Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
After many delays due to rain and unavailability of people or horses, Clay and I finally made a second trip to the village of Pajonal for the purpose of riding over the most promising road site to the Planet Drum land.
We began to encounter the usual obstacles immediately. At the outset there was only one horse and one burro for the three of us including our helper Lucho. Clay rode the horse and Lucho the burro while I walked behind to Quijije’s farmhouse nearby. Luckily we found another available burro there. Maybe as in the previous visit we would be saved by dumb luck.
Almost immediately we were stymied again. Lucho assumed that we were going the long way through Duenas’ ranch at the southern end of our 120 hectares instead of straight ahead on the potential road road site at Quijije’s. Before riding very far, pre-occupied until then struggling to keep balance on the burro’s slender back, I sensed that we were going the wrong way. We back-tracked to find Quijije already gone. His minimally forthcoming wife said we couldn’t follow the potential road route because there were half-wild cattle behind new fences there. After pondering our dilemma Lucho ran after Quijije to lead us through the cattle. He was found and the situation seemed saved. But lost again when he said our animals couldn’t go through the fenced field even accompanied by him without causing havoc with the bull and cows there.
Confounding as the situation had now become we decided to ride down the main highway to manuever around the problem by way of the Duenas’route after all. This way we could visit the new land, and hopefully ride across it to the hill we shared with Quijije. The potential road site could thus be visited by walking down from the top.
The Duenas route is ordinarily long but crossing over it was made even slower by hungry burros and the horse eating rich new grass brought by the rainy season, and somewhat perilous by recent land slides that left unseen gaps in the overgrown trail. We eventually arrived at his borderline with our property only to find that he had strung new wire with long U-shaped nails. This fence was even more impassable for the transport animals then Quijije’s had been!
We left our grass-gorging animals whose main intended use was to ease our way through the land tied to the fence they couldn’t pass. We got through only by crouching as low as possible through the tight, newly-strung barbed wire. There was no other course but to walk several kilometers through wet overgrown jungle to a huge field of paja seboya that had grown sufficiently high over our heads so that we could see nothing but the other grass plants directly in front of our feet and the overcast sky above. Lucho then went back alone to the fence where we had entered so that he could take the burros and horse back to our orignal starting point. Clay and I proceeded with Quijije to practically swim breast stroke style through the grass.
Guided only by a faultless memory, Quijije found a trail we could use to the ridge that separated our land from his. The climb up was amazingly long and steep even though it was at a forty-five degree angle across the face of the hillside (straight up would have been extremely strenuous on a normal day but it had rained just before so the slippery footing now was nearly impossible). Along the slow, puffing way there were low-hanging pouches of birds nests that could be held to examine closely, a vestigal lime tree in full fruit, dingy orange shelf mushrooms growing on a log with an underside containing pure orange spores that could make a bright face paint, and wide views of our still-freshly perceived land with the hills beyond. These were beautiful respites from the extreme combined workout and sauna we were experiencing lifting each leg up the seemingly endless trail. With me panting and sweating so much that my shirt, pants and even shoes were soaked, we stood awhile to make tuna sandwiches and guzzle water, then resumed the climb. But soon stopped to catch our wind. Then climbed some more and stopped again. And stopped several times more before breathlessly reaching the ridgetop.
The descent on the other side revealed a remarkably gentle incline that had obviously held a full-size road in the past. “Starting when everything big on your land was logged 40 years ago,” said Quijije. There will be some problems agreeing with him about the width for the new road and some spots that would still present erosion problems regardess of the width, but it is by far the most suitable approach. We’ll return tomorrow to negotiate the next phase of obtaining this piece for much-needed access rights before anything can be done on the Planet Drum land that is completely surrounded by ranches and farms.
There have been two public preoccupations for me to resolve. One was to hold a dinner party for Amigos de la Eco-ciudad to revive ties of a mutually shared vision and share a memorable good time. It took place last night with the desired results and more since 25 people met some fellow activists they didn’t already know with great benefit to all of their future efforts.
With Jairo of Bahia Bed & Breakfast Inn as chef with a complement of assistants to cook and serve, endless Margaritas insuring that guests would be uninhibited and talkative, and Nicolas’ perfect guitar accompanied by bongos covering Buena Vista Social Club’s songs and contemporary classics like Guantanamera. The main dish was that-day fresh corvina, a choice local fish, with a truly inspired shrimp sauce no one had tasted before, and there were two salads for the vegetarians inevitably found among eco-amigos. we ate like gourmands and regaled each other with news and stories from eight until midnight. Margaritas were obviously a good choice since the thirsty diners consumed 150 limes. A personal standout was meeting and talking politics with newly-elected Bolivarian-styled President Correa’s district organizer who is the husband of a local Green candidate for City Council. He is Italian-Ecuadorian and a somewhat ecological shrimp farmer (“no mangroves were destroyed making my pond”) whose immigrant grandfather opened the first ice plant in Bahia’s sweltering Manabi Province.
The other event is a presentation Clay and I will make next Wednesday that is explained in the following letter to obtain permission for a meeting space.
March 22, 2007
Lcda. Maria Soledad Vela Ch.
Dear Maria Soledad,
As Director of Planet Drum Foundation, I request the use of the library discussion space of the Museo de Banco Nacional in Bahía de Caráquez for a public presentation from 8 to 11 PM on the evening of March 28, 2007.
The informal civic organization Amigos de la Eco-ciudad is beginning a series of monthly presentations on issues of urban ecology and sustainability. The first of these will be about Planet Drum’s activities to assist Bahía de Caráquez to become an ecological city. The presentation will be by Clay Plager-Unger and myself and will include a photographic slide show.
I request that there be no fee for using the space because these presentations will all be free and open to the general public, and provide information that is for the benefit of the whole community. In addition, Planet Drum is a non-profit educational organization.
Future presentations will be by other groups involved with building the eco-ciudad in areas that include renewable energy, recycling, restoration of habitats for native plants and animals, and so forth.
Thank you for your consideration.
Peter Berg, Director
Planet Drum Foundation
Bahia de Caraquez
Assured of the space since this morning, Clay wrote an announcement and together we visited two radio stations and a local newspaper to make announcements. This afternoon the weekly newspaper will interview us. It’s amazing how cooperative the media is in this small city. Like everything else here the offices involved were only blocks from each oher, and in making the short walk between them we met and invited half a dozen people. Bahia is about the size recommended by city planners in North American and other industrialized countries, and it reflects all of the dreamed-of convivial aspects that good planners seek. But rather than suffering through a torturous and often badly calculated planning process that would be needed in those foreign misdeveloped places, this city’s human scale features and charm came about in an irreproducable organic way!