Kasaguadua Nature Reserve - Living Symbioses


Touring Kasaguadua Nature Reserve
Kasaguadua is not a conventional reserve that isolates a slice of nature.  With its community of land stewards, eco-hostal and restoration projects, Kasaguadua encourages human participation in the ecosystem.  "The idea," says co-founder Nicholas Panayiotou, "is to see if we can coexist in an environment with minimal negative impacts."  Kasaguada, meaning bamboo house, refers to one strategy in this symbiosis with nature.

Bamboo geodesic dome, jungle edition

For structures the reserve uses bamboo to construct geodesic domes.  These 'sacred' shapes have no right angles or parallel lines, are incredibly strong, and enclose the most volume for the least surface area.[1]  They're also easy to construct -- inserting bamboo poles into the joints always results in the correct final form.  Most of all, the building materials are local and sustainble; the joints are recycled material and the bamboo is harvested on site and regenerates rapidly.  As Buckminster Fuller said of the domes he helped popularize:
All of humanity now has the option to 'make it' successfully and sustainably, by virtue of us having minds, discovering principles and employing them to do more with less.  [2]
Building bamboo geodesic domes.
Photo credit: Kasaguada Nature Reserve´s Facebook

Kasaguagua is 14 hectares of tropicandean cloud forest, with 7 streams that feed Rio Quindio.

Historically the region's slopes were thick jungle.  It was logged in the 1800´s, like much of Quindio province, and coverted to pasture for cheese and milk production.  Soil compaction and erosion followed, as did eventual climatic changes like less moisture and precipitation.  Beginning in 1960's these pastures were abandoned and are now in various stages of reversion to cloud forest.  The managers of Kasaguada purchased the land 15 years ago (long before Salento's tourism boom, for around $30k USD, said Nick) and earned natural reserve status 7 years ago from the environmental agency of the provincial government.

Grasses and livestock, invasive species
 that have replaced much of the region´s cloud forest

Restoration work includes overseeing the land's natural regrowth, as well as:
-Fencing out cattle to protect vegetation from grazing
-Removing garbage (part of the reserve was formerlly used as a dump site)
-Thinning invasive grasses to promote native tree growth
-Unblocking streams
-Planting 5,000 native trees

Communal kitchen designed to maximize interaction.

Nick introducing "Chinatown," a high-density stand of invasive trees.
 In time they'll be displaced by the Wax Palms slowly forming in the understory.
Memorable points from an informative tour
Cooperation, not Competition
Like the humans that live and work together at Kasaguadua, forests also abound with mutually-beneficial, symbiotic relationships.  For example Yarumo blanco trees have hollow trunks that shelter ant colonies, who in return protect the tree from pests.  Another example are the epophytes (i.e. "air plants" that grow in the canopies of other trees), which help attract beneficial birds and moisture in exchange for a sturdy home.  Occasionally they'll grow large enough to break the branch of their host tree, creating a gap in the canopy through which the host's offspring can grow.

Plants Communicate 
"The jungle has its own form of communication we're just beginning to understand," said Nick.  He shared the example of the laurel trees, which coordinate their "holidays," or dormancy periods, so that one drops its leaves while its neighbors can harvest the extra sunlight.


Timber Plantations: it could be worse
Pointing across the valley to plantations of eucalyptus and pine, Nick calms our fears of this seemingly destructive practice.  First of all, society needs timber and paper products, no way around it, so better they come from designated stands of exotic trees, rather than pristine native forests.  Also, the company in charge, Carton Colombia, uses nutrient injections so their trees take nothing from soil fertility.   The company also sets aside 30k of its 70k hectares as nature preserve.

National Pride or National Tragedy?
The nearby Valley de Cocora is heralded as an icon of Colombia natural wealth, a must-see for tourists and the most well-known location for wax palms (ceroxylon quindiuense), Colombia's national tree.  These tallest palms in the world tower above bare pastures, standing alone, illegal to cut, unlike the rest of the forest long-gone.  Yet soon they'll all be dead, and no new generation can replace them.  A proper, healthy place for a wax palm is peaking above the canopy of a dense cloud forest, seedlings sheltered and growing slowly in the understory below, like here at Kasaguadua.  According to Nick, they have an estimated 70,000 wax palm seedlings, just waiting for their time in the sun. 

Finance is not a fulfilling career, according to Nick who retired from the field, as well as the high-percentage of other travellers I've met in Colombia undergoing a mid-twenties crisis, searching for a more rewarding path.  Hope the rest of you find it, like Nick seems to have as manager of Kasaguada.

Pine plantation in Bogota´s Eastern Hills

[1] Geodesic Dome, wikipedia
[2] "Bamboo Geodesic Domes win the Buckminster Fuller Challenge,"  Arch Daily, Nov. 16, 2016
-Kasaguadua Facebook Page
-Kasaguadua website

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