The “Cocina” is one of the new buildings that has already been built at Pucutuni’s new location. Like the other buildings, it is made of adobe bricks and has a roof made of thin sheet metal. Inside there is a dirt floor covered with empty buckets and gas cans, some large sacks of unknown contents piled near a bed at one end of the building, and a large stone oven with a painting of a tree at the other. Hence the name “Kitchen” written over the doorpost on the outside. While you might ask why I had such an opportunity to observe the inside of the kitchen, the most compelling answer would be the sound of sleet pelting and rustling over the metal roof. The kitchen had the most space to shelter all eleven of us, including five community members, for an hour while a short storm passed overhead.
Thursday started just like the last ten days have all started since I arrived in Peru. We began our morning ascent at 8:40, and the last of us reached the top at 9:20, completing a mere 40 minute hike that used to take us over an hour. But while it was almost hot in the morning, we already knew that the weather could change quickly as dark clouds loomed over neighboring mountain tops. Today we had to haul up a bigger propane tank and nozzle because the afternoon winds pick up so strongly that our little handheld butane torch can’t produce enough heat to fuse our HDPE pipe. But with our new torch, which could almost be compared to a flame thrower, we had no problem to heating our welder. Little did we know that we would later want to light the torch just to keep ourselves warm.
While the day was still sunny, we divided ourselves out to accomplish as much as possible before the weekend starts. Together we removed the forms from a tapstand and found a nearly perfectly formed and finished tower ready for use (we’re a little proud of it). Then we split up to continue laying out pipe, hooking up the tanks to the rest of the system, and reconstructing the springbox. But when we met for lunch, the ominous clouds began to appear, and it wasn’t long after we set back to work that the sleet and rain finally reached us. Wes and I, completely exposed at the top of hill, resorted to hiding behind one of the tanks while trying to tighten a few more fittings. By the time we finished, our pants were soaked, snow had begun to stick on the mountains around us, and the rest of the crew, being somewhat wiser, had already found shelter in the Kitchen before they had gotten too wet.
So we sat in the semi-dark room of the Kitchen for a short time. Some were reading, others sleeping, while most of us were thinking and talking only occasionally. Sleet on metal isn’t quite as loud as rain on metal, so it was still possible to do all of these things. Unfortunately, the other half of our crew—Jim, Bryce, Josue, and their five locals—had to weather it out because they were in the middle of pouring concrete into the forms for the springbox valve box, so we didn’t really have it that bad. But it didn’t take long for the storm to pass, and before long we were out in the open again trying to rapidly make up for lost time. Perhaps the best part of the entire day was when the sun finally broke through again around midafternoon. Practically everyone stopped to see the sun coming through the clouds and reaching the mountains and absorb some of the warmth.
We dried out pretty fast, but the one thing that really could have benefited from a warm day was the one roll of two inch pipe sitting at the top of the hill. Because of the types of fittings that we bought, we realized late in the day that we actually needed to use the entire roll. The problem was that the pipe was so cold that unrolling it was like trying to bend a tree trunk. Worse, we started unrolling it from the inside rather than the outside, which meant that every loop had to be yanked out separately as we slid the roll down the hill. The result was a really long, black, snake-looking pipe that ran in loops down the hill rather than a straight line. And by virtue of my positioning at the bottom, I was responsible for untwisting the loops until the pipe could be laid in the trench. The pipe was still so stiff that I could lean against the curled end of it for a break when I needed. But we eventually got it in the trench, and tomorrow we’re going to try to run water through it before we take a break for the weekend.
Everyday we’re getting closer to completing the project, and learning new tricks along the way, whether it be fusing pipe, pouring concrete, peeling potatoes with your fingers, or wrestling with a 100 meter long python. If you ever encounter one of those, let me know. I might be able to give you a couple tips.