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Ecuador Dispatches, 2002


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We started out the new year with one volunteer working on the Eco Ecuador Project. Yijin Woo left in mid-January, after completing many tasks on the Fanca Produce work. In early February, Peter and three others arrived to carry on the work. Peter began sending dispatches soon afterward. Later, in the Fall, a large core of Planet Drum workers had several projects to finish before the winter rainy season began.

Index of 2002 Dispatches

[Most recent dispatches at top of list]

Fall 2002

Dispatch #2. Governments International, National and Across the Street (25 Sept 2002)

Dispatch #1. Closing Circles and Emerging Angles (21 Sept 2002)(includes Management of Fanca Produce)

Winter 2001-02 

Report #4. The "Bear" in the Bosque and Other Outcomes (22 Feb 2002)

Report #3. Dancing Public Revegetation onto Private Land (17 Feb 2002)(includes Statement of Intent to revegetate eroded hillsides)

Report #2. Carnaval Heat (12 Feb 2002)

Report #1. Rain Included at Extra Cost (7 Feb 2002)

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Rain Included at Extra Cost

Report #1, February 7, 2002
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg

A month late, the annual rainy season has begun with a drenching vengeance. It began lightly, just sparkling the night pavement shortly before I arrived in Guayaquil, and continued intermittently a few days later while waiting to pick up new volunteers Darcie Luce and Lisa Kundrat at the airport. On the six hour bus ride from there to Bahia we encountered a stretch of mud in the streets of a small town sufficiently deep to sink the sliding tires to the rim and slow us down to an anxious crawl. Inching by another bus that had become stranded, I exchanged vacant glances of the condemned through the muddy windows with passengers who had sat in that sad conveyance for an unknown number of hours and remembered the principal role that unexpected hazards perform here. Our calamity hardened driver didn't respect this particular patch of mud and ground on through even deeper stuff until we eventually got clear and arrived only a half-hour late in Bahia.

Downpours since then have been spectacular. Usually only an hour or two long, they make up for relative brevity with overbrimming volume. Our first indication that something exceptional was due came with a still-trembling traveler's account of a massive mud slide that just missed pushing his bus off the road. Continuing rains have flooded houses, roads and fields almost everywhere. A roof without leaks is rare, city streets can have puddles from curb to curb, and some entire neighborhoods are flooded. There was thigh high standing water in front of our Fanca Produce project to make compost and grow fruit trees for distribution in a poor barrio when we first arrived that has deepened to become an impassable, mid-chest high pond. Sticky clay mud has begun filling the unpaved streets of the entire barrio as well as Bahia's adjacent city Leonidas Plaza.

But don't take this as a lament, at least not yet. Residents are ready for a break from the rain, of course, but they also accept it as just heavier than usual. Planet Drum's two major projects, the revegetation park Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas and Fanca Produce, have both been affected. The park has minor mud flows from a few gullies while Fanca Produce is not only obstructed by a pond but hundreds of seedlings are in danger of inundation which could kill them. We can definitely use a respite because there is already damage and delay.

There have been numerous uptimes in spite of the rain. We had an exhilarating planting day led by Nicola Mears while the water was still just thigh high, helped by boys who voluntarily waded through with plants while we wheelbarrowed compost. Fanca is divided into four parts and in a mild rain we transported everything to Fanca IV accompanied by a spontaneous volunteer named Sarah and several boys. Nicola made introductions of our purpose to help plant trees at eight houses which participated in the program of separating organic household waste to make compost. This highly fertile soil is then used for growing seedlings, but since it is too early in the process for our seedlings to be mature we brought bought and donated ones to take advantage of the rain. Mostly women were at home at mid-day and they reacted to our unscheduled visit with a range of favorable responses from excited enthusiasm to coaxed but pleased participation. A drizzle became a warm shower and then a full-fledged rain while we sited locations in yards, dug post holes in the saturated mud, added compost, placed the trees, and filled in a mixture of clay mud and compost. Fruits of five species, one each, went to everyone except papayas due to a donation from the mayor of several thousand seedlings. Those weren't limited and everyone took two or three. Participants who attended gardening classes and actually helped to turn the compost also received lemon and mango trees. Nicola glowed with graciousness toward the people who live in adverse circumstances in this barrio. Her warmth was contagious for our inexperienced crew as well as the residents, and we could not possibly have had as enjoyable or successful a three-hour session in soaked clothes without her. Delays can't be overcome especially with the sheer volume of rain, but two sections of Fanca are finished and the tree-planting aspect of the project is now half-completed.

The park in Maria Auxiliadora barrio has new erosion deposits from the deepest gullies cut into the hillside that occurred in just the last few weeks. In four or five places fine particles of clay percolated up from within the soil and oozed out in four to six inch wide flows from one to two inches deep in curves resembling slow-moving lava. In two places there are actual small slides from half a foot to two or three feet high. The trails were placed correctly in the beginning so they are all passable even if a bit higher in some places than before. It is all easily repaired so far but we'll wait to see what further rains bring. It was the dry season when trails were cleared last time and they have stayed remarkably wide open and don't need machete chopping along their sides. A few log steps have been displaced and need to be rebuilt or shored up. The effectiveness of our previous planting is clearly obvious. In heavily planted areas there are no flows or slides. In one spot on the hillside a single tree held back a slide that built up behind it instead of falling to the bottom of the hill. No soil material left the revegetation area to descend on houses below. The greatest amount of what erosion there is filled in a small basin between two trails that still has room for additional deposits.

