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Ecuador Dispatches, 2008

Peter and Judy returned to Ecuador in early 2008. The following are dispatches they sent this year. Peter returned in October and those Dispatches are also listed here. 

Index of 2008 Dispatches

[Most recent dispatches at top of list]

Autumn Dispatch #3, A Slice Through Layer of Days, (October 25, 2008)

Autumn Dispatch #2, An Experience of Social Worth, (October 17, 2008)

Autumn Dispatch #1, Introduction to Interview with Maria Soledad Vela

About “Rights of Nature” in New Ecuador Constitution, October 16, 2008

Judy's Journal #3, March 31-April 4, 2008

Dispatch #3, A Celebration & Reflection, April 5, 2008

Judy's Journal #2, March 24-28, 2008, Planet Drum's Eco-Ecuador Work

Judy's Journal #1, March 8-21, 2008

Dispatch #2, National/Local Transformation, March 24, 2008
                  Eco-mandato 2008/English
                  Eco-Mandato 2008/Spanish

Dispatch #1, Tropical Winter Sketches, March 17, 2008


Tropical Winter Sketches

2008 Dispatch #1 (March 17, 2008)
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg 

At this moment hundreds of thousands of tons of water hyacinths are floating down Ecuadorean rivers headed for the coast. Heavy rains that flooded out the shallow places where they overgrew during summer and fall have loosened stalks and leaves in long drifting lines that now artfully illustrate the river current. Occasionally there are large patches of plants that tore away together. It isn’t possible to view the river without seeing bright green reminders of how strong the rains have been that pulled so many hyacinths loose. More are heaped on the riverbanks forming temporary dunes. Those that finally make it to the ocean are a gluttonous belly-swelling treat for the offshore food chain with ramifications throughout the Pacific. I have even heard that some of the animal life forms on the Galapagos Islands hundreds of miles from the coast evolved from progenitors that floated there atop similar ships of debris.

Rain in this season is sometimes violent and relentless. In the short space while I was talking to a friend water disgorged so strongly from one towering black cloud that the downtown streets became instantly impassable. A half-foot of brown fluid suddenly ran as fast and with waves similar to a mountain creek, swirling through the city from the surrounding hillsides. Even sandaled walkers were reluctant to wade across because of the force that sometimes rolled rocks and propelled chunks of wood. Crowds grew on each corner as more people finished their business and emptied stores or came out to watch fascinated, smiling to each other at the marvelous display. As abruptly as it began the rain died away and the flood subsided like dish water emptying from a slow-draining sink. Residual mud and gravel in streaks on the street were the only evidence of a first-class natural display that everyone who experienced it added to their memory of this winter.

Plant growth has been astonishing. Hillsides that were barren only two months ago are now so dense with high foliage that we are placing tall sticks tipped with red paint beside our revegetation plantings in order to find them for watering later in the year.

Mud is everywhere. Field work is made twice as difficult because of slipping and slogging in mud. Some streets are sealed with it. All vehicles are coated or streaked with brown splotches. Clean shoes and pants are instantly soiled. Floors have small piles of stiff dirt and the light thud of a broom hitting the baseboard is a nearly constant indoor background sound.

When people ask what is so appealing about coastal Ecuador I usually answer, “Nature is closer there.” These sketches are part of what I mean.



National Transformation Can Inspire Local Progress

2008 Dispatch #2 (March 24, 2008)
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg 

Ecuador is undergoing a political transformation of undeniably profound and long-lasting significance. As with most South American countries this is a time of widespread change and realignment for many reasons, but in Ecuador there is an additional uniquely internal factor that stands out above all others. It is rewriting the national constitution.

President Rafael Correa put the issue of constitutional reform on the ballot last year as a fundamental part of his revolución ciudadana (citizen’s revolution) and received overwhelming electoral approval for the process. Unlike Hugo Chavez’s recent failure with a similar measure in Venezuela, the need is more clearly evident here because of a historically deadlocked legislature that is incapable of effectively governing the country. An Assembly was popularly elected to carry out the process of receiving suggestions and framing resolutions for the new document. It is presently meeting in the city of Montecristi only a few hours from Bahia de Caraquez with a deadline to finish by the end of May. The proposed constitution will then be debated (no doubt vigorously due to resistance by the minority opposition) and approval by plebiscite sought before the end of this year.

The scale of change will undoubtedly be enormous whether or not agreement on all of the proposals is reached. The main areas for revision are divided into different mesas (tables) seating equal numbers of Assembly members. They range through topics from composition of the legislature and terms of office to natural resources and education. As an example of the generally forward-looking consciousness at these meetings, Mesa 1 - Derechos y Garantias Fundamentales  (Table 1 - Fundamental Rights and Guarantees) is currently discussing whether Nature itself should have rights.

On the local level there has been an opposite tendency. Eco-city activities in Bahia de Caraquez have seriously declined in the last few years. The most obvious symptoms are the discontinuation of the Municipio (city government) garbage separation system and disuse of an extensive compost-making facility that previously transformed household and market organic waste into valuable soil for agriculture. There haven’t been any notable environmental initiatives by the city other than cosmetic upgrading of parks through adding plants and installing night lighting. In fact, persistent conflicts with the Municipio led to the suspension of numerous children’s Eco-Club projects sponsored by the private Center for Environmental Studies. The Municipio’s promising new Director of Environment has just resigned for a state-level job. There is universal disenchantment by the public, private organizations and businesses about whether the city is interested in genuine ecological improvement. Lack of vision or even cooperation by the Municipio isn’t the only factor. There needs to be a massive reawakening of the eco-city movement in Bahia by private individuals and businesses as well.

Planet Drum Foundation has just developed a written mandato (mandate) for change beginning this year. It is already supported by the informal Amigos de la Eco-ciudad made up of community representatives. Public distribution of Eco-Mandato 2008 has  begun, and hopefully members of the general public, present elected officials, and especially candidates in upcoming elections will adopt it.

Eco-Mandato 2008 aims at changes in four fundamental areas that require urgent attention. There could be a much longer list of environmental problems, of course, but these have been persistent difficulties and involve local bioregional realities that are experienced by everyone: water, food, soil, and development of ecological economic activities. Since the city government also administers the territory of the whole county there is a stronger emphasis on agriculture and resources than might otherwise be found.

Water is a primary concern considering this region’s long dry season. Reliable water isn’t easily available to the overwhelming majority of people so piped sources need to be made available. Rooftop rainwater collection systems are under-utilized and could be facilitated with city government assistance. Conservation and re-use through diversion of wastewater to gardens or toilets should be taught and encouraged.

Food production by organic permaculture methods including growing native fruit trees needs to be demonstrated to both rural agricultural producers and city gardeners. The public should be informed about health and ecological benefits to stimulate demand for farm products grown in this manner.

Soil enrichment through production of compost should be encouraged by education and assistance with equipment. Organic wastes for this purpose must be successfully collected from households, markets and restaurants. The present massive burning of brush as a means to obtain whatever minimal nutrients are provided is ruinous in terms of soil health, erosion, river siltation, and pollution.

Develop new ecological businesses by providing resources such as education, training, marketing, and use of public lands. Teach manufacturing of commercial products from recycled materials including metal, glass, plastic, and paper.

