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Peribuela: A People and Their Forest
A Guide for Visitors

Produced by: CASA Inter-Americana

In Collaboration with: Jeronimo Ramos, Peter Shear, Jose Maria Chavez, Lola Maria

Written by: Angela and Richard Berkfield

Drawings and Photos: Angela and Richard Berkfield


  1. Introduction pg 2-3

  2. The Community of Peribuela pg 3-5

  3. A People’s History of Peribuela and its Forest pg 5-9

  4. Ecotourism in Peribuela pg 9-10

  5. Things to Do pg 10-13

  6. The Protected Forest of Peribuela

    1. The Chaparral pg 13

    2. The Forest pg 14

    3. The Paramo pg 15

  7. Inventory of Plants pg 16-24

  8. Inventory of Animals pg 24-26

  9. Inventory of Birds pg 26-29

  10. Bibliography pg 30

1. Introduction
Welcome! You find yourself in the community of Peribuela, which is located in the parish of Imantag, the county of Cotacachi, the Province of Imbabura, and the country of Ecuador. You have arrived at a very special place. Why is it important that you are here? You have made it to one of the last remaining sections of High Altitude Andean Forest, which is only found above 3,000m (9,000 ft). Here there are some truly unique plant species, especially trees, that aren’t found in many other places. Most notable are the ‘Guatze’ trees that are the symbol of this forest, the ‘Arrayan aromatico,’ a medicinal bush, and the ‘Mortino blanco,’ the mysterious white blueberry.
The community of Peribuela has been working together for the last few decades to protect this remainder of rare forest. This is not an easy job and your visit is helping them immensely. With your help they are protecting 330 hectares of forest, which borders the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.
The community has been working for many years to make their forest available to student groups, volunteers, and tourists, both national and international. Sharing the knowledge of the forest is important in protecting it and can potentially be a good source of income for the community if enough groups arrive.
This guide is intended to give you a diverse and inside look at the community of Peribuela and its forest. We compiled this information from community members, especially Don Jeronimo Ramos, from research that was done here in the forest, and from our own observations. The information is not exhaustive by any means, and is subject to change. Because much of the information is not scientific, you, the visitor, may find some information that can be modified. Please, make these changes, as we would like for this guide to be as accurate as possible.
We, the authors, aren’t scientists, or birders, or botanists, but we do have an interest in forests, especially their conservation, and in ‘ethnobotany’, the study of the relationship between plants and people. So in this guide there is quite a bit of information regarding the age old relationship of plants affecting people and people affecting plants. This relationship is one that has had and will have a huge impact on human beings.

2. The Community
Peribuela is home to roughly 450 people, living in around 60 houses, and covers an area of 395 Hectares. The primary language spoken is Spanish, although some elders speak Quichua. Most people are Catholic and, as there is no church here, go to mass in Imantag. The residents own and work the land here and also hire outsiders as laborers in the fields. There are daily buses to and from Ibarra, Atuntaqui, Cotacachi, and Imantag, but none that return home any later than 2 pm, making it impossible to work elsewhere without a personal vehicle.
The primary sources of income for the community are agriculture and animal husbandry. They grow several varieties of potatoes and beans, as well as barley, wheat, corn, cauliflower and onions. And most families keep horses, cows, pigs, chickens, and of course, guinea pigs. Some people have fruit trees: avocado, lime, orange, apple, and peach. An interesting fruit tree you will see here is the tomate de arbol or tomato tree, which produces a fruit similar to a tomato. This fruit is used primarily to make juice.
Poverty in Peribuela is on the rise as the population increases and the soil quality decreases. The intensive farming practices, for the purpose of selling in the market, leave farmers little choice but to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. One alternative to improving the soil quality is to rotate the crop planted in a field every three years, and also to leave fields fallow for a time. Even though you get a better harvest, only a few people are doing this. Another alternative is to use fewer chemicals and increase the organic pesticides and fertilizers, but only a few people are doing this because it is easier to buy chemicals than to prepare the organic mixtures.
Peribuela is lucky to have a good source of water for irrigating their fields. In fact, they used to have a surplus, which they shared with neighboring Imantag. But by 1995 Imantag was taking more than their fair share of the water supply and Peribuela took the issue to court. The governor of the Province tried to force Peribuela to sign a document giving half of the water the supply to Imantag, threatening imprisonment if they did not comply. Peribuela refused. Luckily for Peribuela, there was an election that year and the Governor was removed from office. The new Governor was sympathetic to the situation and helped Imantag and Peribuela to arrive at an agreement in ’96, guaranteeing half the water for Peribuela and half for Imantag.
In 1999, the Catholic Church helped the community to build irrigation ditches to bring water to the fields. They can now grow crops during the off-season to sell in the market when there is a short supply, and thus receive a higher price. To do this they plant at the end of the rainy season and use the irrigation to water the crops.
People grow a variety of plants in their gardens. Some are purely ornamental, but many of these are used medicinally to treat common ailments. They grow some herbs you may be familiar with like peppermint and aloe. There are also many local plants that are used for first aid and as primary treatment. In the plant inventory you will see that many plants from the forest, chaparral, and gardens are used medicinally. Plants play a major part in the health system of Peribuela. Only if a condition worsens, is the case referred to the hospital in Ibarra, which is about an hour away by bus.
Today there is only one curandero and one midwife remaining in the community. While many people use home remedies for their illnesses, some still go to the curandero when they have illnesses which don’t seem to have a cause. This natural and spiritual form of healing is a dying art here. Some women choose to be attended by the midwife in the community, but since many people now have cars, and since the midwife charges as much as the hospital ($30), the majority of women give birth in the hospital in Ibarra.
In Peribuela there is one primary school that goes up to 6th grade. The school has around 50 students and 2 teachers. It is part of the bilingual program that Ecuador has initiated in the last few years. The students are supposed to be learning both Spanish and Quichua, but unfortunately Quichua is not being taught. If the students wish to continue studies beyond 6th grade they must go either to Imantag, Ibarra, Atuntaqui or Cotacachi for Secondary Classes.
These days it is only those who don’t finish their high school diploma who stay in Peribuela to work the land. In recent years some young adults from the community have migrated to the cities for other work opportunities, such as teaching. Some people have even gone to Spain or to the US to look for work.
There has been a movement in Ecuador for women to form local organizations to address issues in their communities. For around five years there was a Women’s Organization in Peribuela. Unfortunately, it was brought to a close in 2002 on account of differences regarding a pig raising project.
There are still some cultural activities in Peribuela, but very few compared to before. There just isn’t as much time now. There was an old man up the valley who played the mandolin and he always invited the other villagers to his house for party, drink, dance, and food. But since he grew old and passed away there hasn’t been anyone to take up that tradition. Now there isn’t as much time for partying, one has to plant more and put more work into the field to get a good harvest.

