Sep 14 2013

One Last Twist

Given the twists and turns of the past ten days, we approached today (our last day) with a mix of anticipation and apprehension. What might go wrong? What surprises were in store for us? We didn’t have to wait long for our first surprise. Pulsiano knocked on Bryce’s door at 5am, informing him that we needed to depart immediately. The plan had been to meet the mayor at 9am to negotiate and sign a convenio (project agreement). Then, we’d spend the rest of the day in Pucutuni surveying a route for the water pipeline and conducting a health survey. Pulsiano had an unexpected appointment at 2pm, so we’d now visit Pucutuni first, followed by a late-morning visit with the mayor.

After a hasty breakfast, we hopped in Pulsiano’s truck and headed for Pucutuni. We arrived at 9am, with 1 km (3000 ft) of surveying to complete in the next two hours. Braden, Jim, and Brian started surveying while Bryce and Pulsiano went looking for the president. The community was empty! Everyone was out tending their flocks of alpaca. After an hour and a half of searching, we managed to rouse the vice president and his wife. We conducted a brief health survey while Braden and Jim completed their surveying work. Then, at 12:25pm, we dashed back down the mountain in hopes of catching the mayor.

We arrived at the municipality just past 1pm. As Palsiano greeted the security guard, a truck flew past. There went the mayor! Pulsiano ran down the street waving his arms, but to no avail. The mayor was gone for the weekend and, with him, our last chance to negotiate and sign a convenio (project agreement).

Undeterred, Palsiano walked the halls of the muni, searching for our engineering contact. Ten minutes later, we were ushered into a room with the engineer and the budget manager. We explained that we would like to sign a convenio. They stated that they normally signed an agreement after the budget was complete. (We obviously weren’t prepared to share a detailed budget since we had just completed surveying moments before and hadn’t begun our design work yet.) What’s more, the mayor wouldn’t be available to sign anything until the end of September. Nonetheless, they agreed to review our proposed convenio. After a few clarifications, they happily agreed to sign our convenio. Once we had completed our design work and developed a budget, we’d return to sign a budget agreement. A quick phone call to the mayor confirmed that he could sign the convenio tomorrow morning. The convenio would then be sent to us (in Cusco) by currier. We now had everything in place to begin our design work.

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Wrapping up:
Tomorrow (Saturday) Jim flies home, while the rest of the group recuperates in Cusco. We’ll all be home by Monday evening, with a week and a half to recover before school begins. It’s been one crazy trip with lots of twists and turns. It ends well, though, as we’ve secured a new project and collected the data needed for design. Peru is an amazing place with amazing people. I can’t wait to introduce the rest of our team to Peru and to our project partners.

–Brian

Final picture in honor of Curt:

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Sep 12 2013

Good Friends and Perfect Moments

Tonight I digress from engineering surveys and calculations….

His name is Pulsiano.  He starts each day with us in prayer, as we pile into the jeep, the prayer in Spanish accented with a senor here and a Jesus there.  Most of the prayer I only understand by the inflection. Later, as we make our way slowly up into the mountains over a one lane dirt road of switchback after switchback, looking down into the abyss of the canyon and river below, I am reminded of, and thankful for, Pulsiano’s morning prayer and quietly say another. I am also reassured with the knowledge of my recently completed will and the increased life insurance squeezed in prior to leaving for Peru.

Pulsiano is our main contact with ADRA here in Peru and he has graciously spent a lot of his waking hours this week with us. He spends his time interpreting for us in our simple Spanish then switching to Quechua the next moment, explaining our words to our Peruvian friends. Pulsiano is one of those rare, genuine individuals who walk this earth greeting those he meets with a smile and a buenos dias,  judging no one, rich or poor, American or Quechua.  As I walk with him up the mountain paths I ask him, “Como esta usted?”  He always answers back “Muy Tranquillo”.  Yes, very tranquil and then we laugh.  There is something special  in the way he greets each Quechua villager we meet and asks them with honest compassion how they are doing and what projects we could help them with. Getting to know Pulsiano has become a highlight of this trip for me.

