Life Just Explodes
Last week, I and a few others from our church community here in Cuenca took an excursion to the southern Ecuadorian city of Loja, about a four-hour drive from Cuenca. Loja has its own feel, quite distinct from Cuenca. It is much smaller, but still holds a population of somewhere around 300,000. Unlike, Cuenca, it has not been "discovered" by North Americans looking for a place to retire in Ecuador; there are only about 400 "ex-pats" living here. In our time walking about its busy streets and visiting its parks and churches, we didn't run into any other North Americans, or none that we noticed. Because it hasn't become a "gringo" tourist destination (yet, anyway!), Loja's restaurants, hotels, and other amenities are much less developed than those of Cuenca, which gives the place a much more Latin American feel. I liked it a lot.
We hired a local guide to take us to several great places outside the city. Jonathan Poma is a young guy who is working hard to develop his tour business, (Life in Loja Ecuador). The first day, he took us to the neighboring villages of Malacatos and Vilcabamba where we visited an organic coffee coop, Apecael, including a trip out to the coffee plantation and the production area nearby. The mysteries and hard work of getting that sweet little berry off the bush and converted into a delicious cup of coffee for breakfast were explained to us every step of the way. We also visited a nearby brewery, Sol del Venado, owned and operated by an American-born father, Carl, and his son, Ivan, that is creating some fine beers for local distribution. Echoing the motto on those old Olympia beer cans, they too claim, "It's the water," that makes their beers so great. "Our absolutely pure mountain water is perfect for making some of the best beer in the world," Ivan enthusiastically informed us. Their barley is sourced in Ecuador, but the hops they use come from Oregon and Washington, which thrilled me as a native of the region. Of course, we were encouraged to give several brews a try and happily did not have to drive thereafter!
The highlight of the trip took place the next day when Jonathan guided us into the massive Podocarpus National Park in the High Amazon. The park is named after a conifer tree that grows great and strong here. This national treasure is massive in its geographic reach and encompasses many diverse bioregions. We chose to visit a "cloud forest" area where the mountain mists keep everything damp, verdant and...what's the best word? Deep! It was a fairly long drive to our entry point near the town of Zamora, but as we were about to find out, it was worth every mile of the ride. Once we ditched the van and began our muddy hike into the depths of this cloud forest, we had to pay close attention to our foot placement for the path was at times rocky, other times gnarled with roots, and most often it was very slippery with mud and mist. At the same time, we could not help but keep all of our senses open to the almost mystical world we had entered. Curious bird calls came from somewhere beyond our sight. Leaf-cutter ants paraded along their own paths, waving green flags high above their heads as they traveled single file for yards and yards. Butterflies painted in the most extraordinary and extravagant colors and designs fluttered near our heads. And the piece de resistance: the cascading waterfalls, some with water falling over 90 meters to the riverbeds below, were spectacular; as the water cascaded downward, the roar was overwhelming and filled us with an energy that enlivens one's very being, and then there were the lacy patterns those waters made as they broke up over crags into a thousand mini-streams and rivulets! The magnificence of it all moved me at one point to cry out to Jonathan: "LIFE! IT JUST EXPLODES!" And so it does.
Sadly, just beyond the boundaries of the park, Jonathan explained to us, "human activity" is deeply affecting the ecosystems here. Particularly culpable are mining interests gobbling up huge stretches of the earth in the search for gold. It is very profitable to the mining firms and their financial investors, but terrible for the earth and the local people who have lived here for no-one knows exactly how many millennia. The pure water within the park quickly is polluted and becomes unpotable almost as soon as it leaves the park. Climate change is already affecting the timing and extent of the rainy season in the area; the knock-on effects of those changes will be profound sooner or later, but probably sooner. The kind of ecotourism that Jonathan promotes helps alleviate some of those consequences; if local folks can make money from healthy tourism, then they are much less likely to sell their precious land for pennies to mining companies. If more people see these beautiful places and experience their wonder, they will push to preserve it so that it can be shared with their children and grandchildren. We can only hope and pray he is right.
If our present world can't right itself and climate change becomes a climate catastrophe, much will be lost, including perhaps even much of humanity itself. It will be a tragedy and a truly mortal sin against the Creator who first said, "Let there be light!" (Genesis 1:1-2:3), but humanity doesn't yet seem to appreciate the magnificence of those words and the gift they have provided us since first whispered above the nothingness and so we continue committing the great sin until our earth is finally exhausted: we mine and burn and cut down and chop and bomb and fill the air and ground with poisons aplenty until we strangle our paradise to death.
It is heartbreaking to consider the worst-case-scenarios of our exploited planet, but while within the Podocarpus I felt a hope bigger than humanity's smallness, a hope that even if all the worst should happen, with or without us, LIFE will somehow find a way. LIFE will once again explode into something new and beautiful and even paradisical. It may take many millions of years for our lovely little planet to ever-so-slowly recover from what we are presently doing to it, but recover it will. As everything green and growing and flowing in the Parque Nacional de Podocarpus proclaims: LIFE JUST EXPLODES!