(Complete Spanish language document below.)



Para Hacer Bahía de Caráquez una Eco-Ciudad

El 13 de marzo, 2008

La Fundación Planet Drum y Los Amigos de la Eco-Ciudad de Bahia de Caráquez, Canton Sucre exhortamos acción inmediata en las siguientes áreas básicas públicas para lograr un equilibrio con el medio ambiente y ganar el reconocimiento como una verdadera eco-ciudad.

Estas acciones deben ser asumidas por todos los miembros de la ciudadanía en general, empresas privadas y el gobierno. Para lograr ser una eco-ciudad las agencias publicas y oficiales tendrán interés genuino en estas acciones. Además formarán parte de plataformas de campañas de candidatos políticos futuros para responder al impulso de la población.


v     Agua – Desarrollar las fuentes necesarias para la disponibilidad de suficiente de agua segura para todos. A la misma vez, promover la conservación y reutilización de agua, por ejemplo: recolección de agua de lluvia, dirigir aguas servidas a jardines y uso de llaves de flujo reducido, entre otros. Repartir la información y recursos necesarios para realizar estas metas a todos los usuarios públicos y privados.

v     Agricultura Sustentable – Proveer educación para la producción de alimentos con prácticas de permacultura bioregional para cultivar cosechas orgánicas que sean más saludables y conserven el suelo y agua. Promover información e instrucciones sobre agro-silvicultura para que agricultores y jardineros aumenten el uso de árboles nativos de frutas comerciables y la alimentación de ganado.

v     Mejora del Suelo – Enseñar técnicas de separación de desechos orgánicos e inorgánicos y la producción de abono a gran escala e individual a todos los agricultores para reemplazar las practicas de corte y quema, con métodos de limpieza y fertilización orgánicos de los terrenos.

v     Empresas Ecológicas y Trabajo – Ayudar el crecimiento de nuevas empresas y organizaciones ecológicas con recursos como educación, capacitación, marketing y terrenos de uso público. Enseñar la fabricación de productos comerciales de materiales reciclados incluyendo residuos de metales, vidrios, plásticos, y papeles.

Más Información:

Visite nuestra oficina: 915 Montúfar, Bahía de Caraquez o escriba: planetdrumecuador@yahoo.com 



Judy's Journal #1

March 8-21, 2008
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Judy Goldhaft

March 8, 2008

The weather is either hot and moist or hot, moist and slightly breezy. At  Jacob Santos’ B&B mornings bring fruit, fruit juice, scrambled eggs, rolls and coffee. Fresh pineapple with banana yesterday and pineapple with watermelon today. Took a walk for the first time this morning. Not too far, but a nice amount.

The Planet Drum volunteers are all women just now, though one man arrived today for a brief stay. Since it is the weekend they are all off to the beach north of here for an overnight. Went to the market this morning to buy  shrimp, limes and vegetables which will  be cooked for dinner tonight. Last night we all went out to a restaurant where the menu was fish with rice and lentils and or ceviche, both of which were good.

Haven´t been to any of the new Project planting sites yet, but have had some conversations with Clay, the Field Projects Manager, about seeing them next week.. Also next week I will cook with Cheo, a local friend since Planet Drum started working here. He is an elementary school teacher and also a really good cook. We have already decided to make a "typical coastal Ecuadorian" meal of fish in coconut sauce, patacones (crushed fried platanos), etc. Last time he cooked it was ceviche for a party and it was delicious.

The women who make recycled paper products came by and picked up a medium sized order for Planet Drum. We were excited to see each other. I decided to also have some business cards made for Planet Drum, Peter, Clay and me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I had planned to go out to one of the sites with the volunteers this morning to take pictures for a new slide presentation. Yesterday  I had the same plan, but arrived at the Planet Drum apartment after everyone had already left. The volunteers work for about 4 hours every morning, and it turned out that yesterday they had left at 8:30 in order to miss the mid-day heat. For this morning Jaime Andrade, the field foreman, had previously left a note telling everyone he wanted to be out of the house at 8AM sharp. So when I got up this morning I hustled and went down to breakast early. By the time I had drunk my juice and was eating my eggs it was about a minute before 8. So I drank about half my coffee and went right over to the apartment, about a half a block away. I could see the seven volunteers outside the apartment and caught up with them just in time to catch the bus to the site.

We rode about 15 minutes to the outskirts of the city, then jumped off the bus and walked down the road to the site, which is called Don Pepe. The plan for the day was for half of the workers to push marker stakes in the earth next to already planted trees to make them easy to find. The other half of the people were going to a different place in the site and cutting more stakes to be markers. I joined the group pushing in stakes.

We carried a bunch of stakes up a fairly steep hillside path to begin. There were rows of planted trees or each side of the path. I did about three of the rows when someone pointed out there were two kinds of stakes--ones with  a single red stripe at the top and some with two stripes. The two-striped stakes marked the last plant in a row. Hmmm. So I went back and checked the three rows where I had worked exchanging stakes where needed.

Back on the path again, the other volunteers decided that we should go to the very top of the path and work our way down. The logic for this was simple--the day will become hotter and we will become more tired, so we may as well go to top now while we are energetic. (We had originally started about two-thirds the way up the hill.) So I picked up an armful of stakes and we went with the others to the top.

In some places the planted trees are obvious, but during the rainy season all the grasses, vines, etc. continue to grow rapidly. On one row I had to pick my way through bushes and grasses to find the last planted sapling. The end of the row was obvious because volunteers had previously strung barbed wire to keep cows out and that is where every row seemed to end. Jaime cleared excess vegetation while we put in stakes.

There were some other routines that developed while we working. A few places where saplings had been planted the tree had died. Since those spots were already prepped for a tree, we staked the earthen bowl that had been previously dug so another tree could be planted there. Later in the morning Jaime came with Hobo branches, which will sprout if just pushed into the soil, and replanted the empty earthen bowls. We also worked out a way to keep track of rows where staking had been completed. This was necessary because when you start staking a row, there is no way to know how many stakes you will need, and the number of stakes that you can carry up the steep hills is limited. So when a row was started,  we positioned a stake on the ground next to the first tree as a marker and then continued to stake the row. When the last tree in the row was staked, we went back and put in the positioned stake next to the first tree. So it was easy to see which rows were complete, which were in progress, and which had not been started yet. Clever, eh?

About the time we began to run out of stakes, a light rain started. I went down the hill to bring up more stakes but couldn´t find any more. The rain became heavier. Others came down to help with carrying stakes up, but there weren’t any more and the hill was becoming more and more slippery, so we stayed at the bottom. When Jaime came down;  he said we may as well go and do work at the greenhouse instead. So we walked to a place in the road where there was a ramada to protect us from what was becoming even heavier rain while Jaime went to the other side of the site to get the rest of the workers. By the time they returned and we walked to the end of the road we were all drenched and it was almost noon, so instead of going to the greenhouse we took a bus back into the city center.

On the bus ride back the extremely heavy rain we had been experiencing had flooded the road in some places so that there was only one lane in which traffic could travel. We were so wet from the warm downpour that our bus seats had pools of water in them when we stood up to get off the bus.

