With a little bit of help from our friends

Dear all:

We launched a very successful  gofundme campaign 18 months ago when we first started our project in Ecuador called Mingas por el Mar and raised  $ AU 700 that we used to buy all the tools and things we needed to complete our beach clean ups, educational talks, murals and to provide some food for volunteers. Those funds have helped us run our project and we are so grateful to all the people who contributed to our cause.

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Last week we launched another gofundme campaign this time to raise some funds to get our new project going.

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This new campaign is aiming to raise $1300 AU to put together a one day event in Guayaquil which will provide a space for all the NGOs and initiatives in the country to come together and share with the community all their work.  It’s also a day to raise awareness about the importance of taking action for our environment and the centre piece of the event is constructing a big plastic mat made by people all over the country with a message of unity and working together. It’s going to be a day full of activities, talks, dance, art, music, yoga and much more.

What are the funds going to be destined for:

  • To pay for all the equipment: (speakers, microphones)to provide for the sound on the day ($400 US)
  • To pay for the printing of the photos for our photo exhibition and for all the materials to create an art instalment on the day ($200)
  • To pay for all the signage needed for the day ($150)
  • To pay for the tools and materials needed to put together the installation of the “big plastic mat” which will be the centre of the day.

This event is very important for us because it will help us raise funds for the rest of the year  to continue working on our beach clean ups and educational programs and we will also be raising funds to donate to a recycling project run by a foundation called Kahre which is helping the communities affected by the 2016 earthquake.

So far we’ve raised only 270 AU dollars out of the 1300 that we were aiming for ,so we need your help again. We were hoping to get some sponsors in Ecuador, but with the economic crisis that the country is going through, we haven’t been very successful there either.

If you could please spare some change and support our gofundme campaign , maybe share among your friends, we would appreciate it so much! I’ve shared the link of the campaign bellow. Thank you for following our journey and for all your support always.

https://www.gofundme.com/mingasporelmar

Isabel and Mick

Changes are coming..

In a couple of weeks I’ll be flying to Ecuador (solo, Mick will stay in Oz this time 😦  ) and although the main reason for this trip is to spend time with family and friends the other reason is a project that we’ve been working  on for the last few months called Ayni 11×11.

This Project was born with the intention of sharing with more people how to make our doormats and to be able to create the biggest mat made out of plastic bottle lids which will share  a message of unity, solidarity and positive change for our planet. We’ve put together a video explaining the process as well as many step by step posts  at .http://mingasporelmar.org/

At the end of my visit we’ll be organizing an event to showcase the mat and create a space for all the NGOs working in Ecuador to come together as well as local eco friendly products and alternatives, entrepreneurs and all the people and organizations working in the country to make positive change.  It’ll be a day of talks, ocean conservation, yoga, music, food and community.

There’s still a lot of work ahead but I’m pretty excited to try and make it all happen. I’m very lucky to have a great team of people in Ecuador with the same beliefs and motivation as me, helping along the way. We’ll keep you posted on how everything goes!

 

Beach clean ups and a bit more

The idea of doing the beach cleanup project started one sleepless night in May 2015. The first few months of us trying to get it started were frustrating and disheartening. It turned out to be very difficult to try and plan something months ahead and not actually be in the country for it. But as we got closer to the dates, everything started to come together.

First was my friend’s younger sister, called Cecilia, who got in touch with me and offered to join forces and help manage the facebook page. She was a godsend and was of great help.

Then a young artist called Luis wrote and said he would love to work on the murals that we wanted to do. He and his girlfriend, Maria Gracia, were really passionate about the environment and Luis even offered to start running our instagram page.

Cecilia, Chechi, had some old classmates that run a website about travelling and adventure in Ecuador called Heroe 593 and they said they wanted to support us in any way they could and started to promote our beach clean ups and thanks to them we really got more people showing up and more people getting to know our project.

Rafael had helped Chechi in a previous clean up by donating the sacks in which we collected the rubbish and he committed himself in offering his full support in everything he could. So little by little we got a small team of people ready to get their hands dirty and help us out for our month long project in January.

