Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bob's Article: A Journey To Ecuador

As I posted an article by Carmen Español, a volunteer (and my roommate)from my first Global Village experience in Ecuador, here is a second by Bob Glantz, a volunteer from my last group! The photos are also his.

"I recently spent two weeks building homes in Ecuador with Habitat For Humanity. We were a pickup team, a group of 14 volunteers from the USA, Canada and Australia, ranging in age from teenagers, to youngsters fresh out of college to those of us of in our 50s.

We met in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, a beautiful old colonial city of 1.5 million people. Though it lies 15 miles south of the equator, Quito is at 9,200 feet, giving it a cool and rainy climate quite similar to Berkeley in winter. After a one-day orientation and team get-together there, we flew down the western slope of the Andes to Puerto Viejo. At sea level, Puerto Viejo is hot and steamy. From there, we drove one hour into the jungle to Tosagua, a small farming community.

If the Inuit people have 100 words for snow, the Tosaguans must have 200 for mud. Set on a flood plain and lacking municipal drainage, the town is a sea of
mud and standing water in the rainy season.
To accommodate the annual flooding, many of the houses are built of bamboo and raised on stilts. The open space beneath such homes provides a shaded area for washing clothes, keeping chickens, lounging in hammocks, etc.

Our team worked on two homes. Built to a standard plan, each measures six meters by six meters (a little less than 400 square feet, or slightly smaller than a two-car garage) and includes two bedrooms, a living/dining room, a bathroom and a kitchen. The exterior walls are built of concrete block, the interior walls of lighter clay brick. The floors and foundation are concrete, the roofs are corrugated steel. The walls and columns are reinforced with steel rods for seismic safety.

We turned the first shovel of dirt on the first day of work at the first home, completing the foundation in our two weeks. (Another team was scheduled to fly in
a week later to finish the job.) We erected the exterior and interior walls at the second home. At both homes we worked with the owners and local maestros, or master craftsmen. The work was grueling.

Digging trenches, mixing and hauling concrete, bending rebar, and shoveling gravel beneath the equatorial sun is brutal. We laughed every morning at breakfast that this was the first vacation we’d been on where we hoped for cloudy weather. (Bob appears on the far right).

The Habitat For Humanity program enables people to own their own homes. Details vary by locale, but the basic plan is that the families acquire a plot of land and save up a down payment. After carefully screening applicants, the local Habitat office lends them the money at zero interest to build their home. The mortgage payments are reinvested in the program,enabling more homes to be built. It’s a helping hand deal, not a handout.

Families must provide sweat equity, which they did in spades in Tosagua. I worked with a delightful couple,Freddy and Tanya, and her brother Oracio on the second
They are a gracious, loving and hardworking family. Though the average Ecuadorian is maybe 5’2” and 120 pounds, they’re built like iron. Whenever I’d get pooped out hauling cement or bricks, I’d take off my sweat-soaked hat, point to my thinning gray hair and explain, “Soy viejo!” (I’m old!) But it was all in good fun and spirits.

The families treated us very well. Señora Leticia, for whom we started the first home, and her family fed us a delicious crab dinner one night after work.
And both families threw a big fiesta for us on our final evening. I came home with a few blisters, some aches and pains but many new friends. I hope to do it again.
It was one great adventure for body and soul."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Experienced Global Village Team Given a Challenge

Every Global Village team with whom I worked with in Ecuador (six in total) had a unique flavor. All were entertaining and included intriguing, inspiring people.

Ron and Gloria's team had the most "global" experience (through Habitat for Humanity and otherwise) of any other team with which I worked, and I LOVED their stories of travel, life and gumption!

(The picture above shows Ron and Gloria speaking on behalf of their Global Village team, the photo below includes the team, family, local Habitat employees and the site's "maestro" and family).

What an energetic and positive group they were! Ron was leading his 13th Global Village group! He had taken groups to various locations in Mexico, to Poland, Thailand, India and...? He and his wife, Gloria, worked as a team to lead this particular large team of 17 that had an average age of 65! The majority of the team was from the San Francisco area, and I look forward to visiting them:-). Most of the members had traveled with Ron and Gloria before on one of their past 13 trips.
Here are two members of the team, Diana and Howard. They also lead Habitat trips.

Ron's team, all 17 of them, were assigned to one house building site, a huge task-management challenge-- even though they should have had two houses on which to work. To make matters worse, this particular site had many hazards including mischievous, but cute children, barbed wire, confined space, bad access, a puppy named Felipe, uneven ground, mud and a ditch. The second house site, which was supposed to be ready for the team, had some sort of legal delay based on the proprietary paperwork for the house.

