Tuesday, January 16, 2007

January 16th, 2007

People have been asking me for updates, and honestly I couldn't give complete responses since I moved back to the United States. But now I have two short clues to provide: 1) Rosa's family has not reported any activity and 2) families are moving back to Bilbao, one of the destroyed towns that we helped.

The latter news, reported in the Ecuadorian paper La Hora is the significant news. It shows how pitiful the Ecuadorian state is. The families that have moved back are literally reopening their road to Baños using their own shovels and picks. There is no way they should be living there, but they have no other options for resuming their lives. Meanwhile, the government continues to "study" where to relocate other communities.

(In Ecuador, a study is a means for corrupt government officials to pay lots of money to their corrupt friends working in private industry and at NGOs to do nothing).

Thursday, November 16, 2006

November 16th, 2006

Well, I just got back to the U.S. a few days ago and so I won't be able to give local reports. Up until I left, Tungurahua's activity was back on the rise. There was plenty of smoke pouring out of her mouth and the dominant wind changes during these months, so there was a lot more ashfall in Salasaca. We spent the day of the dead at the cemetary with the volcano looming over us. That said, there currently aren't any loud explosions, this ash is being produced silently.

For the future I will try to periodically update this site with information from Rosa's family.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

October 5th, 2006

Well, it's been a long time since I last updated the situation here. That is mainly because I finishing writing my masters thesis, and then had to defend it and make some small modifications. At the same time, I have been preparing to return to the United States, so all in all I've been very busy. Naturally, the situation has also been less dramatic during that time, so I just haven't felt as much a need to share my thoughts. Finally, I haven't been back to the areas that John and I delivered food to because it has just been too depressing a thought, and so I don't have the insight that I previously did as to the situation there.

With that said, I certainly can update some information. During the last 6 weeks there has been very little volcanic activity. From what I understand that isn't surprising for three reasons: 1) uring the last eruptive period almost 90 years ago, there were periods of up to 6 months between major explosions, 2) during this eruptive period, which started in 1999, years have passed between the biggest explosions, and 3) in general the eruptive periods aren't longer than a decade, so this one could be ending. In other words, nobody knows what's going on, it just shouldn't surprise us that there is currently little activity. That said, in the last couple of weeks, I have seen ash columns rising from grandma more frecuently than I had since mid-August.

In the meantime, Salasaca has completely recovered, which means that my most pessimistic feelings about the destruction of an entire province haven't come to fruition. Essentially, we got one day of huge quantities of ash, but since have been allowed to rest, clean things up, and the ash has actually been beneficial for the crops that weren't destroyed because it serves as fertilizer. The wind resumed its normal course, which is why we were given this reprieve. On the other hand, the areas that we helped are never allowed to rest and got feet of ash, which they can't even clear away and which overwhelms the plants. In those areas, hundreds of cattle died, though the food that we gave to the people there must of been an enormous help to the people who needed their animals to survive until larger scale help could arrive.

Here in Salasaca, a few cattle died in the second half of August. Since then, people became more cautious. So, Rosa when she cuts grass to feed the cows then washes it in water before giving it to them. Also, molasses apparently cleans out a cows belly, so we bought a jug of molasses and mixed it with water when we gave the animals their water. I know of no people here in Salasaca who got seriously sick and of no homes that were damaged. Life is basically back to normal. On the other hand, the places we helped have major problems and a few communities will be relocated (including Bilbao), while the others basically will have to completely rebuild their houses.

The official government help has been weak, but that is no surprise. I think it basically has been sufficient for most of the people and animals not to die, and nothing more. Currently, the presidential campaign is the only news story, since the elections are on October 15th, and various candidates make huge promises to help the poor, and specifically talk about plans for Tungurahua, but they will never fulfill their promises. That is life in Ecuador.

Finally, I am posting on the blog a photograph of Chimborazo taken about a week after the last major explosion. What is striking for those of us with familiarity with Chimborazo, is that it is black. That is a 6310 meter (something like 21,000 feet) mountain with no visible snowcap, not something one is likely to see much in life. Also, the Wikipedia entry for Tungurahua is worth a look. There is a link to it on the column to the right of the blog. I wrote a small portion of it and also have allowed the usage of some of the photographs on this page for it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

August 18th, 2006

Well, a day of reflection without being in the middle of an ash storm has really helped. While things here are bad, we are definitely not on the normal wind path, which means we don't have to worry about constantly getting more ash. So unlike places like Pillate, we will have time to recover from our modest (inch or two) ash fall. Today was sunny, though still hazy because the wind would pick up the fallen ash. There have been almost no audible explosions, though the volcano itself wasn't visible.

Rosa says that the news from places like Bilbao is terrible, she watched the news tonight while I went to a community meeting. Apparently the places that we helped are in awful shape, with the ashfall there being measured in feet rather than inches. I don't remember if I mentioned that the only big donation I ever saw being delivered while John and I made our deliveries was enormous quantities of mayonnaise (Nestle made the donation). Well, apparently too much was donated and so leftovers were sent to my neighborhood and we distributed it just now. I now have enough mayo for a lifetime. I hope I learn to like it.