Apparently  the entire downtown area had been flooded with about a half-foot of water. It had happened quickly as a result of the rapid rainfall and people had to wait for about a half an hour for it to subside.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Today I went out with the volunteers again. We worked in the greenhouse planting seeds both directly into a seedbed—about 500 seeds--and into plastic bottles filled with soil—about 120 saplings. It didn´t rain today and wasn´t super hot. Just in the 80´s probably.

It is nice to be away from usual things in San Francisco. Went for a short walk today and also just sat in the park in the shade....very pleasant.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Went out with the volunteers at 8AM again. Climbed up and down hills taking photos. Came back a little early with Clay. Everyone is going away for the weekend so it will be a quiet Saturday. Some  reorganizing of the apartment is the plan and cleaning it up too. So much for vacation. Also planning to make a day trip to a small town with a friend to see their Sunday market hoping to see a horse sale as well as vegetables and crafts.

Several volunteers are finishing their stay this weekend and some who were previously volunteers and then left to travel around Ecuador will be returning. This means there will still be six or seven volunteers next week.

Sunday March 16, 2008

Today there was a car trip to visit two agricultural towns nearby. Tosagua has a very big market day and the other, Calcetta, was crowded for Palm Sunday. On the way there were pick-up trucks filled with people going to the market, which our host  for the trip, Arfranio, jokingly referred to as "local buses." The market was truly enormous and sold just about anything you could need. Different sections were devoted to clothing, music CDs, jewelry, kitchen supplies, saddles, farm equipment, and a food section that was about as big as a football field separated into vegetables and fruit and meats and restaurants. We had fun looking, bought a belt and also lots of fresh tomatoes to make a sauce for dinner.

At Calcetta, an older town, we went past the new church with many Palm Sunday church goers—everyone in town was carrying palm fronds intricately crafted with many circles—to  look at the old wooden church and the oldest part of town, which has the remains of a previously extensive railway system. We hoped to lunch on a specialty food from this area which is made from cheese curds. We checked around, but none of the restaurants was serving it. Then we learned it can´t be made right now because the rains have decreased milk production, so we returned to Bahia. The whole trip took about 4 hours.

Last night featured a visit to speak with the local Constitutional Assembly woman, who is very ecology-minded, that was both interesting and  friendly. She is on the "rights" (human, women, indigenous, etc.) committee. It sounded like very complicated as well as long and tiring work. She is also interested in trying to help Planet Drum become an officially recognized NGO in Ecuador. (A process that has been going on for several years.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Just got back from a meeting with Patricio Tamariz, an old friend who has always been helpful to Planet Drum here. He is a very interesting person who was working internationally with a quasi-governmental tourist organization until recently. Now he is involved in setting up new coastal Ecuadorian tourism routes. Patricio has always been supportive of the Eco-city actions in Bahia, and we discussed the mandate for change that Planet Dum and the Amigos de la Eco-ciudad have just finished writing.

Patricio’s mother, Flor Maria Duenas, stopped by as well. She started the Eco-Clubs for kids movement in Ecuador and has worked in all of South America. It was a  friendly visit with people who we work with on various levels. We introduced Clay to them and they were very obviously impressed by what a solid person he is.

Later in the morning, one of the women who makes recycled paper products delivered some of the new business cards. All in all it was a good morning.

Tuesday March 18, 2008

This afternoon all the Planet Drum volunteers went to see the workshop of the Arte Papel women. The women  demonstated how to make paper from recycled waste and encouraged the volunteers help a little. Then they showed the products they make and gave each of the volunteers a gift of a notepad which had been made but not yet decorated. The volunteers really enjoyed decorating their notepads. I was struck that the "demonstration and workshop" we had just experienced would be a lovely experience for tourists visiting Bahia. It was a very sweet trip. The volunteers joked that maybe they would rather work some days making recycled paper than doing tree planting. Later everyone agreed that with a little publicity Arte Papel could do presentations for visitors.

Friday, March 21, 2007

Happy Spring to everyone! Here the equal day and night of the equinox happen all year long. The moment of Equinox was just before midnight (i.e. March 19) and the sunset that night happened here at exactly 6:30PM (sunrise had been at 6:30AM). The sun sank into a purple, pink and orange bank of clouds. As it slid down to the horizon reddish embers glowed through cracks in the clouds. Really beautiful!  The volunteers and Clay toasted  the equinoxal change of seasons with a bottle of wine that night.

By Thursday morning a few of the female volunteers had left to continue their travels and that day the plan was to plant trees at a new site with a neighborhood called "Reales Tamarindos". Clay thought it would be a good photo opportunity as some of the community would be joining us.

We left at 8AM in a rented pickup with equipment and people in the back, the driver and his friend in the front. Two volunteers and I were dropped off at the site with  marker stakes and the supplies to paint stripes on them. The others continued on to the greenhouse to fill the truck with saplings to be planted. So we set up to paint the stakes and had almost completed them when the truck returned filled with saplings in 2 liter soda bottles. We unloaded them from the truck to the side of the road, and then proceeded up the hilly path to the site. By now the president of the neighborhood and about six boys aged from about 7 to 12 who live there had joined us. The path to the site was hilly and wound past a house. The recent rains made the clay path difficult to navigate, so Jaime used a machete to cut steps in the most slippery places. Seven adults struggled about a half a mile up the hill each carrying three or four bottles filled with saplings. The kids were like mountain goats. The carried one or two bottles and fairly bounded up the hill. It took about 7 trips each to get all of the trees up to the site.

The next chore was to decide the placement of the trees. We had a number of species—some fast-growers and some slow-growers. The previous three days, Clay and the volunteers had cleared planting paths and dug holes where the trees would be placed. Now we placed saplings either in or near the holes, with the fast-growers on the steepest areas and the slower ones in the flatter places. At the same time that were we doing this, some people carried painted stakes up the hill, so we also pushed in stakes next to the holes. By the time we had about finished doing this, it was about 11:30AM and fairly hot. It was already a good amount of work for one day, but of course we still had to plant the trees, so we continued working. By the time we finished it was 1PM, and we had planted 162 trees. All the empty plastic bottles were collected into a huge pile (to be picked up another day), and we walked down the hill to take a bus back to city center. Everyone was hot and truly tired, but it felt good to have accomplished so much. The shower I took when I got back was just the best!



Judy's Journal #2, Planet Drum's Eco-Ecuador Work

March 24-28, 2008
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Judy Goldhaft

Overview: Last week there were seven Planet Drum volunteers who concentrated work on one large neighborhood site. Only three volunteers remained by the beginning of this week, and by midweek only one. Regardless of fewer numbers we weeded four previously planted sites as well as the greenhouse.

The work: Weeding involves locating saplings planted in the new sites and “cleaning” a space about two meters in diameter around the tree. Sometimes the canopy of other trees above it needs to be cleared as well. When working alone this can be a very meditative experience—you could redefine/reevaluate your life while working.

