Friday, March 24, 2006

There is a war going on

Yesterday, I saw smoke above the finca close to where our spring is. I ran up to see what was happening. Across the creek, on Marcos´land, there was a big fire. He was burning an entire hillside including the branches of the tree we sadly lost months ago. It was a horrible sight, muy feo. I felt like I was looking at a ravaged battlefield.

And after I thought about it, it is a war. The war that is going on is an economic war, a war between poverty and the environment. Marcos is using slash and burn methods to plant corn. It is fairly common practice around here. The price of coffee fell so low a few years ago that it has created a certain bitterness in some of the farmers. For people like Marcos, the land is here solely to extract resources from, and he is angry at it for letting him down with coffee. Next came cattle, until there was no more pasture grass left, and now all there is is to burn it and plant corn. You can see it in the way he swings his machete, and even in the way he walks.

Maybe this sounds hyperbolic, but if you could see (i dont have a camara) the sight where our over-grown, almost forest of a farm rises above this burnt land, you would understand what I mean. It is a war. I was so upset last night, I had a hard time sleeping. I cant blame Marcos though. The problem is so much bigger. It is the coffee market, the coffee coroporations. It is even bigger than that. It is our entire economic system. When Marcos looks at the land he sees money, whether its a tree, or a charred piece of land to plant corn. And by Marcos, I dont just mean Marcos.

I felt hopeless and helpless. We came here to try to help to change this problem. When I was dreaming of moving here, I never actually saw the problem face to face. I never had to deal with it. But as I run up and down our farm to check the level of our spring, and I am confronted with this huge fire that threatens to burn me and all of our land, I realize that I have to face it. And its scary.

But then there are farmers like Umberto and Roberto who are having a meeting here in a few minutes with their group of organic committed farmers. And they are trying to change the ways here. They were hit hard by the coffee crash too, but they value more than money. They value the life and longevity of the land. It is inspring to be with them. And when I see Marcos, I have to restrain myself. I invite him over for coffee and I try to cultivate a friendship. And I realize that this is why we came here, and its going to be hard work.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Reforestation Project #2

Yesterday, I went exploring with William Mendez down on his creek bed to talk about reforestation. The creek that his property sits atop is the same creek that passes by our finca. He explained to me that the coffee cooperative used to use this creek as a waste drainage for the water used to rid the coffee beans of their cascaras (skins). The coffee cooperative has since gone out of buisness due to the devasting economic impact of the recent crisis in the coffee market. The creek is still very polluted. We have decided to make this our second reforestation project. Between our farm and his, there are two farms that we need to gain the support of their owners. I think that it will be fairly easy to convince them. The beauty of reforesting water ways is that hardly any one is using the land for farming or ranching, and the benefits of erosion and pollution control are hard to pass up. I gotta go catch the bus.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Seeds

Las Alturas de Cotón is an old logging/coffee village at the foot of the volcanic Talamanca mountains. The town is at 1300 meters, so the air is crip and cool at night. It is not a tourist town. You have to have permission to enter. It is owned by an Estadounidense (gringo). When my bus entered the last gate there were only three of us left on the bus: the bus driver, his girlfriend, and me.

The town is very strange. There are 140 people that live there, most of whom are indigenous. Their electricity comes from a gasoline powered generator that only gives power from 5pm till 9pm. The land is adjacent to the Parque Amistad which is the largest protected area in Central America. The land that the town sits on is the largest privately owned forest in Costa Rica. The owner, Addison Fischer, is trying to make the town as sustainable as possible. They have a large reforestation project, planting 60,000 trees a year. He strongly prohibits any minerals or vegetation leaving the town, so the economy of the town solely relies on his aid, paying the 140 workers every month. The town has the feel of a tropical kingdom from some time long passed. Like I said, this town is strange.

We were first introduced to the town by Kathrin Lindell, the avian ecologist, whom we helped with the Earthwatch expedition. We met Fernando, the caretaker, who then invited us to come back this week to learn how they collect their seeds for their reforestation project. Since Brendan has gone back to the US, I went alone.

While I was there, there happened to be a woman´s workshop on building cob (clay, sand, and hay) houses. The class was being taught by Becky Bee, whose book we ironically bought right before we moved down here. I felt slightly akward because they were trying to have a completely isolated womens workshop, and I felt that I kept intruding. But they were all very nice women who were very interested in our project. They invited me to dinner everynight, and it was nice to have some gringas to talk to.

Yesterday morning, I woke up early had coffee and breakfast, and headed out at 8 with my crew of reforesteros. There were 4 of us: Roberto, the driver; Clemente, the tree expert; Carlos, his assistant, and me. They are all very campesino, so it was a challenge to communicate with them. They asked me how to say bad words in English, but there favorite thing to say was ¨beans and rice¨, which for some reason cracked them up. The first seeds we collected were Dantos. I thought we would have to walk through jungle to find them, but they were all on the road. We collected "un pichaso de semillas" (a shitload of seeds). The seeds of the Dantos are like big grapes, they taste sweet. Danto is a tropical hardwood that grows at higher eleveations. Apparently the wood is worth alot. We also collected Nogales (Nicaraguan black walnut) and Marías (another valuable tree for lumber).

I felt very lucky to be able to go there. It really is an incredible place. And I am so excited that we finally have our first seeds (probably over 1000). We will begin germinating them in May and then they will be ready to plant in 6-10 months. We already have our first reforestation project. We are going to be working with the coffee cooperative here, Coope Pueblos, to recuperate the Rio Salto, one of the main rivers in Aguabuena. As soon as I got back, I had a meeting with Walter from Coope Pueblos and Roberto Jiménez. They were very excited. They truly appreciated our efforts to help. It almost brought a tear to their eyes when they started talking about the changes that are taking place in "la mente de la gente". They feel that one of the most important aspects of the project is changing the consiousness of the people.

More later, I gotta go

Paz y amor

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Battling the Bats....and other difficulties

We finally moved into the farmhouse! But of course ther are some problems......

There is a bat that lives in our house. It poops from the same rafter every night, in the same spot of one of the bedrooms. The first night we moved into our house we were scared to sleep in that room because we were told that it could make us sick, or more likely would suck our blood. So we sleep in the living room.

We were told to tie a red shirt to the spot where it shits and to surround the house with garlic because bats are scared of red and cant stand garlic. I thought maybe vampire and bat mythologies were getting mixed up, but we had to do something. It worked....sorta. The bat got confused at least. Instead of its favorite spot, the bat pooped on my bag. But I think that our psychological warfare is going to win in the end, altough you can still hear it batting it wings against the window when it gets trapped.

The other day we ran out of water. We had to jog our memory from physics classes about fluid dynamics, sipehns, and water pressure. Its hareder than we thought to rely on spring water for everything in the height of the dry season. We have to be extra mindfull on how we use it. And its DIRTY. We have to treat it to drink it. Eventually we are going to need a water filtration system.

We have no furniture. Flor and William gave us a bench which is awesome. But we have no table or any other seats. We just use our matresses that sit in our living room because we are still scared of the bat. Today we are going to start building furninture. We will have pictures up soon.


Anyways, Brendan is heading back to the States this weekend. Then I (Eliot) will be here all alone. We should have some pictures up when Brendan gets back.

Pura vida
Eliot and Brendan