Baja peninsula from the air

Baja peninsula from the air

Mila’s Return to Baja – What an incredible feeling to be back in Baja and working in the field with Living Roots again! Life itself is a journey and my return feels like a journey begun 4 years ago has come full circle. I can’t believe how much has been accomplished in Living Roots’ pilot community, San Javier. Living Roots has graciously let me use this blog to bring you updates on this epic journey, the last week of which has been generously supported by Vail Resorts‘ Epic Volunteer program.

Cultural Center – Building Community Brick by Brick

Visitors check out the cultural center at the grand opening

Visitors check out the cultural center at the opening

It started on Saturday with the grand opening of the Cultural Center in San Javier to serve as a community center, product sales outlet and tourism hub. I remember vividly that when we asked the community in July of 2010 what they wanted for the future, their answer was “a place to sell our goods and coordinate tourism”.

A multicultural crowd comes together to celebrate everyone's hard work

A multicultural crowd comes together to celebrate everyone’s hard work

The idea at that point was literally just a gleam in their eyes. Now, I was fortunate enough to be here to celebrate the incredible place they have built using hand-made adobe bricks and palm thatch roofing in the traditional style. It was clear to all at the inauguration, that the Cultural Center is a timely and an extremely well laid foundation of community participation that can organize future activities and address community needs.

Adobe blocks : getting ready for construction scheduled to begin on December 5th

Adobe blocks used to build the Cultural Center

the blocks on the right make up the building brick by brick

Tourists – Ready or Not, Here They Come

It was also obvious that the newly paved road is bringing tourists to town with increasing frequency as at least ten people stopped by to ask about the Cultural Center while the event was underway.

Downtown San Javier and a marvelous tourist attraction with the mission in the center of town

Downtown San Javier and a marvelous tourist attraction with the mission in the center of town

Interpretive Walking Trail – Rejuvenating Old Paths

Leno showing us the olive trees and explaining they need a male and female planted together to produce

Leno showing us the olive trees and explaining they need a male and female tree planted together to produce

On Sunday we held a kickoff meeting to start the process of community organization for rural tourism. Javier Arce from the Baja California Sur’s Oasis (Joint State and University) Project presented a fabulous overview of walking trails, their uses and their design. The outcome of this meeting was to start mapping the trail and its attractions.

Later that afternoon, the Living Roots team, Javier and a few community elders walked the trail to identify points of interest including the extensive irrigation system developed by Jesuit missionaries in the 1700’s, varied plant life ranging from

Orchard and medicinal plants seen along the trail

Orchard and medicinal plants seen along the trail

orange trees to edible cactus, and impressive olive trees which are some of the oldest in the Americas.Using GPS technology, Javier started developing a map that will become the basis of an interpretive brochure and will be displayed in the Cultural Center to orient tourists to the area.

These trails have been used for centuries

These trails have been used for centuries

Youth Engagement – Kids Walking in their Grandparent’s Footsteps

Walking the trail with Deneb (just now 2 years old)

Walking the trail with Deneb (just now 2 years old)

The next step in the trail project is to have a capacity building workshop for young guides and incorporate teams from the “Jovenes Documentalistas” or “Young Documentarians” program that Hugo Sanchez, Living Roots’ Youth Programs Coordinator, has been organizing. These teams will use multimedia techniques to capture the trail’s attractions and the historical descriptions of the area by those families who have lived in the region for centuries.

Young Documentarians Program

School in San Javier

School in San Javier

Beginning last fall, this program has invited audio-visual experts into secondary school to train students who are 12 to 16 in how to use cameras, voice-recording and written text to interview important figures in the community.  These documentaries will capture the important stories and know-how of the elder generation in a registry and traveling display which will first be exhibited in the San Javier Cultural Center and then travel to cities around the state.

Team huddle of high school students in San Javier

Team huddle of high school students in San Javier

In small teams, students have begun the interview process in San Javier (in town) and are gearing up to go on 4-6 days expeditions in early April to various surrounding ranches.  They will hike to the ranches accompanied by a local guide (guides are their fathers, older brothers etc.), who will teach them how to travel through the wilderness, locate trails, identify medicinal plants and so forth. Once at the ranch, they will spend several days documenting and sharing experiences with the elder generation.

This program has been made possible with a grant from the John & Mildred Holmes Family Foundation in conjunction with PACMYC, a Mexican Institution that supports cultural activities.

Fighting Fire – Fragile Ecosystem and Perilous Conditions

An ancient olive tree ravaged by fire

An ancient olive tree previously ravaged by fire

Monday, our plans rapidly changed when, just as I was finishing an outdoor bucket shower, a call of alarm came that a house next to the mission in San Javier was on fire. Living Roots’ founder, McKenzie Campbell and I rushed to the scene, stopping to grab buckets from the school yard along the way. Dense smoke billowed in noxious clouds as we arrived and the visible flames threw off intense heat. We joined everyone in town (about 50 people) in fighting the fire, bucket by bucket, trying to control and contain it before it spread. Luckily, the wind died down at just the right moment and we had it almost out before the closest fire truck could arrive from Loreto (1 hour away).

The family of eight, who lived in the complex that burned, lost everything and Living Roots

Fire truck from Loreto after the fire was out (San Javier has no fire fighting resources)

Fire truck from Loreto after the fire was out (San Javier has no fire fighting resources)

has put the word out locally to get them some much needed basic necessities.  On the positive side, it was amazing to see, and be part of, a community banding together to overcome adversity and helping to keep the rest of town, including the newly inaugurated Cultural Center, from going up in flames!

More to Come – Stay tuned for more updates from the field!

Irrigation canal with olive tree in the background

Irrigation canal with olive tree in the background

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About Living Roots (Raices Vivas)

Living Roots' mission is helping endangered cultures adapt and thrive in the modern world.
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