Viva Vega Alta!

big ceiba

The mighty ceiba tree is not supposed to be blooming.. but the climate is changing.

On Day 3 of my trip to Ecuador, we drove up from the watery coastal towns of El Oro province to spend the night in Loja Province, in the crackly dry forest town of Vega Alta on the very border of Peru. The environmental contrast was stark, particularly as this was the very end of the dry season and every blade of grass seemed dry as kindling.


Water, water — almost nowhere, barely enough to drink.

 Our host family, headed by Rosanna Apollo, is part of 26 families (most of them related) that live in this sparsely populated town where land is plentiful and cheap, and goats outnumber people by about 30 to 1. young goat Rosanna and her granddaughter Cecilia cooked us a beautiful lunch…

Simple .. and sensational.

  …then we walked to her brother Santos’s house and up, up, up through the dry forest to see the town water supply and irrigation well that Heifer has helped to provide.

The Santos boys walking through the dry forest.

The Santos boys walking through the dry forest.

The challenge in Vega Alta is water, pure and simple. These woods used to boast millions of hardwood trees, before agricultural clear-cutting and burning stripped the mountainsides up to the very summits.

(You can see the burning hillside on the left.)

(You can see the burning hillside on the right.)

Heifer’s agro-ecological project in Loja will include training 600 families to cope with ever-diminishing water supplies by undertaking irrigation projects, planting trees, diversifying crops, and managing soil moisture with crop rotation, organic fertilizer and mulching.

cleraing the pipe

Santos’s son Alexis clears the irrigation pipe.

Caritas Allemagne, a Catholic charity, built the big irrigation system that provides metered water for 60 Vega Alta families from a source 13 km away, but it’s the small irrigation pump that Heifer invested in and 60-year old Santos put in himself that has created a small garden of Eden here.irrigation star

Santos showed us papaya, lime, lemons, sour oranges, cacao, coffee, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, beans, bananas, guavas, peppers, passionfruit, achiote, and yucca that were all thriving under the soft rain of sprinklers from his Heifer irrigation pump.

Achiote, also called the "lipstick tree" produces seeds that are used in food coloring.

Achiote, also called the “lipstick tree,” produces seeds that are used in food coloring and flavoring.

With irrigation and the manure from his goats, Santos has increased his farm’s production by 300%  –and that’s no small potatoes.

fresh papaya

Heifer’s Leonardo Mendieta samples the luscious papaya.

As the dry forests across Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador grow ever drier and water grows ever more precious, Heifer irrigation & agro-ecology and Heifer livestock may well make the difference between children here eating .. or not. Alexis, Darling & goats

That night, after we ate a beautiful meal of vegetables and fruit, (but went without a shower because there was no way we were going to use more water), I had my computer open to show everybody their photos, and Rosanna and her family began looking over my shoulder at the photos of farmers around the world. Rosanna & parrot

They were so intrigued to see the crops people were growing in Haiti, in Cameroon and in Vietnam (it seems everybody, everywhere grows cassava)…cassava!

… and they could see that they were hardly the only poor people working hard in the world. They asked a hundred questions about the people they saw in my photos…

They all liked her face .. and her hat... and her giant Black Tiger Shrimp!

They all loved Trinh from Vietnam — her smile, her hat… and her giant Black Tiger Shrimp!

…and once again I cursed myself for being such a language laggard, and thanked heaven (and Heifer) for Michelle, my awesome translator. As we fell asleep that night on their beds they’d generously offered us, we prayed we wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the black night to use the dry latrine out back (another Heifer innovation!) and that their pet parrot would clam up until dawn. aw geeOur prayers were answered! And in the morning– after a beautiful breakfast that was 10 times what we could eat —

corn cakes…the hardest thing was saying goodbye.bye bye

But I know these folks in Vega Alta are in good hands with Heifer folks like Leonardo Mendieta to look out for them.

Arcela (Rosanna & Santos's sister), Leonardo and her baby goats.

Arcela (Rosanna & Santos’s sister), Leonardo, and her baby goats.

And I’ll just pray the rains will come.

Miguel Santos - my hearthrob!

Miguel Santos – my hearthrob!


Categories: Agriculture, Ecuador, Environment, Farming, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Viva Vega Alta!

  1. Merry Christmas Betty! Thanks for your trips n posts! So many smiles :)))!

  2. Cindie

    How poignant that the Ecuadorians could see families in other countries who face similar challenges. You said they were surprised. I wonder what else crossed their minds.

    I am going to MISS your blogs. Please figure out something else to do to stay in touch with your avid fans!!

    • I’m thinking on it !! So happy you’ve liked my posts and WOW has it been a year of experiences. I feel so lucky … and yes, they were moved and touched (and worried) about other people, particularly when I relayed some of their stories — people who had lost children in war, or had troubles with their health… we stayed up way past their bedtime (usually at nightfall) looking and talking. I love being int he community overnight because you have a totally different kind of connection, in the people’s homes and with the family. Boy, am I going to miss THAT! Merry Christmas, Cindie!

  3. Jean Are

    Thank you again, Betty, for this year’s stories. And thanks to all the farmers around the world who so graciously allowed us to peek into their lives. We are all the better for having visited them . . . through you.

  4. Meredith

    you have shared such wonderful people with us, Betty, thank you! Do you know how long it takes for our gifts to get to a family?

  5. Merry Christmas to you too, Betty! Ah, such beautiful photographs of so many beautiful people!

    • The people I’ve met are so lovely it’s almost impossible to take a bad photo of them! But thanks for the wonderful compliment & I’m so happy you’re reading!

  6. Martha Radatz

    How is the climate changing there? Less rainfall? Warmer weather?
    Are the goats also from Heifer?
    Thank you, as always, for your post!.

    • Some of the goats are from Heifer (about 177 in the project) but since the people have large herds and having been breeding them forever, and they allow them to roam for their food — they certainly don’t need MORE goats eating the vegetation. The weather is getting drier, as it is in most places that are already dry… Thanks, Martha, for being such an engaged reader!!!

  7. Another great post. My fave photo is the one of the goat.
    What did you eat for lunch? Are those yams? yummy…

    We all have to start looking at our water supplies. NOW. Before it’s too late. I live in southern California – a semi desert area where our water has to be piped in for hundred of miles – yet everyone waters their lawns without a care.

    • Thanks, dear Rosie & Happy Holidays!! I loved that goat too — what a curious pose, right? They actually cut their big floppy ears to identify their own goats, which I thought was pretty extreme. Ouch!!! I agree about the water conservation completely — I’ll never forget when I lived in Colorado and we had draconian water restrictions, even back in the 80s …. really severe… and then I went to Phoenix, which is 3 times drier, and those creeps were all watering like crazy — every single day!! — and it was all with water coming from …. Colorado! It’s time for a BIG wake-up call on water!

  8. Merry Christmas Betty! Thank you for promoting joy and peace every day! Beautiful post.

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