The Andes through Caribbean eyes

Fernando Martirena    

The arrival at Guayaquil confused this traveler, who had expected to encounter Andean landscapes. Instead he encountered a strong costal accent, similar to what anyone would say of Caribbean cities. The high volume of construction made an impact, although the locals say that “this sector is somewhat low”.

The local contact was provided by Vicente Muñoz, a successful entrepreneur who embraced MCR technology since its beginnings, and today is considered as “the father” of MCR in Ecuador. His architectural enterprise builds houses of high standard, in many cases luxury homes, all roofed in capricious manner with MCR. In neighborhoods such as “Ceibos Nuevo” it is possible to really contrast MCR with other solutions available on the market, and its advantages are highly visible.

Soon we left for Riobamba over a serpentine route through the Andes, between traces of recent landslides and the persistent mist that makes travel it difficult and time-consumings. We passed banana and cacao plantations, then exotic African palms. The fragrances of the continent and the variety of plants impressed this islander, accustomed to the limited varieties of island flora.

From time to time, a majestic mountain peak would appear above a cloud. It is not possible to imagine how the local population can cultivate corn on the mountainsides with slopes more than 45 degrees. The mountains appear totally cultivated and well-groomed.

The arrival at Riobamba occurred four hours after leaving the heat of Guayaquil. In contrast we were received by intermittent rain, with temperatures close to 15 degrees Celsius. A traveler is immediately recognized in the Andes and this is not at all strange: the majority of the indigenous population is settled on the hillsides of the Chimborazo volcano. The colors of their clothing, their customs, their faces that appear carved from wood, their proverbial politeness, make this a special place.

In Riobamba the possibilities for work are ample. The “Techo Fácil” (Easy Roof) brand, with an energetic marketing approach, demonstrates that tiles are not only an emerging solution, rather they compete advantageously on the local market. An interesting marketing system for the product has been developed, in collaboration with local distributors that occupy themselves with the retail sale. The results leave nothing to be desired: dozens of MCR roofs, sometimes in natural cement, sometimes in “tomato” as red is called locally, sometimes in green; TMC roofs are gaining their place in the city.

The majestic volcanoes that surround the city provide a volcanic ash, that despite being a frequent bother to the inhabitants, it is the blessing so necessary for the indingenous people. It fertilizes their corn fields and, above all, provides gratis the best puzolana that one could ask for. The people at “Techo Fácil” lost no time, and began the production of CP-40 cement in a workshop that can be considered the best in all Latin America, for its tidiness, quality and efficiency. The blocks produced with CP-40 are sold widely in the area, where few know that more than 40% of Portland cement has been substituted with this alternative agglomerate.

In a landscape that appears to come from a postcard of the Swiss Alps, we encounter the rural village “Chambo”, where almost all the burnt clay bricks used in central Ecuador are produced. It doesn´t matter if it is a holiday, or Saturday, the women who are the main producers of bricks, shout at the cows to stir the mixture of clay and sawdust with which they make the bricks. At a distance one sees the columns of smoke and water vapor from the more than 150 brick ovens that function in the village. Brick-making is the main source of employment here, where the brick-making tradition is transmitted from generation to generation.

During the weekend a visit was organized to the communities on the hillsides of Chimborazo, where a successful program of breeding “cuy” (alpine guinea pig), known as the “sacred animal” in the indigenous culture. Sofecu organizes the women who are the principal breeders of “cuy” in order to improve the productivity. An interesting credit system has been established as an incentive to breed this animal. “Cuy pays for cuy” is the catch-phrase that is used in order to understand the advantages of the system. In this way it has been possible to improve in a significant manner the living conditions of many indigenous communities, whereby the cuy is the source of protein and income.

Not to ignore the official contacts. The EcoSouth Network organized a presentation at the College of Engineers to an audience of more than 50 professionals. The engineers listened, some incredulous, other with great interest, to reports of how one can organize the production of ecomaterials with suitable technologies. The talks were complemented with a visit to the “Techo Fácil” workshop where the main doubts could be eliminated in a practical manner.

Contacts were also made with authorities of the Polytechnical University of Chimborazo (ESPOCH) in order to explore possible future cooperation. This relation between universities is essential for the dissemination of eco-technologies in Ecuador, and this is well-recognized with the authorities of the ESPOCH.

Municipalities and governmental authorities are interested in the work of EcoSouth, among them the mayor of Guamote and the Vice-Minister of Housing of Ecuador. During informal talks the main activities of the EcoSouth Network in Ecuador and other Latin American countries were presented. The encounter with the mayor has brought about concrete actions in this municipality, specifically the production of ecomaterials.

The final days of the stay were passed in Quito, with contacts with local universities, participation of the visitor at the encounter “5000 years of architecture andina equinox march 2003”, whereby he shared the stage of orators with personalities from the field of Latin American architecture, among whom was the well-known Venezuelan architect Fruto Vivas.

It was a productive visit indeed. Many proposals surfaced for action or projects that would establish synergies between the work of CIDEM and the EcoSouth Network in Ecuador. One of them is to unify the experiences in brick production in Chamo, and the invetigation about efficient fired-clay bricks carried out by CIDEM appears to be an attractive project for the immediate future. To unite theory and practice permits cementing in a solid way the ancient tradition of brick producers, while taking advantage of modern scientific developments. To maintain tradition and preserve the environment are among the principal objectives of this project, still without a sponsor.

Fernando Martirena is a key EcoSouth expert and vice-director of CIDEM in Santa Clara, Cuba. He is also a post-doctorate Humboldt research fellow at the University of Kassel in Germany

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Víctor Martínez
Civil Engineer
MCR tiles, instruction, quality control, project management.


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