I guess that's all. I feel a lot better today and things seem more bareable. Buses are once again in service and are allowed to circulate and we've had electricity all day. We've been told to give our animals a little sodium bicarbonate (which I think is baking soda in English) in their water so that their tummies get cleaned from the ash and to wear surgical masks we've been given. We'll see how things turn out and I'll keep you all updated.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

August 17th, 2006

Well folks, I never got around to writing an update about our third and fourth deliveries to communities around Cotaló. I have posted on the blog an email that John wrote about them with a few comments in brackets where I correct him, but otherwise it is more or less what happened. One thing he didn't mention that I would have is that the president of Bilbao was asking around about where the members of the community could buy a chunk of land to build new houses. Apparently the government was offering a totally appalling option that involved impressive cold and lack of water. He said that he thought they would just end up living in the same place as before. That is exactly what happened with Cusúa -- they had new houses built for them in 1999 in Chacauco, when the volcanic activity began again. Of course, they kept living in Cusúa and when the eruptive process grew stronger, moved to a shelter in Pelileo rather than go to their free government built houses in Chacauco, which itself was struggling with ash. Not too smart an emergency plan. This detail that John didn't mention becomes relevent later in this email.

It's been almost three weeks since we last helped anyone out, because we finished off the money that people gave and have been working hard on our masters degree theses. We had both hoped that things were calming down and that we had done our part in helping people out. Unfortunately, our help turns out to be very small compared to the magnitude of the problem. I went to Quito on Monday and spent a couple of days there on vacation. Rosa returned to Salasaca a day earlier than I did, and when I spoke to her on the phone last night, she told me that there were incredible explosions constantly shaking the house, much stronger than the previous time that I described in my first email (strong enough to make a small crack in one wall). Just as with the last time, the big explosions began just before sundown. This time there was cloud cover, but Rosa says that you could still see that the mountain lit everything up like an incandescent light bulb (a red one) because the explosions were so powerful.

This morning, when I called her from Quito, she said that everything was covered with ash in Salasaca. The wind had changed and rather than going in a south-easterly direction, it went in a north-easterly direction. I put more photos on the blog (http://gabrielmany.blogspot.com) that she took this morning. They were taken just before seven a.m., usually there is plenty of light at that time, but not today. The photos speak for themselves. They look kind of like snow, and my father-in-law's now famous house clearly is covered. You can also see my spinach patch, a photo taken from my brother-in-law's roof and another of our alfalfa. The guinea pigs will have to get used to eating sawdust.

I immediately decided to get myself to Salasaca and caught a bus first to Ambato, where I planned to catch another bus home. Until we got to Latacunga -- about halfway to my house -- there wasn't much news (in Quito nobody cares about anything that happens elsewhere, and that includes the President). However, in Latacunga it became clear that there was a bit of ash in the air. As we moved on from Latacunga, there began talk of our bus not being able to get through to Ambato because of military blockades. The bus driver put on a news radio and we got some updates. People in Ambato are encouraged not to waste water nor to leave their houses. The entire province of Tungurahua and parts of Cotopaxi (to the north), Chimborazo (to the south), and Bolívar (to the west) were being declared emergency areas. In Pillate, one of the communities we've helped, the ash was so heavy that it was breaking the roofs of some of the homes. The people from Bilbao, one of the communities we had most helped and who had been staying in the church in Cotaló, had moved back to Bilbao with their animals the previous day because they had given up on a good offer from the government, and now there were various people with unknown whereabouts. The town of Chacauco, which was the community we gave the most help to, had been evacuated and the river that Bilbao is situated on and that separates Chacauco from the mountain has been damned up by a lava flow, creating flood danger to add to the problems. Finally, the lava had been mostly spraying towards Baños and had blocked the road from Ambato to Baños, leaving the town isolated.

As we headed towards Salcedo (about halfway between Latacunga and Ambato) the ash got somewhat thicker, though it hadn't yet accumulated in large amounts on the ground. The traffic got slower and there seemed to be periodic police check points, though we weren't blocked from advancing. There was an army man behind me who actually seemed to be pretty knowledgeable. From what I understood, he had left Ambato that same morning and was now returning again to help his family. He said that in Ambato, there had been about an inch of ash fall. We talked a fair amount, with his predictions not being too optimistic. We entered and were leaving Salcedo when traffic really slowed down. The army guy got off the bus to check things out and I followed him, figuring that following him was probably as good an idea as any to make sure I got through to Ambato. I knew that he was going to find a way to get there, even if it meant walking and I knew that I also was going to, so staying with him seemed smart. It was. Shortly after getting off the bus, the driver decided to turn around and go back to Quito. The army guy saw another army guy zooming by in an unmarked station wagon, as he had special permission to get through the blockades. He hopped into the station wagon and asked the driver to take me on board too, which he kindly did, and we were off, the official team to go fix the helicopters in Riobamba. No other traffic was being allowed through, I was extremely lucky, otherwise I'd probably still be walking to Salasaca right now.

When we got to the northern outskirts of Ambato, the ash on the ground was very thick. I'd say that the ash was at least the equivalent of the ash John and I had seen in Laurel Pamba, the least damaged place we helped, and was likely as thick as in Pillate. That may not seem like a lot, but it is a pretty big deal for a city of a couple of hundred thousand people. We didn't go through the downtown, but rather took a new road that goes around the city, since the driver was headed to Riobamba. This road goes through the more rural areas around Ambato. While urban Ambato mainly just has to worry about the water supply and cleaning the ash off the streets, the farmers in rural Ambato were harvesting everything as fast as they could before it became worthless. On this road (which happens to go to the eastern edge of Ambato, the closest part to Salasaca which was convenient) visibility became very low, like fog. Fortunately, there wasn't much traffic, seeing as how people aren't allowed to use the roads. Finally, we got to the turnoff for Riobamba and the army driver dropped me off, without charging me a penny.

