Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Some Visuals from the Vision

The strangler fig crawls to slowly envelop trees
that it will soon become. Here it looks like its walking

 What a journey it has been - now almost exactly 3 months in Ecuador, I am awaiting the next half of my half-year here: my ticket for Peru has me leaving in just 36 hours. I have had two weeks resting in the mountain valley near Cuenca, where the villages of Vilcabamba and Javier Loyola have helped me recharge my batteries (literally), and wash of the jungle smell from my clothes.

While the journey ahead mystifies me, I can look back fondly on my internship here, which lasted from mid-October to mid-December. Through my time in the Jama-Coaque ecoreserve, I was able to meet other people from projects in the Ecuadorian province of Manabi. We visited a small farm called Finca Mono Verde, as well as the very well-advertized "Rio Muchacho" which is a community-based organic-farming school (that coincidently is also for sale for $400000 if you fancy). There really are few organic producers in Ecuador, and even fewer working with priniciples related to ecology, so it was a gift of meeting the director from the sustainable agricultural department at the University of Calceta - Servio - who has been living on the same piece of land for 4 generations, and has the most fantastic examples of small scale food forestry. Luckily we also met his 110 year old mamey tree and mango trees. Beyond his work collaborating in sustainable agriculture around the country, his personal project is now focused on making high-quality, hand-picked cacao beans grown from heritage trees in the goal to have fair trade, organic chocolate bars crafted from tree to package. Sadly, I didn't take my camera out for this visit - which is a little bit of a bummer, because of his picturesque mango tree-houses, beautiful clean river, and his host of low-impact, traditional technologies like the old-style hand-carved cane press and a small-scale cacao fermentation chambers. He grew all his own corn, rice, animals, fruits, chocolate, coffee, sweet potatoes, and many of his own vegetables. MAGIC!

This is a stake of roof-tiles, made by hand from the cade-tagua palm.
It's a laborious process that can only happen during the waning moon. 
Truly, it is too bad I am not the most diligent in remembering to take pictures, but I try as best I can. Here below you can see some of the selected ones, showing some highlights in my training in the program at the Jama-Coaque reserve in the coastal cloud forest of Ecuador. As well as few from the projects we've visited. 

Please enjoy! 

This was a stingless-bee hive made by a previous intern. It was a bit off in the calculations, and built for the wrong type of bee, but it has been lived in none-the-less - just with a different entrance! There is a small block of wax on the top of the box, which was one of my attempts to make a wax candle. But there is something different about stingless-bee wax,  as it has different properties. It might not burn well without clarification, but it is still strongly medicinal, being a anti-bacterial conglomerate of several different life giving plants from around the forest. 

Growing food in the disturbed area, surrounded by jungle is not the easiest undertaking - both leaf-cutting ants and the introduced african snails lay fast waste to tasty garden morsels. However, there are a few superfoods here that actually grow like weeds, despite the onslaught of insect taste-buds. Here is malibar spinach, an iron rich spinach alternative used a lot in India. Local varieties are the precursor to amaranth, and a funny looking cucumber called achogcha - which is delicious stuffed. Well we could never grow enough of the more well-known vegetables like brocoli, we still had a small supply of these good supergreens, chayote and yucca root. Luckily we didn't starve though - there was always the weekly shopping trip. But the future shouldn't be as dependent on the town tiendas, as we have over 100 trees of 30 different species of fruit, nut and spice trees within the production zone. We are still waiting for a few more years until they mature, and provide a bounty so diverse, it will be hard to keep up as it ripens! 

a view of the cathedral in the cloud forest -
an ecosystem completely threatened
One of the works of this past session was construction
of an earthen bag wall. 
A view from the top of the ridge, in the cloud forest. This view shows the predominant pattern on the coast, which is the loss of forest. Here you can see cattle pasture, which hardly supports the cattle. They were extremely emaciated - it is hard to imagine making a balanced-living from that... still, I find the contrast disturbingly beautiful.
What picture album is complete without a
spiralling forest dweller? 

the forest has so many layers

A Jama-Coaque artist, who has been working with his ancient lineage's practice of pottery. The Jama-Coaque region has a rich amount of pottery pieces, and ornate sculptures. Amongst archeology and recreations, he also does giant fun sculptures in the local town. This is a 20m long iguana!

