Saturday, June 30, 2012

The bridge is now complete! We finished on Wednesday the 27th of June, and according to the crew we worked with, we are the first group they've ever worked with to finish before our deadline. Now we are into the good-bye phase, which is never a pleasant task when we've come to like many of the people we were working with so well. So far our bridge has had a net decrease in access to education (school was cancelled for the last week to have the kids work with us)--which has allowed us to become good buddies with a few of them.

The fiesta for the inauguration was very fun, with a live group of mariachis and much dancing for entertainment. Soon we'll be able to tell the full story, but for now, just a check-in...all is well!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

We now sit less than a week from finishing the bridge, a point which has taken a considerable amount of sweat and effort to get to. This past week was likely the most brutal week physically, as we had to pour concrete or rapidly build masonry every day until Friday. At almost 6 cubic meters each, our anchors are about twice the size of typical B2P anchors, and the design also calls for 1.9 meter high masonry dead weights about those anchors to prevent the anchor from uplifting. All told, that adds up to 36 cubic meters which we had to pour (To give you an idea, one cubic meter of concrete required us to use around 11 bags of cement, each weighing 90 pounds, 55 buckets of gravel, each weighing enough to make your shoulders really sore, and 33 buckets of sand). We were able to use formwork to speed the process of building the dead weights, and had a gas powered mixer, but it was a laborious process.

Above is an overview shot of the whole process--the only breaks for the people shovelling and tossing ingredients into the mixer came in the five minute intervals in which we added rock layers. The cable sag was set on Friday. We thought this would be harder than it was (but also quicker). Because our sag is much lower than the typical B2P design (3.50% versus 5%), the cables had to be pulled to nearly horizontal in order to set them in the right place. This step is the only very dangerous step, as the winch and the cable it is attached to are under very high tension. Luckily, there were no incidents.

Above, Maria takes out some anger on the cables (actually whacking it with a stick is a proper way to fine-tune the sag). Below, Steve completing the first crossing of the bridge. Unfortunately, Steve had to leave (and should be airborne as of this post), but we did get to within a day or two of a completely usable bridge--although ours is currently completely usable for any tightrope walkers in the San Francisco area).

On Thursday, we went to the community leader's house (which also serves as San Francisco's elementary school, serving 20 students) for dinner, and after took a walking tour of San Francisco. It was amazing that seemingly every household we passed had several people who are regularly volunteering their time to work on the bridge. We also got to travel a bit this weekend, and while in Managua to see Steve off, we all got to go to Masaya, to both its artisan markets and its active volcano, Granada, a colonial city founded in 1524, and Lake Nicaragua, a huge expanse which contains several volcanoes in addition to its freshwater sharks.

Above is a picture of a friend who came to help us out at the bridge site one day. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly thereafter. Below, a picture of our most recent progress. Can't wait to show pictures after another week!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Today we are in Esteli, taking a much-needed break. It's fairly bizarre to be at a hostel where English is actually the majority language. We're planning on hiking to a close-by waterfall today, then returning to work tomorrow. We generally work about 6 and a half days per week, which can be a very lot if it doesn't rain, or frustratingly little when the skies open up like clockwork at 2 PM each day. This past week, it was a lot; we went through a mini-drought (it must have been, it didn't rain for 3 whole days).

Above is a picture of our house. As you may be able to tell, it's a little tight, but we are getting an authentic Nicaraguan experience. We wing up spending a lot of time reading or playing cards during or after downpours; it's often just about dark by the time the rain is gone. The sun sets here around 6:30 PM.

The picture above is how we found the bridge when we got to the site. Because we only have a limited amount of time in country, B2P assigned a crew to the site, and they began masonry work a few weeks before we got to Nicaragua. Looking back, it's kind of hard to remember so little of the bridge being done. Each side now have three full tiers of stone masonry, cinder-block towers, and the beginnings of approach walls which will form the ramp on each side.

As mentioned in the last post, we are working with a crew of 8 Nicaraguans who have worked on other B2P projects as well. It definitely is not quite what we expected, but it is cool getting to know a whole crew of people who are all very different from one another. In addition to them, we have several committed community workers, and often have all of the school-aged children in San Francisco. They come in the morning and gather rocks, and have school postponed until the afternoon. Materials are delivered several times a week by one of the ferreterias in Esteli, and moved around by ox-cart.

