*Ecuador Day #7 October 17, 2008 Intag & El Rosal
We left at about 6:45 a.m. heading into the Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas (The Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Preserve). The road is a dirt trail winding along the edges of mountains.
Observation about daily life in Ecuador: The guidebooks say that Ecuadorians routinely give each other rides in the back of pickups. That is true. In the course of today we picked up a couple of people from Agato on their way to town (short rides), a man with a bicycle who turned out to be a relative of the people were going to meet with in El Rosal, and a group of about six school children who were on their way home from school going to El Rosal.
New experiences: At El Rosal, I was shown a huge pod from a guava tree. Inside are huge seeds, and we ate the soft white fruit that covers the seeds. It is absolutely delicious. Carmen Ruíz also cut a piece of aloe, let it drain for about 15 minutes. Then she carved out pieces from the inside. The flavor is very mild, and the consistency is a combination of slippery outside and like a watermelon for the inside piece.
I am realizing the following: With its varied climates, cultures, and resources, Ecuador is like a microcosm of the world. One of my hosts at El Rosal today remarked that Cotacachi is like a small scale Ecuador with its diversity of geography, climate, and people. I agree based on what I have observed.
Reflections on my visits today: It is sad to see the cement mining in the mountains. It is like viewing the results of daggers of slashed through the mountain from the summit and downward, bleeding. At one point there was a beautiful waterfall with some of the water flowing over the road. To the right was a mountain suffering from the mining. Next to the waterfall was a sign shared by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the name of the cement company. I wonder, does WWF realize how this looks?
Leaving the heights of the Andes and going into lower mountains, the scenery changes drastically. We drive into the sub-tropics. There are orange, mandarin, and plaintain trees. Plantains are huge bananas used in cooking in many Latin American countries.
My first visit was to Intag, where I meet with Sylvia Quilunbango, President of DECOIN, an organization that has been fighting since 1996 to prevent a Canadian company from opening a copper mine in the middle of the bioreserve. The stories she tells of the company’s actions are chilling. Her commitment and that of many other people of Intag is amazing. (I’ll write more about DECOIN and the struggle at a later date. For information about Intag and current political issues in Ecuador, visit www.intagnewspaper.org. The website is in English and Spanish.
We traveled toward El Rosal. It was supposed to be an hour’s drive but it turned into about three hours. We took a wrong turn up into the mountains and had to backtrack about 15 minutes. Along the route toward El Rosal we picked up a man on a bike – he called himself a “guide.” In Ecuadorian style, we picked him up, and he and his bike rode in the back of the Toyota 4 X 4 in which we traveled. We came to an area where a power shovel was high above us on the right digging and digging, with rocks and dirt tumbling onto the road. Well, we had noticed something about the road being closed except from 12:30 – 1:30. But around 1:00 we were told it would be another three hours. So…. we backtracked, crossed the river and took another narrow road with lots of potholes and flooded with water in places. The road hugged the mountain all along the way. The views were absolutely amazing. But really, it is hard to call it a road – better said, it is a dirt trail riddled with rocks. But, finally we made our way around, taking about an hour to arrive on the other side of where the construction was going on – and from there we took about another half hour to get to El Rosal – the end of the road, literally, in the Bosque Nublado (cloud forest). What an amazing setting! It was sunny and we had a magnificent view as we arrived. When we left four hours later, we looked down on a complete covering of clouds – yes, below us.
The folks at El Rosal were an absolute delight. Six women run a fair trade business making soaps, body creams, and shampoo. All ingredients are comestibles (edible) and organic. They developed the business as a way to promote economic development that is an alternative to the unwanted mining. Their stories of perseverance are wonderful! Ten women worked for two years to develop their soaps. (Over time, four women dropped out.) They did it all with a $700 loan and their own investments, sometimes selling chickens and other products to gather cash they needed. While they worked long hours for no pay, all of their husbands supported them by helping with cooking, childcare, and housekeeping. To pulverize the palm oil they use (it solidifies at room temperature), at first they used a kitchen mill. Later, they acquired a more sophisticated piece of equipment. When they decided to install a telephone, the phone company provided 350 meters as part of the price they paid. They had to purchase an additional 2,500 meters to reach the line up the mountain to their home! When they were completely out of money, they went to meet with someone from Spain who was interested in their soaps. It felt like their last chance to finally make it. They traveled to meet the Spaniard, and they were overjoyed to get an order for 900 bars of soap, at 60 cents each, with 15 days to deliver them. Working long, long hours, they did it. And, with the proceeds they paid off half of their loan and paid for the tile for a room in their little shop. What a victory! The loan was from a bank – one year to pay it off, with monthly payments and 12% interest. (This is an unusually low rate of interest for such loans in Ecuador.)
As we approached Otavalo around 9:00 p.m., we saw the city lights and what looked like another city. That “other city” is a cement plant owned by the French company LaFarge. It is the largest cement plant in Ecuador, and is located 11 kilometers outside of Otavalo. It is sobering to know that that plant is the cause of so many scars on the beautiful mountains within the bioreserve.
Other: I will be writing more in another forum about how the people of Intag are working hard to find sustainable ways to develop their economy. Everyone I talk with speaks of the need to protect the madre tierra (Mother Earth) from more harm. I am impressed the sophistication of people in Intag and El Rosal – they are highly conscious of how actions of human beings hurt the earth.
Copyright ©2008, by Paulette L. Stenzel