There were a lot of people there, including a number of Salasacas walking away from Ambato, homewards. They had gone to Ambato in the morning, thinking the day might involve normal business, and now the buses wouldn't take anyone onboard because the police wouldn't let them through if they did so. So, I found people I knew and started walking with them. It's not too long a walk, a few hours would get me home, and my bag was very light. Of course, it wasn't a very comfortable walk, I covered up my entire face with my shirt, so that I was walking blindly, but there wasn't much traffic, so it didn't really matter. I had to do that because my eyes and throat were burning a bit. The ash grew thicker. After a little while, a person from Salasaca with a pickup truck saw us and picked us up. He had to take us back on back roads, because since he was carrying passengers he wasn't allowed to go on the main road. I guess the authorities think that it's better for people to walk ten miles in awful ash than for pickup drivers to charge 50 cents and take them back quickly.

By around midday, only 4 hours after leaving Quito, I made it to Salasaca. That means because of my luck with alternative transportation, it only took me about an hour longer than it usually does for me to get home from Quito. I doubt many other people were so lucky. I got back to the house and saw Rosa. We are both very worried. As I've explained in other emails, there isn't danger from things like lava and rocks in Salasaca because we are a couple of valleys away from Tungurahua. However, the economic livelihood of the community is still dependent on the land and the animals and we don't know what is going to happen with them. The ash is at least as thick as it was in Pillate (though of course now Pillate is in much worse shape than it was in a month ago) and the crops will probably die and the grass and alfalfa the animals eat will probably also die.

Right now, we have sawdust and tasty pellets for our animals, but almost nobody else does. Rosa and I are going to visit her grandparents tommorow and will probably buy food for their animals.
That doesn't help the rest of the population. There are 18 communities in Salasaca, and on average they are about 50% larger than the 6 communities that John and I helped around Cotaló. I am in the process of seeing whether there is some way to work in a more official way helping people out, but right now I am too shell-shocked to really think well. A volcano is really a big deal. Some of the supersticious people here blame the mayor of Baños for the problem. He, of course, had said that the volcano was no danger and that tourists should come see the spectacle. He probably isn't so smug now. I don't think that his words have much influence on where a volcano shoots its lava, but I do think that he could have helped seem like preparing for an eruption was not very important.

Certainly, the government has done nothing to prepare, even though as I've repeatedly said, the amount of preparation necesary is minimal. They just don't care. Now, the only people who helped the last time, rural communities like Salasaca, are also in need of help. The problem is that the size of the task has become so enormous that I don't even have an idea of where to begin. Since I got back, I haven't heard or felt a single explosion and the wind seems to have headed back towards the south. The sky has cleared a bit, though most of the south, east, and west continues to be brown. I can only see a bit of the base of grandma, I have no idea what she really looks like. I hope we sleep well. Last night Rosa slept with Leoncito, who panicked and ended up vomiting all over the place, so she is exhausted, as am I after my trip. I'll try to keep people informed, though we didn't have electricity for most of the day, so that could be difficult.
August 7th, 2006 (Written by John Polga-Hecimovich, I made a few unimportant comments in brackets)

Hello all,

It has been a week since I arrived back in Quito from Tungurahua and the volcano zone, and I finally have some time to sit down and write about the experience. That pesky thesis keeps popping up to take away time.

First of all, Gabriel put up some of his stories and pictures on: http://gabrielmany.blogspot.com/, just to get an idea of how things look and what we did. Secondly, and more importantly, an enormous thank you to everyone for being so generous.

We spent the last of the donated money on Friday and Sunday, buying balanceado and afrecho and quintales of rice for the humans. Thursday, arriving in Salasaca, the sky was clear and Tungurahua was belching out ash every sixty or ninety seconds, blowing west towards Chimborazo, but nothing as bad as the inital eruptions the weeks before. In fact, only two or three times did I audibally hear the volcano erupt in my four days.

Hanging out the back end of a closed dump truck [was not a dump truck, just a delivery truck], Gabriel and I delivered 44 quintales (hundred pound sacks) of balanceado, something that looks a little bit like dog or cat food, and 26 quintales of afrecho, which are like woodchips. We had ordered more, afrecho, but the factory lied to us, and switched the order up. In the end, we delivered these to Chacauco and Bilbao, two of the communites we had visited the previous week, as well as Laurelpamba and Mucubí, two communities we had not visited. The presidents of each community signed the acknowledgement act that Gabriel had written up, and with smiles and handshakes and obvious gratutude on their part, we returned to Salasaca.

Saturday was uneventful, save a broken promise from the animal feed headquarters in Ambato; we would have to go to the Mercado Mayorista in that city the following morning to bargain for products because the company had run out of supplies and lied to us about it (I believe they are called Eco-Bal, if you are ever in Ambato and decide on a company from which NOT to purchase animal feed.) Two more friends, Berry and Kasey, from the US via Quito, arrived to help with the purchases. We rode in the back of a dump truck [really was a dump truck this time] driven by a friend of Gabriel's, and he negotiated with the venders in Ambato for prices. Fed up with the constant back and forth Ecuadorianess of it all- we didn't get a damn thing done for an hour- I took charge, and started causing a scene. The last vender finally lowered his price, and with my constant badgering, he asked, because of my bargaining, if I was from Italy. I choked up in pride. We took off with 24 sacks quintales of rice, at $18.50 [actually 18.00] a sack, and 68 or 69 of afrecho, at $9.70 a quintal.