George Tukel arrived to start researching renewable energy applications for Bahia. I took the bus trip back to Guayaquil to meet his airplane, and we spent some time there looking at tons of water lilies uprooted by floods floating down the wide Guays River and people-watching until the return bus six hours later. Between his coming from New York and me from Bahia, it was an eighteen hour trip altogether for both of us! George has already begun meeting Planning Department people.

Eduardo "Cheo" has begun acting as a liaison between Planet Drum, biologist Pedro Otero, and the landowners in the six kilometer area of eroded hills along the Rio Chone coming into Bahia. It is my personal obsession to create a wildlife corridor of native dry tropical forest vegetation to prevent erosion and restore ecosystems in this area. Hopefully, the owners can appreciate the advantages of those benefits and donate small parts of their property for use in planting. We're meeting next week and will have the mayor present to help explain the vision.

People here are even more friendly than before and hospitably helpful to Darcie, George and Lisa. We have a lot to do before the end of this month and with a little relief from the rain should be able to accomplish most of it.

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Carnaval Heat

Report #2, February 12, 2002
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg

The shredded comic strip atmosphere of Carnaval has infiltrated the city and holds us in a friendly but insistent grip like a grinning drunk. We aren't always sure what to say because we aren't sure of what we've really seen.

The invasion began almost imperceptibly on Monday when I saw a man walking alone in the middle of the street with a parrot on his outstretched finger and a puppy on a leash. I was intent on observing the bird as we approached each other when he suddenly took quick steps toward me and asked, "Do you want to buy the bird?" When I shook my head and looked away to avoid being pitched he shouted, "How about the puppy?"

By the middle of the week, people dressed for the beach started to become part of the mix on the street. They stood out in novelty T- shirts with towels draped around their necks strolling in front of stores. Bahians usually don't wear towels to go shopping.

Not everyone is a typical Quito tourist. A slightly bowlegged country hombre with a worn baseball cap and open work shirt hanging out walked up with an exaggeratedly suspicious expression to the open air restaurant where I was having lunch. He left his woman companion who wore a foot high bright yellow knit hat outside while he combatively walked to the counter and must have asked how much a meal cost because he reacted as though he had been shoved and left. I noticed a pointed piece of metal protruding from the top of one of his knee high rain boots. He came to Carnaval ready to throw a knife.

Straw hats, fruit in boxes from Chile, sun visors, candies, and even containers of cooking oil are only a handful of the things for sale on the street by dozens of locals and strangers. By Friday, the staff of a corner store tienda where I buy bottled water was too busy stocking entire shelves of shampoo and coolers full of yogurt to take money immediately. Many waterfront stores and restaurants have anxious-acting extra help to accommodate expected crowds on the weekend and the following Monday and Tuesday of actual Carnaval.

As a side note with potential future consequences, there's an angry buzz from people directly involved with the tourist industry about a story that broke in Ecuador's biggest newspaper late in the week describing flooded and muddy conditions here. They feel that the normal high Carnaval tourist numbers are somewhat down and blame the journalist. It's not out of the ordinary for someone to write about a natural event having the scope of this month's rain (see my first dispatch from this visit, "Rain Included at No Extra Cost"), and his wasn't the only piece on the theme of flooding with consequences for impassable roads to Bahia's Carnaval. But this journalist did the same thing last year and at this point motives are ascribed to him that border on conspiracy theory. Critics are still waiting to find out what the final attendance will be before carrying their disappointment into more than just curses and shunning.

On Saturday, George and I followed the Carnaval crowd to Bellaca Playa (nicknamed La Gringa Beach). It's somewhat isolated from the main beaches in town and that may be the reason why more of the raucous bathers and their whole families are locals. Wandering away from everyone I was run down by someone from behind so quickly that I momentarily flinched. It was a craggy faced beachcomber who surprisingly knew my name and began talking nonstop about his vision of a museum with "piedras blancas" (white stones) filled with artifacts he discovered on the beach. I listened obediently to his forceful description while studying the cluster of seven black tattooed dots in his left earlobe (the constellation of the Seven Sisters?) and the seemingy self-administered tattoos of mystical signs on his forearms. If my ability with Spanish was better I could appreciatively spend an afternoon hearing about the things he has thought about and encountered, even at that near- mad level of intensity.

