News for June, 2015

Rainforest Blackout

By Elliot Blumberg 8 June, 2015

Kael, Mel and our guest José stop at the damn for a deep conversation. Kael redirects the water out of the holding tank to make repairs downstream possible. See the pipe in the bottom right? The tree stopped it dead in its tracks. The photographer is photographed! Elliot hacks away at the wall of vines, making it possible for the replacement pipe to shoot through. Did we mention the ants? They fought tooth and nail to protect their fallen home and we suffered the consequences.

What do you do when your power goes out - light some candles, hunker down, maybe use a cell phone to call the power company?

Here, our process is a bit more involved. As you may or may not know, Centro Mamoní runs almost exclusively on hydroelectric power. Our lights, power tools, washing machine, refrigeration, internet connection, and every other doodad and gadget sucks up electricity courtesy of the watershed of the upper Río Mamoní. So when our power goes out and the lights shut off, we don our headlamps and head up the creek to check, repair, and (sometimes) repeat.

The end of the dry season often brings days without enough wattage to run our refrigerator or our washing machine (a problem that has since been addressed by repairing an old low-wattage deep freezer). So you would think that more rain means more security on the power front. Wrong.

Rainstorms bring down trees, exasperate erosion and muddy the creek water. The pipe feeding our hydroelectric plant can burst, clog and is susceptible to breaks. When the hydroelectric plant isn’t recharging our battery array, it’s a matter of just a few hours before our activity drains the batteries and leaves us in the dark. So when our power went out Friday night, we kicked ourselves for not paying attention, shoved on our boots, strapped on our headlamps and trudged up-creek to see the problem.

Despite Kael’s intricate system of nozzles, indicators and valves, we couldn’t find the source of the issue, so the blackout continued. We spent Friday night huddled around candles and the Comedor’s fire pit. The team ascended the creek again on Saturday morning and eventually found the source of the problem: an enormous felled branch split the pipe, sending a cascade of would-be hydroelectricity down the mountain and muddying the creek.

After hours using our machetes and a battery-powered circular saw, we were finally able to see and remove the broken lengths of pipe. We cut through 10 meters of vine and branches, mostly while standing on a bridge of precarious vines, but finally we were able to punch through the wall of growth to pass an auxiliary pipe through. Kael brought what little scraps of PVC and pipe unions we had while Abhijai, Pablo, Nelson, Rachel and I set to work with the hacksaw cutting on both sides of the broken section. After hours of cutting, we successfully bypassed the tree!

ProTip: Read the directions on PVC cement. It will tell you: 1.) Don’t put a ring of cement around the outside of a union, as this will unnecessarily melt the plastic and weaken the joint, and 2.) Don’t allow water to pass through the pipe until after the cement has had time to set - somewhere in the vicinity of 24 hours.

Saturday night - lights go dark again. We didn’t follow the above ProTip and lost power a second time as a result. Grab your boots, headlamps and machetes. Back to the rainforest! Unable to reinforce the joints and build a sufficient scaffolding around the newly fixed (and subsequently burst) pipe, we surrendered to the elements and called it quits. The crew spent another night huddled around candles and the fire pit.

Sunday morning - Kael to the rescue! At 6 AM, our intrepid manager of operations made a solo trip up the creek, re-cemented the PVC and rigged up some branches to support the pipe. Our hero! We’re back to the world of internet, lights and functioning power tools. We’ll just have to deal with muddy showers for a few days.

Work Ramps Up

By Elliot Blumberg 3 June, 2015

Hard work pays off! The garden is producing more now than ever. Gabriel Salazar prepares bamboo for constructions on staff complex Volunteer Abhijai Mathur -- here for his second year -- works through some bamboo using the skill saw. Leandro pounds the bamboo into place - these walls provide privacy while still letting a breeze through Luis ponders over the final draft of his report - “Selva y humanidad: Historia de las Poblaciones del Valle de Mamoní.” Mel drafts plans for sliding wall panels in Casa Mono Ag intern Nelson Reed is now an expert at machete wrangling Nelson helps Mark harvest bananas The crew works together in the kitchen to make some delicious gnocci Pablo Tocalini working on organizing the house storage for a new season of activity Rachel Worthington researching delicious recipes for lunch :)

We’re elated to report that Centro Mamoní is once again full of enthusiastic and fresh interns, volunteers and staff. The air is abuzz with the sounds of power tools, manual labor and energetic voices. The aroma of freshly cut wood mixes with Kael’s jungle-baked bread to create a satisfying atmosphere.

Abhijai Mathur, a returning volunteer, is working with Earth Train’s staff to complete the newest structural addition to Centro Mamoní. Thanks to his, Leandro’s, Kike's and Gabriel’s hard work, the laundromat and storage portions are near completion, with mounting plans to add staff quarters.

The garden is producing at full capacity, providing us with fresh vegetables for salads, sauces and Mark’s infamous ají chombo picante. Volunteer Nelson Reed and staffer Mark will break ground on our much-anticipated combined rice paddy and aquaculture farm later this month.

Mel Evans, an architecture student at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, has taken the reins on Centro Mamoní’s architectural and structural direction - go Mel!

Rachel Worthington and Pablo Tocallini, our newly welcomed co-directors of food production and community development, have launched “Corazones Contentos,” an Earth Train-led coalition to bring sustainable food and protein sources to all schools in the Mamoní Valley, starting with San José.

Luís Bravo, the team’s historian from Mexico, is finishing up a final draft about the recent history of the Mamoní Valley and its residents.

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