Our negotiation strategy was-- "We don't have much money, we're spending donations, this all goes to the volcano victims" etc. Berry observed that this was almost always followed by absolutely unresponsive, unimpressed Ecuadorians. In fact, in Quito and Ambato, not one person I told about the trip asked if they could donate. That is, not one urban Ecuadorian. In Ecuador, it was, instead, the poor coastal towns whose bananas and yucca has finally arrived, or the piles of lettuce and potatoes given my the rural highland communities. It is sad to realize that all the talk about the National Soccer Team uniting the country and providing a sense of purpose was, once again, merely middle- and upper-class rhetoric. Quito seems to be worrying only about itself again.

The last part of Sunday was the deliveries, and the communities had prepared for us. San Juan and Pillate were especially profuse in theri gratitude, and arriving and leaving town was, as Gabriel put it, as close to imitating politicians as possible. Not only do I now understand how rural clientelism and vote buying works, but I think Gabriel and I could have won elections had the voters been limited to those communities. We were greeted by close to thirty people in each village, a scene of worn peasants missing teeth, wearing tattered clothing and rubber boots, and smiling in thanks, sticking out their hands to each of us and blessing us. I had learned from Gabriel, and by now I was the one talking, joking about corrupt politicians, the continued lack of government assistance, and the fact that a guinea pig will eat ANYTHING. They, in turn, laughed, listened, and were probably the best audience I have ever had. Emboldened, we posed for pictures with the town leaders and left amidst shouts of appreciation. Yet the scene was not of singing birds and sparkling meadows. Ash continues to fall on the crops, and this season's harvest is totally gone. In San Juan we all wore our surgical masks becasue ash was floating in the air, scorching throats (Respiratory ailments have filled all provincial hospitals). After our picture, one gentleman handed us rocks that had come down in one violent explosion. They were as big as my head, and a whole lot harder. I thanked him, nearly speechless, and climbed back into the bed of the dump truck.

Futures are uncertain. Bilbao, a town across the river and literally on the hillside of the volcano (and buried in ash) is being moved by the government. The citizens are worried about their fields, being relocated to a harsh and cold mountaintop, and not a low lying area, and generally changing their lifestyles. Cusúa, totally destroyed, is also being relaocated, while Chacauco, Cotaló, Laurelpamba, Mucubí, San Juan and Pillate will remain, dealing with more ash fall, possible health problems and whatever other risks go along with living next to an active volcano.

In the end, the problems that face these economically poor people are structural, not temporary. That is: these people have been farmers for generations, and volcanic minerals make that land prime peasant real estate, which means they are against moving; a lack of education and so many decades of working the land means that few people are capable of anything besides farming, and options in urban centers, namely Ambato, are limited; the government has no space to offer these people- Ecuador has the highest population density in South America and one of the top three growth rates, depending on the year (if not for up to 10% of the population emigrating since the 1999 financial crisis things would be worse). So, without economic opportunity in a capitalist society, without education in a hierarchical, clasist society, without any other available land in a pinched nation, and with a high population growth, what are the options? My personal response is much mroe extreme than anything I could fathom before seeing this area, and I can only imagine things getting worse, and not better.

I watched the movie Super Size Me on Sunday night, after having soup and some chicken and rice for dinner, my only meal since bread at breakfast. I had purchased ten pounds of quinoa in the Mayorista in Ambato, as well as fifty pounds of high quality potatoes for $1.25 (fine, they were free, but they should have been $1.25 [actually they should have been $2.50]) that day, and had been with people who never enter a supermarket their entire lives and could not fathom the idea of overeating. This mail is about Tungurahua, and not my own personal trip, but I must end this by saying that four days in the countryside was a lot more education and introspection than I ever expected.

This was not as interesting a mail as the first one, but it is an update nonetheless.

Thank you all once again. If you have any questions or concerns, please send me a mail. Looking forward to hearing from you

Thursday, August 03, 2006

August 3rd, 2006

This is not one of my email updates of the situation. Rather it is a set of descriptions of the photos I have put online on the blog. I received a request to put in captions but I have two reasons I am not yet doing so: 1) I don't know how and 2) I don't have good cheap Internet access, so it would be costly to do so. The descriptions are group by the date of the photo as listed on the blog, so you should be able to match things. I am sorry I haven't updated in a while, I had a pretty serious problem with my computer (hard disk died), and recovering has taken me a couple of days, but now I am back in business. Please note that the pictures are posted in more or less chronological order with the posts, but it isn't perfect (blogspot doesn't seem to put things in the same order as I do when I upload the pictures, and I don't care enough to fix them). That said, my descriptions I think are adequate.

August 2nd-3rd: This is a set of photos taken on July 27th and 30th, our last two visits to make deliveries. Actually there is only one taken on the 30th, which is the picture of us with the community of San Juan (my next post will explain more).

