Saturday, July 19, 2008

Atollar: to get stuck in the mud

Friday was the last day that Nicole, Kim, and Dr. Jordan were going to be in Honduras. Dr. Jordan, in particular, had never seen the microhydro generator in the river near the village of Pueblo Nuevo. I wanted to get them before they departed, and to try an put down a plastic liner in the canal to slow down the leaks.

We got up early and packed our things. Dr. Jordan shared a scripture with me from his daily readings.
Psalm 69: "Save me, O God, for the waters have threatened my life. I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me."

Then we went to the hardware store to get nails and other items. It was cloudy and overcast on Friday, and it looked like it might rain. Red flag number one. I have been stuck in the village before because of rain, and I didn't want our three teammates to miss their Saturday morning flight because we couldn't get back to the city in time.

We traveled the paved road for an hour or so, listening to a recording by Dr. John Patrick about Christian development work. It was intellectually stimulating, but sobering. We turned off the main road and dropped the transmission into four-wheel-drive low. The first couple of miles are the easy part, yet I felt the SUV slip in the mud once. The area must have had rain the night before. Red flag number two.

Then we got to the big river. It's about 40 feet wide, and usually about 1.5 feet deep at the deepest. I could tell that it was higher than usual (red flag number three), so I stopped to get out and "check the sitch". Walking across, it was to my knees at the deepest point, maybe a little over, but the rocks at the bottom gave good traction. The locals that showed up said it would be fine as long as we had a four-wheel-drive, but we prayed a little anyway before driving across successfully.
We climbed the hill on the far side and laughed off the nervous energy we all felt. Continuing on, the roads got muddier, ruttier, and steeper. How badly did I want to get these folks to the village, anyway?

When we came to the second river that you must cross on the road to Pueblo Nuevo, it looked much less formidable than the big river. This time, however, I made a mistake went to the right of the big boulder, not the left. The left side of the river bottom is rocky, the right side is sandy. We were unable to climb out. The students and Dr. Jordan got out and took pictures and pushed, while a few little kids told us we should have gone to the left. Thanks for that, muchachos. Eventually, we were able to go backwards into the stream, remove a rock that was blocking one of the front tires, and then get enough momentum to climb out. And still we kept going.
We arrived at the village and hiked down to the river bed (Yet, another river. Honduras has lots of them.) I felt my first raindrops within minutes of arriving. We took some hurried pictures and a voltage reading. The generator was not working at all: zero volts. Hmm. No time to figure it out, we had to leave.

Thankfully, it stopped raining for the 20 minutes it took to hike back to the SUV, but started again as we packed our things and said goodbuy to the village pastor, a man we call Micro Santos. Amusingly, he calls me "Herminito" which means "little brother". By my estimate, I am double his weight and 6 or 8 inches taller than he is. His sense of humor, however, is muy grande.

The next village on the way out is called Berlin. Frankly, I have not liked it in the past. It is dirtier (with litter) than most other villages, and the people don't wave back at me when we drive through. Obviously, they must be communists, or so I thought.

The worst part of the entire road is in Berlin. It has more clay and fewer rocks, which makes things worse when it's wet. There are ditches on either side of the road that make me nervous too. Oh oh, one of our tires slipped into one just as we were beginning to climb a hill. We couldn't get enough traction to climb up, so we tried to back up and give it another attempt. That didn't work either, and it took us a while to find out why.

There was a large rock partially buried in the road, and our rear differential had gently come to rest on it. We could not get it over the rock, and yet it's presence kept our rear tires from getting good traction. So we unloaded and began the dirty process of digging out the SUV with a shovel, a hammer, and a spoon intended for our peanut butter sandwiches. It was slow, dirty work. A crowd, perhaps most of the town, gathered to watch and stand too close to us. Finally, Ryan overheard one of the men comment to his friend in Spanish: "I think they should use the jack, but I don't know how to tell them because I don't know the word for it." Funny. The word he used for "jack" was "jack". So we got the hydraulic jack out from under the water bottles and travel toilet paper, and began to formulate a plan.

(This is me digging with the hammer and spoon. The SUV was not on a jack at this point. Don't worry Mom, I aint dum.)

(While it was Jason's turn to dig, I played with the kids. I kept shaking hands and giving fives to this boy, until he got scared of me and went and stood somewhere else. Gringo freak.)

We found a good location on the frame of the SUV, and a suitable rock to keep the jack from sinking into the mud. Taking care to stay out from under the vehicle, we were able to raise it on the jack enough to pull out the rock causing the trouble. For this we used the shovel, as crawling under a jacked up car, especially in mud, would be dangerous.

When we finally got the rock out, I yelled "Es un tortuga!" (it's a turtle) because it sorta looked like one. To my relief, the villagers laughed. I never know if I am going to make sense when I speak Spanish. The photo below is one of my favorites.

Well, our troubles were not over, because there were several more muddy hills to go. In all, we got stuck five times that day. Four of these times, we were helped out by the villagers, who seemed to be getting a great deal of fun out of the situation. (Whose technology is better?) The last time, the road had deep ruts in it, so we stopped to try and fill them with rocks and branches to gain traction. A couple of guys with machetes cleared the shoulder so we could try and avoid the road as much as possible. In the end, we spun tires, pushed hard, braced with rocks, and eventually, one foot at a time, got to the top of the hill! Everyone cheered in celebration.

During this crazy ordeal, we took lots of pictures and some videos too. I tried to compile some of the best videos that summarize our day. Enjoy!


riverdaughter said...

Cool! I like the Star Wars bit... Ryan looks like he's having fun in all that mud. Tell him I said, "Hi" ~Aliel

Anonymous said...

Wonder where that John Patrick CD came from?


J. Ben D. said...

Fun watching Jason jump up and down in fast motion! lol... You guys are doing great stuff!