The first clean up was the 2nd of January, and being so close to the New Years Day holiday, not many people showed up. All in all we were around 20 volunteers,  that included my uncle Andy , aunt Carmen and cousin Stephen, who helped us a lot, my mum came to give us a hand, Chechi and her family, some of the Heroe 593 crew and also my dear friend Genoveva, who was visiting from Canada and came along with her partner and son.  We cleaned the beach for three hours and in a very short distance we collected over 238kg of rubbish. We really enjoyed the day though and felt good to have accomplished so much with so few hands.

At the end of the weekend we came back to the boat to check that everything was ok. That was one of the hardest parts of the month as we had to travel all over the coast to organize the clean ups while our boat was left alone at anchor. Luckily we found a nice “marinero” from the Yacht Club who looked after our boat while we were away in exchange of 10 dollars a day.

After relaxing a few days we were ready to hit back the road and go to our next clean up, this time in a small town called Engabao but by that Monday everything started to change. Apparently our project had reached the ears of the Ministry of Tourism and it also had coincided with the President of the country saying how terrible and dirty the beaches were during his weekly speech. From that Monday on, our phone wouldn’t stop ringing, different people from the government wanted to get in touch with us and offer us their full support. It was all a bit overwhelming and confusing as we didn’t really know what to expect.

That same week, before getting to Engabao in Playas, we were asked to stop in the main city Guayaquil to give a press conference about our project and we were guided by all these people from the government specifically from the tourism ministry. That same day that we had the press conference, we went back to the government offices and had a skype call with the minister himself and he said he would join us in our next clean up in Engabao.

From that meeting to the actual day of the clean up, a lot of things started to happen. The media got involved and one channel in particular were promoting our project as if it was their idea and inviting all the country to come on Saturday. This made us worried because we didn’t want the clean ups to turn into a show, where people just go to have their photo taken and don’t even understand what they are there for. The government has done that in the past. They’ve organized an event called Playaton were thousands of people go to the beach one day a year to clean up but they arrive and leave without learning anything about it.

We were very specific about what we wanted our message to be. This was an initiative from common people and we wanted to let everyone know, that we can all make change, so we were a bit worried about having all this attention from the government now and misleading our main message. We were also adamant about keeping it low profile, having a plastic free event and focusing on educating people about the plastic pollution issue instead on having a big scale show.

The Friday before the clean up the minister of tourism agreed to have a meeting with us from Mingas por el Mar and all the other people that had been working on small projects along the coasts. We invited a few of our friends, Paula from Mi playa Limpia and July and Cesar from Montanita and it was a hopeful meeting to gather ideas on what to do and how to go about improving our beaches and keeping them cleaner. We left the room feeling hopeful.

Unfortunately the next day wasn’t as successful as the night before as it kind of got out of hand. It was a complete show. We had TV stars, all the media there, the minister, who did work hard cleaning up but then all kinds of political groups just showing up and picking up one thing for the camaras.  There were people from the media giving free plastic water bottles to the tv stars, and there was a lot of people there, but a lot of them were there to see the starts and just watch, nothing else. So although we picked up 434 kg of rubbish, we were left a bit shaken and not that happy about this so called “support” we were getting.

That Monday we had a meeting in the government offices with the people from the ministry of tourism and the ministry of the environment to try and gather ideas on how to improve the situation on our beaches. We also use the opportunity to tell them what we didn’t like about the last clean up and hoped that by the next one it would be a bit better and luckily it was.

The next clean up was in Salinas. We were there a few days in advance and like in all the different places we visited, we did a few talks in schools and got everything ready for the day. This beach is called Mar Bravo and is never visited by tourists because it has really rough waves, so it gets a lot of rubbish washed out from other beaches and it never gets cleaned. For us, this was the best clean up we had. We had a good group of people turned up. We didn’t have the TV stars anymore but some of the media did show up to cover the day and everything worked well. All the volunteers worked together, the trucks were there at the right time to take the rubbish to the dumps and we picked up 499kg of rubbish.