The rest were taken on the 27th, when we were able to get a spectacularly clear view of Tungurahua, despite spending the trip there enclosed in the back of a cargo truck. In one pictures you can see from a distance the community of Cusúa and the lava flows that frame it. In another you can see the menacing Mama Abuela towering over Cotaló (the local administrative center) and above Cotaló's church. Finally, there are a set of photos more directly related to our work, showing John in the truck as we left Salasaca and then later helping deliver the food, me with members of the community of Mucubí and later a picture inside the communal building in Laurel Pamba where the sacks of food were being left for the community (and other scarce donations are in the background).

July 26th: These are more photographs taken when I went for the second time to the disaster zone, this time with John and animal food bought with the money that our families and friends have helped with. In one photo, you can see a chicken leg, all that remains of the chicken. In another is the head of a cow buried in ash. One could see the entire body half buried with legs sticking up in the air, but I preferred to post the simpler image. There is then a picture of me in front of the little plot of land and house closest to the dead cows. The other picture is of me and John eating cuy that the community of Pillate prepared for us. The president of the community, Iván Ojeda is the man in a sweater, while the guy with the reflective jacket is the coordinator of the Defensa Civil in the community. The other guy sitting next to me is Rosa's uncle, Eugenio. The photo was posed so that the reflectors on the middle guy's jacket didn't look awful in the flash.

July 22nd: These are pictures from when I returned with John. There are a few pictures taken from the bridge across the river that divides Grandma from the rest of the world. It shows the greyness of the valley southward. These pictures haven't been modified at all from what they originally were besides the reduction in size. Things really were that grey, as you can see in the picture that has Rosa and John (and Milton, a guy who helped us out), who are fully colored. There is then a picture of the pickup we came in, parked about as closely as possible to the lava flow (the lava flow was behind me as I took the picture). The ash in the sky was astounding, it looks like fog. Finally there is a picture from a day or two later of Chimborazo, Tungurahua's lover and the tallest mountain in Ecuador, many kilometeres from Tungurahua (60 degrees on the horizon) and now covered in ash. Chimborazo is always brilliantly white, but not after Grandma threw a jealous fit.

July 15th: There are three pictures taken from my backyard on the night that the action intensified. It was the first time I was able to see lava during the daylight, let alone capture it on camera. The house at the bottom of a couple of the pictures is my father-in-law's. The pictures were taken from my house. As can be seen in one of the pictures, the smoke clearly was headed in a southwesterly direction over a set of hills immediately to the south of Salasaca.
August 2nd, 2006

Some photos. More will be posted in a moment.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

July 26th, 2006

These are more pictures from last week. I made the mistake of updating my photo program, so for the moment most of my photo editing seems to crash the computer (well, to be technical it only crashes my desktop environment). I guess I shouldn't be using self-proclaimed "unstable" software. Anyway, what this means is that more pictures, particularly ones showing all of the afrecho and balanceado, are missing, though I do think I just uploaded a couple of pictures with community leaders. We will be making more deliveries in the next couple of days, some to the same places and some to other places.

July 22nd, 2006

In this email, I don't much describe the destruction caused by Tungurahua. Instead, I describe the help that we have provided to the villages that are suffering. After my last email, an American friend of mine in Quito decided that we should help more, and so we requested contributions from our families and our friends, who have responded generously.

On Wednesday and Thursday, July 19th and 20th, John and I made two deliveries of 70 quintales each of two types of animal food -- 40 quintales of afrecho and 30 of balanceado para ganado -- to 4 different communities that have been seriously hurt by Tungurahua. So, the total delivered in two days was 140 quintales. A quintal is usually either 100 pounds or 50 kilograms, depending on the product, though often it is also just the term used to describe really big sacks of stuff. In this case, the Afrecho sacks were 100 pounds and the balanceado sacks were 40 kilograms, or about 88 pounds. So, my total calculation for our deliveries is 6 metric tons (2.4 of balanceado and 3.6 of afrecho). Afrecho is a powder that looks kind of like sawdust and is made primarily, I think, of wheat, though corn is also in it. Balanceado para ganado is a type of green pellet that looks kind of like rabbit food or like rabbit shit, and this type is specifically for cattle (ganado).

Afrecho generally is mixed with water in a bucket to become a thick sludge kind of like corn meal or oatmeal. It has the big advantage that any animal will eat it, as long as the animal is hungry enough. Also, it won't go bad and by the time you mix water with it, you actually only have to give a small amount to each animal for each meal, so it lasts a long time. Its major disadvantage is that animals who have never eaten it don't like it very much (because it also tastes like sawdust). That is why we also got the balanceado. The balanceado has certain ingredients that cattle like. I actually am not sure what they are, except for molasses. I tasted it and all of us farmer folk thought it was pretty tasty, at least as animal feed goes, but John didn't like it very much, as he's a city boy. Its big negative is that both the sack is smaller and it takes a larger amount of balanceado to fill up a cow's belly, so it doesn't last as long. Furthermore, other animals aren't especially fond of it (though I imagine a pig would happily eat it). So generally, a farmer would mix some pellets of balanceado with the afrecho (which I will refer to as sawdust from here on) when feeding their cattle, just enough so that the cow would eat the sawdust.

We actually wanted to get a higher proportion of sawdust, but the folks we arranged to buy from didn't have as much of it as we wanted. They gave us a price of $8.50 per sack, which is about 15-20% lower than the typical retail price and they also arranged the delivery. This is supposedly the factory price, though later we learned from one of the community leaders that perhaps we could have negotiated $8.00 per quintal. Still, he though we had done alright on that issue. For those who are weak on the math, our total expense on food has been $1190 dollars so far, which means that all of the money I have raised has been spent, and we are starting to use the money John has raised, though we still have enough to make at least one more major delivery and another smaller delivery.