We met the president of Pucutuni, Mr. Ruben Condorapa Choqque, after lunch yesterday. Pucutuni is a village with 15 homes, located at 14,000 feet in the Pitumarca district.  We shake hands, sit down on a rug and ask him what his village needs the most.  His reply is simply “Agua”.

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He explains to us that his village has requested that the government assist them with moving their village from their current area to an area across the large landslide west of them.  They show us a letter explaining that this area is geologically unstable and prone to landslides.  We look around us and start to realize just how many active landslides surround us, especially the one just above us and threatening the entire village. Ruben explains that during the rainy summer season the land becomes unstable and unsafe. They can’t move the village until a new water system is constructed in the new village site.  He also explains that four families have already moved due to the landslide situation.

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The village had a water system built for them ten years ago but it has broken pipes and cracks in the concrete due to the unstable ground movement.  Thankfully it appears that the spring box is secure below a large rock band and may be salvageable.  We tested the water flow rate and sampled for contaminants at the spring box.  We then laid out a preliminary survey of the new water line, reservoir and tap stands.  The route extends across a smaller landslide that would need to be crossed above ground, then runs diagonally over steep, rough soil to the new area reserved for the village.  The length of the new water line is approximately 3,000 feet.

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As we reached the end of our survey and stood in the new town site, one of the men of the village ran down to us and placed a scarf full of steaming hot Andean potatoes at our feet.  Ruben the president invited us to enjoy some local potatoes as we talk over the plans for the project.  Suddenly, Ruben points to the sky and exclaims, “Condor!”  We look back at the water line route to see two condors riding the thermals above the project.  Moments like these; a long day of work completed, miles hiked, thousands of feet climbed, enjoying steaming hot potatoes with new found friends, watching condors soaring high as the sun sets over the Andes.  These moments our team will remember the rest of our lives.

–Jim (essay) and Brian (photos)

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Sep 12 2013

Wednesday Morning

Today (Wednesday) was another busy day. On Tuesday evening, the muni had given us four suggested communities to visit. We reviewed the list and prioritized them based on accessibility (distance from the nearest road) and scope (number of families benefited). On Wednesday morning we set off for Pampachili, an annex of Labraco located a 55 minute drive from Pitumarca. The community of 14 families was spread more than 1 km across a hillside in clusters of 4-5 houses.

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Some homes received water from a spring, but the pipe was too small, causing a blockage called “air locking.” Other homes obtained water from an open channel that was prone to contamination. Surprisingly, the community didn’t suffer from any water-borne illnesses. We huffed and puffed up the hill to the spring box (water source) located near the top of Mt Rainier (at 14,250 ft). It’s pretty amazing that every community that we visit is near the same elevation as the highest point in the U.S. (excluding Alaska).

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Jim tinkered with the blocked pipe, locating a high point and poking a hole in the pipe to allow air to escape. Water began flowing again! The “fix” is temporary since the pipe’s small size makes it prone to block again. We chatted with community members (including the president) from three separate clusters of homes. The first lady was too busy sorting potatoes to take any interest in the newly-restored water source.

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The second lady asked if we could maintain their water system for them. Neither impressed us as enthusiastic partners with a strong need and a commitment to maintain existing infrastructure. We had time to visit one more community. Would we find a compelling need and an earnest partner?

–Brian


Sep 11 2013

Tuesday Blog

Pitumarca Municipality, Chachocomani Village

After an early morning breakfast, the team headed back to Pitumarca Municipality to meet the engineer. We were given a village to visit and two engineering students to help guide us.  The new village was named Chachocomani and was a 50 minute drive up a side canyon to a point where the road  ended at the base of the mountains at 13, 550 feet in elevation.  We started hiking up the valley past alpacas and llamas, past two small villages, each with water systems similar to what we are planning. Braden had a sore lower back so he hung behind with Brian to look at the water systems in these first two villages.