Also involved: Vines grow incredibly fast and can overwhelm saplings unless the trees are released from their grip. Paths and spaces between trees that tend to disappear into fast-growing vegetation during this wet moist season need to be cleared

The Sites, the People & the Work:

Monday, March 24, 2008

All of the volunteers except me joined foreman Jaime to deal with a site that is close to the greenhouse at Universidad Catolica. Meanwhile, Clay and I cleared the recently planted saplings on the side of a long staircase in the city center that leads to a neighborhood with a vista area at the top of a hill that has a large cross on it. The hill and the site are called La Cruz (The Cross).

The day was sunny and very hot. In two months since the saplings were planted, grasses had grown higher than them, so the trees were hard to find. The lower areas were planted in short rows next to the staircase, but at the top the land flattens and about half of the trees were planted there. We used machetes to do the clearing—a first for me. I spent some time figuring out how to cut effectively. It took about two and a half hours to clear the whole space. When we finished both of us were completely drenched—actually we were drenched after about only five minutes work! The morning ended with us resting and chatting in the shade. On the way back down Clay pointed out a view of the Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas below, Planet Drum’s very first planting site in Bahia that I had previously only seen in photos and had often puzzled over the location from which the photos had been taken.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The site for clearing today was Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas. It is large and at a further north end of town than any others. One of the volunteers was feeling sick and one was preparing to leave on the afternoon bus so Jaime, so Darline and I walked to the site unaccompanied and began weeding. The first places we worked had been recently planted (i.e. during this year’s rainy season). Because it was started more than five years ago, this site has quite a few large trees so we were working both in and out of their comfortable shade. Young trees were easy to see and work was steady. After finishing the new plantings we continued clearing older ones. It was gratifying to see how large the earlier plantings had grown. Most of them originally had short bamboo sections inserted next to them both to mark the tree and to transport water directly down to the roots. Back in the San Francisco Planet Drum office there are photo albums from each year’s work in Bahia. How enjoyable it was to recall the photos of tiny trees being planted with bamboo sections while working around the same trees now 12-15 feet tall! Several other methods of marking trees can be seen in this site, which brought to mind the various project managers over the past years, each with unique contributions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bosque Encantato, which is on a hillside above a farm at the end of the Fanca neighborhood (a 15-minute bus ride—plus the walk past the farm), was our work destination. Darline was departing today and Jaime was sick, so Clay, Jill and I went to the site. It contains about 300 trees on seven paths up a long hillside. We each took one of the paths, planning to meet at the top where they ended. The paths serpentine around and meander up the hill. You could hear rhythmic chopping from the neighboring paths while we wound around the hill. Just as it seemed to be reaching the top, my trail descended and looped around again. I called to Jill at one point to see the spectacular vista that emerged behind us.

Eventually Clay came down my path and helped finish clearing the last 8-10 trees. He had already completed two more paths and Jill was just reaching the top too. We found a shady spot and exchanged experiences all of us had with caterpillars (large bright pink and green with long body hairs—which could cause skin rashes.) and butterflies (completely black, white and red; yellow and black; and bright orange ones with a wing span of about a foot.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Finishing up Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas and Bosque Encantato sites. Jaime, Jill and I walked back and cleared the older and oldest plantings at Ruinas. Some of the trees were so tall and broad that they hardly needed clearing because their canopies shaded out intrusive plants. Clay joined us after about an hour and was amazed when he realized that we had almost finished. The four of us then spent some time clearing the extensive walking paths between the trees after first finding them because most were so overgrown. Together we covered most of the paths and all the plantings.

Near the large Ceibo tree that marks the top entrance to the park, I heard a loud two-noted bird calling, repeatedly. I’m sure the bird was in the Ceibo but remained a haunting mystery because it never showed itself.

It was still early when we walked back from the Bosque, so Jill, Jaime, and I bussed over to the Bosque Encantado site about six kilometers away where there were still three recently planted paths that needed clearing. Instead of each person taking one path, we did all of them together. Since they were fairly short it was all finished in about an hour. Took a breath in the shade and then returned to El Centro (City Center).

Friday, March 28, 2008

The site—Planet Drum’s greenhouse next to the Universidad Catolica at Kilometro 8, the last stop and turnaround of the city buses. It was about two weeks since I had been there planting seeds in one of two outside beds. During that short time, a prodigious number of weeds had grown both inside the greenhouse and around it.

Jill and I followed Jaime’s instructions and first cleared weeds in the indoor seedbeds. There are about eight of them, and except for one or two, everything had to be cleared through a combination of hand pulling and swinging machetes. What a change to be using machetes without tromping up and down hills!

Next we worked on the indoor paths between the beds. It seemed amazing that weeds could even grow on them, since they consist of very heavily compacted earth. About the time we finished Jaime returned from working elsewhere at UC. When he checked all of the plants we had not pulled out, thinking they were saplings, he found that only about half of them actually were desired plants and the other half were weeds.

Then we attacked the two outside seedbeds, one of which I had helped to plant earlier in this visit. It was a delight to see a few newly planted seeds already sprouting up. Following this we returned inside to weed the many species of saplings that were growing in 2 liter plastic bottles. By now many of the weeds could be easily identified. Occasionally the sapling in a bottle had died. Some bottles had just a few weeds, and some had giant intruders. A few saplings were inadvertently “weeded”—a sacrifice is how I thought of them. Fortunately there were only one or two of those all morning.

While Jill and I were working inside, Jaime cleared tall grasses that had grown up outside to surround the greenhouse. Our final project inside was to weed along the interior walls. When we finished and had weeded both inside and outside completely, the greenhouse looked wonderful. Finishing up, Jaime watered all the plants and the crew walked to the bus stop. On the way there was a swarm of yellow and white butterflies and Jill danced through with her arms in the air. It was a lovely way to end the afternoon.



A Celebration & A Reflection

2008 Dispatch #3 (April 5, 2008)
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg 

We hosted a dinner billed as a “celebration” for both landowners and representatives of urban communities who have participated in Planet Drum’s 2008 revegetation program. After an hour of meeting each other and waiting for the inevitable late arrivals, Clay as Field Projects Manager explained the purpose of the gathering, described Planet Drum’s history in Bahia, and invited everyone to watch a slide show of recent highlights. It began with background about the benefits of planting trees to reduce erosion that deteriorates soil, creates siltation in the river, and leads to public disasters ranging from destroying houses to closing roads. New vegetation also restores animal habitat, provides native plant resources, and contributes to the global environment.

Clay’s an excellent photographer with a distinctive off-centered style that shows people clearly but to the side of their work rather than dominating the frame. He presented the greenhouse operation through all phases of plant development, compost-making, gathering seeds and seedlings (one particularly effective scene of a volunteer digging out seedlings from under a tree growing in the cement rubble of a ruined house), digging post holes for fences to guard sites, planting, weeding intruders from newly planted saplings, and arduous watering by hand during the entire half-year or more dry season. None of the guests had seen all of the sites or phases of work in the show before, but they all knew some of it and the resulting sense of recognition and fulfilment gave a special binding introductory tone for the evening.