Here are the mischievous children (the girl with bangs is Brianiz, and was particularly in need of attention... however she could get it).

Thanks to the great attitudes of the team, the forward thinking of their leaders, and the talented on-site maestro-Jose- they prevailed in maintaining a consistent flow of work and positive attitudes.

We were building the house from ground up and the team volunteered for 7.5 workdays: 5 in one week and 2.5 the next week.

The family we built for consisted of a mother, her mother, several children and some grandchildren. They would likely be keeping the bamboo house that already existed on the lot, in addition to the new 36 meter square concrete house we were building. Here is a picture of the mother, her mother and her son with his dog Felipe.
The mother's mother was rather senile, but she had a great appreciation for the volunteers. She kept talking about how beautiful they were and how beautiful what they were doing was. The son included in this picture was the family's representative volunteer on-site all week, however he lived a few streets away with his wife (who also helped out on site).

The work that week in January was hot and arduous. Santo Domingo had entered its full rainy season since the last time I had been there, and that meant that almost every day we received rain.
That meant that every day we dealt with more mud! On the bright side, the landscape was beautiful: green and lush.

Ron and Gloria's team had to be creative in their work: materials had to be dropped off down a hill and around a corner, so everything had to be moved multiple times.
First things were moved to be out of the way when they were dropped off. Then they were moved to be worked with, then, in the case of the cement, it had to be moved a third time to be turned into the footings, foundation and columns. We used a lot of human chains, wheelbarrow relays and assembly-line style mechanisms in order to take advantage of our numbers.

To make matters more complicated, all tools and supplies had to be moved into storage each night... BEHIND the house and work area. Then each morning the supplies were removed again. Santo Domingo de los Colorados is known for its high levels of crime (particularly theft).


Here is our "maestro" (teacher) Jose with his two daughters, Erica and Marienela, leaving the work site for the day.

I straighted nails for the first time in Ecuador with this group. We don't use a lot of framing for the houses, but the structures that form the columns' frames and the raised frames for the foundation can be reused.

Here the columns are formed.

Here the team sifts sand to be used in a mortar mixture.

Then blocks were laid with the mortar.

We had some very hard-working concrete mixers, one of whom constantly advised the group that the cement would not pass the rigorous and telling "slump test."

After this group, I will never forget about the concept of a slump test. The concrete we were mixing was very watery, however the teams must accept local building practices when working with Global Village.

Oh... what a pesky, pesky child!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Carnaval in Ecuador!

The place to be for Carnaval (the few days before lent begins) in Ecuador is Ambato, a town 2.5 hours to the south of Quito. Ambato has a "Festival de Flores, Fruta y Pan" (Festival of Flowers, Fruit and Bread) as the centerpiece of the party.

Johanna, a friend from Santa Fe, had arrived in Quito to visit the weekend of Carnaval. We we traveled to Ambato with some new friends from our hostel: Rosalyn and Nick from Brighton, England, Damon from Sydney, Australia and Patti from Italy.

We arrived in time to catch the parade, which featured floats made from fruit, flowers, bread and nuts and beans, all grown locally. We did have quite a few people between us and the parade... but it was fun people watching, and we could see the parade over their heads...

Each float also featured one or more "Reinas", (RAY-Nahs, which are queens), from all different levels of Latin American organizational strata, for example reinas from each country, from the continent, from the city, selected specifically for this festival, etc.

The queens were very popular with the crowds and everyone vied for their attention.

It was this type of public interest in the reinas, that lets you know that when people refer to you as a "reina," they mean it as a compliment.

After the parade we checked out the big fruit/flower/bread presentations. This display (below), on the front of Ambato's Cathedral, is made each year with a different theme.

Here's a close-up of the use of bread and fruits:

The town was also showcasing the roses grown in the region; they were beautiful!

In the afternoon, attentions were turned to foam-wars (actually called "Kareoke"-kind of like silly-string in an aerosol can) and the most popular of the two Ecuadorian beers, "Pilsener." If I haven't mentioned it before, Pilsener is a ubiquitous and cheap drink consumed all over the country. It is, in fact, a type of Pilsner.

The foam wars apparently are a government-fix (a substitution, you might say) to the historic problem of egg and other types of food-throwing, and is hugely popular with the kids... and with everyone in town later at night.