Anyway, on Wednesday afternoon we headed out on their big delivery truck with my brother-in-law's pickup truck following us with a number of family members, including Rosa, her father, a few of her cousins, and an uncle of hers. We made the same trip I describe last week, which is about 45 minutes, through Pelileo, Huambaló, and finally to Cotaló. There was one main difference: the volcano has calmed down some and we both hear very few explosions now in Salasaca and as we approached Cotaló there was very little smell. Furthermore, the ashfall has almost stopped, so I am hoping that like six years ago, this big activity will recede and people will have time to recover and hopefully this time prepare for the next time! Unfortunately, there is no real vulcanological evidence to think that there will be another rest. Nobody really knows.

Anyway, we arrived in Cotaló, where the big delivery truck unloaded everything. We knew that he was unwilling to go out and deliver to the small communities, so we were prepared for that, which is why we took the pickup with us. I had handled all of the coordination of the delivery, since I both know the area better and understand how to handle this sort of rural coordination and communication, while John has done a bit more fundraising. We knew which places to deliver to because I had both been in contact with the president of Cotaló and with a volunteer with the local Catholic church, who had gone around checking out the communities, seeing how bad the situation was in each one and also how many cows each community had. He also asked them what they needed, and they all said that while they had received some help on the food front, there had been almost nothing for the animals. Furthermore, I had already visited Cotaló and Chacauco, so I had an idea of the issues, and I also talked it over with the person in Salasaca who had organized the food drive last Sunday.

Thus we decided to make deliveries to four different communities: Chacauco, Bilbao, San Juan, and Pillate, who average having about 50 families and who have a total of about 500 cows. While Chacauco has the fewest heads of cattle, our contacts indicated that they had the most need, so we have delivered them a total of 40 quintales of food. The other hundred have been divided between the other three communities, though I think we should probably give Chacauco a higher percentage next week.

Anyway, our first delivery was for the residents of Bilbao, because they are evacuated and living in Cotaló in the church. Naturally, they were extremely thankful. We had an official ceremony in which we all signed various papers indicating that we were there representing our families and friends and including the exact quantities delivered. We asked what support they had received, and they indicated that it was almost exclusively from other rural communities, and that the only help from the government had been half a quintal of afrecho for each family. In our short visit we matched the government.

We then made a delivery with the pickup to Chacauco, which continued to be covered in ash. They remembered me from Sunday and were also very happy to get help. They said that they had received absolutely zero help from the government. However, I did see that farmers from unaffected areas had given a fair amount of produce, and they seemed to have enough human food. That said, we were the first people providing some real help for the animals, and they requested that when we come back we provide them with more of the same.

After that delivery, we went again to see the lava and rock flow, because Chacauco is the closest surviving town to those areas. It was already about five o'clock, so we rushed to go check it out. I was shocked to see that there were still a few cows in Bilbao. I imagine that the owners don't want to move them, but it was still unbelievable. Unlike on Sunday, this time there wan't much volcanic activity, so we went ahead an walked up through the ash to the most devastated area. There the ash was at least 4 inches deep and there were volcanic rocks that had been shot out of the mountain that were the size of a calf. Some of those rocks were still burning hot, as John pointed out when he spit on one and his spittle sizzled. Just walking around raised the ash up in enormous quantities, thankfully, we were wearing masks that John had brought.

It turns out that this big flow down a ravine, just to the south of Cusúa, had destroyed a bridge that had just been finished a couple of months earlier. That shows the great planning done by the government here. We walked up the ravine a bit, astonished by the destruction, the bleakness, and frightened by the power. We saw bits of chickens that hadn't escaped. We then went off to the side a bit and saw three cows covered in ash, dead. That was next to the destroyed greenhouses that I mentioned in my last email. There was also a house and near the house a tree with live chickens, including a small chick. We hope that those chickens are alive because the owners of the house continue to visit and feed them. The crops of course were destroyed. This time I took my camera, and perhaps that is why this email is a bit less descriptive than my last. The photographs I took are amazing and I hope to send some by email next week or set up a blog with them.

Anyway, by this time it was getting dark. We had been unable to see the top of the volcano all day, and I am happy for that because I don't think I would have enjoyed seeing lava coming down. I also saw no indication of rocks or any flows coming down the mountain. So, we moved on, to make our deliveries to San Juan and Pillate. We did those quickly, since it was dark and there was nothing to see there. Finally, we went home through a thick fog, getting back at about 10 at night.

On Thursday we made another delivery of the exact same quantities, but John was in a hurry and we didn't feel a need to go to each place. So, I called up the community leaders in advance and told them to have pickups ready in Cotaló to take their cow feed to their communities. We went, and it was a very cloudy day, so we couldn't really see anything anyway. The thing we could tell though is that there still wasn't any ash falling, which we hope is a good sign. We planned to leave quickly, but the president of Pillate insisted that we go to Pillate for lunch, so we went and they gave us a delicious meal of baked guinea pig. We also looked around up there on the hill that it is located, facing granma. It looked like there had been some rain, because it wasn't as grey as it had been days earlier. That said, all the crops are lost. The positive thing is that the grass is growing again and in a month or two there will be some cow food in some areas.

