Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador — Report #2
It’s unbelievable that a small city that was already visited last year by an El Nino about four times as severe as the worst one in previous recent experience could once again endure a hillside-saturating and road-swamping season, this time by La Nina. But it has rained almost every day, sometimes extremely heavily, for the last week. Concern about large-scale washouts and slides is high. Clay-spattered barn boots on most pedestrians is a common community symbol as the population once again watches mud ominously fill its streets.
Paradoxically, eco-city activities are growing without interruption and have created an expectant enthusiasm. Uncertainty about the municipal government’s cooperation and approval of a declaration at the Eco-gathering on Feb 27th was evaporated at a meeting with the mayor and his assistants earlier this week. The critical question for el alcalde seemed to be, “What do we have to stop doing if we become an eco-city?” When I explained that the thrust of bioregional Green City planning was proactive, saying “yes” to new ideas and efforts that can replace harmful ones, he began smiling and asked “What do you want from me?” A supporting message and short speech to open the gathering was an obvious request, and when he seemed to be avidly in agreement I added a space for a workshop, attendance by various department heads, an in-government contact person, and cooperation with event planners. Everything was granted, with the workshop notification and attendance directive going out immediately for 4PM the next day.
Evidence that people are in a curious and excited mood about eco-city and the gathering shows up unexpectedly. After an interview, a reporter from a local paper offered any help he could give: “If you want Bahia to know that you have a cold, I’ll put it in the paper!” Just before that, Senora Tamariz suddenly announced that she’s going to open an Eco-City Learning Center. An often asked question when introduced to townspeople is, “What’s the first thing we can do to start eco-city?”
The workshop for city staffers (also attended by reporters and some co-planners) was intended to introduce the idea of a city harmonizing with its bioregion. After they were shown some representations of bioregions in maps from Shasta Bioregion (northern California) and Bacino Fluviale del Fiume Po Bioreggione (Italy’s Po River Watershed Bioregion), the municipal bureaucrats begin making personal maps based on the workbook exercise from “Discovering Your Life-place.” At some point the mayor slipped into a seat and made a joke about going back to school. Most participants were thoroughly involved because there seems to be a higher level of awareness about natural characteristics here than in most places, undoubtedly fostered by the recent outsized local events. When it was time to show their representations, two people were hungrily eager and reeled off long lists of native plants and animals, local conditions of various kinds, and well-informed descriptions of urgent environmental issues. We were pressed for time or else there would have been nearly as many volunteer presenters as there were participants. The next step was to make a list of city dwellers’ basic human needs (food, water, energy, etc.) and to introduce the possibilities for seeing these in bioregional terms. Since this was only a beginning session, designed to “take the curse off” ecological thinking for anyone who was threatened by it and start a process of personal observation, none of the new topics was pursued in depth. This left some of the co-planners hungry for more local examples and applications, but the majority audience of office workers had been exposed to much more participation in the vision of an eco-municipality (especially its bioregional foundation) than they were prepared for.
Expectations have been even further cranked up now.
Bahia cuisine notes: seafood and fried bananas in many forms and combinations — all extraordinarily fresh and uniquely spiced; yucca flour rolls with white cheese fillings; naranjilla (wild jungle, orange-like) fruit and juice — extremely sharp tang with an aromatic woody aftertaste; fresh maracuya (passion fruit) in pieces, juice, and mixed with creamed oatmeal as a hot or cold thick drink (a complete surprise from the flavor of either ingredient).
Other species encounter — a white lizard-like, stagger-stepping, nervous lagarita on the floor at 2AM puts me through all the stages of wondering about our commonalities, conflicts, perceived territory, foreign status, and other adrenalin-fueled possibilities for several minutes before we both forget about it.