It took us about two hours of walking to reach the village of Chachocomani at 15,260 feet in elevation.  This village is comprised of 5 families who herd alpacas.  Each family lives in a stone walled hut with grass roof.  Each house has a stone wall corral for the alpacas. The village is surrounded by peaks that I estimate to be 18,000 to 19,000 feet high and partially snow covered.  It had snowed a lot two weeks ago in the village and the mountains still had remnants.

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We then hiked to the first water source, where they currently dip their buckets in a shallow pool amongst the rocks.  The pool was maybe 4 ft in diameter and two feet deep. Not a very good water source but it’s the closest one to the village.  We grabbed a sample.  The villagers complain of stomach issues and diarrhea and suspect it is the water they drink.  We then proceeded to the source they wanted us to use for the new system.  It’s located in the middle of the valley but was a series of small pools with iron red colored water and high banks alongside.  Not a great option either.  We asked to see the spring up another 500 feet above the valley.

Hiking at these elevations makes the heart pound a bit and you don’t want to go too fast or one runs out of air and stands panting for a while.  We reached the spring at 15,885 feet in elevation according to the GPS.  It is a boggy,  tundra-like green area between the mountains and had several small steams running out of the grass.  A very promising spring.  Bryce sampled the spring water by filling a small sample bottle for analysis later.  We will test for E Coli when we are back at the hotel.  We also measured one small rivelet for flow rate. Lacking a shovel or pick, we may have to return to cut a trench and measure the full flow.

For some reason we felt we hadn’t hiked high enough and decided to check out the area above the spring to see if there was a lake or some water above.  We hiked to 16, 070 feet and found nothing but a flat depression above the spring.  What a view.  We could now look out over the northern pass to Ayungate Peak which is glaciated and somewhere around 6300 meters high.  Bryce then proceeded downhill along the trail leading to the village, measuring the distance along the way. It’s about one and a half kilometers from the spring to the village.

The village president, Ivan Espinoza Leon, a quechua man, met us there and we asked him a series of questions about the population and the health of the community.  He explained that one local man had died in the past few years due to stomach ailments and people here are afraid to drink the water as they get sick a lot.

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We headed back down the mountain to meet Brian and Braden at the car.  It was an adventure filled day of hiking and doing the best we could to measure the feasibility of a water system for the village.  It’s a long ways off the road and high up in the Andes to reach the village and the spring.  We will visit three more villages tomorrow that are closer to the road system for comparison.

As we made our way back to town, we were greeted by Pitumarca villagers celebrating and parading around in Inca costumes and playing music, a foosball tournament and many quechua women all dressed up in their finest.

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–Jim

 


Sep 10 2013

Window Shopping

Today was window-shopping day. Our goal was to find a hardware store with the materials that we would likely need for our project. Our destination was Sicuani, a relatively large town 50 minutes from the ADRA training center where we’re based. We found lots of hardware stores with a limited selection, and one hardware store with a great selection. Now for the fun part: how to explain the specific parts that we needed. I whipped out my iPhone and, using Google Images, pulled up pictures of each part. We enjoyed the ensuing language lesson. While waiting for the business owners to write up a cost estimate, we dropped by BNC bank to open an account. (We’ll complete that process on Friday when we see Wilfredo, the head of ADRA’s Cusco region.) Tomorrow we’re heading on a tour of three communities in the municipality of Pitumarca. It will be a long day in the mountains, but we’ll hopefully be rewarded with a new project opportunity.

–Brian

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Sep 8 2013

Sabbath “Rest”

Jim and Bryce’s idea of rest and rejuvenation was to climb all over Machu Picchu and the surrounding peaks. It’s impossible to capture the jaw dropping views in photos, but here’s our best attempt.