As one guest shouted out, dinner was saborosa (flavourful) home-prepared fish soup followed by a sautéed fish entree served with blackberry juice or beer. Discussions ranged from farmer talk about this year’s heavy rain (bad for watermelons, good for corn) to mobilizing neighborhood cooperation in the city. There were some surprises such as unusually frequent comments regarding uses for native plants including gathering algarrobo seed pods for cattle fodder, making fence posts from hobo and muyoyu branches, and blending jaboncillo with piñon to make a traditional dark-colored soap. The dangerously erosion-threatened city barrio of El Astillero was a central subject all evening. This may have been because there were several representatives from there who want Planet Drum’s help in revegetating the steep hillsides whereas everyone else came from places where work was already underway. One of that barrio’s residents had even begun his own composting efforts ingeniously using cafeteria remains from the nearby National Guard headquarters, and planted a handful of native trees for erosion control. There was a particularly enlightened discussion led by the Universidad Catolica administrator about whether El Astillero should have an entirely independent program with its own greenhouse, tools and education program.

Clay closed by asking for support in finding more participants to revegetate new areas, creating public awareness by giving radio and newspaper interviews, and assisting in raising public awareness in other ways. It was a completely successful first gathering of what could become a strong network as our work continues with more tree-growers.


The conflict between the spirit of progress and the precepts of ecology isn’t difficult to understand even if it often seems impossible to reconcile. Progress usually involves introducing new methods, tools, materials, and techniques to solve old problems or facilitate new possibilities. Ecology is based on the healthy interdependence between organisms and the natural systems that support them. Change is the inevitable accompaniment of progress whereas ecology thrives on balance and homeostasis.

The difference between these two driving forces is glaringly apparent in comparing highly industrialized, materially developed countries with more traditional, less developed ones. There is always the question of ecological consequences when considering whether established practices should be improved or discarded. As a random but clearly present example, should sandals be made of native materials like straw or leather or manufactured from plastic, or whether autos should replace walking altogether. We know that plastic is notoriously resistant to biodegradation and exacts a rapidly mounting toll on ecosystems all over the world including the hundreds of miles wide swirling gyres in the middle of oceans. Automobiles have proven to be one of the most potent contemporary ecological disasters in all aspects of their existence from construction and disposal to fueling and contribution to climate change.

There’s a metal working shop two blocks from Planet Drum’s office in Bahia de Caraquez where I went today to have some uselessly dull kitchen knives sharpened. It occupies a street-level corner space without a roof and spills out onto the front porch of an adjacent house and the surrounding sidewalk. There’s a forge, welder’s outfit, some workbenches, an emory wheel, and other well-worn basic equipment completely out in the open. The stacks of blank materials such as iron plates and rods for assembling new items or repairing broken ones are clearly visible. All of the work done is a public performance. In spite of glowing-hot metal and flying sparks, the three or four men who do it wear blackened t-shirts and shorts without aprons or other special protection except welding lenses when necessary. Sometimes the sidewalk itself becomes a solid impervious surface for pounding metal into shape.

Amazing work is done in this shop, everything from sharpening long machetes to fabricating finished chrome-surfaced pieces for such up-to-date construction projects as apartment buildings or an international chain gas station. I mentioned remembering the gas station job to the shop chief and he described the repair he was making at that moment on an air conditioning unit. The bottom had rusted out so he cut it away, replaced it with some plating, and was bending a shiny decorative spare strip into an L-shaped piece as flashing for the front. I’m sure there are few familiar objects with metal parts, old or brand new, that he wouldn’t consider fixing.

It’s an obvious observation that a lot of this work isn’t done anymore in the “developed” world, or it has become so expensive as custom work that people will throw away an air conditioning unit or other consumer appliances rather than have them repaired. This open-air shop is actually a surviving contemporary version of the blacksmith’s shop that disappeared from everyday life in more industrialized countries near the beginning of the twentieth century. It has never been replaced except by growing piles of refuse thrown into pestilentially polluting landfills.

The blacksmith shop in Bahia isn’t just a quaintly antique holdover. Recycling, repairing and reusing items of all kinds has become re-found technology in the developed world, and more “modern” than throwing them away. (Making compost and planting trees is “modern” in this same way.) Like a lot of other older practices and behaviors, the metal-working shop is an inspiration for changing the ruinous styles that have dominated the more industrialized world. Luckily, Bahia still has a lot of them.



Judy's Journal #3

March 31-April 4, 2008
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Judy Goldhaft


This morning Jill, Jaime and I set out for one of the El Toro sites. They are along a river basin that slopes steeply down from the hills. In relation to other sites, they are located just before Bosque Encantado in the Fanca neighborhood, but behind it and much farther away from the road. A half-hour walk just to reach the site. Luckily, we had only light backpacks with just water, insect repellant and sun-screen. Jill and I discussed how difficult it must have been for earlier volunteers to tote several plants growing in bottles with wet soil.

The river that rises in El Toro is fairly large. During the El Niño flooding of ’98-’99 a high wall of mud raged down the river course wiping out a reinforced concrete highway bridge and completely blocking the main road into Bahia. After a day's drenching rain a week and a half ago on our bus ride home from working, the flash flooding river could be seen almost level with the bridge again. Erosion on the nearby riverbanks is impressive, 90 degree angles above the river. For Planet Drum it always seemed a particularly important area to plant, but especially daunting because of its magnitude and the difficulty obtaining access to sites.

A main objective of Planet Drum's revegetation project is to control erosion. The depth of the bottom of both Bahia Bay and the Chone River which leads into it has visibly risen due to soil washing down from the hills. At low tide during this visit sandbars were apparent along the south side of the bay. The El Toro Basin, which is a major tributary of the Chone River, covers an extremely large area, and most of the land facing the river is in private ownership. There have been continuing discussions with the owners and a few have agreed to have some sites there revegetated.

We rode the bus to just before Fanca, about 15-minutes, and then walked first down the road, then along the riverbank, then down along the river itself (which had subsided and was quite small), and finally back up along the river banks again. In some places the riparian erosion had formed steep banks 30 feet high. At one place we saw a honeybee hive in the soil of the embankment. Honeybees in Ecuador nest only in the ground, so it was impressive to see one on this 90 degree embankment, in the ground but at a right angle to what we normally think of as the ground.

This year's saplings were planted in finger-like paths that branch horizontally from the left and right of a main trail. Fortunately work was under a canopy of larger trees and bushes so the sun wasn't beating directly down. At one place a large flightless bird, flushed out by the chopping, revealed a nest on the ground with six eggs. We worked individually on what originally seemed to be single paths. The "single" paths repeatedly divided and it became hard to figure out which paths had been completed. I began taking the highest path of each fork and then came back and cleared the next highest fork, continuing down the hill. Paths ended in either a barbed wire fence or an impenetrable mass of vegetation. The trees at this site seemed to be doing well, and after more than a week of working together we had developed into an efficient work crew. Despite some disorientation early on, we worked quickly and when Jaime did a final re-examination of the paths looking for unfinished areas, he found none.