Here is a picture of our most recent progress. We hope to update again soon!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

One week update

Hello there! The fact that this is our first blog post in Nicaragua demonstrates how things here don´t always go according to plan. Our housing arrangements do have electricity and running water, but today is our first hack at the Internet. Things are going well - today is our first full day off, for Mother´s Day. Because of that, all of the Nicaraguan crew who works with us went home, and they all live in Condega, where we are staying tonight. Our crew ranges in age from 19 to 74, and there are 8 in total who work with us. It has been great to have someone to teach us the basics of masonry, which has been the focus the whole time we´ve been here. The tiers are now completed on both sides of the river, and towers are going up tomorrow. It rains here torrentially almost every day, at 2PM, like clockwork. Because of that, the river fluctuates greatly in depth and speed. However, it has been fairly comfortable in terms of temperature, and not nearly as humid as Managua, where it feels like a pressure cooker. Next time this is updated, we hope to get some pictures up to give a better idea of what we are doing...and we´ll update this anytime we have Internet. Peace!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day 0

The much-anticipated day of departure is here! The seven of members of NDSEED are leaving from all around the country this morning. After meeting in Houston, we'll all leave for Managua, Nicaragua's capital, where we should arrive this evening. Tomorrow, the work on NDSEED's 4th bridge, in San Francisco, Nicaragua, begins! Our plan is to blog as often as we can, but chances are good that our posts will only be put up about once a week, when we go somewhere with internet access. And so it begins!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Update: November 6, 2011

Now that it is November, the NDSEED project is beginning in earnest. The design is being started by the senior members of the team, and the process of grant-writing has begun. We know what are goals are for both, and it will be exciting to progress towards each.

The goal for the design is to have a preliminary design finished towards the end of this calendar year. Now that we have received the topographic survey from our B2P contact, we have all the information we need to address concerns specific to our site. Completing this in a timely manner is vital, because efforts must be started by those living in San Francisco prior to our arrival in order to succeed.

On the other side of our project is the issue of funding. Our current budget estimates that the entire project, accounting for the cost of travel, will cost between $25,000 and $30,000. This is quite a daunting total, as we have raised about 3,000 hard-fought dollars so far. However, we are currently in the process of renewing our partnership with several sponsors: the Center for Social Concerns (CSC), the Kellogg Institute, the Notre Dame Engineering Department, and the Civil Engineering Department. Through the generosity of those who know about our project, we are confident we will meet our goals.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fall Break: Conclusion

The final two days in Nicaragua we spent continuing our search for materials and learning about the country. We also met with the mayor of San Francisco, who appreciates the impact our project will have. In our meeting, we came to an agreement that certain things will be done before NDSEED's return in late May. The community will excavate the sites where the towers will be built, and the towers themselves will be started. Luckily, everyone is on the same page, because the community will take ownership of the bridge, and we will work alongside them.

On Tuesday, the whole team returned to San Francisco, and Maria, Luis, and Dan all got their first sight of the bridge location. While we were there, one man crossed the river on horseback, while another began to ford the river and was turned back when the horse waded in too deep. The bridge will definitely be of great help next year, when rainy season returns. Because the site is so flat, the challenges involved will be to lift the towers to keep the deck of the bridge above the current during its highest stages, and to prevent erosion with the current pounding away at the north tower. Gabion baskets filled with river rocks will be used, forming a gabion wall over 70 feet long. This will add significant cost to our project.

Seeing the effects of a bridge on its local community was an unexpected bonus of our trip. Milocz took us to a bridge built by the University of Iowa near Matigalpa, northeast of Managua. In barely ten minutes of being there, nearly a dozen people passed; men, women, and children.

Heading back to Managua, Manuel again was our driver. He took us for typical Nicaraguan food, a kind of corn-meal pancake, and showed us an overlook over a national forest.

Now we return to the groundwork of our project, trying to raise the money to build this bridge, and completing the design work required. We can't wait to return to such a beautiful country! This week made us even more sure that this bridge is such a vital need for the people of San Francisco, Nicaragua.