3. A People’s History of Peribuela and its Forest
The origin of the name Peribuela is unknown by its current residents, but Ecuadorian University researchers have come up with a theory that is generally accepted by the locals. They believe that this area used to be covered in forest with an abundance of animals and birds. And so, the name came about as a combination of two words, pericos (small animals) and vuela (to fly) or Peri-Buela. By protecting the remaining forest and its inhabitants, Peribuela is staying true to its name.

Going back centuries…

The current residents of Peribuela don’t have many stories or much identification with the pre-Incan Caranqui or with the ancient Inca. Nevertheless, the people consider themselves indigenous. It can be surmised that going back 900 years the Caranqui lived on this very hill. There is evidence found around Peribuela in the 12 tolas, hills which were used as graves and/or ceremonial sites by the Caranqui. Tolas were popular for the Caranqui between 1250 and 1550AD.

Then came the Spanish conquest and along with it, the hacienda system. The exact Post-conquest history of Peribuela is unknown, as all records were destroyed in an earthquake in Ibarra about 150 years ago. However, around 200 years ago, an earthquake caused a massive landslide that left the obvious scar that you can see up on the mountain. The virgin forest to the left of the landslide was fortunate enough to be on the other side of a ridge and protected from destruction. That slide buried the original hacienda, killing many, destroying fields and forests. The location of the old hacienda site is near the entrance to the protected forest. Some old artifacts have been found as people plow the earth above the buried building.
Sometime after the first hacienda was destroyed, the land went into the hands of the state, and another hacienda was started in what is now the community of Peribuela. This particular hacienda was owned by the state and was rented out to different owners, usually of Spanish descent. The owner typically stayed for 9 or 10 years and then returned to Spain. Under this hacienda system, the foreign landowner used slave labor of the local indigenous people to farm the land, this system is commonly known as ‘huasipungo’. The land reforms of the 1960’s broke up many of these haciendas, giving land to the local people. Some of those people who had worked as ‘huasipungeros’ were given a small parcel of land as compensation for their years of service to the hacienda. In Peribuela there were only a few people who were given such land. Now all of these people who had worked as slaves on the haciendas in this area have passed away.
Recent History…

In 1960 IERAC (Instituto Ecuatorian Reforma Agraria y Colonizacion or Institute for Ecuadorian Agrarian Reform and Colonization) bought the land from the state. They administrated the land and provided the equipment and fertilizers, while the farmers who lived there provided the labor. After a time IERAC offered to sell the land to the workers. The workers did not have confidence that they could buy the land and did not form a cooperative at that time. However, there were people from outside of the area who came daily to work, who wanted to buy the land. These outsiders treated the farmers very poorly, and eventually the farmers decided to kick them out and to buy the land themselves.