We also asked them if their grandparents and great-grandparents had warned them about granma. They said yes, but they had never paid them any attention, because they had nowhere else to go. Some of them had family in Ambato who had invited them to stay with them there, but I think nobody has any intention of leaving. The land is good because of the ash, and in a country where only the rich people have good land, this is one of the few places where poor people can have very productive earth. For that reason, these farmers work extremely steep slopes and are willing to take their chances with the volcano, rather than go and become move to the slums like most of the country's peasants have in the last 50 years. Only two towns, Bilbao and Sucúa are slated to be moved, but who knows if the government will really fulfill its promise to buy land and build houses for their residents somewhere else.

John and I plan to go back next week with more of the same. We have done more so far than the government for the people in these areas. While some of the people have sent things like clothes and food, and we saw that a mayonaise company gave every family a few jars of mayo, it's only us and some small peasant communities who have really worried about these areas, especially the animals. Furthermore, almost all of the aid gets directed exclusively to the places where the refugees are staying, because the politicians worry about the people in their hands, who they see every day, but the people who haven't been evacuated are completely forgotten because they aren't a political or budgetary problem for anyone.

There was a question about responsible organizations that can be donated to by people who don't know me. To be honest, I haven't seen any sign of any. We were repeatedly told that it is communities like Salasaca that are helping, and nobody else. Have you seen any John?

I am having computer troubles, but there will be more photos later.
July 16th, 2006

Well, I went to the edge of Tungurahua today. (Turns out "Tunguri" IS the word for throat in Quichua for those of you who read the article I linked to yesterday, though all the people here refer to her as "Mama huila" which means "Granma"). Anyway, it was a pretty surreal scene and my first time near a very active volcano. Unfortunately, I didn't take my camera, so I am trying to make do with a thousand words.

Here in Salasaca we organized a food drive and I'd guess from Manzana Pamba Grande (my neighborhood) we took about a half ton of food to a community right at the base of the volcano, about a half hour away from here. The food was mostly stuff that people here had grown and recently harvested, a large part of it was corn, and there was also a lot of potatos and then various other things, including things that people had bought to donate. Some of the other neighborhoods in Salasaca took grass and alfalfa for the animals, because the people are farmers and ash has covered everything up.

Anyway, we went there in a caravan of 10 pickup trucks and it was incredibly strange to look out and basically see a color world become black and white as far as the eye could see. That was the ash, which as carried by the wind covers areas to the south, while adjoining areas have been completely spared. There is enough ash to effectively kill all the plants beneath it (except perhaps the larger trees), but not enough to hide the plants nor the houses nor the geographical features. They were simply muted into grayscale. There were also two or three wide gray swaths that had been destroyed by lava and earth flows. At that point we were far away still. The view was down a river valley that separates the volcano from the surrounding areas and slowly we descended into the valley, having come down a road from Pelileo (not the road that goes to Baños).

On the road to Cotaló, a town in the shadows of the mountain, the last town that more or less has evaded the worst of the ash -- with only the southern part of town and the hill beyond really damaged -- we ran into lots of tourists who had come to see the volcano. The police didn't allow them to continue onwards to town, but we were allowed through because of the food we were carrying. When we arrived, there were townsfolk organizing the distribution of the aid, and our pickup truck was directed to go to the absolute last town standing where people hadn't been evacuated, Chacauco. Chacauco was covered in ash. The tree tomatos, potatos, corn, etc, clearly were done for. The tin and eternit (abspestos based corrugated sheet) roofs were covered in ash. The people who received us said that we were the first people who had arrived with aid, more than a day and a half after the most recent major explosions and a day after the president visited to look around.

As we arrived, we also saw the cattle, llamas, and horses alongside the road. Their backs were covered in ash and they had nothing they could eat. In Cotaló, the haciendas have escaped the ash, while the people living to the south on the side of the mountain, who have only tiny pieces of land, have been the people affected. Apparently the owners of the haciendas have not accepted evacuated cattle. The evacuated animals were all on the soccer field in Cotaló, but a large number of animals still weren't evacuated. These beasts, which are people's earnings and assets rolled up into one, are without food or shelter. When we arrived, people thanked us profusely as we deposited the food into the empty community building. The only other aid that had arrived there was a pile of reject bananas of the sort that are only fit for animal consumption. One woman told us that she was chopping it up into bits that the guinea pigs will eat when they get hungry enough.

Despite the danger, the people do not want to leave Chacauco. Of the 49 families that live there, only two have been evacuated. Where can they go? How can they abandon their animals? How can they abandon their lives? So they stay, knowing that their poverty is worse now than ever. They are probably making the right choice, there is no reason to think that they could have better lives, and there is no reason to think the authorities will help. In Chacauco we were only a short ways above the river that protected the town from any flows and looking across to the other side we could clearly see the abandoned town of Cusúa. Cusúa was not actually as covered by ash as Chacauco. This town sits on the road from Baños to Riobamba. Just to the south of the town a major lava/rock flow had gone down to the river, crossing the road. In its path it had destroyed a couple of greenhouses, the only structures that I saw that were actually completely destroyed. Just to the north of town was another flow. The town has been miraculously saved up to the moment, but I don't expect that to continue.

