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Art and/as Process – Biodiversity residencies (part7)

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Friday 5th, February 2016.

   Got up before seven with plenty of time to go over my gear. Made myself some eggs and put on coffee, enough for Jaimie, Jonathan, Aaron and Kira who have yet to make their way down. Humming birds were zigzagging around the open garden when we said our good byes with Nicole, the co-owner and director of the reserve. Christian, a local man who helps maintain the property was also there to see us off. Wilo, Nicole’s partner, gave us a drive to the milk station where we waited for the cargo truck to make its daily milk run. A local driver, Tadeo, showed up around 9 30 am making the pickup with his own 4×4 pickup truck since the cargo truck still had a broken axel from a week ago. After shaking hands with Wilo I climbed in the back of the 4×4. On the way to Las Tolas the car filled up to the brim with people and milk jugs. Jonathan and I ended up sitting on the roof holding on to the milk jugs behind us. We were overcapacity from the start as the car stretched, dove and climbed over basketball size pot holes and stream beds in in the mountain road. It was a fun way to see an integral extraction process (milk production) to the area.


Chocó Region, Ecuador

   From Tulipe we caught a free ride on a transport truck which happened by as we arrived. The driver swung open the heavy metal doors in the back and we claimed in without a second thought amongst husks of leftover corn. For about 20 minutes we only saw the outside through small holes and slits in the canopy structure as the truck sped across the road. In La Amenia the doors swung open. Everyone else except for me was going west, so when a bus heading in that direction pulled up as we were walking towards the stop, everyone ran off yelling their goodbyes. And just as quickly as we have met, we separated just the same. I didn’t even have a chance to pay back $2 to Jonathan for the ride with Tadeo.

   The bus stop was a bench with a roof next to a gravel patch that separated it from the main two lane road. The view was of a hillside with a dirt road reaching upwards. A pretty mother sat beside me with her daughter. She had a face I could fall in love with. I smiled at the daughter who took an interest in me, asking her mom questions about me while hiding in between her legs.  From one of the busses that stopped briefly a vendor got off and walked over to our long bench sitting on my other side, placing two awkward packages of snacks he was selling next to him. A friend of his came over and they chatted, taking a brief interest in where I was going. Buses came and went for over an hour and my sense of urgency slacked. Then suddenly a bus came, MY BUS! I would have missed it if the vendor hadn’t alarmed me in time.

   I chased it down and got on without putting my bag pack in the cargo. Sitting by the door I had space for my bag to lean against me.  People got off and on randomly along the way eventually filling up the bus with a few standing in the isle. Village after village the time passed as I kept present and aware of the landscape, largely made up of banana fields. I didn’t have a clue about the time and distance involved in this leg of the trip, so it was best to be present in the moment and not try to anticipate when and where I should be. After about two hours we pulled into a bus terminal where I was told that it was still another 30 min to San Domingo where I thought I was to transfer to my next bus. Something got me to talk to the assistant again, explaining that my ultimate destination was Piedronales. He then took me off the bus and led me to a small office in the terminal where I got my next ticket for the bus that would take me where I need to go.

   Sitting at the terminal for over an hour I watched a group of the vendors hustle their goods to each coming bus, sometimes pushing each other out of the way. It was a competitive scene and one I have seen all over South America. It’s a class of people off all ages, sizes and genders selling anything and everything one can carry in multiples. It is a rough way to make a living having to spend most of your day carrying awkward packages, moving from place to place, bus to bus in the heat, dust and traffic congested streets. In contrast two man were playing a game where a 50c coin was tossed towards a crack in the pavement. It seemed that the coin closest to the line meant winning. An hour went and neither seemed ahead, but everyone around was animated by the competition. It felt like they have been playing this game since they were little and the only thing that has changed is their physical stature, each toss filling up a few more moments of a life.

   The bus finally arrived. I am not sure if it was the hunger, or the duration of the trip or the altitude drop but I had a headache. Once in motion it was impossible to read or write because of the shifting, swaying and vibrating bus, but there was plenty to look at. What really impressed me on this leg were the hills, empty of trees with only a few palms scattered here and there. I was trying to imagine the jungle that was once there teaming with life before it was reduced to grass.

Herb Garden, Un Poco del Chocó

   I got to Piedronales around 7pm. No one in any of the offices knew anything about a bus to Canoa. By now Ecuador felt very much a rural country, not unlike parts of Ontario I biked through with stretches of farmlands in-between small towns. The bus terminal was a shabby concreate building with a wall circling a dirt floor yard, resembling some of the junkyards I have been too. Cellphone technology allowed a leap in access to the world but the world still largely feels and looks unsophisticated. There is something strange in how the modern gadgets and plastic advertisements adorn unimaginative utilitarian concreate shapes aged by the environment. It’s something one sees all over the world. This clash of now with before.  A consumerist flood of junk displacing local fashions, producers, cultures…when is this bus getting here?

   There were six ticket offices, four of which were open. No one knew anything about a bus to Canoa, the office for that bus line was a 200 square foot rectangle with a desk, some seats and a broken light bulb. The ticket person was absent. I went and bought a meat pancake to eat hoping the bus would arrive eventually, the sun was going down and a couple of local sketch heads were twitching about the place.

   When a bus did arrive, that seemed to be the one to take me to Canoa, a driver got out and started talking excitingly with someone that seemed to be a ticket agent. He then got on a phone, from what I understood no one knew who was to charge for collecting the money for the ride.  After 30 minutes he opened the doors and told everyone to get in. When we got going around 10pm, his assistant came around and collected money from everyone based on where they were going. One needs cash when traveling in South America.

   Getting into Canoa I was hungry, fatigued and sweaty. It took me some time to figure out where the hostel Pais Libre was. I emailed them about a room two weeks before. It turned out they didn’t have a space for me after all. Slightly puffed I made my way down to find Jana, a friend who runs a surfing school here and my main reason for stopping by. Looking for her I found El Jardin, so after saying hello to her and her partner I went back and got a room! I settled in on one of the four bunks in the room, luckily mine had a mosquito net! The upper bunks were occupied by women who seemed like they just finished parting moments before and passed out before their heads rested on the pillow. Parts of their contorted bodies stuck out from under thin sheets, one was snoring. On a suggestion from Sasha, the girl working there for room and board, I went down for a swim. Only foam was visible in the darkness as I walked into the Ocean and it healed all things.


20 minute walk north on the Beach in Canoa

June 17, 2017
My new series Nature, a Space of Flows is evolving nicely. Just finished a third piece based on my time in Canoa, Ecuador, a surf town situated next to scenic sand cliffs. I am now working on a piece inspired by a gorge near where I live, where Etobicoke creek flows.