Trip Start Feb 16, 2009
14Trip End Ongoing
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This should be the introduction that everyone receives when they begin their volunteer position with Planet. PD is surprisingly similar to many summer camps children are sent to throughout the US with a few major exceptions. 1) Everyone really wants to be here. 2) We know how to party. 3) Adolescent angst isn't an issue. 4) Everyone has a pretty good idea of what it is they are trying to accomplish, even if it is simply spending all of your money minus the cash needed for a plane ticket home (as is mine). But so far as the daily routine, the living situation and many of the other aspects of life in Bahia, I'm brought back to the summer months of my years of rearing. Let me explain a bit more.
The work we do is often difficult physical labor, but in my experience it has yet to take on the negative connotation of past jobs. Clearing trails of jungle from hill sides with machetes for tree plantings is so far removed from the work that I am accustomed to, that it is much closer to therapy then it is as a job. In fact, I would not be the least bit surprised if at some time in the near future, yuppies bogged down with the burdens of middle class life and a growing sense of the world being ambivalent to their lives leave the day spas and weekend getaways for the jungle, machete in hand.
The work takes up the morning hours of every weekday. We work from eight to about noon, sometimes a bit later. The afternoons are left to activities. The first activity most people partake in is often almuerzo, lunch. There are a plethora of restaurants around town that offer an almuerzo, which is a set lunch that redefines the meaning of value meal. These consist of a soup, a main course consisting of rice, salad and a meat of choice, in Bahia the seafood is king, and a juice. Almuerzo's go for a buck fifty to two dollars. After allocating the proper amount of time for digestion and a possible siesta, it's off to activities.
The beach is a reliable go to for a relaxing afternoon. Bahia is situated on a peninsula that separates the estuary of the Chone Rio from the sea. There is a nice sandy beach on the river side of the town, and a relatively rocky beach on the sea side. A local surfer named Leo will give us surf lessons in the afternoon if the tide is right. You go out into the water and he picks out waves that he thinks you can get up on, then yells and pushes you till you try to stand up, fail miserably and nosedive into a giant bowl of sand. He'll always tell you that you were really close to riding it out which I find amusing. I haven't gotten my surfer merit badge quite yet, but I can now say that I've stood up on a surf board and ridden waves. This helps with the ladies. Swimming in the sea is fun on its own as are the many other enjoyable activities normally associated with beaches; reading, resting, sun burning, Frisbee, volleyball and seashell collecting. The sunsets at 6:34 pretty much daily, it's generally quite stunning.
Arts and Crafts
I've never really been artistic or crafty enough to excel in this field, but I can be pretty good at delegating ideas to people with real artistic talent. This has come in rather handy as there have been a surprising number of projects that required reaching into the must of my memory to create something with an appeal to children and adults the same, and sometimes drunkards. After explaining that great success of the first piņata I helped to create a few years ago for a friend's party, it seemed destined for a second go, for Marketa's birthday. This time, rather than smashing the Capitol with a baseball bat, a rather disturbing fashion trend amongst the men of Ecuador was destroyed by the blade of the machete. I've also crafted parade floats out of paper machete, painted faces and bodies, put on puppet shows in Spanish (with better sound effects than dialogue) and painted numerous sticks and twigs, for identification purposes. I'm currently working on a seashell mobile, which may or may not ever come to fruition.
We go on field trips as a group and tram around to the nearby sights in smaller groups. Last week we went to a farming collective where 60 families have banded together to farm their land in an ecologically sustainable manner and hopefully in doing so leverage their numbers to fetch a better price than the bare bones that the local markets have to offer.
We spent the last weekend at my friend Ramon's cabina, 8km down the beach from Bahia on a mildly desolate portion of the beach. His cabina is next to one of the numerous archeological sites that litter the Ecuadorian countryside, rarely being excavated. Lying on the top of the ground a find a piece of a bowl and a maize grader. The grader has a mouth and ears chipped into the stone. The graded corn goes through the mouth on the object and into the bowl. Ramon says that these pieces are probably around 600 years old. The government has no resources or ambition to clean up many of the ancient sites in the area. Ramon also takes us one of my of my favourite adventure activities, the night hike. Armed only with the luminations provided by the near full moon, we ventured off the beach at 12:15 and began trekking into the dark, cool, noisy jungle night, in search of a chunk primary forest that Ramon claims is out of this world. We don't even have sandals on. When one of my friends asks me if I think it's dangerous to be hiking blind through the jungle, I give my staple semi-maniacal laugh, say "muy peligroso" and continue on. We are forces to turn around after an hour and a half due to several foot injuries and news that the following stretch will be travelling through knee deep water that may have snakes, which frightens some. A grand adventua, regardless.
We took a day to visit another organic farm named Rio Muchacho that takes in volunteers to help farm their land and teach about sustainability. Rio Muchacho functions half as a farm and half as an education tool for the local farmers. It was started as a display of permiculture in a landscape devastated by monoculture. Although the entire trip was very interesting, the highlight was visiting a century plus old mata voya tree. If there is a predatory tree, this is it. The tree seeks to eliminate competition from close plants. To do so, it releases vines from it to engulf the smaller plants of the understory. The ongoing composition is a maze trees and vine like trunks going down to the forest floor. It makes for easy climbing.
Dinner is to be served at seven and is another daily highlight. We rotate on a daily basis on who turn it is to cook for everyone.
The food has all been surprisingly good, mostly due to the abundance of fresh, cheap produce available across the street and the relative creativity of the cooks. After dinner there are card games, dancing and drinking, to varying extents. A few times have been movie nights. Campfires on the beach also have the ability to bring a person back to their roots. There is a ghost that haunts our bedroom, it says "hello" in a raspy voice which is funny because it's in English and not Spanish. I think it's just a rooster with a fucked up voice box.
The actual living situation combines the privacy of a dorm room shared with three others with the cleanliness of my first house.