On the long walk back to the road Jaime pointed out a gray stripe in one of the yellowish vertical walls of the creek. He drew his machete gently along it and a few shells, clods of gray ashy earth, and some small red and black pottery shards dropped out. He explained that the gray layer was the remains of a Pre-Columbian site, just the thing that archeologists look for to locate potential digs. The area around Bahia has a truly high number of these sites. Remnants from ancient civilizations are found all along the coast, often when simply planting crops or walking through fields. Beyond this Pre-Columbian spot was a snake about two feet long which had folded itself in half and was taking a nap about 20 feet up the same vertical wall. Jill and I departed from Jaime, who decided to try and get some honey from the bee hive, and easily found our way back to the road and a bus to the city. (Jaime later told us that the bees had not produced much honey as they were busy constructing their hive.)


Jill, Jaime and I went to the barrio of El Astillero and walked to an empty lot, which has a large Pechiche tree in it. Numerous seedlings had sprouted under this mother tree. The duff was so thick that it was easy to gently release the tiny trees from it with their roots intact. It was a beneficial act since the seedlings wouldn't grow much larger otherwise. They were put into a half gallon plastic bottle partially filled with water. Then we continued walking to the new Reales Tamarindo site, which had just been planted about a week previously. The empty 2 liter bottles used for saplings had been left in a pile and were now stuffed into large sacks and awkwardly carried to the bus stop. It had been rainy and muddy when the planting had been done, so now on this dry morning it seemed to be a very different place. Some of the new trees already looked healthy, but some were still in shock from being transplanted.

When the bus came, the conductor obligingly opened a compartment in the back for our sacks for the trip to the greenhouse at Universidad Catolica. Workmen were clearing weeds in a field near the greenhouse when we arrived. The sacks of bottles were dumped and some soil, sand and compost were mixed  to fill them again. Jill described our work as “playing in the sandbox.” By the end of the morning 75 bottles had been refilled with soil and planted with the Pechiche seedlings. The greenhouse now contains almost 100 of these highly desirable native fruit trees. During the morning the workmen found and killed a pit viper called equix. It was only about a foot long, but is very poisonous. Looking at it with a number of the University professors constituted our break that morning.

This was Jill's last workday, she left for further adventures in Cuenca on the next morning’s bus.


Most of today was spent preparing for a presentation and dinner meeting with over a dozen participants in Planet Drum's revegetation project. We met at the restaurant in Jacob Santos’ Bahia Bed & Breakfast, a lovely space for a dinner meeting decorated with bamboo and large murals of country scenes. The tables were arranged in a square so that conversations would be easy, and a projector (with a sheet pinned on the wall for a screen) was set up for Clay’s slideshow presentation. The guests were the landowners of sites planted this year and representatives of city barrios were community plantings had taken pace. After Clay’s presentation about Planet Drum’s work, the various sites, and future potential for revegetation, we enjoyed a delicious dinner. Fish soup was the first course; followed by fish in coconut sauce, rice, red cabbage salad, and patacones (twice cooked plantains, an Ecuadorian specialty) as the second. Beverages included fresh Mora (a sweet blackberry/raspberry fruit) juice and beer. Questions and discussions continued through dinner and beyond. Everyone enjoyed the evening. More information about the content of the meeting is described in Peter Berg’s Dispatch #3 on this page.


During the morning Peter and Clay made a visit to discuss an access road with a neighbor of the land that has been bought just outside Bahia to house a future Planet Drum Institute. Accessing the land has been a matter of discussion for the last two years.

In the afternoon, Patricio Tamaris and his mother Flor Maria Duenas picked us up for a visit and lunch at her ecologically sustainable organic shrimp farm. We had hoped to include some of the volunteers, but by Thursday all of them had left.

Most shrimp farms are barren industrial places. Shrimp are raised in rectangular diked areas and the dikes are simply compacted soil in a wide grate-like design. When I visited Flor’s shrimp farm in 2000 it was much the same. Since then she has planted thirteen thousand Mangrove trees along the dikes and changed from chemically aided feeding and collecting methods. Her shrimp are now certified as organically grown and are much more ecologically sustainable. After visiting the shrimp ponds we went to a slough where a pavilion was built over the water.  It is a beautiful ramada-styled building with low bamboo walls, a grilling area, and a large dining section in the open air. There are also two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a kind of living room/sitting area that were somewhat more enclosed. Originally it had been built for youth Eco-club meetings, now she is considering using it for volunteers who will be helping her. It was surprisingly breezy on such a hot day.

Lunch centered on shrimp and other local foods continuing through many courses:

Pechiche juice tasting like tangy prune plums to start, then shrimp ceviche with chifles (crisp fried banana chips), lightly breaded fried shrimp balls with mango sauce, rice mixed with fresh corn cut off the cob, grilled whole shrimp, small tamale-looking packages containing pureed fresh corn with chicken pieces wrapped in a banana leaf, lettuce-tomato-cucumber salad, roasted sweet bananas, Maracuya (passion fruit) juice … whew, have I left anything out? Oh yes, fresh very sweet chilled watermelon for dessert. Delicious, but I was stuffed!


Clay spent most of the day discussing access rights to the Planet Drum land with lawyers and then finding every piece of formal paper that related to the land. By a miracle he uncovered all the old paperwork (it took several hours and included getting copies from a notary). He also created a legal document giving him authority to work with neighbors while Peter is not in Bahia. This last document was notarized and then all of them were copied so that a set could be used by Clay, a set remains with Peter for the San Francisco office, and a set stayed with Jacob Santos, who had facilitated the original land purchase and has continued to be extremely helpful in the continuing negotiations. With all this completed, a wonderful sense of accomplishment beamed from Clay and Peter.

What a wonderful fulfilling visit this has been!



Introduction to Interview with Maria Soledad Vela
About “Rights of Nature” in New Ecuador Constitution*

Autumn 2008 Dispatch #1 (October 16, 2008)
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg 

Ecuador has just ratified a new constitution overflowing with innovations that make it a trail-blazing 21st Century governing document. Environmental awareness and protection are recognized on a particularly high level in response to present day revelations about local destruction of habitat and species as well as planetary climate change. These are covered as extensively as might be hoped for in sections of the new document titled “Good Life” and “Biodiversity and Natural Resources”. But there is more than even environmentalists have previously sought. It is the first constitution in the world to grant “Rights of Nature.”

Nature in Ecuador is now recognized to fully possess the “right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its natural cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” To ensure these rights the government is responsible for  “precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems or the permanent alteration of natural cycles.”

The concept isn’t brand new. Wilderness advocates and leading ecologists such as Raymond Dasmann pleaded to grant legal rights to Nature nearly half a century ago, and it has been the subject of numerous “deep ecology” and some law articles and books. What is new to the point of near incomprehension is that this idea is now part of Ecuador’s national purpose. Consider the broadest possibilities for interpretation. Don’t the processes of resources extraction, manufacturing, energy production, large-scale agriculture, mass transportation, housing development, and nearly all other operations of contemporary society interfere with wild Nature? No one yet knows what laws will follow to carry out the intent of the new constitution, or how they will be applied. Imagine when the U.S. constitution first granted life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We will have to wait to discover what “Rights of Nature” actually means. This much is clear, the prospects for human consciousness have just widened considerably.

How did this happen in a country previously unknown for advanced ecological policies? There are at least as many themes in the national character of Ecuador as in any other country, but two stand out with undeniable clarity. One is that it has a continuous basis in Nature that is close and powerful. The other is that Ecuadorians are able to adapt rapidly to changes - ideas, technology, and fashion. It may have taken time for them to see the effects of large-scale environmental destruction but they have decided to stop it now in the firmest terms.