We then decided to check things out and we went down the road to the bridge across the river. From the bridge, we looked down probably 50 feet down the steep walls of volcanic rock to the river. The place was absolutely covered in ash. Probably less than a centimeter thick, but that little is enough to finish off life. Since before our entry into Cotaló things had begun to stink, in fact on Friday night when I took the pictures I sent before, even in Salasaca things were stinky. Down at the bridge, we were talking about how we hadn't heard any booms. In Salasaca we frequently hear what is like thunder, but right next to the house. Usually there is a sort of rumbling boom. A few moments after we commented about the lack of noise right next to the volcano, we heard a boom which was fast, like a gunshot. We proceeded onwards, going past another abandoned town named Bilbao. It was a town quite similar to Chacauco, but with the big disadvantage of being on the other side of the river. We saw abandoned houses, an enormous abandoned dump truck, and abandoned dogs. I imagine the situation further up the mountain is much sadder. People work the land and put their houses on incredibly steep slopes, because they have no access to better lands. At this point we proceeded onwards towards Cusúa and got out of the pickup about 100 meters from the ash/lava flow.

There were a number of cars there and people. We advanced towards the flow and and as I was looking at how the ash covered up leaves we heard another boom. Then, the people near the flow started running in my direction yelling at everyone to leave. We retreated back to the bridge. Apparently the loudspeakers from Chacauco had shouted for us to retreat because rocks were being shot out from the mountain. These rocks vary in size from very small to the size of someone's head. They are hot. When we looked up I could see an ash cloud spewing from the top of the mountain. The cloud had a reddish tint. The day had been cloudy, and this was the first visual evidence of the volcano's activity that we had seen all day. At this point we retreated to Chacauco and eventually made our ways up to Cotaló after a fair amount of conversation with the locals, from there we could see lines of smoke sliding down the mountain that indicated to us where the lava and rocks were falling. Some of our group went back down and eventually went to the flow itself and grabbed some rocks, one of which they gave to me. However, the more cautious of us felt that there was no reason to tempt fate, we had been close enough to truly appreciate what had happened.

When we finally we came home, leaving Cotaló, we saw one of the strangest rainbows I've ever seen. It was just a short section and instead of being against the background of the sky, it was below us, against the background of the mountain. I'm not at all spiritual, it seems to me that the rainbow is as much a deception of hope as anything else. It's sad to see that a lot of the problems being faced could have been easily prepared for. A few big government constructed barns and some stored food for both the animals and the people could have basically had everyone in okay condition.

Of course, I saw the most dramatic area of destruction, but there have been major problems with ash as far away as Guaranda, and the ash is a much bigger problem than the actual destruction caused by the lava or rocks. Rosa's grandfather has told us about how his father survived the eruption in 1920 and how then there were enourmous amounts of ash in Salasaca that killed the plants and animals, and that at that time food was donated by other areas. When we collected food today, the people in the community were generous. It is sad to think that the only people who have arrived with food to support the people at the base of the mountain are just as poor as the people affected. Here nobody can count on the wealthy and the government to solve problems. As we came back, the number of observers had multiplied exponentially, but none of the people arriving came with food for the people or for their animals. From their cars they happily checked out the excitement from afar, without ever aproaching the people who are suffering.

Right now, I'm back at home. Since night fell, I can look out my kitchen window and see the lava spewing out the mountain. I feel perfectly safe and don't think many people will die from an eruption. Baños is the only city right next to Tungurahua, and at least for the time being it seems to be on the other side of the action. That said, the lives of many people will be ruined, and I can only hope that the number of people whose lives are ruined won't be too high.

 July 15th, 2006

There was a big show last night from gramma (the biggest I've seen). Fran said that usually volcanos don't have both lava and ash, but I think these should satisfy him that it does happen sometimes. I took a lot of pictures, and a lot of them are really good, but I don't have the bandwidth to send all of them.

Here in Salasaca we are lucky. Wind patterns take the ash to the south of us. The smoke eventually stretched all the way from Tungurahua to Chimborazo, which is about 60 degrees on the horizon, within about an hour before it got dark and I couldn't tell anymore. Supposedly, wind patterns carry the ash all the way to Guayaquil.

Anyway, there were window rattling explosions all night. Today it is cloudy, so I can't see anything. I am not too afraid for Salasaca, but I am worried about the people in areas nearby (lets say, about 10 miles to the south of us). The danger for them is really that they are farmers and that the ash will result in the end of their crops and the death of their animals (their main assets/form of savings). Of course, nearby the volcano there are big dangers of lahores or whatever those mud flows are called.

On TV I've seen the ash in places like Quero, which are closeby. I am guessing from the photos about a centimeter of ash, which isn't putting houses and people in danger, but is rough on the cows, mostly because their food is covered with ash, so they have nothing to eat. As I said though, the prevailing wind from the east almost always takes the ash in a southern direction (as you can see in the pictures), so I am in no danger and neither are the mule nor the cows nor the pigs here.

For the last couple of hours, I've heard nothing. Of course nobody really knows enough about volcanos to say if there will be a real eruption or just more minor explosions like the ones I've described. The mayor of Banos is of course happily saying that this is an exciting show and everyone should come visit. Meanwhile various residents of Banos are abandoning ship for the time being (there is no mandatory evacuation like there was 7 years ago). I am listening to a call in show right now where people not from Banos are just pissed that the mayor of Banos is downplaying everything to get tourists, because of course that means that the issue isn't being taken seriously in the rest of the country.