Today I’m introducing a new feature. . . it’s called Quirky Characters. I’m starting this feature because I’m a quirky-character magnet. My life is interesting because I attract people who have chosen to live in different ways or who simply emanate a quirky, innovative outlook on how they live their lives. They suggest new ways for us to look at how we live our lives and our world. So I’m going to take this part of my life and share it with you because I think these Quirky Characters deserve a bigger audience.
The first official Quirky Character is Argentine Leonardo Jara, an eco-dreamer (he calls himself a “loco” [crazy]) who is building a sustainable community on the Tigre river just outside of Buenos Aires entirely out of trash. He calls it the Echo Movement. Why Echo? I asked. “It’s poetry.” He said. Each little pod of sustainable development will be an echo to others all over the world to create their own sustainable eco-villas: places that have been created to be sustainable, autonomous, and in harmony with the natural environment.
Leo bought this land thirteen years ago when he was 23. Over the last four years, over 600 volunteers (travelers/backpackers/couchsurfers who have come through and spent a day or a week working with him) have constructed a little house made almost exclusively of recycled materials. Everything they use is someone else’s trash: the pots, wood, toilet, mattresses, lamps, wood, chairs, refrigerator, everything. Nothing was purchased (except for some materials for the roof and its system to convert rain water into drinking water). Everything was scavenged or given to them by neighbors. Who, by the way, all have very cute, fancy little weekend cottages and normal lawns–it’s quite the contrast between the wild eco-villa and the weekend homes surrounding it. (Imagine a band of environmental anarchists creating a community in the middle of the Hamptoms. Kind of like that.)
Leo and company are creating the eco-villa as a pragmatic response to climate change. Not as a way to show how we can stop climate change, but how people can adapt to it and live sustainably and autonomously. With their own systems for sewage, drinking water, electricity, and so on. That’s his idea of true freedom.
When Leo and I first met at the embarkment point to take the boat to the eco-villa, he told me, “The big climate change conferences don’t really accomplish anything. They sell a lot of books. They print a lot of paper.” We can continue to argue about whether climate change is happening but the question is how will communities respond to climate change. So his idea is to create a model, a reference point, for how families can organize in response to the rising waters of climate change and create their own sustainable, affordable homes.
The whole weekend was very meta, actually, because I arrived on a day when the rivers of the water had risen so high that when we got off the boat, we had to walk 100 meters in thigh-high water to get to the eco-villa, with our bags above our heads. When we arrived we had to stay inside the house all day to wait for the waters to go down. (We passed some time dancing tango on the deck–see photo.) On Sunday, we started to clean up the mess created by the rising waters, collecting plastic and glass bottles and wood to burn. Climate change is happening even faster than Leo anticipated so he has had to change the design plan for the vegetable garden and other parts of the eco-villa.
If you want to get dirty, get eco, and learn about how to create a sustainable community based on recycled materials, come to Tigre starting December 1. Leo will be working on the project and wants to complete it by March 1 in order to go elsewhere to help start other eco-villas. He’s already traveled to Sweden, where some of his supporters have established a nonprofit to support the project and help it become more sustainable. Leo was quite candid about being at a point where he was tired of working for free and it’s time to transition the project into a more sustainable project financially for its founder and all who work on it.
He needs help for the next phase! All you need to do is bring your sleeping bag, tent, food and water and you’ll meet other eco-dreamers from around the world.
There are plans to create a dome space for workshops and more cabins for sleeping so that the little house that exists now is just for reading, eating, and socializing. And all sorts of mud needs to be moved to shore up the vegetable garden and protect it from the rising waters of the river.
The place also needs a decorator. Leo recognizes that it needs a feminine touch. More than a few feminine touches. If you like decorating come decorate the eco-villa and make it more cute and homey. His eco-villa is your eco-villa.