Only about 3% of the population of Ecuador, but about 70% of the population of the coast, trace their roots to escaped slaves of African origin. These people inter-married with the local indigenous and learned their ways and culture. They established communities along the coast and rivers called Palenques as early as 1550. They were very independent and resisted colonial rule. They brought the Samba and Batucada from their former homes. The combination of the cultures brought about a local traditional music called Currulao. This music combines drums and marimbas, a xylophone-like instrument of African origin. Coastal folk will dance for hours to the driving beat of this music. Another thing not to be missed on the coast is Encocado, a coconut seafood stew.
The Skinners and WKU students and staff arrived in Atacames late in the afternoon and were given time to make phone calls, use the internet, get water, sunscreen and other supplies. Without sunscreen, you WILL fry!! Atacames, once a small, quiet fishing village with a beautiful beach is now the tourist trap from hell. But, this is where we had to go to stock up on supplies before getting out of Dodge and heading on to the lovely Same, a small village some 15 miles to the south. We checked into the Hosteria El Rampiral. We had private cabañas right on El Pacifico (what you call the Pacific Ocean). We fell asleep with the crashing waves creating their harmony throughout the night. For R&R it brought back memories of 1969-70, when we lived in a beach house in Oceanside, Calif.
The next day we rode in tap-taps, motorcycles with a bench in front seating two, to the adjacent town to the south called Tonchigue. We went to arrange for dinner for the next night for the group at a small restaurant called Francesca’s. Not only does Francesca herself serve as the chef of the leading seafood spot in the area, but she is also the hard-nosed sheriff, allowing no drugs or prostitution in her town. Francesa’s dream is to make this town a family destination on the coast, allowing just enough tourism without losing the small-town charm and innocence here. The return trip to the hotel was accomplished seemingly on two wheels. Is this where the saying “Hell on Wheels” originated?
The college students voted to return to Atacames for lunch and contact with the outside world. The Skinners had shrimp ceviche which was out of this world. One of the many things we love down here is fresh-squeezed orange juice. But halfway through drinking said juice, we realized it was loaded with ice. We asked the owner if the ice was made with purified water. His vague answer seemed to imply that we were had lads. Luckily, we had just left a nature store, where we had purchased Sangre de Drago (Blood of the Dragon), a natural remedy for bites (and various and sundry other things) made from the sap of the drago tree. Thank goodness, as by late afternoon, Rankin had gone down for the count.(Ruthi would have a delayed reaction, which would come in a different form, also treated with Blood of the Dragon). Miguel Castañel, who trains Navy Seals about medicinal plants in the rainforest, prescribed 10 drops of “The Blood” in a little water, twice daily. After 24 hours, we were completely well, which made us huge believers in nature’s pharmacy.
The morning of Rankin’s miraculous recovery, we headed to a town south of Same (pronounced Sah-me) called Muisne. Muisne is unique in that the town is cut in half by the river, also called Muisne. Half the town is on the mainland, and the other half is on a small island across the river, with a beautiful beach. Our entire group took launches across the river to reach the island. The cost was 10 cents each. We were introduced to several Canadian students who were volunteering with a local foundation whose goal is to repopulate the mangroves. At the foundation we were told that thousands of acres of mangroves have been destroyed to make way for shrimp farms. Many local people have lived on land in the mangrove area for generations, but no titles to their land were ever recorded. So, when some big company wants to put in a shrimp farm, they cut down the fences, bulldoze the houses, and replace them with shrimp ponds. They don’t pay for the land, and the locals are displaced. The foundation in this town is trying to find a legal solution to this problem, but they are fighting people with a lot of money, and officials are easily swayed by bribes. This issue seems to be an important one, because 2 1/2 acres of mangroves will support about 20 families. Not only do they gather food to eat, which comes directly from the mangrove area (fish, crabs, langostinos, shrimp, etc.), but what they do not eat they sell in the market, providing the family with a little income. 2 1/2 acres of shrimp farming will support 2 families, with only 1 receiving the actual profit. Most of that profit doesn’t stay in the local community, so it is easy to understand the socio-economic impact of mangrove destruction. Also, the chemical treatment of the shrimp ponds and the processed food used to feed the shrimp are starting to cause contamination of the local water, affecting the bio-diversity of the area.
Another problem that is just starting here is replacing farms with eucalyptus trees. The pulp from these trees is used for making printer paper for our computers. The problem other than farm replacement is the massive use of Round-Up to kill the natural jungle plants to clear the land for this planting. They continue spraying to keep the vegetation down and insecticides are in constant use. The run-off is contaminating rivers and streams with constant fish-kills being reported. From now on, it will be hard for R&R to eat cheap farm-raised shrimp from Kroger or Sam’s Club or replace the paper in our printer without thinking of the social impact on the places from which they come.
That afternoon, we took boat tours through the mangroves to a fishing village on the coast, where we would see first-hand the life of the locals, dependent solely on what they can catch or gather. We were touched by the hard lives of these people but impressed with the love in the family unit, and the way the folks in the community supported each other. Their lives were a blueprint which we could all follow. (This village was also a part of our dental project, but you will receive a more detailed report on this in a later blog). As we left the village, there was little talking in our boat. We all seemed to be reflecting on how blessed we are, and how we could change our lives and “Live simply, so that others may simply live”.
Regards from beautiful, diverse Ecuador, The Skinners