The following week we visited Montanita, which is one of the most touristy towns along the coast. We visited the school and showed the documentary in two different venues but this clean up was a bit disorganized as well. We had the association of beach vendors all going out to clean earlier than what we asked to, with their own plastic bags, not separating the rubbish and even just bringing their own home rubbish to leave at our pile. At the end of the day we had much more work separating the rubbish and the truck that was supposed to come at a certain time, never showed up so they gave us a little car to take all the rubbish to their dump and didn’t want to recycle all the glass bottles we had separated. This clean up we picked up a total of 392 kg of rubbish and we were glad when we were finished.

The last clean up was in Ayampe. We were so glad to be there as this place is one of my favourite places in Ecuador. We didn’t get to visit any schools because all the schools were finished for the year but we did show the documentary and did a short talk the night before the clean up. This clean up worked really well. We had a lot of volunteers showed up and the whole town came to clean the beach with us. We ended collecting 246 kg and the difference of weight wasn’t in the amount of rubbish we found but because we didn’t find much glass on this beach. We also worked on a mural and it turned out great. This being our third mural, we did it in less time and much more efficiently. We also left a mural in Engabao and Montanita.

Looking back on the whole experience it was a crazy but very successful time. When we had the idea of doing this project all we really wanted was to get people motivated, to change that attitude we seem to have now more than ever, of watching our lives through screens and feeling that with a like or a comment we are creating change. We wanted to make people understand that change happens when we act and that it is in our power to make things happen.

It gives us great sense of achievement that our project got lots of attention and got people to start noticing the rubbish on our beaches and maybe even encourage some of them to pick it up. That for us is very promising and gives us hope that there can be change.

On the other hand, our experience during this whole month was also shocking and an eye opener. We got to see first hand how the government operates, how disorganized they can be and realizing that there is so much to be done in Ecuador in order to get this problem a bit better. We also felt like we were out of our depth when having to manage a group of volunteers and having to make all the big decisions as well as answer questions that maybe we weren’t that prepared for like : How do we go about solving the waste issue in Ecuador?

 I can honestly say that the whole experience left us feeling a bit deflated  but luckily before we left we were able to leave behind a well established group of volunteers lead by Cecilia who will continue to do beach clean ups every month and visiting beach towns and schools around the country. Although we won’t be physically there, we’ll still be in touch and seeing that it  runs well and we will continue doing our part wherever we go, picking up every bit of plastic we see, refusing as many plastic products as we can  and doing our doormats with the bottletops we find along the way.

If I have to pinpoint one thing that this whole experience taught me was that when you believe in something strong enough and you’re determined to make it happen, it will happen. And I believe strongly in these words of Margarete Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful commited citizens can change the world. Indeed , it is the only thing that ever has.”

 

September

Two days after transiting the canal I left for Ecuador. One of my good friends was getting married so I found a cheap plane ticket and decided to go and be there for the wedding. Before leaving, we moved the boat to the other side of La Playita, to an anchorage called Las Brisas. This is the anchorage you’d like to be if a) you are on a tight budget and b) you are fit enough to climb into some dodgy docks. In La Playita you have to pay $35 dollars a week to dock the dinghy in the marina. We found that those 35 dollars were better spent on paw paws and bananas then on dinghy fees and that’s why we moved. See photos below to understand what I mean about being fit…

I had a great time in Ecuador; spent time with my family, went to my friend’s wedding and got to wear some borrowed high heels that I couldn’t walk with, and that’s why instead of dancing all night, I spent most of the time sitting down but completely impressed by the shoes the other girls were wearing and the amount of makeup they all had on! The bride was beautiful and I was so glad to be there to see them get married.

I was also there for International Coastal Clean Up Day, so we got together with Paula, a friend that is starting her own project called Mi Playa Limpia and we cleaned up a beach called El Pelado with the help of some volunteers from the Red Cross. This, I did the same day of the wedding, so it ended up being a huge day for me.

Thanks to Cecilia, my friend that is helping me run the facebook page for Mingas por el Mar and also is organizing other beach clean ups in Ecuador while I’m not there, we got to visit a university called Universidad del Pacifico, did a small talk and presented the documentary Bag It. This was my first time ever talking in front of university students and it wasn’t as daunting I as I thought it would be.

Mick spent the 10 days I was away working madly on the boat. Getting around Panama City is easy enough, but it’s still a big city and going into town is always a mission. We got the metro/bus card and with it you can get onto the metro bus and the metro for 25 cents and 35 cents each ride, so it’s really convenient.