–Brian

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Machu Picchu from Mt. Putucusi

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Aguas Caliente Surrounded by Mtn Peaks (photographed from Putucusi)

Top of Putucusi (with Machu Picchu in the background)

Top of Putucusi (with Machu Picchu in the background)

Climbing Putucusi (vertical ladders replace switchbacks in Peru)

Climbing Putucusi (vertical ladders replace switchbacks in Peru)

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Sep 8 2013

Back on Track

We became intrigued with the municipality of Pitumarca during Thursday’s long drive. The community members were welcoming, and we saw a number of apparent needs. So, on Friday, we visited the municipal headquarters to inquire about development needs. The mayor was unavailable, so we met instead with the city manager and a city engineer. We explained our approach to development work – students and professional mentors partnering with the community and local engineers to design and build infrastructure. We also explained our budget and time frame. Their response was “excelente.” We asked if they had any communities with compelling needs, and they responded enthusiastically. They suggested that we visit three communities high up in the Andes. They’d select communities that fit our budget and expertise. We’ve visit them together on Tuesday morning and select one on which to focus for our first project. Needless to say, we were excited! We know that we’ll encounter more twists and turns in the days and weeks ahead. Nonetheless, we were happy to enter the weekend with a sense of direction and a promising partnership.

–Brian

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Sep 6 2013

Thursday Continued: Drive It Off

When our driver Pulsiano pulled out of Llutuyo and told us the other villages were “mas arriba” , we all enjoyed saying “Arriba! Arriba!” in response. Little did we know exactly how much higher we were really going to go.

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Leaving Llutuyo at 14,000 feet, we climbed over a pass and settled into the valley beyond at a steady 15,500 ft. When we reached the border of the municipality of Checacupe, we had arrived at 16,000 ft, and were greeted by a massive glacier cap and the several ice-capped peaks accompanying Mt. Asangate.

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We stopped to eat in the shallow valley below and realized that even preparing a meal of bread, cheese, tomatoes, and apples could put us out of breath. Nestled between these peaks on the left and the glacier cap to the right we found the town of Phinaya, a 2.5 hour drive beyond Llutuyo.

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After talking with two police officers and a leader of the community, we discovered Phinaya held many opportunities that we could get excited about. The town houses 200 families in a central location at an almost inconceivable altitude of 15,528 ft. The town receives electricity from a hydro-electric power generator that also provides clean water to commmunity . . . most of the time. Here’s the catch: the lake that feeds the electricity and water to Phinaya also provides water to Machu Picchu. Consequently, for approximately half the year the town of Phinaya receives no water from the reservoir and must get water from a river across the valley. An alternative source of water that lasts all year is a lake about 4-5 miles away. However, water was not their only concern. The town only receives 8 kW of power. To put this in perspective, Brian noted that his house consumes 1.5-2.0 kW of power on average. Imagine the needs of 200 families! The community leader said this amount of electricity can give them lights in their homes, but not much else. He also mentioned that many students have their classes in houses because they do not have enough classrooms, and would like expand their school facility.

Phinaya immediately caught our interest when we realized that they do not have clean water available for half the year. Not only that, but the community is centralized (which has been rare), and has several other potential projects that EWB might get involved with in the future. However, we decided that these projects are significantly bigger and more difficult than we can manage ourselves and might be more appropriate as a project by the municipality, and not by EWB.

After leaving Phinaya and investigating the hydro-electric generator (out of curiosity), we returned to the fork in the road where we had eaten lunch, and chose to complete the loop by venturing closer to the peaks. It was at the Jahuaycate Pass that we reached our highest point: 5070 m (posted), or 16,670 ft. (according to GPS).

