Saturday, January 7, 2012

Honduras, If it is not one thing, it is another

We, the intrepid travelers, set out walking down the unpaved mountain road in the coffee growing area of Rio Negro. We carry water bottles, ponchos, and a 150-foot tape measure. Our goal today is to study the area near Dona Sirila's house to see where and how to install a mini-hydroelectric project near her house. Dona Sirila is a single mother from the coffee co-op, who has many children and grandchildren living with her. We visited last year, and we were taken with her story and situation. We turn off of the road onto a deep muddy red trail that splits through coffee farms. The trail follows a ridge and soon we have a spectacular view of the San Jeronimo valley. Ahead of us is Adalid and Hector, who fabricate mini turbines. With the help of donations from Farmer to Farmer members, Adalid has promised to help Dona Sirila install a turbine and have electricity for her house. Adalid has already improved her coffee de-pulper this past year, with donated money from a Farmer to Farmer member. Adalid stops and picks up a stick. He looks back and says "perros bravos" (mean dogs). With that warning, we all stop to pick up a stick. But it turns out that the house ahead is empty. Everyone is out harvesting coffee. As we continue on the path, we start to descend down into the valley. Adalid tells about how when he was a child in Rio Negro, there were not any roads and everyone walked back and forth to Comayagua and brought the coffee out on the backs of burros. This was one of the tracks. Soon the path is dropping steeply and everyone is slipping on the red mud. "Cuidado!" "Hay lodo!" When we get close to Dona Sirila's, her dogs come out to greet us. Adalid keeps them at bay by grunting and periodically pretending to pick up a rock. However as soon as we get to the house, the dogs come and lie down calmly as if they were not just barking viciously at us. Sirila welcomes us by saying that she was expecting us yesterday and that today her kids are out picking coffee at a neighbor's, and are unable to help with the hydroelectric study right now. She sends a child off running to fetch them.

In fact our plans for Dona Sirila's turbine have changed several times since we arrived in Honduras. The initial plan was to actually install the turbine while we are here. We were going to spend the first couple days in Comayagua buying pvc pipes and then send them up the mountain for us to put together. It was an ambitious plan. Before we arrived, Adalid had gone to Sirila's house to measure the distance to the water source. After we had the distance and were all ready to buy the tubes, word came from Sirila that her neighbors would not let her use the water from the spring. They were worried she would use up the whole spring. So she asked at another neighbor and had the same response. Things are complicated. Now we have to do a new study to figure out how many tubes to buy to get the water from the river. So instead of being the great gringo workers installing PVC, we are (once again) the great white watchers, hanging out in her yard taking photos of chickens.

After we get tired of waiting for her sons to arrive, we decide to measure the distance from her house to the flat area near the river. Because we can't use the water close by, we have decided to install the turbine down the hill from her house on a flat spot next to the river. Then they will need to run wires up to the house, and run PVC far enough up the river in order to gain enough water pressure to run the turbine. We need a 60 to 70 meter drop to make the turbine run efficiently. Finally, something important to do! I am used to working, so all this watching people work makes me a little uncomfortable. So I got to hold the end of the tape measure while Adalid set off into the coffee plants down the hill. After three leapfrogs with the tape measure, we are at the river, where Dona Sirila's kids plant beans in April. Her grandchild Fernando is our leader, and he carries a rough-carved wooden toy rifle to protect us. There are beautiful flowers here and there and the crashing sound of white water rushing over rocks. The river is a mountain stream and with a couple well-placed rocks, a person can easily move back and forth across the water. Once we find the distance from the river to the house, there is nothing to do except start exploring up the river. The trail (such as it is) goes along the near bank until the river takes a turn to the right around a steep rocky embankment. We do more hanging out next to a rocky cascade as Hector and Fernando explore ahead. This is pleasant, and we take to looking for interesting rocks while we wait for Dona Sirila's kids to show up to be part of the study. Soon they arrive, but we also notice that the morning has gotten away from us and it is now after one o'clock. As trip leader, I decide to go with the gringos back to Rio Negro for lunch. But Hector and Adalid have come all this way to do the study, and so they stay with the boys and explore further up the river. The rest of us climb back up to Dona Sirila's and have some delicious coffee with her, while Analisa explains the game "Go Fish" to Fernando and the girls. It is an instant hit. Soon we are back on the trail, getting to Rio Negro (huffing and puffing from the climb) in time for a late lunch.

Hector and Adalid arrive much later with an ambitious plan to run a 3 inch PVC pipe over the river using support wire. I'll buy the tubes next week, but sadly, we will be back in the states before the project gets installed.

The used turbine that Sirila's kids have jerry-rigged to a plastic hose. It runs two Christmas lights. Which is more electricity than they had before.

Jeff, trying out the improved coffee de-pulper. With a gear system it cranks much easier than it used to.

Measuring from the house to the river.

Sirila's kids

Quebrada El Gavilan. 

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