Report From Ecuador #1
It’s in the humid summerish 80s Fahrenheit here a few minutes south of the equator, with curtain-rippling breezes and light gray clouds.
The small city of Bahia de Caraquez (named as though it was a whole bay in the ocean) is shaped like a thumb (with the part of the hand that holds it) jutting out into the Pacific on a sandspit. Its clear distinction from the deeply rural surrounding countryside is immediately evident when driving in because of the sudden appearance of small restaurants, traffic signs, billboards, and other indications that it is both an urban center and a seaside resort. Not particularly well-known outside of Ecuador, Bahia has been a famous retreat for Quito residents for a long time, with a few multi-storey hotels and a number of summer homes. A miniature San Sebastian, Euskadi (Spain). Unlike the usual beach pleasure spot, local life is only partially based on outside visitors and there are several bioregional resources-based industries. The residents have a natural laid-back style that is outgoing and inviting. Bahia is visited enough to be interested in strangers but isolated enough to have its own identity without self-consciousness.
A catastrophic series of natural calamities took place here last year that have set Bahia de Caraquez on an unalterably different course than a typical South American resort area. Unremitting El Nino storms and rains lasted from December 1997 through May 1998 (that’s a solid half-year of heavy rain) causing earth movement that carried away whole hills as well as many hillsides in mud flows of the severe kind usually associated with snowmelt from erupting volcanoes. Then a Richter 7+ earthquake at the beginning of August broke apart many buildings and caused missing pieces and cracks in those that remained. Sixteen died in one mud flow, another life was taken by the trembler, and the grinding daily aftermath of dealing with the problems of survival continues to affect everyone here. At one time there were 3,000 of the town’s 20,000 residents living on the streets. There are still 500 homeless families living in shacks constructed from the ruins or government-provided flimsy temporary shelters.
Bahia must now reassemble itself after nearly complete ruin. And it is choosing to do so in a history-making way as an eco-municipality within the context of its bioregion.
(More to follow before the February 27-28 Eco-Gathering to make the eco-municipality declaration and celebrate the first International Mangrove Day.)