Three years ago I wrote a feature article in Moonshine Ink (Feb 16, 2006) concerning a sustainable village in the heart of los llanos, the vast savannah drained by the Río Orinoco outside of Bogata. In this desolate climate and environment, a dreamer of dreams, Paolo Lugari, realized a sustainable community complete with solar and wind generated appliances, a tree resin tapping business (to be used in paints, glues, medicines, etc.,), and a hydroponic nursery.  The book, ‘Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World,’ written by renowned author and journalist Alan Weisman, recounts Lugari’s passion toward this project, revealing one man’s aspirations to build a sustainable community while inspiring the rest of us to reach for the stars. Last fall, ‘Gaviotas’ came out in a new 10th anniversary edition with an afterward by Weisman recounting the community’s evolution over the last decade.  

     Recently an email crossed my desk with the headline ‘Friends of Gaviotas Update.’ Not having realized I was a ‘friend’ I was nevertheless glad to receive the email and pleased to learn that Lugari’s dream had continued indeed, sustainably. Before I recount the update, I thought I might return to the original article to disclose the sense of what this isolated community looks and feels like.  

     Gaviotas…a tranquil village shaded by a forest of a tributary of the Río Orinoco and filled with flowers, bright melodious birds, and chattering monkeys. The people rise before dawn, topple out of their hammock or dorm bed and fresh from a solar shower and breakfast made at the community kitchen, bike to work. Examples of jobs include tinkering on engineering projects, tapping tree resin, teaching at the school, cooking in the solar kitchen, or bottling water into bottles that double as a children’s toy (stacked like Legos). Near the resident dwellings children play on a seesaw that powers a water pump that replenishes their school’s water tank while a path nearby leads to a community hall with a parabolic metal roof that deflects the sun. South of town, a tall pine forest towers over the savannah and in another area the landscape is dotted with tall windmills that resemble ‘bright aluminum sunflowers.’

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     Friend of Gaviotas Update: January 2009
     From Paolo Lugari: ‘For years, Gaviotas has been generating its electricity by means of a steam turbine running on wood culled from its forest. This year, the villagers have developed a novel fuel mix made of turpentine (distilled resin tapped from the pine trees in the forest) and plant oil (extracted from the fruit of the palm trees in the forest or from recycled cooking oil) that now runs all their diesel engines – electric generators, tractors, and soon trucks as well. All that was needed were stainless steel filters (developed in-house) to replace the regular paper oil filters in their engines. This new fuel mix doesn’t require any changes to the engines’ diesel fuel injection pumps.

      ‘Gaviotas features a community dining hall that is very popular with the villagers. Its kitchen makes about 200 meals a day. The massive cooking stoves have now been equipped with internal piping through which water is heated to near boiling and is then circulated without a pump, simply via natural convection (thermosiphon). This new heat exchange system replaces the 30 solar collectors that used to sit on the roof of the dining hall. The old collectors (also thermosiphon with no moving parts) are still in top shape, so they will simply get a new paint job and be sold for $1,000 a piece!

     ‘Biodiversity in the Gaviotas forest continues to increase. The villagers have planted a mix of pine and palm, and now fruit trees, and nature is adding the rest: hundreds of native plant and animal species are emerging that had not been seen on these arid plains in ages.’

     Attention Techy People! Check out the Friends of Gaviotas website (although the site isn’t very techy – they’re looking for website help) to download manuals of the double-action sleeve pump and tropical windmill. Also included are ‘living science’ models and videos of Lugari and Weisman.

     ~ For  information about Gaviotas, visit friendsofgaviotas.org. Discuss this article with the author. Email her at equesnel@moonshineink.com.

Author

  • Eve Quesnel

    Eve Quesnel has lived in Truckee for 35 years with her husband Bill, once-upon-a-time daughter Kim-now on her own-and many dogs through the years, currently a Border Collie-Aussi mix. Her favorite pastimes include walking in her neighborhood and nearby woods, hiking in the high Sierra, and reading and writing. Quesnel is now retired from teaching English at Sierra College in Truckee but continues to pursue several writing projects. She is intrigued by the natural world of which she explores and writes about for the column "Nature's Corner" in Moonshine Ink.

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