REPORT FROM INITIAL TUNGARAHUA VISIT, MAY 2007
In early May 2007, MP and ZY spent a weekend in Tungarahua province, Ecuador. This is a rough first summary, ZY is hoping MP will improve and add to this when he's made the coffee and finished his chapter 5 : ).
Movimento Indigena de Tungarahua (MIT)
First we met with the Movimento Indigena de Tungarahua (MIT) a auto-financing organisation formed in the 1970s and dedicated to the health, education and natural resource management rights of 180 communities of indigenous people and campesinos in the region. Their office is above the Cultural University at the corner of Rocafuerte and Montalvo in Ambato, a high Andean city an hour's bus ride from Banos in Tungarahua. They are keen to work with us, and have not previously worked much with foreigners. Their major interest is in the welfare of the indigenous people and campesinos who were affected during the eruptions of 7 years ago. Many lost land and faced repression and have not been supported by the government.
According to Zoe's scribbled notes and poor understanding of Castellano, their primary focus is
1. social organisation, arranging workshops, capacity building etc.
2. cultural issues, health and education.
3. development, including political work around migration from the country to the town.
For the past ten years they have been working more politically, looking at the sustainability of their movement and companeros. They have an active women's section, which is seeking help to work with women's groups in the communities. The whole approach is decentralised, with the office in Ambato mainly to enable regional meetings and workshops. While we were there a noisy meeting was going on next door to select representatives for the new constitutional assembly put in place by Correa's recently elected, (relatively) leftist government.
MIT have been in struggle during the 7 years since the eruptions, which were a major factor in driving people off the land when they were evacuated and-or lost access to natural resources as a result. The eruption affected 2 cantons, and 40 or 50 communities directly, many more indirectly through impacts on agriculture and hunting, also health and education. Some people found themselves living in hotels with nowhere to carry out their work, which affected small businesses as well. They say the government did nothing to help these people, even though MIT made complaints at all levels of the system.
MIT are also interested in the question of climate change in the area which appears to be connected to Tungarahua. Their major focus is on protection of and access to natural resources especially water and biodiversity. In the face of outsiders ariving with plans for the region, they have their own plans for natural resource management.
Other elements of their work relate to mining and electrical companies building hydropower intallations without respect for communal rights and traditional resource management systems. They aim to sensitise people, and talk to some leftist organisations in this work.
our best e-mail contact is Angel Damian Puminio angeldpa1 - at – yahoo.com
He is the son of Polivio Puminio, the President of MIT, who was recommended to us by Nina's contact Rodrigo *** Polivio's number is 091598512
Damian particularly brightened when we mentioned an interest in curanderos (traditional healers) and their ancestral knowledge, he said this is something they are just beginning to work on, to preserve the cultural heritage of the people.
MP chatted more to them about Ecuadorian politics, i hope he will add something on this.
Nina is now in touch with Damian in relation to workshops on traditional plant knowledge etc.
We need urgently to translate the basic blurb about the project into Castellano and send it to Damian for feedback and ideas. .. any volunteers??
Tourists in Banos
After this productive meeting in Ambato, we went like proper turistas to drink, dance, take the waters and chase the volcano in Banos. ZY took photos wherever the volcano appeared in the life of the town – whether in the bar,
on the street,
displays outside tour guides' offices
or at the baths,
at the church and neighbouring chapel dedicated to the virgin of the holy water,
and their attached museum.
As instructed in the Lonely Planet guide to the town, we also noted the escape route to the road on the other side of the valley in case of an eruption...
Diego Jarasalazar is an artist who works at the museum ticket desk. He paints the volcano in what can only be called spiritual styles,
and seems on first meetings to have a passion for the myths and history of the volcano and Banos in general. His number is 093067830. He told me that the priests never left the town during the 1999-2000 evacuation, they refused to believe that Banos would be affected, and even more so, were concerned about the risk of people looting artifacts from their church.
While we were there the volcano was gently blowing smoke,
and spewing lahars across the road from Banos to Ambato.
A soldier stood controlling the traffic where the rubble had been cleared to let it pass, preventing vehicles from stopping in the vicinity.
The lahar had moved some way along the road towards Banos and its clearance left gutters full of stones and mud, and marooned signs of tourist life,
some of which were themselves attracting tourists..
The town makes rampant use of the volcano's outpourings, with builders materials and the borders around the roots of street trees making free use of this abundant local stone.
Life under the Volcan
First impressions from chatting to locals suggest that the volcan is part of life, part of home. like a particularly feisty member of the family, sometimes peaceful, sometimes blows, they live with it. Though eruptions make people pretty nervous, Banos is felt to be outside the real danger zone because the active crater is on the other side of the volcano. Banos gets some ash falls and flying rocks, but not major laval flows etc. We heard of some visitors in the past year or two who tried to climb towards the crater and were killed by gases. Generally the forced evacuation during eruptions of 1999-2000 seems to be blamed on a media hype, because national journalists coming to report on the eruption got over-excited and created a panic in the country about the risk, especially to tourists visiting Banos.
When we went up a nearby hill on a motorbike to see the volcan from a little better vantage point (the peak is not visible from Banos town), we met a man who gave us bitter apples and sweet milk from those fertile slopes (and afterwards asked for a small donation). He said they knew when the volcan would blow because of a rumbling and buzz. Also many residents now have access to a radio warning system.
The Quechua word for fire is Nina, a fondly familiar name which half seems to be written in the snow on the summit, from some angles... Some local people call the volcan a 'throat of fire', also 'mother'....