Returning to the place where George and I had separated. I found him sitting with what from a distance seemed to be a puzzled or sheepish look that turned out to be consternation about a stick that had punctured the big toe of one foot. He tried to gouge it out but it was deeper than a fingernail could remove. A teenage girl materialized who was doing quite well at extracting small pieces until they became too deep for the pin of her hair barrette. Looking around for someone with a sharp knife and not finding anyone, it finally became clear that we needed more expert attention and should try for a ride to the hospital. Now George's bad luck at being impaled by the stick turned radically toward the best luck imaginable. The girl's uncle, Juan Carlos Cedeno, a chewing gum company employee, waded from the ocean handing off the small child he had been carrying and almost automatically drove us in his antique jeep to the hospital in Leonidas Plaza. He waited with me for an hour or so brushing off several suggestions to return to his family holiday. Juan Carlos accompanied me to fill a prescription we were handed, and ran off with a second one before I could stop him from getting and paying for it. When the huddle of nurses and skillful doctor eventually brought George out they explained how the stick had gone laterally up the tube of his toe for a distance of nearly two inches. The largest part was the deepest and required scalpeling out. Then Juan Carlos drove us back to Bahia, reluctantly accepting a bottle of rum as a gift from George and my compliment that he represented the highest fulfillment of Ecuadorian hospitality.

The following day I went back alone to perform some voyeuristic anthropology at the Queen of the Beach contest. "Queens" are a staple of Ecuadorian popular culture who are usually beyond mere beauty contest winners.. Each barrio in Bahia has its own gowned and besashed queen to represent the neighborhood community at various events and parades. Bahia has a queen who sat on the platform when the Eco-city Declaration was read.

In contrast to those more decorous titles, the Queen of the Beach competition was a typical contest but a lot sexier, and it was completely localized with contestants who live in the nearby area despite so many visitors from Quito and other faraway cities. The first was a petite and awkward fifteen year old from Bahia, with either a permanent or temporary tattoo of maybe an angel or a bat around her navel. She completely surprised me later by performing a variation on pole dancing. Next up the steps and onto the hot sheet iron platform cooled by pouring bottles of water was a corpulent woman at least five years older who relished jutting out well-rounded parts of her body while sometimes sucking on her index finger. When it was her turn to dance she shouted "Picante!" (Hotter-faster!) until staccato music came on. She moved her hips in wide arcs, protruding her ample, near-naked buttocks, while her feet kept the fast beat. The crowd was joystruck. If sheer personality had been the object, as perhaps it should have been for this event, she was untouchable. Contestant three was similar to the first but more modest since she walked up with brief shorts over the lower part of her bikini. With encouragement from the judges and crowd she slowly removed the shorts, providing what might have been the most intimate and innocently sensuous moment of the afternoon. The final contestant was pretty and graceful enough to have carried off the prize in a much bigger competition than this. Hailing from Chone, a city up the river from Bahia renowned throughout Ecuador for the beauty of its women, she also kept on a short, transparent skirt and waved her finger imperiously in a "no" gesture when onlookers demanded to take it off. One judge eventually broke the impasse by stating that she couldn't win otherwise so the flimsy garment was dropped in a quick, surprisingly definite move and tossed to the crowd. To nearly hysterical supporters' cries of "Chone! Chone! Chone!" she was declared the obvious Queen Of the Beach. I left immediately not wanting to clutter the memory of such a sweetly funky experience.

More Carnaval goers came to town jammed into the backs of fruit trucks and pickups throughout Monday, overcrowding Bahia's Malecon river-ocean walkway. Outdoor dancers stayed up until three and four in the morning. Plain-dressed clowns imitating a husband and wife battling kung fu style performed in the main riverfront plaza, food stands and walking food vendors were everywhere, the line of vehicles for the overworked ferry across Rio Chone doubled back on itself.

Tuesday has finally come and Carnaval is relaxing its grip. More traffic is going out than coming into town. Darcie and Lisa are once again planting paja macho grass to plug a few fissures in the revegetation park. It will be interesting to see the shopkeepers and other business people who exhausted themselves entertaining a good part of Ecuador's pre-Lenten vacationers finally taking time to relax themselves.

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Dancing Public Revegetation onto Private Land 

Report #3, February 17, 2002
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg

Eduardo "Cheo" took on the role of locating owners of land on the eroded hillsides above Leonidas Plaza to enroll them in revegetation activities out of his dedication to ecological betterment of the Rio Chone Bioregion. A high school English teacher by profession, he has often aided other dry tropical forest restoration efforts and led or sent student volunteers. Cheo visited each of the many owners and was assured by thirty or so that they would attend an introductory meeting the day after Carnaval. Refreshments and coffee were purchased for at least twenty to actually show up. With Marcelo Luque, he had engaged the spacious Centro Agricola for the meeting at three in the afternoon, located four Club Ecologico volunteers ready to assist with extra chairs or any other need, and enlisted upbeat Patricia from the Civil Defense Corps to take names for locating participants afterwards. Cheo had set things up as well as possible.

The prospect of involving landowners has made this a more anxiously anticipated project than others Planet Drum has undertaken here. Our revegetation park in Maria Auxiliadora is publicly owned now. Fanca Produce is a voluntary barrio-wide program but it has a direct relationship to public garbage collection. Use of by far the greatest part of the six-kilometer long eroded area from Bahia to Kilometro Ocho is entirely at the discretion of private parties who must be attracted to the benefits of revegetation in order to consent. It remained a largely unknown group except to Pedro and Eduardo, and a great deal depended on who belonged and how they felt.

