“Water runs to the sea. If an obstacle — such as a dam or a levee — prevents water from flowing where gravity would send it, then the water’s mass and potential energy builds. The greater the force applied in an effort to block water from its natural flow, the greater will grow the mass of water so blocked, and the greater will become the potential power of its energy.” RISING TIDE – John M. Barry
El Matal/Jama – Ecuador) A week ago friends visiting from the UK said that they’d like to visit Jama again, and asked if I’d like to go with them.
“Of course!” I beamed, and we enjoyed a mini trip to Jama, Casa Loca and El Matal. John and his brother Barry experienced Manabi Province’s breakfast of encebollado (Yum yum!) then willingly participated in a late-morning Playamart shopping spree. They not only are great Playamart shoppers but are also great set designers as well!
I rewarded my assistants with a second culinary experience of the day – Corviche, which is a bit like a hushpuppy made from grated green plantains with a fish or shrimp-filled center. At fifty cents each, the just-made finger-sized fritters made the perfect appetizer to sustain us until our late-afternoon seafood dinner at El Matal.
After the corviche break, we switched beach locations and drove to nearby El Matal. I warned my friends, “You won’t be getting a tranquil Playamart shopping experience here. What we experience will not be pretty.”
Along the road in front of the restaurants, I spotted one friend and asked my travelmates to lower the window and ask if she knew Lisa. She began to reply then spotted me, smiled and then burst into tears. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “This is not a good sign.”
Barbara and I had been there a month earlier, but I was shocked at the accelerated beach loss as we approached the Coco Beach entrance. As with the month earlier, I fought back tears and worried about those who lived at the front line. A visceral sommersault wrenched my stomach. The sculpted entrance was gone, palms were gone; the ocean had resumed its assault on the front line and was working its way up the beach. Bright sunlight came through areas that were once shrouded with palms.
I have often said that I am grateful to have grown up where I did – along the mighty Mississippi River, and my life there helped prepare me for life along the Pacific. I am also so very grateful for John M. Barry’s book, RISING TIDE – The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America. (Touchtone Copyright 1997) As I continue to witness the struggles between property owners, the municipality and the Great Ocean, I am often reminded of Barry’s powerful story. The book, surely read by most who have experienced a Mississippi River flood, tells how tensions continued to build as relentless weather and rains pushed the floodwaters higher and higher against a weakening levee system. The ‘Flood of ’27’ overtook the levee in the unique portion of the Mississippi Delta of my childhood, and all floods after that were compared to the one that my father and other locals often recalled.
“THE CREVASSE WATER FIRST ENCOUNTERED THE GREENVILLE PROTECTION LEVEE DEEP INTO THE NIGHT. ‘THE WATER WAS JUST ROLLING, LIKE AN OCEAN WAVE,’ SAID LEVYE CHAPPLE, A LEADER OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY WHO WAS SACKING THE PROTECTION LEVEE. IT STRUCK THE WAY THE SEA STRIKES AGAINST ROCKS, WITH VIOLENCE, ROARING, SHOOTING UP WAVES 12 AND 15 FEET HIGH, JUMPING OVER THE LEVEE, SWEEPING AWAY SANDBAGS, BACKING UP AND RISING HIGHER….” “FINALY, AS THE LEVEE GAVE WAY, HE SHOUTED, ‘EVERYBODY RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” RISING TIDE – John M. Barry
Over the past year as El Matal lost more and more beach, the fishermen weren’t so quick to smile or pose for photos like they once did. They stared soberly at the crashing waves that took more beach with each hit. Witnessing that change in psyche often made me angry when I pondered those who had said there was no crisis but just a few people worried about their pools. First-hand reports from those who are noting the changes on a daily basis trump feedback from those who are judging from afar.
While I was recovering from dengue and chikungunya in June of this year, I visited El Matal several times. The rocks on the lower and middle areas of El Matal appeared to have changed the personality of the waves, which slam and then ricochet back to sea, pulling sand away from the beach as well as sending another force of water ripping to the north. The rocks continued to shift and settle and slowly sink into the sand, and the municipality continues to repair the damaged areas.