I got back to the boat reenergized but found a demoralized and tired Mick. We then spent the following week going to the supermarkets and the market to buy the last of our food shopping hopefully for the year. Ecuador is getting expensive because of the government’s ban on importation and some products are difficult to find. Then once we cross the Pacific, prices are going to double up, so Panama is the best place to stock up for the boat.

During our last days in the city, I got to see an old friend of mine, Santiago, who is Panamanian but lived in Ecuador while studying his university degree ten years ago. He’s now married and has a beautiful 18 months old boy. We had lunch with him one day and he helped us by getting us to a different supermarket to finish our food shopping.

 I also got to meet Ilona, who is sort of an aunt on my mum’s side. She’s Ecuadorian but has lived in Washington DC for the last 25 years. She’s recently moved to Panama City with her husband and youngest son and we got to have lunch with her one day and see the ruins of Old Panama. They were so nice to invite us over for dinner on our last night there and we had a great time getting to know them.

Last thing to sort out was our auto pilot panel which got too wet in Bocas and isn’t working properly anymore. We had to order the part but instead of waiting more days in the city we decided to go explore a little.

Saturday morning we left Las Brisas and headed to Taboga Island which is the nearest island from the city. The place was beautiful and when we arrived there, around 9am we were the only boat there. But by 12 pm , there were like 10 boats and all playing different music, with people dancing, singing, and having fun. We were so tired, that we were happy to just sit around the cockpit, jump in the water and observe the party people around us.

The next morning we sailed to Las Perlas Islands, which lay 30 miles from Panama City. We arrived at la Isla Contadora around 4pm and before we reached our anchorage it started to rain. We looked up and saw whales. There was a mother and its calf lifting their tails, jumping and swimming around the boat. It was a great welcoming sight to the islands.

Isla contadora is the most developed island of Las Perlas. It has several houses and resorts, so in the morning we walked around the island, explored a little and the next morning we sailed to isla Espiritu Santo. It was a nice sail and we saw a few more whales, not quite as close as the one on the first day, but still nice. The area is full of life, lots of bait fish around and it’s just so stunning. When we arrived at Espiritu Santo we thought we were definitely going to be the only boat around but to our surprise there was not only another boat but two.

We soon realized one of the boats was Manfred’s, a nice German, solo sailing, that we met before crossing the canal and that had left Panama City a couple of weeks before, planning to stop in Las Perlas on his way across the Pacific, but he hadn’t managed to find any good weather to start his passage so was still at Las Perlas. The other boat was a couple from Canada who have been living in Panama for a few years now and come to Las Perlas to spend a few weeks away from everything. There were really nice too.

We ended up staying 3 nights in Espiritu Santo. It was an amazing area, so peaceful and green, with fresh water streams and empty beaches. The sad thing was the amount of rubbish on the beach. We think it was due to the recent full moon and the big tides, because there was so much of it and it was stinking muddy plastic pieces that looked like they had been under the mud for a long time up a river or somewhere and just came out due to the big tides. We picked up so many bottle tops and they have been the hardest ones so far to get clean, really disgusting!

After those nice relaxing days, we sailed back to Contadora area and while we were passing one of the islands, we saw a familiar boat anchored; it was our Irish friends, Amy and Shane, that we had met before crossing the canal. We were so happy to see them, so we pulled next to them to say hi and talked for a bit. We said we would continue on to Contadora to check internet there and would be back at the end of the afternoon to have a proper catch up. We were so disappointed when we were back at the end of the day and Amy and Shane were gone! (Apparently it got really bumpy so they decided to move on and sent us a message that we never got, so we were so sad to have missed them and it remained a mystery what had happened to them!)

We spent a few more days in Las Perlas, moved to another little island for the last two nights, saw a few more whales and decided to go back to Panama City and hope for the best about our parts.

At the end, everything worked out really well. We only spent three days in the city, picked up our part and did some more shopping. It was good to see Manfred (the German solo sailor) again; he had found a French couple with sailing experience that wanted to cross the pacific with him so we got to say good bye to him, knowing that he was now fully ready for his passage. On Saturday 17 October we left the city for Santa Catalina.