At 3:30 there were mainly friends, staff and volunteers in attendance, but I decided to introduce the project anyway before they would have to leave. At least they would all know enough about what was intended to fill in future participants. Three were actually landholders in the area who had been with the Eco-city movement since the beginning. (See following declaration for main points of the presentation.) Toward the end of the talk Mayor Viteri arrived but gestured for me to continue. Rather than taking questions immediately at the conclusion, I turned to him for whatever observations he had to further the project.

Surprising everyone he asked what percentage of owners was present. Learning it was less than a tenth, he rhetorically asked why more weren't there. "Greed!" he answered. It was mostly useless or marginal land, Leo ventured, and owners wanted to get rid of it for a price, not improve it for the public good. Stop wasting your time there, Peter, and finish up Maria Auxiliadora instead!

If I had been neutral or logical sounding during the talk, an opposite emotion came over me now. I shouted in a way that could easily be taken as impolite, although most public discourse here is a kind of verbal volcanic eruption. Leonidas Plaza was an urgent situation where just this month's rain had caused mud to block the streets, consider what a full-scale El Nino would wreak! Preventing a catastrophe would be at a miniscule cost compared to cleaning up after another tragedy, I seemed to yell at the top of my voice. Besides, Planet Drum had received small grants toward this work that could go into effect immediately.

Reacting to what actually might have been reverse psychology by the mayor, others began shouting that mud slides would be much worse next time, that native trees could do the job of controlling erosion, and that there should be an ordinance requiring compliance if more owners didn't agree. Now Leo changed direction completely and demanded that I write a statement declaring the city's intent to carry out hillside revegetation. "Don't say, 'Owners should donate land.'" Tell them you will do free planting and that they can harvest fruits, seeds and other plant products that result from it as long as they don't cut down the trees. Ordinances are the last resort and only support what most of the people already agree about, he observed. Do a small test patch first so that everyone can see the work in progress and figure out how it can benefit them. "Start now ... tomorrow!"

We were breaking up to get a regional speciality of savory-smelling, potato dumpling snacks stuffed with cheese and coffee thinking that this would be the extent of a resolution. Then two dungarees clad landholders finally joined the meeting an hour and a half after it began. Without hearing any discussion they wanted to get immediately involved just on the basis of the invitation, and insisted on giving their names and telephone numbers. We'll go out to see their places next week, as well as look for possibilities on land held by the Eco-city supporters with land in the area. Even if the turnout was small, it´s a genuine start. That's success from an organizer's point of view.

Marcelo Luque found me a day later to make a donation to the project of a bag of seeds from mixed dry tropical forest tree species. We should be able to put the first seeds and whatever seedlings are available right now into the ground before I leave in a week. They'll fortunately catch the remaining winter rains. Whatever grasses, bushes and trees survive through the long, dry summer can play a land-gripping role as early as next year's predicted heavier rainfall conditions and the accompanying threat of large-size mud slides from collapsing hillsides.


Declaration of Intent

Revegetation of Eroded Portions of Hillsides in Leonidas Plaza, Canton Sucre from Astillero to Kilometro Ocho

The hillsides facing Leonidas Plaza in Canton Sucre that were saturated with rain and heavily damaged through land slides during the 1998 El Nino urgently require revegetation in order to assist prevention of further erosion.
The next El Nino will cause massive damage to this already weakened area, and according to local residents, will be worse than the mud slides in 1998 which knocked over buildings, swept away houses, carried people into Rio Chone, filled the streets and highway with mud to over two meters deep, and broke bridges. The total cost of that catastrophe is incalculable. It involved detouring the highway for nearly a year, rebuilding bridges, building new homes for those destroyed and repairing those remaining, destruction of institutional buildings, loss of businesses and jobs, illness from diseases associated with dirty water and raw sewage, and other calamities.
It is crucial to take measures to prevent reoccurrence of this tragedy and cost. Revegetation is a principal means to accomplish that goal. Planting trees in damaged areas facing Leonidas Plaza, the highway, and Rio Chone can be done at a miniscule fraction of the cost for cleaning up after the calamity of 1998.
Therefore, the Municipalidad of Canton Sucre authorizes a continuous band of revegetation at least twenty-five meters wide approximately half way up the affected hillsides from Astillero in Bahia de Caraquez to Kilometro Ocho. The roots of plants in this corridor will retain the soil, and the mass of vegetation will help slow down and hold back slides from above. Plants will be native species of the dry tropical forest ranging from grasses to brush, and trees that are both fast and slow growing. Watering during summer months to encourage growth will be accomplished by various means. The work will be done through supervision, funds, staff, and volunteers in association with Planet Drum Foundation, a non-government, not-for-profit, international organization.
Since all of the land involved is privately held, Planet Drum Foundation offers to the owners free revegetation of eroded portions that can be treated solely by planting. (This does not include terrain-altering techniques such as terracing, grading or land removal.) Benefits to the owners include harvesting of revegetated plant materials such as fruits and seeds that do not involve cutting trees, water retention on their land, and increased natural amenities of many kinds. The amount of land involved for each owner does not need to be large and will be determined through discussions with them to identify locations. The most desirable places are where owned parcels join together so that sections can be planted on both sides, along boundary lines, and following land contours. The program will begin with establishment of several sites to test various mixes of plants that are appropriate.
The community in general will benefit greatly from this revegetation program through reduced danger, disruption of life, and both public and private expense from hillside erosion hazards. There will also be considerable enhancement of river, plant, animal, soil, and other natural systems in the Rio Chone Bioregion.

