Post by Erynne Van Zee

Day Three presented the challenge of filling the ollos (holes) we dug yesterday with cement. In the U.S., you might go to Home Depot, buy a few bags of concrete mix, and add water…just like Betty Crocker. But in El Salvador, it’s a bit more complex. Gravel and sand gets delivered by large trucks that barely fit on the dirt roads here (see Grace’s post from yesterday), and cement bags weigh upwards of 100 pounds. But mainly, when you’re working in a pueblo where the closest major water source is down a very steep hill, how do you lug at least 75 gallons of water back in a timely manner?

Rubén met us in San Jose Villanueva at 8:30 with El Toro loaded with a large water tank and hose, much to our surprise (and relief). Last night, we had been thinking about how to best get water up to each site, and basically reached the conclusion that we would be doing a lot of lugging. But luckily, Rubén’s tank meant we could fill up at the river with a bucket brigade and then proceed uphill to Porvenir.

Fitness Challenge 1: Filling Ruben’s tank

When we reached the bridge crossing the river into El Porvenir, we all hopped out and unloaded the 10 buckets from Mike’s house, most of which were cemented together. Ariel and I hiked uphill to round up the troops (Miguel and Don Chepe, plus a few buckets), but by the time we started back downhill, the rest of the crew had already filled more than half the tank, plenty for the day’s “workout”. Catherine had already spilled three tons of it on her shirt.

Fitness Challenge 2: Moving 50 palas worth of sand

One would hope a few engineering students would be able to make a sand and gravel brigade no problem, but a bucket of gravel is definitely heavier than I anticipated. We ferried buckets of sand, gravel, and water from the truck 100 meters up to the site of the tank as Don Chepe shoveled and Rubén poured. After a few runs, Catherine and I casually started slipping the buckets away from the gravel piles when only half full – still heavy, but much more manageable. Every day, I am so impressed by the strength of our El Salvadorian colleagues who can haul two bags of cement uphill on their heads and carry full buckets of gravel without even pausing to catch their breath. And so as Catherine, Ariel, and I paused to catch our breath, Ariel suggested: “Next year, travel team workouts!” Maybe we’ll be somewhat up to par next year…

Fitness Challenge 3: Mixing concrete

To mix the concrete, we built a volcano of sand, gravel, and cement in the hole and began pouring buckets of water into the middle. Thorough mixing involves shoveling the dry ingredients from the sides of the volcano into the middle. And the more water that is added, the heavier it gets. Bob, Catherine, Grace and I started as mixers, but were quickly replaced by Don Chepe, Jose, and Carlos, who wait patiently at the edges until we pause to catch our breaths and then motion for us to hand over the shovels. Their skill and strength makes mixing concrete look easy as they rapidly shovel the dry into the wet, mix well, and plop the concrete into the corners of the form, without resting. First slab: an hour and a half (river to finish); the second, an hour.

We still have one slab to go and three roofs to build. Ryan and Grace fit in pretty well with the heavy lifting. But next year, EWB is going to the gym.

– Erynne