Two Steps Forward Without Any Backward

Each trip to Bahia de Caraquez starts with ideas about what will happen that become transformed in profound ways before the visit is over. Two mutations in plans have occurred so far this time. Our revegetation project has morphed into a proposed city park, and what began as a tentative outline for an overall ecological city plan has become an action document.

Vicente Leon of the city planning department visited Maria Auxiliadora’s erosion control cum urban wild corridor site with me and together we walked out the courses for paths in an eventual park. A high trail follows the ridge line and joins a lower trail running through revegetation areas that will feature identification placards for native species that are found or were planted there. Secondary paths from the lower trail will loop over to ruin sites consisting of part of an overturned house, a broken cement staircase, and a solitary leaning wall. Vicente is preparing an official planning map for the Forest in the Ruins. Planet Drum assistants Claire Dibble and Tony Mattei have started to assess jobs such as clearing brush, building steps, grading parts of trails that run across slopes, and using crushed rubble to cover paths in some places.

Chief city planner Ramon Farias has agreed to help draft a proposed ordinance authorizing a city park at the revegetation site. Jacob Santos and I wrote a set of “whereas” points and a geographic description of the park to go into the proposal. We expect the ordinance to be batted back and forth several times between planning and legal departments, and between them and the city council before it is approved. Whatever happens next, this process has moved through the bureaucracy with unexpected speed thus far.

The main reason for the park’s easy success with the planning department became clear during a dinner meeting Flor-Maria Duenas generously hosted at her Casa Grande home that included the new mayor, Patricio Tamariz, Nicola Mears, Keibo Oiwa (leading a group of 20 or so Japanese student eco-tourists) and all five Planet Drum associates who are here now. Ostensibly, we were there to review and modify the ecological city plan outline that I had written which Jacob and Patricio had translated into Spanish for this gathering. The mayor led us elsewhere instead when the question came up of how community participation which is essential in formulating a final plan document might evolve. He elaborated on differences between the indigenous mountain people who started with a thorough ecological plan that was worked out through community assemblies in Canton Cotacachi (but has yet to be applied much to cities there), and coastal people such as Bahians who are less culturally homogenous and in his opinion more conflicted and less cooperative. (This contrast of cultures between the mountains and the coast is at least as old as the modern nation of Ecuador and continues to represent a formidable hurdle for consensus on many issues.) Mayor Viteri next turned to the subject of developing participation through each barrio in Bahia as well as elsewhere in the municipalidad and suggested that there needed to be new voices who were genuinely enthusiastic about urban sustainability practices and issues. He accepts the need for citizen cooperation in designing a Bahia de Caraquez eco-ciudad plan but feels that it has to come about through an appropriate means, and told how he brought in a consultant to help devise a program to accomplish this. The mayor is committed to fulfilling Bahia’s Ecological City Declaration of over a year ago. The planning department staff has been so cooperative about the park because it was quick to sense his dedication.

When we had a chance to speak alone after dinner, Mayor Viteri asked me to become the principal ecological advisor to his office. The next day he introduced me in this capacity to planning, public works, and sanitation department heads, encouraged their cooperation with any requests for information or assistance that I made, and promised to make a copy of his new community participation program available before I leave at the end of September. He also drafted a letter of introduction to agencies and groups outside Ecuador for purposes of gaining their support as his “International Environmental Public Relations Representative.” It’s an honor whose full meaning is taking time to sink in, but so far I’ve agreed to search for a bilingual environmental planner and a grant writer for the city, and to start seeking financial support for ecological projects from the Ecuadorian communities in San Francisco and elsewhere.

A surprising outcome of the present high level of official regard for ecological priorities was a request from the National Police commandant in this district to assist in designing traffic solutions. Bahia clearly doesn’t have the formidable problems of larger cities, but after driving around one morning to test the actual conditions I saw a definite need to create special lanes on the busiest streets for triciclos and bicycles. There should also be crosswalks in a half dozen places to safeguard and encourage pedestrians. These are minor proposals that can be found in many places and only required transposition to Bahia. Major Medina, who accepted my hopeful characterization of him as a peace officer rather than merely a law enforcer, was delighted with them and literally saluted by snapping his hand up to his hat visor. He has ordered painting lines on the appropriate streets., so we’ll soon see whatever variations are sure to come into the Bahia versions. “Traffic calming” is one of the transportation points in the ecological city plan and it is truly astounding to me that although only written a week ago, the plan is already bringing about changes.

Landscape note: Judy and I rode a bus that played salsa music for twenty or so miles to San Jacinto, a small fishing town in Canton Sucre that has some modest vacation accommodations on a long white sand beach. Fernando Moreno operates a human scale guest facility with rented cabanas there and previously offered to take us around to see significant features of the area. Before long it became readily apparent that Fernando is an intellectual with unique perspectives. Once a law student, then a psychologist, and later an ergonomist studying work patterns and conditions, he now considers himself to be an ecological “warrior” who has found the place to make his stand. Oblivious to the quizzical stares of small farmers along the dirt road we passed through, he brought us to an enormous ceibo tree with a dozen main trunks that were each the size of normal members of this elegant species. “It must be eight hundred years old,” he half-whispered. “Those are several hundred years.” He pointed to others nearby that were only half as large but significantly bigger than any I had seen. Fernando led us up a steep hill where the view became grander with each step. We faced the Pacific and a beach twelve kilometers long strung between a river mouth with a mangrove reserve and a nearly perpendicular high cabo (cape). The interior land was marked with flat shrimp rearing farms and salt ponds that filled with underground sea water intrusion and dried out leaving piles of shimmering white salt. It is sandy, dry, spare country resembling parts of the Mediterranean shore or southern coast of Australia that only has a green appearance when seen from above looking down on the canopy of trees. We also saw distressed open areas where all of the trees had been cut and most ground vegetation stripped by grazing animals. The most unusual land forms to be seen from the height of our hill top were small rises that seemed to proceed in rows through places that were flat otherwise. Fernando explained that these could well be tolas (mounds for burials or other purposes) from some period of the past millennia of “ancient people.” A flat area dotted with ceibos that stretched between sets of tolas he called “the archeological plain.” I asked if it had been dug to establish its authenticity and he shrugged off the question. “It doesn’t have to be opened up to prove that artifacts are there. They are everywhere in this area anyway, but that spot should have fantastic remains.” We walked down, saw the “oldest ceibo in the world” a last time, and drove to the archeological plain. “Who owns this land,” I asked. “A woman who keeps a goat herd. See how low the grass is gnawed.” Immediately bordering the fenced off field was a popular dumping area for garbage. A new midden in the site of an ancient one. We gazed across the plain and in the middle saw a mound about thirty feet long that had been raised ten feet. Several ceibos were growing from the top of it, but a thousand to three thousand years ago it could been a bare fresh grave for a leader of the coastal people who left countless remnants of rich lives that are now barely understood. The next day we had the good luck to once again meet Javier Veliz, archeologist for the Museo Nahim Isaias B. in Guayaquil, one of the few people who has specialized in studying the prehistoric cultures of Manabi (the district where Canton Sucre is located). He described one group that had lived south of where we visited that was remarkable for its humanity as rendered in pottery figures and drawings. Not just animated faces and moving bodies, he insisted, but behavior that would even be instructive to people today. “A man cradling a baby in his arms and looking at it with a particularly tender expression.”

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