Day 163 in Ecuador
Living in Los Bancos gives one a glimpse of the overwhelming power of nature. Simply step fifty meters off the main street into the wilderness. Twisted ridged trunks rise on all sides like the pillars of an ancient atrium. From the thick, pulpy layers of decay covering the earth vegetation erupts and cavorts in confused tangles of vines, ferns and enormous leaves. The cycle is constantly renewing. Layer upon layer of dead leaves and humus fertilize the trees, which become wrapped in blankets of clinging moss and strange fungi. The age-old and the budding new intertwine and grow below, above, within, one another. It is truly baffling trying to imagine how humans could have created a town in this place so firmly in the wild grip of nature.
Los Bancos is a testament to human persistence. The single road that leads through the town to the coast defies the will of the surrounding wilderness, carving a way for supply trucks, cement mixers, and tour buses. Roots and stalks and grasses reluctantly give way before barrages of excavators and steamrollers. The machines gain a little ground on the forest, enough to plant down some shops and houses, a school, a church. But the greater force is apparent. The elements always miraculously find a foothold in the smooth surfaces of glass, metal, and concrete. Nature is always trying to claim these foreign human constructions.
For this it is often easy to forget the Los Bancos is only a few decades old. New sidewalks are ceaselessly worn by the persistent rain, exposing pieces of rough gravel and earth, and leaving space for weeds and flowers to take root. Porous concrete buildings are clothed in moss and fungus in a matter of weeks from the humidity. Any untreated wood or cane is soon at the mercy of bright white and orange mildews, and rots within days. Much of the town has a certain overgrown quality to it. It is all one can do to keep the stalks and creepers from shooting up under the walls and invading the house. My leather shoes, if left for two days without use, will grow fluffy white beards of mold. Nature is eager to assimilate man-made things into its giant cycle of growth and decay.
This constant struggle is strange to me. Where I live in the U.S. nature keeps its distance. It is there at my convenience, when I want to swim in a lake or hike a mountain. It wields much less dictatorial power against the array of systems designed to render it harmless: cars, heaters, pesticides, varnishes. The elements flex their muscles every once in a while with the occasional snowstorm or heat wave, but it’s not a constant force to be reckoned with. I don’t have to think about brushing cockroaches out of my clothing, and keeping my electronics free of mildew.
Keeping the cloud forest out of my food, clothes, and house requires constant vigilance and effort. Never has it been so hard to keep the “outside” outside. The forests here are wilder, the bugs bigger, the rain more unrelenting, than anywhere I have ever been. It exemplifies for me the typical uncontrollable tropical forest. Huge and impenetrable, opposed to human design…
I know this forest, which seems so huge and eternal, is actually constantly threatened by drilling, careless waste disposal, and deforestation, but I like to think it holds a latent power that cannot be touched by beings so short lived and impermanent as ourselves. Romantically, I like to think that it will stay this way forever: always growing, never yielding, forever a part of the great “outside.”