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After an hour of descent, we found Chillca in the dusky shadows of the hills leading to the large mountain peaks. Distanced from the town was what appeared to be a tourist base-camp, and the newly-graded road indicated a local interest in attracting more visitors. While the president of the community was not in town, we spoke to another police officer about any local interest in a water or other project. He told us that of 75 people in town, only 5 receive water from the spring-catchment system put in place. The rest get their water from an irrigation canal running past the town. Otherwise there is no electricity, no sanitation,and no known plans to change this. We hope tomorrow we can talk to the mayor of this municipality (different from Checaculpe) and see what projects he thinks might be available.

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As we left Chillca to complete our trek of 200 km in 12 hours, after warm valleys and frigid passes, we checked the elevation one last time: 12,263 ft. Right back where we started that morning. With a few more possible project leads and an extra 4000 ft. of air, we felt like we could breathe again.

–Braden (essay) and Brian (photos)


Sep 6 2013

The Plot Thickens

As planned, we drove to Lluttuyo this morning. When we arrived, we were intrigued to find a crowd gathered in the school yard. We hopped out of the truck and struck up a conversation. Everyone seemed pleased to see us.

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Ten minutes later the mayor arrived. Aha, so the town had gathered to see the mayor. Nice timing! The mayor shook hands with each community member first, then greeted us. “What are you guys doing here!” he interrogated, as he maintained his politician’s smile for the watching crowd. Pulsiano explained that we were visiting the community to share the good news that the mayor’s office would be completing the water system and that we were no longer needed. The mayor relaxed a bit, and it was our turn to fidget. The mayor proceeded to explain to the whole community why he was going to do better for the community than we could. (Thanks for throwing us under the bus, Mr. Mayor.) We politely excused ourselves. It was time to continue our search for another project.

When you hit rock bottom, there’s only one way to go: up. Our day grew progressively better as we saw amazing scenery and checked out two promising project opportunities. Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

–Brian


Sep 5 2013

Back to Square One…

Here are a few of the expressions that we’re using to describe our day:

– “Ke Garne Given Est Cha,” which, in Nepali, means “What can you do? Life is like this.”

– “Momma always said there’d be days like today.”

We arrived at the mayor’s office at 4pm, expecting to negotiate the details of our project partnership. We left at 4:15pm without a project.

When we arrived at the municipality headquarters and inquired about a site survey that the municipality had promised to provide, they instead handed us a full set of design plans for water and sanitation systems. We were momentarily impressed by the fact that we now had detailed topographic information on which to base our work. However, the fact that the municipality had completed the design left us suspicious that they didn’t really need our engineering skills. What did they really want from us?

We didn’t wait long for an answer. After exchanging pleasantries, the mayor offered to split project costs 70/30. (We’d pay 70%, and the muni/community would pay 30%.) So far, so good. That represented a significant investment by the community. Now for the details. “We’re starting this project in two months,” said the mayor, “and, based on our design plans, we’re including nearly a mile of water pipe and a complete sanitation system. The cost is $90,000. Please sign here and fork over your money.” It wasn’t quite that direct, but that’s essentially it. We tried to explain the EWB process (careful design, implemented in stages, etc.) and the fact that we’re engineers not wealthy philanthropists, but to no avail.

We exchanged pleasantries and departed. Project over.

Tomorrow we’re going to visit Lluttuyo, as planned. (They need to know that we’re not abandoning them by choice.) Instead of collecting data, we’re going to share with them the “exciting” news that the municipality has promised to complete the project on their own by December. I have a hunch that the community will be as excited as we are.

Wow! Where to go from here? Our appreciation for our NGO (ADRA) continues to grow, so we fully intend to stay in the Cusco region of Peru. However, we’re no longer comfortable working in the Municipality of Checacupe. After our disappointing visit with the mayor, Pulsiano (our host and director of the ADRA training center) drove us to a new potential project site. A bridge had washed out in winter floods, forcing students as young as 3 to walk an additional mile each way to school. The community wants a new bridge. They seem like good project partners, but we have a “water” team on the ground in Peru. Surely a near-by community needs clean water…

–Brian (with title and quotes from the team)