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20,000 steps

Monday happened. It was my first hike up to the project site, and it was way more challenging than I expected. The hike starts out steep, gains 1,000 feet in less than a mile, then wraps around a couple ridges before entering the Panteneque valley, which has about 500 vertical feet between the lowest house and the springs. The altitude (from 13,100 to 14,900) makes any uphill slope of the path send your heart rate to the max, and the climb to and through the village is unrelenting. 

Jim, the professional mentor who had been with the team for the first week, had to leave the project site by 10:30 in order to catch his flight in Cusco. I started hiking at 7:30, but didn’t reach the springs until 9:30, so Jim and I took one hour to go over the status of spring catchments, collection box, two tanks, five tapstands, and 2,000 feet of trench. I then spent the day moving back and forth around the project, trying to understand the challenges and help if I could. The local community has contributed a huge amount of labor, including hand digging a 30″ trench for more than 2,000 feet that looks better than many trenches I’ve seen at construction sites in California. The major challenge on Monday was that we needed fittings, additional pipe, wood forms, and steel rebar at many points across the project.  It took most of the day to get an accurate picture of what we needed, so we didn’t accomplish any “big” things on Monday. We did quickly redesign the tapstand bases to significantly reduce their size, saving about 2/3 of material and labor needs. 

Organization is progress, and it paid off on Tuesday morning as nine members of the local community showed up to help and we were ready with specific requests, mainly asking them to carry all the pipe and forms up the mountain by hand. We carried small loads of rebar, but they did amazing work getting the other items up the steep, narrow path, including working in teams of two for the huge rolls of pipe. Needless to say, their fitness at altitude is simply unbelievable, as evidenced by the fact that even elderly members take part in the carrying effort.  Up at the village, they routinely carry around large burlap sacks full of sand, gravel, cement, or large rocks. 

By the end of Tuesday, we succeeded in helping build forms and pour concrete for two spring catchments and a collection box, as well as getting some of the tapstand forms and plumbing in place and getting one tapstand poured. There is a reasonable chance that tomorrow we will complete concrete work on all five tapstands, as well as laying the final few hundred feet of the main water line. 

I have learned a lot in just two days, including the limits of my own ability. Monday, hiking up, around the village, and back down with two wrong turns and an extra mile of backtracking (20,000 steps above 13,000 feet) left me feeling that there was no chance I would be going anywhere on Tuesday. However, by the time Tuesday morning rolled around, I decided to give it a try, and did a slower hike up and was careful not to move around the village much during the day. At the end of Tuesday, I felt much better than Monday, so here’s hoping Wednesday will be even better. 

A highlight so far has been meeting a child who lives in the village (the only child under six, it would appear). He doesn’t speak Spanish so I don’t know his name, but I would guess he is around two years old, and he reminds me so much of both of my sons. He always wears his hat & his colorful Andean coat, and follows either his mom or dad (both of whom are working on the water system) around the village all day, often sitting and watching everyone mix concrete, or build forms, or herd the alpacas, llamas, and horses. I showed him a picture of my two sons today, and he just grinned and kept pointing at them and exclaiming something happy in Quechua. 

I would love it if he could meet my sons and play in a park with them (preferably not at 14,500 feet), and whenever I feel tired or worn down, or pessimistic about the project’s sometimes slow progress, I keep reminding myself that in a few days I get to go home to my amazing family and live a comfortable and relatively easy life, while this child is going to grow up on a cold, windy mountain with many significant challenges ahead. If I can contribute to completing this water system and getting clean water to him, his family, and his small village, then I absolutely need to press on and give it my best. 


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