Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
A month late, the annual rainy season has begun with a drenching vengeance. It began lightly, just sparkling the night pavement shortly before I arrived in Guayaquil, and continued intermittently a few days later while waiting to pick up new volunteers Darcie Luce and Lisa Kundrat at the airport. On the six hour bus ride from there to Bahia we encountered a stretch of mud in the streets of a small town sufficiently deep to sink the sliding tires to the rim and slow us down to an anxious crawl. Inching by another bus that had become stranded, I exchanged vacant glances of the condemned through the muddy windows with passengers who had sat in that sad conveyance for an unknown number of hours and remembered the principal role that unexpected hazards perform here. Our calamity hardened driver didn’t respect this particular patch of mud and ground on through even deeper stuff until we eventually got clear and arrived only a half-hour late in Bahia.
Downpours since then have been spectacular. Usually only an hour or two long, they make up for relative brevity with overbrimming volume. Our first indication that something exceptional was due came with a still-trembling traveler’s account of a massive mud slide that just missed pushing his bus off the road. Continuing rains have flooded houses, roads and fields almost everywhere. A roof without leaks is rare, city streets can have puddles from curb to curb, and some entire neighborhoods are flooded. There was thigh high standing water in front of our Fanca Produce project to make compost and grow fruit trees for distribution in a poor barrio when we first arrived that has deepened to become an impassable, mid-chest high pond. Sticky clay mud has begun filling the unpaved streets of the entire barrio as well as Bahia’s adjacent city Leonidas Plaza.
But don’t take this as a lament, at least not yet. Residents are ready for a break from the rain, of course, but they also accept it as just heavier than usual. Planet Drum’s two major projects, the revegetation park Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas and Fanca Produce, have both been affected. The park has minor mud flows from a few gullies while Fanca Produce is not only obstructed by a pond but hundreds of seedlings are in danger of inundation which could kill them. We can definitely use a respite because there is already damage and delay.
There have been numerous uptimes in spite of the rain. We had an exhilarating planting day led by Nicola Mears while the water was still just thigh high, helped by boys who voluntarily waded through with plants while we wheelbarrowed compost. Fanca is divided into four parts and in a mild rain we transported everything to Fanca IV accompanied by a spontaneous volunteer named Sarah and several boys. Nicola made introductions of our purpose to help plant trees at eight houses which participated in the program of separating organic household waste to make compost. This highly fertile soil is then used for growing seedlings, but since it is too early in the process for our seedlings to be mature we brought bought and donated ones to take advantage of the rain. Mostly women were at home at mid-day and they reacted to our unscheduled visit with a range of favorable responses from excited enthusiasm to coaxed but pleased participation. A drizzle became a warm shower and then a full-fledged rain while we sited locations in yards, dug post holes in the saturated mud, added compost, placed the trees, and filled in a mixture of clay mud and compost. Fruits of five species, one each, went to everyone except papayas due to a donation from the mayor of several thousand seedlings. Those weren’t limited and everyone took two or three. Participants who attended gardening classes and actually helped to turn the compost also received lemon and mango trees. Nicola glowed with graciousness toward the people who live in adverse circumstances in this barrio. Her warmth was contagious for our inexperienced crew as well as the residents, and we could not possibly have had as enjoyable or successful a three-hour session in soaked clothes without her. Delays can’t be overcome especially with the sheer volume of rain, but two sections of Fanca are finished and the tree-planting aspect of the project is now half-completed.
The park in Maria Auxiliadora barrio has new erosion deposits from the deepest gullies cut into the hillside that occurred in just the last few weeks. In four or five places fine particles of clay percolated up from within the soil and oozed out in four to six inch wide flows from one to two inches deep in curves resembling slow-moving lava. In two places there are actual small slides from half a foot to two or three feet high. The trails were placed correctly in the beginning so they are all passable even if a bit higher in some places than before. It is all easily repaired so far but we’ll wait to see what further rains bring. It was the dry season when trails were cleared last time and they have stayed remarkably wide open and don’t need machete chopping along their sides. A few log steps have been displaced and need to be rebuilt or shored up. The effectiveness of our previous planting is clearly obvious. In heavily planted areas there are no flows or slides. In one spot on the hillside a single tree held back a slide that built up behind it instead of falling to the bottom of the hill. No soil material left the revegetation area to descend on houses below. The greatest amount of what erosion there is filled in a small basin between two trails that still has room for additional deposits.
George Tukel arrived to start researching renewable energy applications for Bahia. I took the bus trip back to Guayaquil to meet his airplane, and we spent some time there looking at tons of water lilies uprooted by floods floating down the wide Guays River and people-watching until the return bus six hours later. Between his coming from New York and me from Bahia, it was an eighteen hour trip altogether for both of us! George has already begun meeting Planning Department people.
Eduardo “Cheo” has begun acting as a liaison between Planet Drum, biologist Pedro Otero, and the landowners in the six kilometer area of eroded hills along the Rio Chone coming into Bahia. It is my personal obsession to create a wildlife corridor of native dry tropical forest vegetation to prevent erosion and restore ecosystems in this area. Hopefully, the owners can appreciate the advantages of those benefits and donate small parts of their property for use in planting. We’re meeting next week and will have the mayor present to help explain the vision.
People here are even more friendly than before and hospitably helpful to Darcie, George and Lisa. We have a lot to do before the end of this month and with a little relief from the rain should be able to accomplish most of it.