It’s “rainy season” in Cuenca, Ecuador, and the electricity continues to get cut on purpose. I’ve been told most of the electricity in the area comes from hydro-electric plants. To note, these hydro-electric plants were built in an area specifically because it had a high amount of powerful water flow… “had” being the key word.
Now, the precipitation levels are so miniscule there is not enough power being generated for this city. So every day, you open the newspaper to see when your electricity will be cut off.
Front pages of newspapers post statistics of economic losses… and forest fires. Cuenca’s Tomebamba river, which I see almost everyday, consists of little more than a few centimeters of smelly, contaminated water trickling between exposed river rocks. It makes me wonder if there would be any water flow at all if the sewage didn’t flow down its banks.
To make matters worse, there is a traditional belief in Ecuador, held by a small percentage of people, that burning a lot of something (like trees) will create smoke so that it rains. Smoke looks like clouds, so they think forest fires create rainclouds. It’s not necessarily their fault; they want it to rain as much as anybody, it’s just that nobody has given them a reason to stop practicing the secret grandpa taught them.
Before I arrived in Cuenca 3 months ago I bicycled through the smoke of a pine forest fire at the edge of the road. I was alone with no immediate way of contacting anybody but my first though was, “geez, I need to call for help.” I thought about waving down a passing car. Instead, I asked someone in the next town. I was told the owner of that land probably set the fire on purpuse, not for a transgenic soy plot like in the San Rafael Reserve, but to create clouds.
Some old beliefs like this can be beautiful, like the artistry that comes in the form of stamps at the local Indigenous Cultures Museum. 1,000 years ago the Canaris believed birds brought rain (hey, they weren’t far off) and they believed certain designs stamped into the dirt attracted the birds. And so a huge number of these clay stamps have been excavated in this area. Beautiful. Now fast forward a thousand years. Not quite as beautiful.
I have an interview with the local news station in a few days. This clearly needs to be the topic of conversation. Maybe I could convince forest burners to carve clay stamps instead?
here’s a news article about Cuenca’s worst drought in 45 years. http://www.cuencahighlife.com/post/2009/11/07/CUENCA-DIGEST3cbr3eDrought-forces-government-to-restrict-electric-power-use-as-Ecuadors-hydro-plants-suffer-record-low-water-levels.aspx