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
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”.
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.
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.
Interpretive Walking Trail – Rejuvenating Old Paths
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
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.
Youth Engagement – Kids Walking in their Grandparent’s Footsteps
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
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.
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
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
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!