It started off in the park, Damon had all the kids chasing him... Later in the evening we walked around town to people-watch. Several streets were filled with townspeople and tourists having street parties outside of bars. Traffic still passed by, but it had to creep at a snail's pace. A majority of the cars passing through, however, were participating in the foam wars!

A fun surprise that evening was that "Washington", a Habitat for Humanity driver from the site in Santo Domingo, appeared- to my confusion. He is actually from Ambato and had recently returned to start a hard-rock band. He introduced Jo, Damon and me to his family, friends, rocker-buddies, etc. He seemed to know everyone in town, and he had been participating in the party for the last three days! Washington is the one to my right in the pic.

He really wanted us to stay for a rock concert that night... but we wanted to get back to Quito before 5am.

I wore a "Carnival" face mask (future gift to James) from Otavalo (north of Quito, market town) to add to the festive atmosphere...

but I think wearing it may have contributed to my eventual role as a target for the foam-wars!

We finally left town, covered in "kareoke", tired and happy.

New Year's Addendum

As an addition to my New Year's Eve entry (Burning of the Life-Sized Dolls), here are a few photos I didn't have access to before!

These dolls, who are supposedly Bush and Cheney, were placed on a stack of wood being prepared as a midnight-bonfire.

Here I am with a bunch of drunk fishermen who we ran into after discovering our Ecuadorian champagne was flat. They assured us that the "beach was safe, because all the fisherman kept watch." I am not sure how useful their watch was at this point...

Our Ecuadorian champagne was purchased from a gated-fronted liquor establishment which had to dust the bottle off before handing it through the gate. In this case, "aged" did not add to the quality of drink!

Here is a man/doll "begging forgiveness" for the things that he did badly the prior year.

Here's an example of an ode promising good behavior in the new year which was placed below the begging man/doll(Unfortunately, I am not sure a direct translation would be appropriate for this site):

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Southern Coast Adventure

Want to go windsurfing in Ecuador? Read this first.

Tourism development, and particularly sports-based tourism development, has a ways to go on the coast in Ecuador. On one hand, if you want to surf, it is easy to rent a surfboard--but beyond that the options are erratic.

After several days in Puerto Lopez, a small fishing village in the province of Manabi, Ecuador,(here's James, getting his hair cut at the most popular "barber shop" in town), our search for aquatic activities on Ecuador's coast commenced with full rigor....

James and I had looked into the possibility of wind surfing in Puerto Lopez, to no avail, but we had fit in a bit of kayaking. There were a couple SUVs toting windsurfing privately-owned equipment, but none was available to rent.

On the first day of the year we went on a boat trip to "Salanga" Island with three Ecuadorians and an Italian guy.

During the boat trip we saw blue-footed boobies and lots of pelicans, we snorkeled, kayaked a bit, and made an attempt at fishing.

Salanga is the closer of the two islands off the coast of Puerto Lopez. The other, Isla de la Plata, I had visited with the Habitat for Humanity Global Village team of University of Chicago students (see Blue Footed Boobies entry).

The next town James and I visited was called "Montañita", (little mountain), which is famous for its surfing. We took surfing lessons from two Spanish-speaking only instructors (I tried to learn and interpret at the same time for James). The English-speaking guide was with an international group. I would recommend the guides we had-we were both standing on the boards in the waves within a few tries! (In this picture I am already a bit tired, but I did make it up vertically a few times to rides the waves in!).

Our next stop on the coast was "Salinas", a pointed peninsula which is considered the Ecuadorian "Miami".

It was here that we thought windsurfing would be likely... and our search was epic! We asked hotel personnel, taxi drivers, people on the street and others where we might find the equipment to windsurf. We looked places up online and finally found ourselves in the lobby of the Hotel Barcelo Colon Miramar which was the only link we could find to the sport.

One of the "concierge" told us he could help us find what we were looking for, although he also was offering sailing, surfing,.... and almost every other water sport. We all jumped in a taxi and we began to meet everyone in Salinas-- or so it seemed! The guy pretty much introduced us to anyone who could get us on the water... in something. We found a catamaran, surfboards, sailboats, paddle boats, water skis, some other water vehicles for which I don't have names, and one windsurf board (which apparently was of the amateur size), at a surf shop. The wind was directed out to sea that day and James needed a smaller, more lithe, board. For anyone looking, it was at a surf shop about two blocks in from the coast near the part of the beach where jet skis and water ski rentals take place.

We ended up taking out the catamaran that day, and the next day renting a jet ski. Salinas was fun, but if you are looking for windsurfing (or at least the equipment to do it) we heard that Manta may have the capacity for this.