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Reports from Planet Drum Staff
Eco-Ecuador Project 2009

Index to 2009 Reports, Set 5 (April 20-May 5,2009)

Field Report #6

Clay Plager-Unger
Field Projects Manager
Planet Drum Foundation
April 20-May 5, 2009

Note: Click on photos for larger picture

Rain!  The weather on the coast of Ecuador, like many coastal regions, is determined almost entirely by the oceans. Our Pacific Ocean currents are Humboldt and El Niño. Recent increased activity in the El Niño current, associated with the rainy season (January-April/May), has produced some beautiful rains during the past two weeks. This was after what had been assumed by many to be at that point the end of a lackluster rainy season. The onset rains coincided with large spring tides, influenced by the phase of the moon and the arrival of a groundswell generated by a cyclone in New Zealand a week earlier. The combination of these produced amazing waves and commenced what has now been two weeks (and counting) of frequent precipitation in Bahía. Needless to say, we are very happy as the trees planted this year (and from previous years as well) are improving their odds of survival with each additional rain.


A view of Bahia with rain clouds building above from the Nuevo Globo site.
The rains have fallen almost exclusively at night. Days are hot and muggy, amplified by full sun. 

Aaron clears trail between a two-meter Cedro and Guachepeli.
This produces the effect of existing in a sauna. I tend to start sweating by about eight in the morning. As a result of the change in weather, we have adjusted the work schedule. 

Maggie pulls vines off a Guachepeli tree.
While continuing to tend to seed planting in the greenhouse, we are now revisiting many of the old revegetation sites to clean weeds off of trails and trees, and to inspect the growth progress. 

Guilhem scouts for the trail at the University Catolica (2008) site.
The rains are equally beneficial for the growth of weeds and vines as they are for trees.

Clay with a Cedro tree.
Thus far we have cleaned up sites at: El Nuevo Globo (2008), La Universidad Catolica (2008 & 2009), Bosque Encantado (2007 & 2008), and El Toro (2007 & 2008). The results have been encouraging. Although a significant portion of the trees have died ~30% (?), those that have survived appear to be thriving.  

Tanguy uncovers a Ceibo

Edwina clears a trail next to a Guarango

The summer rush of volunteers has already started with the arrival of some newcomers. We now have approximately five volunteers in the house. 

Click on photo for larger version
Photos taken at the 2007 Bosque Encantado site show the volunteers with some of the trees we uncovered from beneath the weeds. Not pictured is Guilhem, from France.
From left to right: Aaron from Philadelphia, USA standing next to an Algarrobo; Tanguy from France with a Guachepeli; Edwina from Ireland holding a Cedro; Maggie from Ohio, USA with a Bototillo; and finally El Jefe with a Ceibo tree.

In the greenhouse, seedbeds of Guachepeli, Achiote, Pechiche, Dormilon and Seca are already germinating. The long process of revegetation begins here. Later, these seedlings will be transplanted to three-liter bottles, tended for the duration of the dry season and finally planted at new sites with the rains of the next rainy season.

Edwina spreads Tierramonte mulch on top of a seedbed.

Jaime and Maggie digging a trench for another seedbed in the greenhouse.

Jaime puts the finishing touches on the hole for the seedbed.

Edwina watering seedbeds

Guilhem and Tanguy do some weeding.

A Seca seedling pokes through the mulch.

Clay breaks apart Barbasco seeds to remove the seeds.

Guachepeli seeds germinating.

Aaron sharpens up his machete.

Maggie weeds a seedbed of baby Pechiches.

The Planet Drum greenhouse.

The final point of business is the progress that has been made with the Bioregional Education Program that is beginning this coming week. Two new teachers have been hired and are being trained to expand the program from one class to three. Class assistants (graduates of previous sessions) have been selected to help run the program. Two more schools (Vicente Hurtado and Fanny de Baird in addition to Javier Rodriguez) are on board to provide students to participate. And we’ve revised and printed copies a new version of the Bioregionalismo booklet and sent for tee-shirts to be made.