I did a lot of work revitalizing the terraces using the native bamboo. This are very heavy pieces!

Two of our kitchens running in front of pineapples, and the banana circle, where the grey water runs out towards.

The Jama Coaque house is a mansion of epic-bamboo-ness. This house can sleep over 20 people.

Some of the hot-chilis that grow like weeds in the production zone.

This is a solar dehydrator that works pretty well for some things. It doesn't keep the cockroaches out and could work even better with a re-design... but, the handy part is how moveable it is.

one of our efforts at growing some starts - normally they disappear anywhere outside of our balcony garden... mysteriously! Even this covered box is not safe from the 1000's of insect species that live around us.

Utilizing the space underneath the house, we were able to have a lot of extra stations. Here is some of the tools we work with, and you can see a part of my tomato hanging project (tomatoes do not last here very long before something discovers them!)

A mounted bicycle, to be used in bicycle powered processes, whether it be milling food, running a small generator, or pumping water.

Our brick oven - mmmmm, pizza!
I have never eaten (quite happily!) so many bananas in my life. They grow all over the jungle, as remnants of the settlers who used to live in the valleys. 

The view, while I contemplated working, is sincerely expansive and fantastic
We ate a lot of fresh food; local vegetables and tropical fruits

Some of the patterns of the forest amazed me. There is a likeness to the transdimensional visions that humans receive sometimes, no?

Jerry, director of TM Alliance, using a machete to open heritage cacao seed-pods from 100 year old cacao plots. We are going to plant the seeds!
Here Reserve Manager Jordan poses with our 400 planted fundas of heritage cacao seeds. They will germinate in about 7 days. We have agro-forestry plots out in zone 3 of our forest.
Here in the foreground is the poor quality of soil in the landscape outside of the reserve. In the background is forest, but in the midground is the smoke from agricultural fires. Locals use "slash and burn", a method that quickly turns vegetation to plantable land. But the problem is it also quickly turns the land barren, and requires a lot of inputs to keep it fertile. This kind of agriculture has been practiced for a long time, but it is by no-means the best kind for landmanagement. A more ecologically minded kind would be "slash and rot", which takes a lot more time, but leaves valuable topsoil.

One of the many types of orchids that live in the jungle. The diversity of this family is mind-boggling.

Part of the mission of the Third Millennium Alliance is related to reforestation.
In a converted cattle pasture, landscaped to contour lands, there are over 8000 native hardwood seedlings planted. Here are 8000 new seedlings, which will be planted in January 2014. The plan is to use principles of eco-forestry to maintain forest cover, but produce a small income from a more sustainable logging method.
The tropical jungles have poor top soil, as most nutrients which are found in the top soil are quickly converted into plant growth. In the production zone, we built an in-situ compost pile (called sheet mulching) to work the soil and build it up for vegetables. Getting all the manure in was done by hand, and we gathered it by nearby cattle. 
We lived in bamboo mansions. Here is the casita, a two-level house on stilts (at the back),
and our composting toilet (in the front). Dry composting toilets are an important part of waste and water management, especially in rural areas without plumbing. 
A permaculture-designed system at Rio-Muchacho.
Guinea pigs live in the red-houses, and their poop falls
into worm composting bins. These bins are rotated,
and the soil is used for a plant-nursery. In the foreground,
you can see part of the circle from pig-waste-composters.
These circles are an ingenious design from the founders
at Rio Muchacho, and make gold for them! They've
found that the price for composted manure is even
higher than for the pigs themselves.
Here is more detail from the pig waste circles. They are dug down and filled up each day as the pens are cleaned. In total there are 3-circles.
A three chamber solar dehydrator at Rio Muchacho. One slider on top,
one in the glass pane, and the last in the tray-ed box.
Servio poses beside the newly built cacao fermentation chambers. It should be enough for several hundred kilograms of chocolate.
A cathedral of San Pedro in Vilcabamba valley.
Land-stewardess at Huilco Way, a farm in Vilcabamba. She has been working all over the
 world for over 30 years with the concepts of eco-agriculture, and permacultural design.

1 comment:

  1. Fantástico, Kasandrita. Tus relatos y sensibilidad son fantásticos. Besazos.