Mingas por el Mar Project in Ecuador

Imagine leaving your home country and migrating to a new place. Then returning full of excitement and hope but finding it full of trash, far worse than you could ever imagine. This is what happened to me in 2013 when I left Australia, where I’d been living for the last 9 years and returned to my home country Ecuador. My husband, Michael and I, spent 8 months here in 2013 and through the sadness and the frustration that we felt, an idea was born to start collecting plastic bottle tops and making mats and new things out of these to spread the message about plastic pollution in our oceans.

Mingas por el Mar is the name of our project. Mingas is an indigenous word that means collective work done for the benefit of the community and Mar means the Sea. With this project we’d like to motivate the Ecuadorians to take more action and take responsibility for the state of the oceans.

We’ve already been back in Ecuador almost a month and the campaign has already started. On 4 of December, we had our first visit to a little coastal town called Valdivia. We worked together with Javier who is a local biologist in charge of the Aquarium of Valdivia, the only place along the whole coast of Ecuador where they have basic means for rescuing marine animals. Javier is eager to create change in his community so it was of great help to us and we worked really well together.

We spent two days in Valdivia, the first day we visited the local school and did a talk to the year 9 students. Then later at night, we showed the documentary in the centre of town and we also had a display of our collection of marine debris. There were a few interested locals who came and asked us questions and enjoyed the documentary.

The next morning we did a beach cleanup. We had around 20 children from the town, 10 German volunteers that were working with Javier in the Aquarium from the organization called NGO Taxi and some other volunteers from Guayaquil and the surrounding towns.

Together we managed to collect around 56 sacks full of rubbish and 5 of these sacks were filled with recyclable materials. A lot of the rubbish collected comes from the fishermen that out of ignorance throw everything and anything to the oceans, but it also comes from tourists and from the same communities. Waste management is still a big problem here in Ecuador and the amount of disposable plastics being used every day is huge.

In addition to this, we were part of two fairs and one market in the city of Guayaquil, where we had a small stall with our mats and our collection of marine debris. We are trying to participate in as many things as possible because we want to spread our message loud and wide: we all need to be part of the change; we can all do something to improve this situation. We’ve also visited two universities and showed the documentary in the city’s museum of contemporary art “The Maac” and had a display of our “museum of marine debris” for people to understand through visuals our impact in the oceans.

During these two months that we’ll stay in the country we are planning to visit 6 different coastal communities and spend three days in each place, visiting schools, showing the documentary Bag It, doing workshops on how to create rubbish bins using plastic bottles, how to construct mats with plastic bottle lids and organizing beach clean ups involving the communities.

Starting the New Year, we’ll have a beach cleanup every Saturday of the month. The month of January is an important month because is the start of the “temporada” or the summer time in the country and also the start of the rainy season, so this is when more rubbish is produced and lots of it will end up in our oceans.

While we enjoy the Christmas holidays, we are trying to rest up and regroup as we know how busy this new year will be. We know, this is just a drop in the ocean, there are lots to be done, but if we don’t start somewhere, we will never accomplish anything. We have to start somewhere and this is our start, hoping that it will ignite change in the minds and lifestyles of many Ecuadorians.

I.M. Recycled video

We have been working hard this last week, putting together a short video of the process of making our doormats with bottle caps and why we make them. We’ve also added a new section on the blog called SHOP, where we’ll be uploading our new creations and there’s the option for buying our mats and we’ll ship them to you anywhere in the world. We’d like to share with you our new video, hope you like it !

Blame it on the moon

I blame it on the moon. That moon that when it’s full, fills us up with energy and keeps us awake at night. On one of those full moon nights in April, laying on my bed wide awake, with millions of thoughts in my mind, I had the idea, the idea of starting a project in Ecuador on our next visit.

This thought, which came to me in the middle of the night, has quickly developed into something possible and it’s keeping me quite busy these days. So, now I blame it on the project, my lack of time to write on the blog. Almost all of my free time has disappeared and is now spent planning and developing the project, contacting people, companies, trying to make it happen.

So what is this famous project about? We thought, why not try and make a bigger impact this time we visit Ecuador. Use all our friends and contacts and try to organize a beach clean- up; but not only a one day beach clean-up but a month long one, visiting different beaches and doing talks on our way. We’ve called it Mingas por el Mar. Mingas comes from the word Minka in the indigineous language quechua and it means a collective work done for the benefit of the community.

The project will happen during the month of January, when we’ll visit a different beach each weekend of the month and have a beach clean-up, inviting the whole of Ecuador to join us and help. We look to try and educate and show people how much rubbish there actually is on our beaches and to point out that we should all take responsibility for this problem. We may not be actually littering the beaches but we are contributing to this problem with the choices we make every day.

We’ve contacted four friends that live or visit these beaches often and they will be the ones helping us with the logistics, organizing and planning of the events. We’ve started a facebook page called “Mingas por el Mar EC” which will help us spread the word and will also work as a platform to share information about plastic pollution in our oceans and tips on how we can help. So far it’s worked really well and we’ve received good support from the people in Ecuador.

There are lots to plan, think through and get going, so things on our boat have changed a bit. The stress of getting internet more often has become apparent and (rare for me) I’ve been having trouble sleeping at night, with my mind being full of ideas. But I’m really passionate about this, I truly believe we can make a difference and at least share with people in Ecuador our message that every little bit counts and that we can all create positive change in this world.