Thus, in 1978 the 29 associates formed the OCAT cooperative (Organizacion Campesina Adjudecataria de Tierras – Organization of Small Landowners). On February 20th, 1978 in Quito, the cooperative members signed the necessary papers which would eventually make them owners of 1,060 hectares. The price for the cooperative land was 1,833,328 sucres, approximately $73,400, to be paid annually without interest. As part of the cooperative agreement, each family had 3 hectares of land to use for their house and their family’s food consumption. There was a fee of 2,000 sucres ($80) for each of these family plots. The rest of the land was worked cooperatively and the money earned was used to buy two tractors and to pay for the land. The cooperative associates worked together for 16 years to pay off the land and finally in 1994 it was theirs.
Those 16 years were not easy. During that time 3 different “ghost” cooperatives tried to take the land from OCAT and there were violent clashes. The first attempt at usurpation was when the cooperative was just forming. As mentioned above, a group of people from outside tried to take the land, weren’t welcome by OCAT associates, and were forced off the land. In ‘80, after OCAT was official, another “ghost” cooperative, Atahualpa, tried to take the land. And again in ‘86 another “ghost” cooperative, called “29 de Junio”, comprised of 300 mestizo and Afro-Ecuadorian members, tried to kick out the 29 OCAT indigenous farmers. They thought it would be easy based on the difference of numbers. On May 24th, ’86, Mother’s Day, while the women were all celebrating together, the men were locked in conflict with the “29 de Junio”. It was a violent showdown. Shotguns and machetes were threatened. The police from Otavalo were called to break up the violence, resulting in the imprisonment of some men from the other cooperative. Because the land was in the name of OCAT, they won the dispute. That conflict was the end of the problems with other groups trying to take over the land.
Finally in 1994 the land officially belonged to OCAT and they contracted a topographer (he charged $160), who helped them to analyze and divide the land amongst the cooperative associates. Each family was given around 7 hectares for farming. It was a just and fair distribution; although throughout the years there have been some land disputes between neighbors. When these border disputes happen, the community council is called upon to resolve the disputes and make a fair ruling. The council counts on its elected legal representative to handle these issues.
Once the land was theirs, OCAT changed from a cooperative to a “comuna” or community, comprised of 60 houses. Each family became responsible for working their parcel of land, but decisions are still made as a community, and as a community they are responsible to the municipal government. To receive municipal or NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) financial support they must operate as a community. Peribuela has a community council comprised of five members: President, Vice President, Legal Representative, Treasurer, and Secretary. These positions are elected every year, but the same person can continue on the council for more than one year, if chosen by the people. All community members over 18 years can vote and can be elected.
The High Altitude Andean forest was a part of this grand purchase. The community owns the land up to the limits of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. The community had planned to divide the 330 hectares of forest amongst its members, but never got around to it. Then in 2000 the DRI (Integral Rural Development) advised the community to protect the forest under State law so that it could be used for ecotourism. While ecotourism was the main reason for protection, there are other reasons as well - it serves to safeguard their water supply, and it is a valuable inheritance to leave for their children.
A Modern Perspective…

Looking back on the history of the area, it is amazing that the land is now owned by indigenous individuals. First, in the 1400s the Inca conquered the area and brought it under control of their Empire based in Cuzco, Peru. The people, native to this land, were at that time living a self-sustaining lifestyle and were forced by the Inca to change their ways and grow food for the Empire. Their sustainable lifestyle was disrupted because they were required to grow crops to trade for necessities. On top of that, the Incan Empire brought men from other regions of the Empire in exchange for the local men. This ensured that the communities would understand the ways of the Empire. It also disrupted the communities to control them more easily. It was a genius, if not ruthless, practice.

Then, after the Conquest of the Spanish in 1535, the people were enslaved to work on farms for the Spanish landowners. The Spanish brought cows to the Andes for the first time, and the local people learned how to take care of them, thus changing their traditional systems of livelihood once again. After centuries of this hacienda system, what happened to the identity of the people?
And now, four centuries later, they have emerged out of this system to buy back the land that once belonged to their ancestors. Yet, at the same time that they are gaining back the independence of land ownership and regaining some identity, the influence of the modern world has hit hard through radio, television, and consumerism. The youth aren’t so interested in the old ways. More and more manufactured food has shown up and less and less native vegetables and herbs are eaten. Youth are wearing clothes and imitating behaviors that they see on music videos of a culture that comes out of the gang ridden barrios of the big cities of Latin America. And violence and crime are making their way up into the mountains from Quito, especially as youth from the area migrate to the capital for work.
Life is changing in Peribuela, bringing new challenges. It is one thing to scratch out a living from the earth, especially on land that has been worked unsustainably for so long, but it is another to battle the influence of the modern world. However, there are remnants of hope that people will stay connected to their land. Young women are still using herbs for healing. There is an ancient forest that is protected. Hopefully the forest and plants will continue to keep the people connected to the earth for the health of their children and grandchildren.

