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!