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The "Bear" in the Bosque and Other Outcomes

Report #4, February 22, 2002
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg

Since it became unoccupied due to mud slides three and a half years ago, Bosque en Medio de Las Ruinas revegetation park in Maria Auxiliadpra barrio has been slowly evolving as a habitat. Our eyes have been trained on the progress of planted grass, brush and trees with only momentary interruptions from other life forms. Once there was a small cloud of over a hundred white and black butterflies that rose when I approached the hobo tree they were resting under. Tanjero birds sometimes pass through in startlingly fast, rust and white colored bursts. Wasp nests double the width of an adult's lower leg can be found wrapped around tree limbs.

Winged species aren't a surprise because of their nomadic ability to in-migrate rapidly from nearby woods. Ground-borne animals are different in that they have to overcome myriad obstacles to walking, crawling, or slithering at a slower pace into a new home terrain. Once arrived they need a safe base of operations to hunt and raise their young. There has to be enough food within the circle of a chosen or built den to sustain their families. The presence of resident wild mammals would establish that a major step in restoring whole ecosystems had been achieved in the Bosque.

A night-time photograph was taken a year ago in Maria Auxiliadora of an adult oso hormigiero, the anteater whose long, sharp claws, tapered snout, black eyes, and hairy brown fur somewhat resemble an oso (bear) cub. It was on its hind legs in the distinctly bear-like process of sniffing the lid of a garbage can left outside the once-squatted but now-permanent house on the ridge that forms a border of the park. From outstretched toes to the top of the head, it was about a meter and a third (four feet) long. Mammals aren't numerous in the dry forest. They are akin to populations in deserts rather than rain forests. Typically, they are smaller than counterparts in the same family elsewhere, and except for a few such as howler monkeys and tigres, are ground burrowers. They're bodies are characteristically close to the earth, and sleekly streamlined in a rodent-like way. Naturally elusive, in recent times they have become even harder to see due to continual threats from rifles and traps for food, to be sold as pets, or killed as pests.

Yesterday Darcie Luce and I were taking photos of plants in the park at various locations that have been used since the beginning to record plant growth and landscape conditions. A thick green cloud of leaves has filled the formerly dry bosque interior, crowding trails with overgrown grass and solidly coloring in spaces between trees, In spite of nearly continuous rain since a week ago when we were last there together, very little new erosion has been added to the few inches of percolated clay ooze or small slides of residual pebbles that appeared after the first heavy rains fell a month ago. There aren't any new gullies and the worse ones from before have been filled in by staff members with soil and grass seedlings that are all doing well. The surface of a natural basin within the park area that has fortunately been catching soil material displaced by the rain and keeping it from leaving the park is not more than an inch higher. Overall erosion seems to have been slowed by revegetation to a creeping pace that precludes mud slides for the rest of this year even if there is total overall rainfall near the top of the normal range. All of the log stairways have retained their earlier repairs, so the park should withstand serious alteration of any kind into the dry season beginning two months or so from now.

At a point in the trail directly downhill from the successfully squatted shack, I glanced up to see a miniature cave in the middle of a mud-parenting slide. The semicircular hole was notable for having clean edges without roots or duff and might be a den. I passed by, then stopped to point out the hole and slide to Darcie. There at her feet in fresh mud from the night before that painted over the trail, were two footprints. Both had four clear toe marks with a nub for the fifth on side of each palm that faced the body. Each of the four forward digits ended in distinct, deeply incised claw marks. They were undeniably footprints of an oso hormigiero! Is it new or last year's "bear", returned for the rainy season? Perhaps it never left. Darcie eagerly took photos of the lone prints as an undeniable example of how hospitable revegetation can be to a wide array of wildlife, even a few blocks from the heart of the city. This place was formerly called "El Tigre". Can we hope...?

George Tukel has nearly completed the first alternative energy report for Bahia. It is mainly concerned with two central issues: how individual homes and offices can be re-designed for cooling and use solar energy for heating water; and how the municipality can generate electricity using renewable fuel. Both can be achieved through proven means. If the report is accepted by the city, we will attempt to find financial aid. The expense of obtaining up-to-date equipment is an even bigger issue here than in more economically advantaged countries. It will take truly enlightened, unusually generous outside aid to make a public transition to sustainable energy. Meanwhile, George's pursuit of various forms of data from city agencies and general availability for discussion and conversation has definitely reinvigorated the Eco-Bahia vision. Residents enthusiastically grill him about the practicality of various energy forms and apparatus, and have given formidable assistance when asked.

