National Geographic : 2001 Oct
ADJUNTAS, PUERTO RICO Three blocks from the square, in the big pink-and-white house called Casa Pueblo, love of the land motivated locals to oppose a massive strip mining operation in the eighties and nine ties. The mountains surrounding Adjuntas are rich with gold, silver, copper, and zinc, and the Puerto Rican government had reserved roughly 55 square miles for min eral exploitation. International mining com panies sought to extract ore from open pits. "Ecologically it would have been disas trous," said Alexis Massol, the 57-year-old founder of Casa Pueblo. "People under stood and fought to protect the land despite the promise of jobs and money." Casa Pueblo evolved from an anti-mining coalition to a community group active in environmental, cultural, and educational affairs. "We were trying to figure out how to pay for our proj ects and be self-sufficient," recalled Massol, "when an old jibaro, a hillbilly, pointed to the mountains and said, 'There lies the answer!'" He meant the coffee growing there, for which Adjuntas is famous. Casa Pueblo began selling the strong, dark Cafe Madre Isla through out Puerto Rico. The profits allowed the group to wage and win a cam paign persuading the government to transform the mining zone into a national park-El Bosque del Pueblo, or People's Forest-protected by law and managed by Casa Pueblo. Inaugurated in 1998, the park has hiking paths designed by local students and a reforestation program allowing young and old to plant trees where land had been excavated. "Learning to manage the forest has been a kind of reincarnation for us," said Tinti Deya, Alexis' wife and co-founder of Casa Pueblo. "It's another world where we're like children doing everything for the first time, except in our case we're grandmothers." Grandmothers are everywhere in Adjuntas, and they're all respect fully addressed as Dofia. Lala Echevarria, an 85-year-old great-great grandmother, was born on Calle Canas, the oldest street in town, where she lives in a small, immaculate home. Dofia Lala grew up before elec tricity and running water and remembers when the first car arrived in Adjuntas. "I was always working, hauling water, finding firewood, tend ing the chickens, pigs, and cow," she said of her childhood. "There were Traditions stretch back centuries to the mountains of ancestral islands. A cockfight demonstra tion sheds light on a lo cal tradition for students but sheds little blood, due to plastic sheaths slipped over the cocks' spurs. Baring his blade, Berto Caraballo preps a chicken for the pot.