(“I hope so!” A common Spanish expression obviously derived at the time of the Moorish occupation from Arabic, “As Allah will have it.”)
Leonidas Plaza—Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
The morning of Revegetation Day I began with a round of sweeping up crickets, the mound only slightly smaller than the day before. There’s a barrel of rain water on the roof-patio (a typical Ecuadorean amenity even in low-income houses that seems luxurious and is probably only possible because of the tropical climate) that I scooped into a basin and used to wash, shave and brush teeth. The view on one side was of the Bird Islands in the bay, and on the other a perfectly conical mountain which is intact without any sign of slides and is covered with seemingly untouched native vegetation. It deserves a visit to learn what is contained in this particular formation of plants and why the mountain didn’t collapse during El Nino like its neighbors.
Bahia can be reached by bus from here, but shared taxis are the same price or a little more expensive in the morning, so I took one. Patricio was escorting a Guayaquil TV crew and requested that I get filmed at La Cruz, at the foot of the now-slanted cross that stands at the peak of the highest hill adjacent to Bahia. Slides of rain-soaked soil left a precipitous drop right at the base of the cross because the hill top was also fissured by the earthquake. We previously rejected this site for revegetation because its fate is too tenuous. The next earthquake or El Nino will surely carry away half of what remains.
The narrator asked me what sparked the eco-city idea and I related the need to reconstruct the city and how making it more ecologically sustainable became the theme. “It’s the first bioregional eco-city,” I added and pointed at sites that featured continuing restoration of ecosystems such as mangroves in the river and our project using only indigenous plants on land. “How long will it take for the eco-city to be realized,” he asked. “It isn’t like flipping on a light switch,” I replied. The Ecology Club(s) of at least one hundred eight to twelve year-olds came to mind as an image. “In five years they will be teenagers with the background and potential for completing the transition. That’s when you’ll see the true eco-city bloom.”
For what should be the glorious day of initiating the portentous re-wilding of Maria Auxiliadora barrio, things began moving with a haphazard slowness that strummed my nerves. Marcelo wasn’t where he said he would be at 2 o’clock to help me load 150 algarrobo plants that Flor-Maria Duenas donated from her accumulation of about one thousand seedlings. Patricio was also supposed to be there with a truck at that time, and wasn’t. I telephoned Marcelo’s house at 2:30 and found out he was just starting lunch. We were losing daylight for planting and the situation concerning volunteers from the barrio was uncertain. Marcelo had originally guessed there would be fifty but now he wasn’t sure. I had previously bought sodas and cookies for that number and brought them by triciclo to load into the non-existent truck. Adjusting the amount to bring to the barrio was a concern.
Then the impasse began to split and blow open like a dam that can’t hold back an overfilled reservoir. Flor-Maria decided to take her truck. Marcelo arrived and we loaded it. Flor had other problems such as handling the feeding of the TV crew, so she was somewhat impatient. We drove to Maria Auxilidora not knowing what reception was waiting. There were a few friends of Marcelo’s and Luis Duenas, a partner of Eduardo Rodriguez in Eco-bahia Centro’s reforestation committee. But it turned out that Marcelo had spent the morning chopping close to five hundred hobo and muyullo lengths to stick into the ground as plantings. Flor continued to be preoccupied so we unloaded quickly.
I walked first with Macelo’s friend David and then with Luis to look at the area. Some barrio residents had chopped out a small patch of low growth, probably to plant corn. Luis and I revisited the site where Marcelo and I had seen a steeply pitched break from a ridgetop on our first visit and decided that this would be the starting point. A triceclo appeared to haul seedlings and cuttings up to that point and then some men from the barrio appeared to help. Flor had spread word that wages would be paid and we eventually had twenty or so helpers. She also joined us, in a better mood, leading about ten small children.
The work that David and his girlfriend had begun now became a serious project with Marcelo and Luis working in different areas, planting trees at a distance of 3-4 meters as I suggested from observing how guayacan grew in a grove at the Vocational Institute. Marcelo directed a mixed pattern of planting for hobo, muyullo and algarobbo, while Luis ingeniously guided their placement along “contoursos” which I took to be topographic-like lines on the hillside to create the effect of terracing when the trees were larger, but without mechanically disturbing the soil which we all agree goes against our best bioregional interests.
Workers jimmied posthole diggers into the ground of hillsides that were angled at forty-five degrees. In the three hours we had remaining before sunset, they set two hundred hobo sticks in the soil, some in front of twisted and broken house walls. One hundred and fifty muyullos were planted in alternating spots, and one hundred and fifty algarrobos were placed between those two. The finished day’s job covered five to six acres. I asked the group whether the barrio would respect our work and leave the revegetation area intact, and they stated that they would do so and continue to work on more with us.
While we were hard at planting, Flo-Maria had begun organizing a new Ecology Club that grew to about thirty children. We served them sodas and cookies as well as the workers. She continued teaching, perched on a sack of sawdust facing them in a row, when we came back from the replanted area. I realized at that time that her tiredness and impatience had been completely reversed. At some point she had decided to stay for their benefit and it totally revived her.
The project has begun more successfully than I could have imagined. We pick it up again two days later. Will we actually create a complete covering of indigenous plants that can hold the soil and provide habitat for native ecosystems in a wild corridor around the barrio? Ojala!