Tuesday, July 28th was another busy day for us, with three major events scheduled. “Mango Lady’s” several trays of fruit (mango, pineapple, watermelon…) got us going as we made our way to the patio office below INSO.
We packed up our bags and joined Nelly for a trip up to INSO’s permaculture demonstration site, El Pedregal. The site rests in the foothills SE of Oaxaca, only accessible via a steep, bumpy road meant for 4-wheel drive vehicles only. Arriving at the entrance, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the greater Oaxaca valley; the ominous clouds had yet to roll in and obstruct our view. The site is about 3 hectares (7.5 acres) in size, and was donated by a local land owner. INSO has been improving the site for the past 5 years, turning an arid, rocky mountainside into an arable, green and healthy land.
A major part of INSO’s work is centered on reforestation. The old growth forest, once extending to the valley floor, now starts another 300 ft up the hillside. In performing reforestation one must “slow the water down” while it flows down a treeless hillside. This is where the techniques of permaculture come in to play. One of these techniques is “terracing” of the hillside, in which trenches are dug along the hill’s contours. In these new trenches (area #7 on the map) they have planted grasses to slow soil erosion. (Please see the site map showing the major features below for the major features of INSO demonstration site.)
We spent several hours hiking around the site as Nelly explained each of the major features and how they contribute to the overall system, as well as pointed out many local plants and birds that have begun to inhabit the area again. Main features include water catchment systems, hillside stabilization-re planting and green houses. The two main water catchment basins hold over 3.3 million L. combined.
The black “green house” is really a big bird net to protect the 1,000+ tree seedlings, while the big white “green house” grows tomatoes and other produce (recently yielding over 5 metric tons from just this site!).
Specially designed composting latrines also play an integral role in the project. These latrines are designed to directly produce compost that can be used to grow food crops without any contamination, INSO has another ongoing latrine project in Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla, and have used the compost on corn fields for outstanding yield.
Event # 2 "The Oaxaca Hub"
We arrived back in town just in time for a short siesta before the next two meetings of the day. At 5pm we met with the “Oaxaca Hub.” Started by Mark Beams and Sten Maldonado who are modeling this project after the “Hubs” in Europe, the “Hub’s” premise is to be a shared office space for small local NGO’s that work in the country and need a central place to call home. More importantly, it is a place where everyone can collaborate for the common good. The “Hub” is in its infancy. We met at a local restaurant and talked about our common goals and challenges, and devised ways to collaborate to help each other realize our dreams. After an hour and a half, we walked back to our casa for a second siesta before meeting with a local Rotary club at 9pm.
Event # 3 Rotary Club
We were typical gringos as we arrived at the meeting place about 8:45, and the first Rotary folks showed up about 9:15. It seems like either folks here in Oaxaca are really prompt or they are on more of a Mexico time schedule. By 9:30, the bulk of the group had arrived and we began with introductions. This meeting was called especially for us, and the rotary president rang the honorary bell they received on Rotary International’s 100 Anniversary (in 2005). In typical Rotary fashion the meeting was formally called to order, and we all saluted the flag of Mexico. Then Claire described what we were doing in Oaxaca and what we hope to accomplish. The club members asked many great questions about how we have built the relationships with INSO, the University and the communities. As the questions and answers flew back and forth, they became increasingly supportive and interested in what we are trying to do. Then the formal part of the meeting ended and we all shared a meal while small-talking and stories about ourselves. We staggered back home and arrived well after midnight. Luckily, Wednesday was a “no meeting day,” and boy did we need a rest day! I (Rick) was suffering from a “gluten hangover” from some wheat I ate on Tuesday. I am Gluten intolerant and when I eat gluten (wheat) I get a big allergy reaction that manifests itself by zapping all my energy for a day or two. Good thing there’s gelato!