The grand scale of Ecuador’s natural attributes and their significance to the rest of the world is a fixture in the national mind. A transit across the country starts with the Galapagos Islands offshore where Darwin formulated his evolution theories, continues to the coast on the Pacific Ocean which is often unpeopled and wild, moves inland to cloud forests with world-leading numbers of unique birds, plants and insects, ascends to extremely high peaks and major active volcanoes in the Andes Mountains, and finally encounters vast and dense Amazon Basin rain forests feeding oxygen to the planet’s atmosphere. It is no accident that the country is the only one named for an earthly phenomenon, the equator that was first discovered there.

The speed of change can be neck-breakingly excessive. The worst result has been a long history of fast boom-bust agricultural innovations in this food-producing nirvana, most recently ruinous shrimp-farming that denuded habitat-harboring mangroves and pollutes main estuaries. Rapid transition can also bring undoubted benefits like Guayaquil’s startling reversal from the worst-rated urban area in the world only ten years ago to today’s notably attractive and amenable largest city in the nation. To keep Ecuador’s equilibrium, almost half of the population still remains culturally indigenous with loyalties to traditional communities, and most people retain allegiances to large families that have a prevailing influence in social and economic relations. These socially conservative factors act like ballast as Ecuador roars past.

The monumental presence of Nature itself and a cultural flair for change account in a large part for how “Rights of Nature” came to be, and will likely continue to shape the way they are interpreted in the legal laboratory of constitutional law.


Maria Soledad Vela is a journalist and professor who has lived in the mid-coastal Ecuadorian city of Bahia de Caraquez for twenty-one years. She has abundant intelligence and quick humor that tends toward revealing human qualities and conditions, and the overall manner of a multi-faceted professional.

Without any previous practical political experience beyond an unsuccessful trial bid to become a member of Bahia’s city council in 2004, Maria ran as a Constitutional Assembly representative from the State of Manabi three years later and won. She commuted one hundred kilometers to the historically important city of Montecristi where the Assembly was held. It produced the constitution that was accepted in a national plebiscite in September.

The Assembly structure called for 130 representatives (asambleistas) divided thirteen each among ten committees termed mesas (tables), and a general assembly to approve the final document. Maria Soledad belonged to Mesa 1 “Guarantees and Rights” which produced some of the most philosophically and politically advanced measures in this penultimately important document. It was here that “Rights of Nature” was introduced and debated for the first time as a national policy.

*Interview transcription to follow in Winter 2008 Planet Drum PULSE available from Planet Drum Foundation/PO Box 31251/San Francisco CA 94131/USA or email mail@planetdrum.org.



An Experience of Social Worth

Autumn 2008 Dispatch #2 (October 17, 2008)
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg 

Bahia de Caraquez is a working lesson in urban livability that collapsing industrial society urgently needs to adopt. For a transition toward a more sustainable future, new techniques and practices alone aren’t enough. By themselves they give off a chilly contrived feeling that rings false and heightens a sense of displacement rather than belonging. There needs to be a spirit and theme that is undeniably true and accessible to anyone, and capable of being celebrated and shared with strangers. Bahia has many features such as greater reliance on interpersonal relationships instead of money (lagalou) and widespread reuse of materials, but its livability is a rare quality that has unique and supreme importance. It is the quantum factor that converts a multitude of needed improvements from coldly planned impositions to congenial workability.

Planet Drum Foundation has the good fortune to occupy an office cum living quarters for a Field Projects Manager and up to five volunteers that is in the city center. Everything from meetings to meals and parties take place in this convivial shared space, and it is extremely close to places that are visited daily. Most of the time we can joyfully forego the need for transportation and just walk.

“Extremely close” access to basic necessities is uncommon in most cities. It’s worth describing in detail so that jaded urbanites can comprehend how different this feels. The main food market for the whole city is only a half-block from the office/apartment. City Hall is two blocks away. Travel to work at the first revegetation tree-planting site in Maria Auxiliadora barrio, and one of the newest planting efforts in steep neighboring La Cruz, is just four blocks. The beautiful public park where Ramon Cedeno holds Planet Drum’s popular after-school Bioregional Education Program classes is no more than six. Within that radius are a post office, bus stop, copy shop, doctor, lawyer, notary, barber, drugstore, a full-scale hardware store, several grocery and merchandise stores, the main church building, three internet shops, three radio stations, two newspaper offices, and a dozen restaurants. It is a mere three-block stroll to the riverfront, and an ocean beach for swimming is a ten-minute walk. In the infrequent case of needing to get to any of these places in a rush, a bicycle is completely adequate, and a three-wheeled triciclo pedicab ride is usually only a wave of the arm away.

A trip to the native plants greenhouse that is the farthest terminus of the revegetation zone eight kilometers away is less than a half-hour in a music-playing, frequent bus of the line named Ondina del Pacifico (Mermaid of the Pacific). All of our planting sites are along this route and it is possible to carry along tools, compost and even water jugs that the driver’s assistant will help carry on and off.

Here’s how Bahia’s close proximity and access to needed functions recently transformed what might be a bothersome trudge somewhere else into a float-and-drift excursion. Planet Drum is sponsoring a presentation about the remarkable new national constitution’s “Rights of Nature” which is the first of its kind in the world. It was spontaneous and we chose only two weeks to line up the right people, find a hall, write and distribute a notice, and make announcements on the radio that everyone listens to here.

One of the State of Manabi’s (Bahia’s larger political body) Constitutional Assembly members who had a direct role in developing “Rights of Nature” lives only three blocks from our office and during a visit said she was eager to be the main speaker, and volunteered to try to find one of the consulting ecologists to accompany her onstage.

Next the bilingually skilled owner of Bahia Bed & Breakfast Inn offered to moderate the evening. (He’s located across the intersection from our place.)

The Museum’s auditorium is one of the most comfortable formal listening spaces in the city so the staff was contacted and agreed to donate it for this free event with only a small maintenance fee. With the hall secured it was time to call a radio station and make an appointment to go on live with a public invitation the next morning. Immediately afterward another station recorded a plug about the talk to play continually. Then we wrote the announcement, made copies and walked around delivering them to Amigos de la Eco-ciudad (Friends of the Eco-city) as well as anyone who might be interested

All of this took place within the same small geographic circle. We not only accomplished what we needed but were encouraged and supported each walking step of the way, and as a result became infused with a confident élan that is the core of livability. The presentation is already a success.


"The New Constitution, The Rights of Nature and You" will be the topic of a presentation by Maria Soledad Vela in the main auditorium at Museo Bahia de Caraquez on Friday, October 24 at 8PM. Sra. Soledad was an asambleista who helped develop Rights of Nature at the Constitutional Assembly. She will be joined by consulting ecologists and Jacob Santos as moderator. Please attend to hear and ask questions about this important constitutional feature for Ecuador which is a first in the world. This event is free and the general public is invited to attend.

