Reality Checks

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

August rain is nearly unheard of during the desert-like dryness of summer and fall in Bahia de Caraquez and the State of Manabi. So when there was a week of it last month with two days of memorable monsoon downpour people were bewildered and out of their confusion sprouted divergent theories. One universally understood truth is that this is Ecuador where practically any natural occurrence is possible.

There had just been an explosive eruption of volcanic Mt. Tungurahua in the Andes directly to the east. At 15,000 feet high with a westward wind blowing ash in a fan-shaped wedge toward the coast, the volcano could have seeded the gray cloudy overcast that normally passes uninterrupted overhead during this time of year. Particles of ash that could be seen in a thin layer here might have attracted droplets of moisture in clouds that then became heavy enough to condense and fall.

From the opposite direction out in the Pacific there is a shift of ocean currents that normally takes place later in the year but has begun early. It is largely responsible for the typical winter rainy season. There has been a prediction of a mild El Nino which means more rain than usual. August’s wet week may just have been the first sign.

Or it could have been a combination of both possibilities. Whatever the cause it was a beneficial surprise for our revegetation saplings that desperately need watering to struggle through the long dry season. There was a sprinkle yesterday afternoon that may indicate even more is coming.

Meg Tibbetts, ecological architect and landscaper, has been exploring the new Planet Drum Foundation land and has found ecologically appropriate sites for various facilities that will be needed by our future sustainability learning institute. Field Projects Manager Patrick Wylie guided her and several volunteers on the initial trip to one end of the hundred and twenty hectares (300 acres) and alone to the other end on a subsequent trip. 

Using her photographs and Pat’s confirmation of the property lines with a Geographic Positioning System finder she has developed an illustrated planning map that reminds me of a Tang Dynasty Chinese scroll painting. Along with hills, forests and seasonally wet streambeds there are potential dwellings, garden sites and miradors (viewing platforms). The 3X4” map will probably reside here for reference but photos of it will be in future publications and available on our web site. We have been exceptionally fortunate to be the recipients of her donated talents, and reciprocated by leading her through some of the savorable complexities of Bahia life. 

Bahia’s official status for seven years as a ciudad ecologica (ecological city) has only partially penetrated civic policies as yet, and there has been just a small indication of whatever benefits may eventually come from visitors who travel here to see it. Regardless of the standard inertial pull from lack of funds, Mayor Carlos Mendoza, some greenish members of the City Council, and the City Planning Department have developed a vision for connecting the hilltops of the city for hiking, viewing and experiencing nature that includes upgrading our Bosque en Medio de las Ruins “wild park”. They are seeking full City Council approval of a plan to enclose the area with a secure fence, build an entry way and visitor’s center, and improve stairways and paths. 

We endorse the plan because it represents an important means to preserve the successful tree plantings for erosion control and habitat restoration made over six years in this previously denuded site. We would also like to have inclusion of neighborhood community members in whatever construction and maintenance employment may be needed. Achieving both points will undoubtedly require ongoing involvements for us starting with a meeting later this afternoon in City Hall.

Privately I wonder if eco-tourism is even real. The best evaluative comment on the scant actual difference between tourism and eco-tourism I’ve seen was a satirical list of comparisons in England’s The Guardian. “Type of Travel” was the same for both, conveyances that are highly polluting. “Accomodations” was the same, over-priced and conspicuously wasteful. There were several more exactly identical items until only the last, “Take Photographs”. Buildings and monuments were cited for regular tourism as opposed to landscapes and animals for eco-tourism. Not much of a difference to justify a whole new hype.

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