At the same time that all of this is happening, our boat keeps moving. Ondular keeps getting us onto new islands and fresh adventures. We have done quite a lot and seen some beautiful places in the last month.

First we spent 5 days in Isle de Saintes. We didn’t plan to stay for that long, but the tranquil atmosphere and the picturesque town stole our hearts and we just had to stay. We spent the first night on a mooring in front of the main town Bourg de Saintes and moved the next day to Pain de Sucre, where we anchored close to shore. We spent our days strolling around town, eating baguettes and pain du chocolat and visiting nearby beaches.

We arrived in Portsmouth, Dominica on Wednesday 22 April after a pleasant close haul sail. We had good winds and were entertained for more than half an hour by an amazing bird that kept flying next to us and using our boat to wait for the flying fish to come out of the water and catch them. It was beautiful to see it wait and then dive into the water to catch the fish, later to come out and shake his wings to dry itself off from the water.

We spent exactly two weeks in Dominica. We loved it there, we loved how green and beautiful it is, and its people too, so friendly and warm. It’s like a natural botanical garden full of amazing exotic plants and flowers just growing everywhere.

We did a few different things while we were on the island. First we were able to volunteer again for Hands Accross the Sea. They needed some help cataloguing some books to get one of the libraries at one school up and running. We were lucky that Celia , the link for the organization on the island, offered to pick us up from Portsmouth and take us to the school. Celia is Dominican but spent most of her life in England and decided to return to the island to be close to her mum and to also live a more simple but richer life. We really enjoyed our day at the school, meeting Celia and interacting with all the children that came and helped. It was a great day.

The anchorage at Portsmouth was really rollie but it was so beautiful and there were so many things we wanted to see around the area that we endured it and stayed for a week. We met really good friends during our time there. Dubi, is an American/Israeli single handing, adventurer- sailor who was anchored right next to us and who we have become really good friends with. There were Doris and Hans, a couple from Switzerland who I’m sure will meet again as they are planning to cross the pacific at the same time as us and Michelle and Kathryn from France who were such a nice and happy couple, who loved tango dancing and Argentina and we really hope will get to cross paths again.

We joined an organized barbecue at a local restaurant, where all the cruisers were invited to. We met so many new friends and had a few laughs. We were sitting on a long table with people from Germany, Switzerland, France and Brazil and the drinks kept coming and coming. It was all good until we were ready to leave and the owner of the bar told us we owed 350 EC(that’s around $125 AU). Everyone thought, that all the extra drinks were included in the 50 EC that we had paid at the beginning of the night, but they weren’t. Next thing I knew, I was the only sober one and we had people arguing and screaming at the owner and I just kept thinking..this could go really wrong in a matter of seconds. So I stepped in and talked to the owner. Although I knew he was ripping us off, he was a local, we were not, so  I negotiated a price and we paid him some of the money and managed to leave in happy terms. Even though it had that bitter ending to the night, it was still a fun night that I will always remember.

We continued south to the capital city of Dominica, Roseau, because we had heard of this amazing and difficult hike to the second largest boiling lake in the world. We contacted Sea Cat a well known guide and Dubi joined us on the hike along 7 French travellers, most of them living in Martinique and just visiting Dominica for a few days. We started walking at 8 am and finished around 6pm. It was a long and arduous day but it was worth it. None of us had ever been in such an amazing place, walking along the valley of this live crater that has steam and hot springs all around. Then to finally arrive to the lake that is actually boiling and you can see how the water just moves and covers it all with steam, it was breath taking. We ended the long hike in Titous Gorge, a natural gorge that you can swim in and bathe under a water fall. It was such an amazing day.

We rested from the hike for a few days and continued south to the French island of Martinique. We arrived in St Pierre just in time for a holiday. In 1902, Mount Pelee , the volcano next to this town had a huge and destructive eruption. Despite several warnings, the mayor at the time, convinced the people that they weren’t in any danger because he thought it would be too costly to move all this people and evacuate St Pierre which in the time was the centre of the island and it was known as the little Paris. The consequences were devastating and 29,000 + people died, leaving only two survivors.  We happened to arrive only one day before the commemoration of this tragic event, but to our luck it was celebrated with beautiful life music in the main square and gave us the opportunity to see the people of the town all dressed up and gathered.

We have now arrived to St Anne. This is a busy anchorage; in fact, I don’t think we have ever seen so many boats all together in the same place before. St Anne is next to Marin which is the main yachting centre in Martinique with a few marinas and yachting services. We’ve ran into some old friends, Elaine and Roy from Paw Paw and we met their friends who are visiting them Dave and Karen. They invited us over to play a game of dominoes very popular on this part of the world called Mexican Train Domino and I’m happy to say that I was the champion of the night!(haha train up for next time guys!)

The moon is now in her wanning crescent state. From what I read on one of those moon cycle’s websites: “This is essentially the time to think about what has gone by and what has been done. This is a chance for you to tie up loose ends, and prepare yourself for a new beginning”. Writing this post is me tying up my loose ends, and preparing myself for what is yet to come.

Tomorrow we continue on to St Lucia but only for a night stop and will sail on to Wallalibou Bay in St Vincent. Then to the Grenadines and Grenada and then a longer hop to Bonaire (which usually takes 3-4 days). By then, the moon will probably be in her new moon state and it’ll hopefully help me to gather my strengths and face my fears to accomplish this part of the trip. So keep an eye on our journey and on the moon because whether you realize it or not, it always has a bigger impact on us than what we usually think.