Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Yesterday when we got back to Santa Cruz La Laguna, we went for a swim.  We walked about a half-mile to the kayak place to swim there.  JC took a running jump off the dock, and landed on a rock, bruising his shin badly.  Tim and MJ helped him walk back, where he was laid up for the night.  Fortunately, much of the swelling has gone down and he’s much better today.

Four of us decided to swim back.  Ben and I left first, followed by James and Ryan.  The water was deliciously cold, much like Lake Michigan can be in early summer.  This lake has no outlet.  The water level has risen 15 feet in the past few years.  It's the largest lake in Guatemala, and is surrounded by mountains.  Swimming back was a bit like swimming upstream because of the wind.  It got a bit choppy toward the end.  

After dinner, John, MJ, Greg, Doug and Craig rehashed the solar panel mounting solution.  The design changed every two hours.  They ended up with a much more elegant design.  We have sacrificed a few things – the panels will be fixed instead of being able to change angles.

After dinner, I had my first opportunity to load pictures on my computer and look at them.  I’ve taken over 1000 photos so far.  No time while I’m here to really catalog and post them, so I’m only putting up a few for now.  John will appreciate them when we get home – it helps with his grant applications for funding.  Documentation of our trip and results is an important goal of this project.

This morning started with a breakfast of fruit & granola crepes.  Then we set off in our respective teams – same as yesterday.  No trucks were available when we were ready to go up the hill, so we rode in two taxis (tuk – tuks) instead.  We started with a planning meeting to go through the design changes, then everyone set to work. 

Doug and MJ made another parts run based on the design changes.  This takes a few hours, as a parts run means a boat trip, then finding the right hardware store, then returning by boat.

Michael and Carlos worked on mounting and installing the electrical parts of the system.  Carlos lives here, is an electrical engineer, and will be in charge of the system when we leave.  Michael is still in high school, but is fluent in Spanish from living in Ecuador, and is also skilled with electronics.  They make an awesome team.

Ben has experience with welding (his father was a machinist), so he was put to work cutting the metal and working out how the parts would come together.  This was not a trivial task, given the tools available.   Andres, another local, worked with Ben on this.  I made a few trips to the school’s workshop in the basement to find things like a level.  Because of the sparks, Ben wanted an apron to put over his T-shirt.  Since there wasn’t one, I gave him my Coldwater Creek jacket (thick cotton) to wear backwards – the photos are charming.  I just put on extra sunscreen.

Craig started working on the mounting on the roof.  We’re gluing some wood 2x4s to the roof.   He worked with Doug to position them correctly, then worked with another local guy (don’t know his name) to drill the holes in the cement roof. 

All teams were on a roll, and the project was finally moving.  By the end of the day, this project went from being behind schedule to being ahead of schedule.  However, I haven’t seen the afternoon’s work.

John came and pulled MJ & I down for lunch.  I chose a local Guatemalan lunch, but I don’t recall the name.  I know that it had crushed pumpkin seed in it.  Then we walked down the hill to catch the boat to San Marcos for the Green tour.  It was just MJ & me – John had planned to come, but he felt that he needed to stay with the solar project until it was back on track.

San Marcos is where the other team has been working on Bajarecque at a different school.  This is a Guatemalan technique to build walls, using mud and bamboo.  Charlie is in charge of this project.  He’s from London, but he moved to Guatemala and met his wife here.  He has been doing construction here for 8 years, gradually using more and more green building techniques.  

San Marcos is much bigger than Santa Cruz la Laguna.  When we got there, we found our way to the school, but our group was gone.  We used our meager Spanish to find that ‘el groupo’ had gone to ‘comedor’ and got directions to the restaurant – drawing with a finger on the ground.  (The Spanish words for left and right are NOT cognates.)

Charlie took us on a green tour of San Marcos to see various buildings using different techniques.  He’s become quite an expert in them – I will find the link to his blog, and post it here.  I’ll add more when I can upload photos.  Our tour was about a 3 hour walk, half uphill, then back down, stopping at different sites where he explained the construction methods used.  At the end, I had just a few minutes to see their team’s progress.

This is inside one of the houses that Charlie built.

As it was, we missed the 4:15 boat back, and had to wait for the next one.  The lake was choppy and we got back later, so no one ventured a swim today, not even JC.  Instead, we sat down around a fire with a few beers before dinner. 

This is such an interesting, diverse group of people.  All ages, different backgrounds, everyone with something to contribute.  Part of this, of course, comes from John.  Besides being a good designer and entrepreneur, he has an instinct for setting up and guiding teams.

This place we’re staying reminds me of Biras Creek in the BVI, where my daughter did her internship.  Ironic, because that’s the top resort in the BVI (besides the island owned by Richard Branson), and this is a remote location with limited resources. 

I think we’re only on the fourth day, but I feel like I’ve been here for a month.  Each day is so rich and full.  When I went to Australia two years ago, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  This feels more like someplace I’ll come back to.  Perhaps with the ATC again, perhaps some other way.

Our group is John’s pilot for expanding ATC to non-students.  For those of you who are reading this and want to try it, there will likely be opportunities.  One thing that makes this a challenge is that every project ATC does is different.  Planning is for a different project each time.  ATC’s goal is to design & develop technologies  and share the designs, but this doesn’t mean repeating projects.

Tomorrow, I will return to the solar site for the morning.  I’m anxious to see the progress.  There is also an adobe house being built next door, and I want to see their progress.  For that house, they made adobe bricks with dirt from the site.  They’ve been laying brick walls, using mud between the bricks.   Everything used to build it comes from the site itself.  I’ve been photographing their progress along with ours.  In the afternoon, a few of us will visit a more remote village.  The community there has just completed building a school – they are too remote to send their children to the schools here, as it would require a boat ride.  The school does not yet have electricity.  We’re going to look at their needs and document them, so that ATC can come up with a design.  It might become a future ATC project.

I was about to add a few photos, but my computer is out of power.  So instead, I'll go back to the campfire.  :)

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