"La Nueva Constitución, Los Derechos de la Naturaleza, y Tú" será el tema de una presentación por María Soledad Vela en el auditórium del Museo Banco Central en Bahía de Caráquez el viernes, 24 de octubre a las 8 de la noche, auspiciada por la Fundación Planet Drum. La señora Vela fue una de las asambleístas quien participó en la redacción de los Derechos de la Naturaleza en la Asamblea Constitucional. Ella será acompañada por ecologistas consultores y Jacob Santos como moderador. Asistan para escuchar y preguntar sobre estos artículos importantes de la Constitución del Ecuador que son primicias en el mundo. Este evento es gratis y todo el público está invitado.



A Slice Through Layers of Days

Autumn 2008 Dispatch #3 (October 25, 2008)
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
By Peter Berg 

October's gray, overcast skies in coastal Ecuador are generally constant and cover over even sunrise and set (caida del sol or "fall of the sun"). This makes for pleasantly cool weather despite melancholy moods. It has been called "the gringo month" even though tourists are mostly absent because of the resemblance to Seattle or London (and perhaps the tendency to stare ahead unsmilingly), but rain as in those other places is rare, light and usually at night. Sometimes in the morning there is verga, a term known to few but meteorologists meaning extremely light rain that barely if ever reaches the ground in quantities enough to make a wet slick.

It is perfect weather for sweaty machete-swinging work clearing terraces and paths to planting sites at this stage of revegetation work in the field. Foreman Jaimie Andrade, mentally bright and physically hardy volunteer Malcolm MacLean, and when he isn't working elsewhere, Field Projects Manager Clay Plager-Unger have been pioneering a significantly gouged site on a hillside in notoriously eroded El Toro watershed. It will later receive hundreds of carefully chosen native plant saplings that presently overcrowd our greenhouse when real rain begins in December. Because this is city-controlled land, problems with owner cooperation and animal grazing in the future will hopefully be less than usual.

Ramon Cedeno, PDF's resourceful Bioregional Education Manager who teaches after-school classes from a textbook he and Clay wrote titled "Bioregionalismo", brought about a dozen of the present students (including previous graduates Raisa and Roberto who are now assistants) by the office to ask questions that had come up in classes. The sheer energy and sense of hopeful promise that these twelve to fourteen year-olds possess was explosive! They explored our whole place so energetically as to imperil bookshelves, furniture and seemingly even walls. Besides the normal restiveness at their ages they are volunteer students, after all, and it would be counter-thematic, even hypocritical, to try to march them into learning about wild Nature. Ramon patiently herded them into a circle around our normally more sedate (what wouldn't be?) main table for introductions. I opened by praising them for taking the course and pointed out that they were getting a more holistic ecological perspective from it than classes for a similar age range than any I knew about in the US or elsewhere. Then came questions that were read or spontaneously spoken about a range of subjects that would do credit to a much more mature group.

"What is the biggest problem with human activities on the planet today?"

Maybe the boy who asked this one wanted to know a type of pollution or spectacular example of destruction. It was a few moments before I answered, thinking about them as relative newcomers to ecology who might be led down the negative trail that is associated with environmentalism's reputation as The Big No, emphasizing what should be stopped rather than what should be taken on anew. “The biggest problem is how people are deprived from being in touch with Nature, how they are physically or more often mentally cut off from seeing themselves as belonging to Nature,” I answered. Ramon agreed when asked to confirm that urban people are often afraid when first exposed to wild places. Experiencing and identifying with Nature is our birthright. We inherit a legacy to be part of Nature and we can't protect or restore natural features unless we know what they are.

"Why do you care and why should we learn abut Nature?"  

Back when their parents were the age the students are today, there were more trees and other natural aspects around Bahia. When their grandparents were that old there were actual forests and plentiful wildlife near the city. Those are gone now and if they ever come back it will be because the students begin restoring them. I said that this happened in my lifetime and I want to do something about it.

How old was I? How old was Planet Drum? Where did that name come from? Are there other groups like ours in other parts of the world or in Ecuador? Can we travel to them on exchanges?

Unexpectedly direct! And sometimes as difficult to answer honestly as unknotting snagged fishing line. People this age expect helpful and final answers. When the truth touched on our lack of funds for expanding to other places or sending them to experience more of this country's outstanding natural attributes, it was poignant in the way that  parents feel telling children that they can't afford needed things. Explaining why we don't have more money for jobs to employ them when massive restoration and sustainability work is so obviously needed is also hard. Regardless of those lapses in getting positive replies, the students left with upbeat Ramon in the same near-jubilant mood as when they arrived. Clay assured me that the encounter was a full-scale success.

The convoluted epic story of getting access to Planet Drum's land continues. The easiest route is a direct line from the highway where the property is under the control of someone who proved, after more than a year of start-stop negotiations, to be hopelessly uncooperative about building a road. Next we chose to explore a way in from the beach which, although dependent on tides for mobility and at least five times as long, is over land belonging to friends. Clay set out following a creek bed in a pickup truck with two local men who knew some of the way. He discovered features that illustrate the ups and downs that have marked our entire process. First, it became clear that any path other than the creek bed was impossible due to steepness of the terrain. This ruled out passage during the rainy season when the creek would have a depth up to the height of a vehicle and a force near that of a fire hose. Another connecting southerly road from the highway was eventually found but it is also very long and will become too steep to manage when the roads are wet.

Lying just outside our border on land belonging to a second owner, Clay found a functioning albarrado, an ancient circular convex depression that fills with water seeping out of surrounding hills. It is a well with pure, fresh water in an area where this essential of life is normally too saline for humans to drink. He spoke to the owner several days later and he seems agreeable to permitting use of this source to provide water during our building stage at least.

Another revelation has been that the land we purchased, and seemed by hearsay to be effectively twice what is stated on the deed, is only the size it is supposed to be after all. However, a road into the valid piece of land that is second shortest of all routes explored so far and was thought to be too difficult to maintain was found to be improved to a state that is actually usable for the development stage now, and access to it was granted when the land was first purchased. Has this Byzantine puzzle finally been solved?


Here are some notes toward a plan for moving ahead to the next step in creating the Bioregional Sustainability Institute that Planet Drum intends for this land.


(Must be accompanied by a vision statement, business plan and budgets.)


      Spanish Language (beginning, intermediate, advanced (?))

      PDF's ecological sustainability projects (revegetation, bioregional education, renewable energy, community development, etc.)

       Individual Student Projects (design & building, permaculture, renewable energy, water development, revegetation process, botanical and land use research)

Activities and Personnel

        Sustainability Curriculum Instructors
        Individual Projects Oversight Leaders                
        Spanish Language Instructors (for both beginning and intermediate)

Student Levels and Search

        Volunteers (work learning, receive room and board). Find through e-lists and bulletin boards, former vols, colleges and universities, specialty schools and groups.

         Students (individuals design one-year projects, participate in classes, oversee volunteers). Locate through pre-graduate and graduate schools in environmental sciences, architecture, forestry, engineering, international relations, education, and language - permaculture and organic gardening organizations - teachers' organizations - renewable energy organizations.

         Recognition of Graduation
             Volunteers and Interns - Certificate of Participation
             One-year Students - Institutional Accreditation & 
                                        - Certificate of  Bioregional Sustainability Mastery