Lisa Kundrat is undertaking a personalized approach to planting at the remaining houses in Fanca. Impatient with production oriented and less interactive methodology, she gets involved with each household in a holistic way. Together with family members and young volunteers, she accompanies plants and compost from the Fanca Produce site to each house, talks at length with whoever is there about the project and particulars of their individual circumstances, and helps position the fruit tree seedlings in favorable spots outside individual houses. She will stay on as the main representative for our projects when Darcie, George and I leave at the end of this month. A new volunteer, Laura Commike, will assist Lisa and join her to live in the Planet Drum Foundation office/apartment for a couple of months. Laura has Spanish conversational ability and went with me to discuss and look at erosion on one land parcel in Leonidas Plaza with Georgy Guitterez, head of the estuary agency PMRC. Today I hope to pick up a delivery of seeds donated by Fundacion Pro-Bosque in Guayaquil, and tomorrow all of us will visit two new landowner sites to appraise the possibilities for the new revegetation plan (see Report #3, Dancing Public Revegetation onto Private Land). We deserve a day off and will take it Friday in Canoa, the small, funky beach resort a short ferry and bus ride away, where we can walk on the sand without rain boots.\

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Closing Circles and Emerging Angles

Fall 2002 Dispatch 1, Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
September 21, 2002
By Peter Berg

Planet Drum's new office/volunteer center is a promising three bedroom, two bathroom, large living-dining room apartment on the second floor in the city center that is notably inexpensive due to the ravages of 1998's earthquake. Only $30 in cash and $30 worth of repairs per month. Field Projects Manager Jeff Goddin and volunteer Laura McKaughan had to tear down the ruined ceiling, a whole side brick wall needed rebuilding from the roof peak down to the ceiling level, the particularly hard-hit middle bedroom was surrealistically missing one wall and two-thirds of the floor. It's been like repairing bomb damage as new volunteers Kristen Ford and Chris Haaf, Jeff, Judy and myself grapple with some part of it every day. The upper third of the back bedroom wall will begin to be restored starting next week, some windows have to replaced, and the expansive walls need to be degrimed and repainted. The reality of winter rain splashing into open rafters hasn't been confronted yet. Whatever we eventually do to close the numerous holes will disappoint fruit bats who fly solo overhead in unnerving rapid jerks through the apartment starting shortly after sunset every evening.

We plan to have a continuous group of up to six volunteers staying here through my return next January when the terms of the lease are renegotiated in light of the work that has been accomplished up to that point.

We've handed out brochures for self-guided visits to the revegetation park in Maria Auxiliadora barrio that former volunteer Darcie Luce dedicatedly produced on her own upon return to the San Francisco Bay Area. Chris cleared the first half of the park for a remarkably increased number of new visitors who have passed through since we arrived three weeks ago. One morning, Judy, Jeff and I went there with original park crew Marcelo Luque and Nicola Mears, joined by Sloth Club inspiration Anya Light and "Slow Is Beautiful" author Keibo Oiwa with twenty of his Japanese university students. It was reassuring to see that so many algarrobo and fruitillo trees had grown over fifteen feet in less than three years and experimental plantings of trunk-size hobo tree cuttings had thrived. Patricio Tamariz (about to finish his stint as a government agency chief for “civilian life” in magnified efforts for Eco-Bahia), Chris and I accompanied a Japanese documentary crew filming “Our Marvelous Spaceship Planet Earth”. They sweated and puffed toward the finish but were dazzled by bursts of butterflies and unfamiliar shapes of coastal dry tropical forest plants. Since then several people have told while passing on the street of taking walks using Darcie’s brochure to direct them, so The Forest in the Middle of the Ruins park is beginning to achieve its promise as a visited wild urban area. Chris will continue general maintenance until the rainy season (when nothing except planting can be done) and replace some steps recycled from floor beams that are missing from a rear stairway.

Seeds are soaking until next week when they will be placed in growing sacks and become seedlings for the large revegetation project that extends from Kilometer Eight to Bahia. We hope 5-10,000 seedlings of a mixed variety of native trees will be available even if we have to buy some in time for planting in January. I’ve contacted what could be best characterized as a village matriarch from the Los Caras collective farming group up the highway at Kilometer Sixteen to assemble a planting crew. All of the members will have enough tree-planting experience to lead our volunteers.

By far the most portentous developments are with the large-scale Fanca Produce composting project. Fanca barrio residents have separated their organic kitchen wastes for collection and processing in a large nearby facility during the past year under terms of a grant through the British government that was administered jointly by the municipality and Planet Drum. Since the grant period ends in November, this is the appropriate time to shift the project’s continuation from city workers and Planet Drum volunteers to the local residents. Extensive talks with the mayor and consultant Katty Pazmiño assigned to represent the mayor have resulted in approval of our plan to meet with residents to explain the situation and assist in creating a cooperative association for them to administer the composting process. Since organic waste from the main public marketplace is now brought to Fanca Produce where it presently increases the amount of compost by perhaps five times, the new residents’ group can’t lay claim to all of the compost material available. We gained agreement from the city for a large portion of it and the right of the cooperative association to sell part of that to pay their workers for taking over city jobs.

