ridden here. 

The sixty hectares (about 150 acres) of land had obviously been used to clearcut trees for lumber ten years before. Primary seboya grass and various bushes mixed with some initial successional trees such as fruitillo still occupy large tracts. There are exceptions on the far sides of steep canyons and the tops of hills where patches of what appears to be original forest remain. The logged areas have become true jungle which is defined as impassable or nearly impassable growth. We machete-hacked a good part of the time and lost trails continually.

We weren’t able to find any paths that went directly to the forested places to observe their actual condition. None went directly across the land either. We attempted to circle the whole property but only got one-quarter of the way heading north and even less to the south before running into drop-offs or steep cliffs. Exploring these places will require days of trail-blazing.

Rather than being the whole bowl that is visible from the rim, the shape of the property is like a rectangular sheet draped across the interior. The flag-shaped piece runs up to the rim on the east and halfway or so to the north, west and south. There is a ridge that bisects the property to about the center of the bowl, with small rises on all sides. Although it is mainly clay soil mixed with sand and few if any rocks there is considerable variety of terrain.  

We found and ate green tamarind fruit, saw an iguana’s nest in branches of a guayacan, gathered seeds from four tree species to plant in greenhouse, and noted at least a dozen plants that obviously provide good animal feed.  

Felt confident at the end of three and half hours about first horseback ride in years so trotted and galloped back to where I originally met Lucho, caught a bus to Bahia, and have enjoyed an exhilarated floating spirit since in spite of sore legs.

To say it’s rough territory is an understatement. But there are extremely positive aspects. Some hardwood trees remain throughout the cut area. It isn’t hotter or more humid in the bowl  than the ridgetops. The coast is nearby so there are breezes and possible future access. There don’t seem to be any permanent non-natural land deformations or pollution. It is “raw land” of the dry tropical forest, more tangled than old growth would be but manageable to the extent that one wishes to manage it. This is perfect for putting sustainable features in place, revegetating logged areas, and studying changes over future time. 

Securing the land is proving to be a challenge. Quiije is one of four neighbors and he has begun marking off his border with recently placed stakes. Since there are no survey documents or even maps this line may or may not be accurate. (The other neighboring parcels which will have similar problems.) To establish the borders a survey would need to be made and this presents more problems. Surveyors won’t have a line of sight through the tangle so a tentative swath of about 2 meters circling the land would have to be cleared. Siteing this swath would be only partially informed guesswork. We are obliged to fence the entire boundary with or without a survey since there is evidence of grazing by neighboring cows and some border will have to be established. 

For this work to start while I’m here, I’ll have to try to visit neighboring landowners and attempt to understand what they believe is the correct line. They are likely to be absentee so I’ll have to visit their land steward tenants as well. It’s going to be difficult to accomplish in two weeks before I leave, but needs to be finished if we intend to get any fencing work done before the rainy season begins roughly four months from now. 

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