The Next Five Years Begin on a Dry Note

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Yellow squares of rice drying in front yards seen from the bus window on the six-hour ride out to Bahia from Guayaquil seemed a little early. It was the most sparse & peculiar rainy season since the Eco-city Declaration five years ago. Starting late in January, it gave up February and stayed truant another two months after that. Rain came again in May and lasted until the first week of June. Only sporadic, fast-drying showers have been seen since. 

The Planet Drum crew surveyed the Bosque and found a minimum of 15 steps in need of replacement or repair, two or three handrails collapsed, many path-lining bricks off center & two full rice bags worth of trash. Dryness for this time of year is worse than I’ve seen. Foliage sparse, dust everywhere, new plantings dead or dying. There needs to be a rescue party with water soon.

The Maria Auxiliadora barrio community is acting half-heartedly about helping with needed work & I believe the Amigos group that was formed there for only one meeting has become moribund. Probably no one feels that he/she is receiving enough in return for their effort, and I don’t blame them. There aren’t many visitors & the municipality hasn’t followed through with assistance. We’ll keep working at upkeep & solutions. I’m glad we got the survey work done at least.

The Jorge Lomas barrio site near threatened houses is a good revegetation job with several hundred mixed species of trees. It’s extremely steep so Renee Portanova, our new Field Projects Manager, has built cribbing steps so that transiting the slope won’t add so greatly to causing even more erosion. In order to get a picture through one of our plants into the ruined houses & past to the threatened houses I laid on my back but had a difficult time keeping either of my shoes or crotch out of the foto!  

The other site above the new canal (to drain away rainwater) has the purpose of retaining soil & reducing the runoff by increasing absorption through roots. There are two parts, one of which is on a slump above an extremely sharp & deep drop at the beginning of the canal & offers a superb example of why revegetation is needed & how it should be done. The other part is less obviously effective because it is now mainly an extension of existing trees & brush well away from the precipice above the Canal. When it gets the next phase of planting that will bring new saplings up to the edge, the curative properties will be clearer. This section has the benefit of a barbed wire fence to prevent roaming domestic animals such as burros, horses, cows, or goats from eating the plantings later in the year when they will be the only green, tender & moist vegetation available. The more classic site still needs to be similarly fenced which is scheduled for the beginning of next week.

All of these new plantings put in so carefully & with great difficulty by Renee and steadfast & hard working assistant volunteer Bevan Mitchell are especially vulnerable to dryness & will require water at least twice a week. I just learned that a water truck carrying two thousand liters (over five hundred gallons) costs $14. As the summer dryness wears on it may go higher.

The greenhouse has been maintained in excellent condition & holds at least 200 well developed saplings with another hundred or so coming up in seedbeds. The hillside directly above it that served as our first revegetation site (now with Jorge Lomas at the opposite end of the six kilometer stretch we hope to eventually cover with native plants) has grown spectacularly. Some algorrobo trees there are six feet high already. Survival rate of about 500 plantings is estimated at over 75%. It was reassuring to see that one area where trees were placed strategically on both sides of a fissure to help suture the crack with roots has prospered well enough to allow us to watch the next phase of this experiment.

Bevan carried off a TV interview well & we both explained the large revegetation project on a radio program where the announcer said, “Now that Planet Drum has become an acknowledged part of the Bahia community….” I don’t remember feeling as justified about our work here.

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