4. Ecotourism in Peribuela
Before, people cut down the forest, or burned it, or took birds or animals. But now, as owners of the forest, Peribuela can demand that people respect the forest and don’t take any wood or animals from the forest. Things have been much better in the last 5 years.”

Jose Maria Chavez, President of Peribuela 2007

Throughout the years Peribuela has had many visitors, especially Ecuadorian student groups, thesis students, and a few international students, all people who are interested in the forest of Peribuela. However, it wasn’t until 1998 that an ecotourism project was begun as an initiative of DRI (Integral Rural Development) of Cotachachi/Imbabura. The project was begun as an effort to improve economic conditions of the community.
At the beginning of the project there was an analysis of the Native Forest, which was found to contain many species that were almost extinct, as well as a great variety of flora and fauna. DRI suggested that the community protect this unique forest. At first, there was a lot of effort to get the project off the ground, but the funds dried up, due to some misuse, and in 2003 the DRI project ended. By that time, due to the lack of visitors, community members were disillusioned with the idea of ecotourism, and the project was more or less dormant until the end of 2006. At that point CASA Inter-Americana (InterAmerican Center for the Arts, Sustainability and Action), a small NGO based in Cotacachi, began to work with the community on the project. Due to the involvement of CASA Inter-Americana, in January of 2007, the first group of foreigners arrived in the community. The efforts of CASA have energized the community members, who are now hopeful that in the future there will be more visitors to their community and forest.
The people in Peribuela want to help with the ecotourism project, but as they haven’t seen much concrete benefit until now, they are reluctant to put in the much needed effort and resources to attract more foreigners. Still, the locals participate in cultural nights, and work together when asked to come and help with cleaning, painting, and maintaining the hostel and trails in the forest.
Here, there isn’t poverty like in other places. We complain that we don’t have enough, but everyone works hard and things are better here than in other places. So, the people here don’t yet understand the benefits of tourism. There are only a few people here who think that tourism is important for the future of Peribuela. It is important to have ecotourism in Peribuela for the economic benefits, and also because we can learn from each other. The community has learned a lot from people who have come to visit Peribuela.”

Jeronimo Ramos – President of Ecotourism committee

5. Things to Do

  • In the Forest

In the forest there are several landmarks…
La Choza: a traditional Andean thatched hut which is used as an interpretive center. Growing close to the shelter you will find *Pigalan *Fucuna *Rosa *Aliso *Guatze *Pushingo *Juan *Santa Maria
Mama Piedra: “Mother Rock” - a giant boulder that was possibly used in Caranqui spiritual ceremonies. From this giant boulder you can find *Guatze *Sarcillo de Inca *Siempre Viva *Various Orchids *Laurel *Aliso *Woodpeckers *Andean Guinea *Tanagers *Turcasas *Waterfall (during the rainy season) *Andean Fox
Valley of the Orchids: There are three ‘Valley of the Orchids.’ The big one is to the north, directly below the landslide on the edge of the pine forest, the second biggest is near Mama Piedra, and the smallest is in between the others. These big open areas are beautiful, both for the orchids, of which there are hundreds, and the vantage point you gain. From here, you can have a good look at the mountain above you, the forest around you, and the spread of the valley below.
Orchids bloom throughout the year, but peak in May and June. There are many ‘Guaminse’ orchids, which flower all year round, but mostly in March. There are a lot of blueberries, and people collect them to sell. Many delicate Rosa trees grow along the trail. Keep your eyes out for the beautiful Sarcillo de Inca, whose young leaves add a touch of red to the scenery.

  • The Forest Trails

Highlights from the three main trails...

Pine trail - 4 hours

  • Start in the Pine forest

  • Big Valley of Orchids

  • Killo grove; vine used instead of nails for making houses; several bushes of Arrayan aromatico

  • Big Pumamaqui tree; big ferns; a huge Guatze;

trees covered in moss

  • Viewpoint in the Paramo at 3,180m –

a good spot for lunch!

Waterfall trail - 2 hours

  • Down the hill from La Choza

  • Guatzes with low reaching branches full of orchids

  • Viewpoint - valley below and larger waterfall

  • The line between the forest and the deforested hills

  • Many orchids

  • Pass below small waterfall

  • Viewpoint

  • Return to La Choza

Mama Piedra trail - 2.5 hours

  • Down the road from La Choza

  • Through Guatze grove and ravine

  • Mama piedra, great place for a picnic

  • Second biggest valley of the orchids

  • Through Mixed forest

  • Return to La Choza
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