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.


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.


Final picture in honor of Curt:


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”.


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.


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.


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)


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.


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).



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.


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?


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.


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.


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.