The sand bags have done exactly what Daniel Santana said they’d do; they bought 18 months of time, and unlike the rocks, they have held up against the force of the waves. Those 18 months were to ‘buy time’ until a more permament soution could be implemented, and those who were in a position to help seemed to have dropped the ball countless times. Engineer Santana also said in the public meeting that the problem was ‘muy grave,’ and work needed to be done as soon as possible.
Although I am back in the cloudforest, each morning when I awaken, my mind’s GPS is tuned to El Matal. I think about my friends and wonder how the ocean altered their vanishing front line in the night. I wonder if they slept at all, or if they paced the floor and dared to face the ocean during the subtle light of the waxing moon.
I think about beautiful Pat, and just a coconut’s toss up the beach, equally-beautiful Linda, both standing vigil through the night in valiant and intrepid fashion. There are Lesli and Becky, who have opened their home to me countless times and even drove to my house almost a year ago when I was sick and demanded, “Pack your bags and come stay with us until you are better.” Their dramatic introduction to Mother Ocean’s wrath began almost two years ago, and the post “It’s Devastating” continues to be one of the most-read posts on my site. They stood valiant even when some said there was no problem or when others criticized them for their attempts to stop the erosion and to begin rebuilding the beach. Now there is little beach left, others are witnessing what my friends have been facing, and tensions are rightfully frail.
Even though I have no property at El Matal, I care about those on the front line, present or absentee, and I care about the fishermen, the restauranteurs, the hostal and tienda and shrimp-lab owners. As with many, I remain baffled why the municipality seemed to ignore Engineer Daniel Santana’s 2014 advice to take action ‘now.’ The sand bags worked, and they worked well, as illustrated in front of the Coco Beach homes and also temporarily in front of Restaurant Punto Victor. A local said to me, “But the municipality tried the bags on the lower end, and they did not work.”
I replied, “No, they did not, because they were filled with bag-destroying lastre!” The rough shards of rock ripped through the bags almost as fast as they were slammed by the next set of waves.
The new mayor was elected, and we hoped for more visible support. A year ago the mayor (Alcade Angel Rojas) met with a a group of concerned locals, but aside from a malecon of rocks that the ocean devours and spits back in new places, it’s down to sudden death. Hopefully this past week has brought new hope to the ones on the front line, and perhaps the ocean will grant them a little more grace period. (If there are any benefactors in the room, the locals would gladly rename the beach in your honor if you’ll fund the Geotube project.)
“WHEN THE FIRE WHISTLE BLEW, THE PERCYS KNEW WHAT IT MEANT. EVERYONE IN GREENVILLE (MISSISSIPPI) KNEW WHAT IT MEANT.
⦁ IN THE DARKNESS OF EARLY MORNING, IN HIS VAST QUIET HOUSE, LEROY PERCY HAD TO FACE THE GREAT DISASTER HE HAD ALWAYS FEARED AND FOUGHT TO PREVENT. NOW IT HAD COME. IT THREATENED TO END THE LIFE HE HAD KNOWN, END THE LIFE HE HAD TRIED TO BUILD, NOT ONLY FOR HIMSELF, BUT FOR ALL OF THE DELTA. THE RIVER WAS SEIZING THE DELTA BACK. LEROY WAS SIXTY-SEVEN YEARS OLD, BUT HE WOULD CONCEDE NOTHING YET, NOT EVEN TO THE RIVER. AT WHATEVER COST, HE WAS DETERMINED TO PRESERVE WHAT HE HAD BUILT.” RISING TIDE – John M. Barry
I hope to see you soon, my friends at El Matal. Hang in there. Z
(The internet this afternoon has been off more than ón´and I worked until the battery failed. Am now at a cybercafe and have just learned of the hurricane in the Pacific about to slam Mexico. To all affected, I join others with concern) From Mindo Ecuador, Z