It’s been a long two weeks of hard work on the bridge site, but thanks to several long days and plenty of community support, we are now ahead of schedule! During the past two weeks, we completed the tiers, both towers, poured both anchors, set the cable sag, and began building the approach ramps. We have mixed around 100 bags of cement and carried far more rocks than I ever wanted to carry in a lifetime.
After we bid Ethan adieu in my last blog post, I traveled back to Cínta Verde with Anthony on a crowded bus loaded with approximately $4000 worth the goods and money between us. If someone had mugged us, it would have been their lucky day. Thankfully no one did, so we made it back to Esquipulas to meet the rest of the team in the rain after they picked up the cables and rebar at the plantel. After 20 minutes of traveling on the rocky, dirt road to Cínta Verde, which has several stream crossings and two river crossings, we arrived at the site, soaking wet, ready to unload the cable at the site. That night, I woke up at about midnight with a stomach ache. By 1:00 AM, I was puking my guts out with a fever and felt like I was going to die. Needless to say, I did not work on Friday. During my sick day, everyone else was busy building the second tier walls on the near side of the river.
By Saturday, everyone needed some time off from construction so we traveled to Matagalpa to refresh and recharge before we began two weeks of long days and hard work. The goal of the week ahead was to finish all the tiers and towers so that we could take full advantage of our travel mentor, Johann Zimmermann. He has had years of experience and expertise with projects like our bridge. As such, his leadership in the processes of anchor pouring and sag setting is indispensable. Every day would be a long work day without much time for anything else in order to be ready for his arrival.
Upon our return to Cínta Verde on Monday morning, I decided to move into the school for good after I found an ant infestation and standing water in my tent. The tent life is not the life for me. I will be packing and unpacking my bed in the school every morning and night. We worked until sunset on that Monday to build the first tier walls on the far side of the river after returning from Matagalpa.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to put the finishing touches on the tier walls we built yesterday before breakfast. With the rest of the day we filled in the second tier on the near side of the river and prepped for building the near side tower.
Wednesday was another very long day. We filled in the first tier on the far side of the river and while that was drying we began building the near side tower. That afternoon, we were able to almost complete the far side second tier walls. It was a lot of mixing and stacking rocks and cinder blocks.
We woke up early on Thursday morning to finish the last of the tier walls and celebrated the completion of the tiers. In the words of Quinn McNutt, “that was gettin’ real old.” The rest of the day was spent completing the near side tower. And, this is where we began running into problems. I will be the first to admit my lapse of judgment caused the problem. Throughout the bridge manual, are various typos and mistakes. One of them is in the plans for the towers. In a majority of the plans for the towers, the total height of the towers is 140 cm, but one technical drawing refers to 150 cm. Inauspiciously, the correct dimension is 150 cm, but I told the masons to build it 140 cm high. This error of 10 cm causes the distance between the handrail cables and walkway cables to be 1.0 meter instead of 1.1 meters. This has an impact on the bridge stability and safety. As such, I wrote to our technical advisory board mentor, Scott Eshleman, asking for advice about fixing the tower or building the other tower to match the incorrectly built one. Meanwhile, we continued with the construction process.
Friday, we filled in the second tier on the far side and made the rebar cages for the anchors. That night, the 4th of July, we planned to celebrate our nation’s independence by lighting sparklers that Aaron had brought down for us all to share. But we were all so tired by the time we could light sparklers that only Aaron lit sparklers that night.
Saturday was spent building the far side tower. The plan was to build up the cinder blocks and fill the towers in with cement on the same day so we could have a free day in Cínta Verde on Sunday to hike. While filling in the tower, the inner mix of concrete was a little too wet, adding extra pressure to the cinder blocks that had just been stacked with mortar which had yet to fully dry. As a result, one of the walls began to be pushed out. We had to quickly scoop out the cement and redo that portion of the wall. We decided to call it a day after that and let the mortar dry overnight before filling the tower with cement. Sunday morning, we woke up early and finished filling the tower. However, we did not yet place the handrail saddles on the very top of the towers because I was waiting to hear from Scott or for Johann to arrive. Because I am not a professional engineer, I cannot use my own discretion to decide if we could leave the tower height on each side at 140 cm high or rebuild both towers to 150 cm.