Planet Drum’s five member staff met last week with over sixty representatives of Fanca’s 400 or so families who have been involved in separating wastes that volunteer Kristen Ford had summoned. Jeff explained the situation and we all fielded a few questions. With so much new information — how the project worked in the past, how it was changing, what new products could be made, and what form of business might result — the new prospect was obviously difficult to comprehend all in one sitting. Because most of those assembled hadn’t actually seen the compost-making facility, we marched over to show the twelve existing piles of working waste piles in various stages of completion, an eight cubic meter or so heap of finished compost which I took around in handfuls for people to sniff the rich earthy aroma, and brick beds waiting to be filled with worms and wastes to make an even richer finished product. Some of the wide range of uses proposed besides fertilizing personal yard trees and gardens are: ready to use sacks of compost, seedlings, job training for composters in other barrios and cities, and even animal feed.

Kristen has since notified more residents and teenage members of the Ecology Club and another meeting is planned for next week. We expect fewer people but a more committed group that understands how the existing process works and wants to act as core “stewards” of the new self-administered management association. It’s a genuine leap into a potential future of citizen engagement with many other aspects of the Ecological City process, but we first need to throw highly increased effort into each practical step forward. Our responsibilities toward this end were developed through staff discussion and are as follows.

Planet Drum Foundation's Management of Fanca Produce Through November 2002 

I. Operational Needs

a) Check amount of sawdust and other supplies and inform city when more need to be brought,
b) Check on need for repairs and request city to make them,
c) Initiate worm bed system and educate municipal workers about maintaining it,
d) Increase participation of residents in separating household wastes and placing organic material where it can be collected,
e) Daily attendance at patio to observe the composting process and interact with city workers as determined by us to be necessary to assure effectiveness, with the understanding that city workers are required to follow recommendations.

II. Development of Community Participation in Future Sustainability

a) Recruit and meet with Fanca community members to attempt to create a founding group for developing a community management association for Fanca Produce, 
b) Discuss and attempt to choose a plan for making Fanca Produce economically self-sufficient, 
c) Attempt to integrate Fanca Produce with other resident groups. 
Planet Drum Foundation staff and volunteers will be present at Fanca Produce at times of day that they determine are appropriate for their work.

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Governments International, National and Across the Street

Fall 2002 Dispatch 2, Bahia de Caraquez
September 25, 2002
By Peter Berg

All of Ecuador is in the near-frantic clutch of election fever. There are over ten political parties (listas) who have been running candidates for offices from president and first deputy down to city council members in a time frame of just two months before mid-October voting. In Bahia the pitch has risen daily since the first week in September when emphatic speeches were made to inaugurate poster and balloon festooned, recently painted multi-color storefront offices with caña liquor offered afterwards in small plastic bags from unmarked trucks to outgrabbing supporters. At this point there are offices for different listas on nearly every block near the city center and some parties boast two. Even Marcelo Luque who supervised the Bosque park plantings is running for Bahia’s City Council and sometimes appears glad-handing people in the Lista 4 storefront across from our volunteer center. The same pop tunes blast at top volume from each of these outposts beginning before eight in the morning until ten at night, so that walkers pass from one zone of music to the other. Convoys of cars and trucks plastered with signs and dangling flags honk through the city. Marchers shout slogans as they parade in front of each others’ storefronts. Small stickers with candidates’ names sprout from doors, windows, light posts, and any other public-facing surface. The main park in the riverfront malecon is occupied by one loud speaker equipped group after another while whole sides of nearby buildings are instantly covered with brightly painted advertisements for various listas. Two of the presidential candidates flew in today for appearances before cheering adherents. As soon as one lista pulls a new stunt it is upstaged by something by another party, and an amazed kind of anticipation waiting for what will happen next keeps things constantly on edge.

There is a swollen audience for these desperately fervent exhibitions of political ardor because this is a public day off to celebrate the patron saint of the city’s annual Fiesta de la Dia de la Virgen de las Mercedes (Fiesta of the Day of the Merciful Virgin). The party officially begins at nine-thirty tonight with live music for a street dance in front of City Hall. Before that peak moment occurs I’ll step out of the simmering sensory soup to attempt a calm recounting of some previous events.

About three weeks ago Judy and I rode the bus for eight hours northeast to Quito, slowly rising above the daily gray overcast of early fall on the coast into sunny foothills and finally the thin breathless air of the Andes. We came to complete an essential stage of a new, grandly conceived Ecological City project that a dozen people have been working on since last winter. (Cautionary Note: What follows has a technical cast that can make even me fidgety, so I’ll try to relate it simply without agonizing numbers or jargon and hope your patience in following along will prove worthwhile.)

Alternative energy proponent George Tukel visited Bahia from New York last February at our behest to survey possibilities and write Renew Bahia: A Preliminary Report on Alternative Energy Choices at the House, Neighborhood, and Municipal Scales. Since that time proposals to several international foundations to fund more detailed research have been arduously written in our San Francisco office.  Engineers need to prove out and certify appropriate equator-suited means for producing electricity locally. We also need their recommendations of ways to refit buildings for both energy conservation and to produce hot water from rooftop passive solar collectors. It would be a sweeping and expensive transformation, so we also requested money to pay for major financing of the final phase during which the first neighborhood-based electricity generating facility will be built accompanied by a refitting program for buildings. 