Click on photo for larger picture.
From left to right: Fabiola and Paola, the two new teachers; Raisa and Roberto the class assistants; Clay; Lissette, the third class assistant; and Ramon, the Bioregional Education Program manager.

            Pásalo bien,




Volunteer Testimonial

Aaron Kase
Planet Drum Volunteer
from Feb-May, 2009

May 22, 2009

                It seemed like no one ever wanted to leave. Volunteers talked about leaving Thursday or Friday, but always pushed their departure date back through the weekend, to Monday or Tuesday. Nicole was planning to stay for one week and stayed for three. The Swedish people also planned to stay for a week and stayed on for a whole month, except for super-volunteer Brigitta, who stuck around for two months, keeping the rest of the crew well-stretched and in good spirits. If it wasn’t for her plane ticket back to Stockholm I don’t think she ever would have left at all. Then there was Paula, who finished her volunteer stint, flew home to California, and missed Planet Drum so much that she came back a month later to teach bioregional education classes. What was it about the place that no one could bear to say goodbye to?

                Maybe it was the other volunteers. People from all over North America and Europe come to work and live together, almost everybody friendly, fun to work with, and fun to hang out with around the house. The international aspect added flavor and I learned how to say new curse words in French, Spanish, Czech, Swedish, and Canadian. The Planet Drum house itself was a big selling point. There was ample living space, a big window that looked out over the always interesting happenings on Montufar Street, and a dynamic, ever growing music collection that covered every genre or artist imaginable. The house was well known and well liked in the community and local guys would come over every day to hang out, play cards, and plan the next surfing trip.

                Or maybe it was the city of Bahia that kept people around. A small, extremely laid-back town, it lacked serious night life and craziness- but if that was what you wanted, you could just hop on a bus to Canoa for the night, and still come back to Bahia afterwards to recover. Otherwise there was little to do but play frisbee on the beach, wander the streets, go out for ice cream, or climb up to La Cruz, but somehow these activities filled up every day and there never seemed to be enough time to get everything done.

                And what about the work itself? We worked hard, but it was fun, varied, and felt meaningful. There were the basic tasks related to tree planting: clearing trails, digging holes, planting and watering the trees. Other days we would go to the greenhouse and weed, water, dig seed beds, and fool around in the compost pit. We went on frequent field trips as well, to San Clemente to pick up a truckload of river sand, or on hikes through the spider infested woods behind Ricardito’s farm to collect seeds for next year’s trees.  Once I even got to wander the streets of Bahia digging through people’s garbage looking for three liter bottles, accompanied by a Frenchman in a neck brace. How many jobs let you say that? Every day was something different, new skills to work on, and new things to learn.

On a final note, Planet Drum is a good organization for people who have become cynical about international aid and development work. It takes the role of volunteers seriously: We pay $10 a month rent for house upkeep, and all chip in for communal dinners. That’s it. Compare that to other so-called volunteer organizations that charge hundreds of dollars per month for questionable returns. One volunteer came from an organization in the Galapagos that charges $225 per week to chop raspberry bushes. Notice I didn’t say to chop raspberry bush roots, because those are left in the ground. How else will the bushes grow back to provide more busywork to the next group of volunteers willing to come and pay?

I also compare Planet Drum to huge NGOs who have million dollar budgets that are spent on air conditioned offices, air conditioned white SUVs, and fat Americans with master’s degrees to sit in the offices and SUVs all day. They may do some kind of work in the field, but I never could figure out what it is. In comparison, Planet Drum has nearly no budget, no luxuries, and we travel around by bus, but we saw visible, quantitative benchmarks of success, in the form of trees. There were the trees we started in the greenhouse, the trees that we planted at the sites, and the trees at previous years’ sites that we visited, thriving, many of them already taller than we are. Step back to see a hundred year Ceibo tree towering over the forest, which could be the future of one of the trees you planted yourself, and start to understand what it is that is so attractive about Planet Drum, and why nobody ever wants to leave.

Click here for information about volunteering with Planet Drum in Bahia.



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