After the construction was done on Sunday morning, we were all pretty exhausted and decided that an easy visit to the local swimming hole nearby would be much preferred to the planned mountain hike. But, the community kids had a very different plan in mind. They were supposed to lead us to the swimming hole so we began following them in our swim suits and sandals. We walked to the swimming hole and then were told that is not where we wanted to go. So we shrugged and continued following them… up a mountain until the dirt road ended. At this point, we took a muddy path to some beautiful fields spotted with mango trees and flowers. It was lovely, until the path turned into a narrow trail through dense underbrush, thorns, biting ants, and a steep incline. We came out at the bottom of a waterfall. It was beautiful. The water had made a hole in the mountain rock so we climbed through the opening and there was a giant, gorgeous waterfall, or so I thought. Apparently, that was just the very ending of the waterfall, and all the kids wanted to take us to the top.
After an hour of difficult climbing, I was left very scared, as I have learned from experience that it is always easier to go up than it is to go back down. Plus, I was also thinking that if someone did fall, healthcare would be a minimum of two hours away at best with no good route of getting there.
Luckily, no one did get hurt during the climb up, and once we reached the top, the view was amazing.
Cínta Verde is truly a spectacular place, and the best part of all was that there was an alternative route to get down again. We only had to go down the scary way for a little bit before we reached a path that took down through pastures. At one point, I fell while crossing a log, but I managed to only scrap my palm. Chepe, one of our masons, fell and badly sprained his hand catching his fall. He had it wrapped up and was unable to do some of the tasks on the construction site the next week. Once we returned to the school, we discovered Johann and his son, Jonas, patiently waiting our glorious return. I showed him the site and he decided that the towers needed to be fixed so that the total height was 150 cm.
Monday morning, Natalie woke up very sick and could barely speak. Over the course of the week it only got worse until we sent her to a medical clinic. They determined that she had a bad infection and gave her medicine that helped her feel a lot better. Unfortunately, she ended up missing an entire week of work. For everyone else, Monday was a very busy day because we were planning on pouring the far side anchor on Tuesday and the near side anchor on Wednesday. That meant that the towers had to be fixed and completed, the space between the anchor excavations and the foundation needed to be completed, and the cables had to be pulled across. We underestimated the time needed to excavate so all day was spent digging anchors and fixing the towers.
On Tuesday morning, we pulled all the cables across and set up the anchor to be poured.
After lunch, we were ready to begin pouring the anchor. Until sunset, we mixed and carried concrete until the anchor was complete. We were all exhausted and knew that the worst part was that tomorrow we would have to do the same thing all over again.
The next day, we worked until 2:00 PM pouring the anchor before we called it a day and ate lunch. We were all exhausted, dirty, and desperately in need of a break. The rest of the day was spent at the swimming hole and hanging out at the school.
Thursday was spent bending and painting suspenders while the masons worked with the community on the approach ramps and excavations. In the afternoon, we were picked up by the Alcaldia and taken to the Pineda to pay for all the decking and load the wood into a big truck. The Pineda is located on top of a mountain about 40 minutes away from the site. It is absolutely beautiful and you can see for miles. The Pineda is a 150 year old building with hydraulic powered 100 year old equipment.
Eduard, the engineer for Esquipulas, accompanied us to the Pineda. While everyone on the team except Soley and I traveled back to Esquipulas, Eduard took us in a John Deere 4×4 to an area about half a mile away from the Pineda to shoot the two revolvers he brought with him. I have never shot a gun in my life, but being given a lesson on gun shooting in Spanish was certainly a crazy experience that I will never forget. And, I also was a better shot than Soley.
Meanwhile, everyone else was unloading deckboards at the plantel in Esquipulas and not having nearly has much fun. Then Quinn picked a fight with a rattlesnake and lost. Just kidding.
On Friday, we set the sag with Johann’s guidance so that we could take the weekend off and visit Jícaro that evening.
Going back to last year’s site was awesome. It was great to show everyone on the team the Jícaro bridge after they spent an entire year hearing stories and looking at pictures from the site.
After visiting the bridge, we walked the couple of miles back to the house that myself, Louie Hardin, and Kristina Craft lived in last year. My Spanish has improved so much from last year. I was able to talk to our host family from last year and tell them where everyone from last year was and how they were doing. I wish everyone from last year’s team was able to join me because the family missed all of them. The family even milked a couple cows while we were there and fed us fresh milk. It was wonderful. I am so happy that I was able to return and visit the family that took such good care of us during the bridge construction last year.
Saturday morning we had to say good bye to Johann and Jonas. It was really great having them here all week. Jonas was the hardest working person I have ever met. I think he barely took a break the entire week from mixing cement or digging in the excavations. We owe them so much for all their help. Now, we are staying at the Buena Onda Hostel in Matagalpa getting fired up for the most exciting part of the bridge build to happen next week! Here comes the decking and our bridge will start looking like a real bridge!