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) promotes a Public and Private Partnership grant that specifically features local energy production. Unlike other funding possibilities, UNDP requires an in-person visit to the relevant country’s office to submit a proposal. It may already be clear from visiting Planet Drum Foundation’s web site and following our activities that an institutional source on the level and type of the United Nations is a startling departure for us. But so is working directly with a municipal government and seeking what amounts to over fifty times the usual budget for one of our projects.   We adapted to this unprecedented fund-raising climate for the benefit of Bahia de Caraquez’s ambitions toward ecohood. Judy and I surrendered our passports in the United Nations building lobby and wished ourselves buena suerte (good luck).

To our relieved surprise, a helpful program officer greeted us and the proposal enthusiastically as the first Ecuador candidate to appear for the upcoming round of grant considerations. In keeping with the unpredictable and wildly flexible time relationships that are taken as normal here, we were at least a month early! The formula for private-public partnership requires support by the municipal government and a local non-government organization. Agreement from both of these was already in the works. A private business such as an alternative energy company with Ecuadorian experience is also necessary and one has now been contacted.  An impressive series of UNDP’s procedural steps still have to be navigated which puts the odds for eventual approval of this request at about one in ten, but at least we’ve become a real player in the game.

We traveled from Quito to the somewhat isolated mountain city of Cotacachi. Buses stop outside and then it’s a walk or cab ride of several miles in from the highway. The contrast in social-cultural atmosphere between the two cities is immediately palpable. Quito has the sophisticated and diplomatically cool feel of a capital city. Indigenous people are everywhere but they are subjected by rather than in control of the tenor of the place. There has been a turn toward rip-off behavior during the present difficult economic times that was symbolized by a cab driver when we first arrived who independently manipulated the meter upward to three times the normal fare. On our way out at Quito’s central bus station a con man pretended to find a dollar bill in front of our party of new volunteers. He waved it in our distracted faces roguishly asking whose it was while his confederates made off with a small carry bag.

Cotacachi has retained its identity as a proud indigenous community while moving ahead in contemporary directions. The civic entrance features a large modern sculpture of the sun in a square shape that is unique here. Remnants of the original heliocentric culture that built Cotacachi’s pyramid remain in marking the summer solstice as the primary community holiday. The city adopted an extensive guiding plan for becoming an ecological city a few years ago and sponsors an annual Sustainability Fair to which Judy was invited to perform her Water Web show and I was slated for the Natural Resources Management round table. An international organic coffee exposition with representatives from Mexico, Brazil and Japan in addition to several parts of Ecuador immediately preceded the Fair and we luckily arrived in time for its closing Cultural Evening.

Women in Cotacachi-Otavalo tribal dress with multiple gold chains around their necks, local men in round-topped felt hats and brightly colored shirts, Japanese college girls in kimonos, eco-freaks with long hair and beads, and Afro-Ecuadorian women in long multiple pleated dresses and kerchiefs were abundantly evident. Over ten music groups ranged dramatically from a dozen-member costumed marimba folklorico presentation to an older indigenous man who played a traditional harp fitted on top of a bass violin-like sound chamber that was continually hand-drummed by a younger player. Their ancient abstract multiple melodies would have fit perfectly with jazz improvisations. At one point Cotacachi’s dynamic mayor Auki Tituana (he helped negotiate terms between the revolt-leading association of indigenous groups and the government in the most recent civil uprising) was coaxed by his wife to dance to a salsa band. Enough people eventually joined in to form a conga line around the aisles of the entire theater. He returned to the floor later to lead a timeless-seeming shuffling line of mostly fellow Cotacachi-Otavalo dancers while Andean flutists and pan-pipers played.

At the Fair the next morning there were three sets of four or more simultaneous free presentations. During the resources round table, I had the unusual pleasure of fielding a question about bioregional education for children from an indigenous woman who was breast-feeding her baby. After Judy’s show another local woman came up and simply held her hand while wordlessly glowing in appreciation. It was a truly high quality gathering both in terms of information and the consciousness level of attendees, taking place in a spot well outside the mainstream in thinly populated Imbaburra Province. It felt like Ecuador’s future.

Since the last Dispatch we all helped build the missing rear wall in the office/volunteer center. There has been an initial meeting with Fanca residents about them taking over the composting project in some form, and a second, more concrete meeting is being held tonight. Sacks for growing seedlings are being filled and today we’re preparing seeds of the notable hardwood tree Black Guayacan for later planting in the large revegetation project. The Catholic University wants to sign a convenio (agreement) with Planet Drum about revegetation of some gullies on their grounds, building a greenhouse for raising seedlings, and some degree of involvement for their students in the whole process. Copies of the Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas wild park brochures are being made to replace the hundreds we brought from San Francisco to hand out, and markers matching sites on the brochure’s self-guided tour will be placed appropriately. The present crew of three volunteers will be joined intermittently by at least four more helpers starting next week. We worked up to twelve hour days during this month and much more will be accomplished in the time between now and February when I return.

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