Report #3: Revegetation Project, Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Lisa Kundrat, Field Assistant

Last Wednesday morning accompanied Marcelo Luque and Linsey, his volunteer, to Kilometro 8, one site where he has been working with Laura Commike on Planet Drum’s reforestation project in Leonidas Plaza. Pedro met us there and gave Linsey and I tips on our machete wielding techniques as we slashed small circles in the brush along the river bank to mark where Marcelo should dig holes and students visiting from a high school in Quito would plant trees on Friday. We continued on, swinging our dull machetes with the sun beating down, the forest a green carpet rising up, heat waves almost lifting us from the ground, suffocating. In this humidity and heat my once dry skin has become melty and now peels away under the friction of the machete, until we break for water under a tree. 

With two rows for trees marked, we climb up the hill under the sun, Pedro collapsing at the top, and all sitting in the shade. Once water is taken and breath caught, we look out across the valley and see a place that has been deforested, but could become a model for reforestation. At the top lies the head of the watershed, from which water gushes in the rainy season, and ran as a river during El Niño in ’98. On either side of the stream banks rise two hills, trees cut away and cows milling around, and a bit farther the forest that once covered the whole area, giant distinct ceibo trees surrounded by stands of other trees and brush overlapping, with sometimes four kinds of plant life readily visible on one tree, to create a raised rolling alfombra verde (green rug). The muddy gouge of a creek bed runs down past more houses and farms, little cities of bamboo, through the inundated Kilometro 8, and into the brown and overly sedimented estuary. There is an invasión neighborhood where people moved and began building in this almost swamp-like area after their houses fell in El Niño and there was no other choice. Sitting at the top of the hill, looking out across the big picture, and also seeing the Catholic University over the hills in front of us where a corridor of reforestation will connect as more and more neighbors who have expressed interest to us become involved, we can imagine the vision of Peter, Marcelo, Laura, and more and more people for a forested strip which will heal the area and one day become a park where others can climb and see across a wooded watershed to a healthy estuary. 

Friday a bus pulled into Bahía with forty high school boys spilling out. Marcelo invited them here to learn about ecological projects in progress, and we decided to concentrate on the two that contained visible meeting of destruction and creation. In the morning all of us went to Fanca, and I showed students around, introducing them to the president of Fanca 4 who answered their many challenging questions and walked with us to visit a man who has a small farm in his patio, him eager to show us around, holding up a pig by the ear and tail for us to see, pig squealing, man grinning. All of us marveling at his pigs, pigeons, rabbits, melons, papaya trees, all distinct in a mess of green weaving through laundry on the line, a house, outhouse, and chickens and turkeys walking around. Saw that for fruit to make it to the compost piles for our project, it first goes through families, dogs, chickens, pigs. (Unlike my own discarded half an old watermelon that sat on top of the pile, me staring down at fruit that could have been eaten. Later wrongly throwing the plastic I had carried it in into the organic bin because a dead cat sat on top of the non-organic bin. Two images that make me know that life and people are too complex for ideas to be simply applicable, especially here). I brought the students to my friend Soyla’s house, where I helped show them her garden, platanos, grosella, papaya, tomatoes, with two small cucumbers covered with dirt to hide them from dogs and kids. 

After a tour of the city and lunch, half of the students went with Marcelo and Linsey to work and learn about reforestation in Km 8, and half with Cheo and I to get a tour of Club Ecológico with Señora Flor María Duenas and some of the kids in the club who opened their doors even though it was Good Friday, and to plant papayas in the children’s comedor (cafeteria). At first they didn’t want to get dirty, but I insisted they stick their hands in the compost, feel the heat, and as we moved on, sun still hot in later afternoon, they dug holes and mingled hands with compost and clay, patting down soil around newly planted papayas. When they left, chanting my name as the bus pulled away, they promised to be back to help on the next project. But first, they will hold an open-house in Quito to show photos, drawings, maps, leaf samples, and stories of projects here, hoping to spread these ideas to other cities in Ecuador. 

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