Last Days in Bahia

Amy Jewel, Field Assistant

(Writing from Memphis, Tennessee)

“Well, we HAVE to do it.”

These words were spoken more than once over the past few weeks by Patrick Rivadenerra, Director of the new Department for Tourism and the Environment, about accomplishing the objectives of his department. They were used yet again last week during a final meeting with Gabriella Chejtman as we discussed the next steps in the implementation of the Ecological Plan. Like Luis Mendoza, who is the Vice-Mayor of Canton Sucre, Patrick believes that the ecological education of children and adolescents should be given top priority. He and Gabriella are going to write a detailed educational plan this week. Together we developed a timeline for this and all of the other objectives of the department.

Patrick’s sense of urgency partially derives from his belief that the El Nino phenomenon will reoccur later this year. As evidence, he cited the heavy rains that began to fall last week, causing severe flooding in several areas near Bahia de Caraquez. Not everyone is so sure that El Nino will occur later this year, but almost everyone in Bahia (and in other parts of Ecuador) agrees that the weather patterns are no longer predictable. Indeed, I found it strange that there were very few heavy rainstorms during the two months I lived in Bahia, which was supposedly the rainy season. The city actually suffered from a water shortage for over a month while I was there!

Patrick is not the only one that has a sense of obligation as well as a fervor to transform Bahia de Caraquez into an eco-city. Two of my final hours in Bahia de Caraquez were spent with Rosie, a reporter with one of the local newspapers. She had agreed to meet me early on Sunday morning to visit “The Forest in the Midst of the Ruins” so that she could write a newspaper story about the park featuring the fact that we had just placed new educational plaques along the main pathway of the park. It soon became clear that Rosie’s interests went beyond the park and the plaques. She asked, “Why do you think living in an ecological manner is important?” (a complex enough question to answer concisely in English, much less in my broken Spanish). The full realization of an eco-city may still be a dream, but it is one that is appealing to more of the citizens of Bahia de Caraquez.

Vladir Villagran is going to start a pilot composting project at his Genesis School, when classes resume next month. Instead of building a compost bin, which would be costly due to the price of wood, he is going to take the suggestion of a friend and attempt to dig a compost pit in the ground. He will report on his experience with other schools and institutions that may wish to start composting on-site. 

I provided a copy of the Ecological Plan to another reporter, and was interviewed about my role in its creation and publicizing. Two grant proposals were revised, and I am now waiting to hear back from various organizations that may be interested in funding the proposals. 

Eduardo “Cheo”, a local school teacher who assisted in clearing paths in the park and posting plaques, wrote a proposed plan for the maintenance and continued development of “The Forest in the Midst of the Ruins.” 

Many possibilities exist for future projects. During a visit on my last night in Bahia, Flor Maria Duenas spoke passionately about her dream, which is to attack the problem of sewage in Bahia de Caraquez, and also in the Fanca district of Leonidas Plaza, a neighboring suburb of Bahia. Gabriella Chejtman would like to coordinate a volunteer program for environmental professionals, with the ultimate goal of performing environmental impact assessments to relocate the municipal landfill to a more suitable location. In August, Peter Berg will return to Bahia, and may be working with a specialist in alternative energy to explore the possibility of creating a demonstration site that incorporates alternative energy systems into the typical local architectural style. 

Cultural note on Carnaval

The celebration before the beginning of Lent is one of the most important holidays of the year in Ecuador. Ever since my arrival in mid-January, I found that most local residents described the life in Bahia as “tranquil.” Yet, there was always an exception: “Wait until you see Carnaval.” 

The mayor and Jacob Santos of the Bahia Bed and Breakfast Inn, seemed ambivalent about Carnaval. They spoke of a large influx of tourists (obviously favorable for those involved in the tourist industry in Bahia) but complained about crowded beaches and dirty streets. Other residents seemed to look forward to the arrival of the tourists because of the more active atmosphere that the crowds would generate.

In the two weeks leading up to Carnaval, the city began to make various preparations. There were meetings about safety and clean-ups. A detailed schedule of events was published in local and national papers, along with traffic advisories and other reminders, such as a schedule of tides for those planning to visit the beaches. New trash baskets were constructed, painted and placed throughout downtown. Overall, there was a sense of heightened activity and anticipation throughout town. One of the most interesting sights was the preparation for a fishing festival to be held in one of the neighboring villages. Several large, whimsical, papier-maché fish and ocean creatures were loaded into a municipal dump truck to be transported to the site of the festival. This truck was a standard heavy-duty vehicle, built to move construction materials or other large objects over the roads of Ecuador, which are not always smooth, and are certainly not always predictable. To see this truck filled with delicate smiling sea creatures seemed to be a total reversal of “business as normal.”

And perhaps that is an appropriate description of Carnaval: a reversal of the norm. One of the most widespread customs associated with Carnaval throughout Ecuador is the practice of throwing water or water balloons on passers-by. Anyone may be a possible target, from children to teenagers to adults, and even figures of authority. 

In other ways, Carnaval seemed more like an exaggeration of the norm. Certain additions were novel, such as an outdoor screen near the small skating rink by the Malecon, used for the projection of music videos and other short video clips. There was also a small parade for the contestants in the local beauty pageant, but this was a minor event, and the streets were not lined for the occasion. The usual one or two hamburger vendors that appear every Friday and Saturday night multiplied to include stands selling snacks, sodas, and beer, some of which were operated right out of local residents’ homes. Typical Friday and Saturday daytime crowds on the beach, and nighttime crowds in the streets and on the Malecon, swelled to congested levels. On the whole, Carnaval was simply a continuation of the peaceful but playful atmosphere that normally permeates Bahia.

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