Vale Encantado

Ideas and Issues

            Salvador          Flights were cancelled to Brazil.  One stuck in Houston, another in Toronto, and one missing altogether.  The Organizers’ Forum is on the road again.

We often don’t even start meeting as a delegation until Sunday afternoon or evening, but we jumped out a bit past 8am in order to meet a 16-year-old environmental activist who, along with her family and friends, had become the face and spirit of an unusual effort to save a biosphere in the Salvador that was being threatened by condo and upscale development.  She and other members of their cooperative, including some of her teachers and family, met us at 9am to hear their stories and walk through their 100-acre forest valley nestled along rivers and lagoons between old gated community condos and soaring apartment blocks.

Developers were pushing hard to run a road through the forest and lay pipe for sewer and water infrastructure.  For now, the cooperative had stalled the efforts.  They had been able to mobilize support through petitions and letters to city and other officials.  The reprieve was temporary.  The last obstacle was getting the mayor’s signature on a designation of the area as a wildlife refuge, which would finally block any construction.

After a two-and-a-half hour walk down into the valley, to the edge of several lagoons, and along dirt trails, termite mounds, rare birds, including a tiny hummingbird we couldn’t find and a giant owl that had already retired, our view was the same as the cooperative:  this valley needed to be saved and cherished.  They had lots of plans.  An opening from another road, not the gated community, so more could visit.  Using similar tours like ours to increase commitments to the fight, and on and on.

Having walked through various trails, we came to what Catarina Lorenzo, our young guide and translator, told us was the most special part of the forest to her.  It was an area where the trees and plants were native.  Several trees, including a giant banyan over 170 years old, were huge.  One tree uniquely had entwined a mango that had been planted when slaves hid in the forest from their masters with a jackfruit tree that was native.  This tree had spirit.  She instructed us to be quiet and to hold hands and surround the tree.  OK, she really said to “hug” the tree.  She had somehow made us all, literally, into tree huggers.  The funny thing was that it didn’t seem weird or uncomfortable, but somehow right.

The rich can always build another condo tower, but once something like Vale Encantado is gone, there isn’t another coming.  Ever.  It felt great to be part of this fight, even for a morning.