Heading out to paddle/run trips in an international setting means bringing along a checklist that includes such things as learning the access points, watersheds (because if the river you were hoping to do is too high, what else is coming in), the language…and so on; which is why it is called training in “adventure travel.” We feel very confident with running international trips after twenty years–and dealing with the “adventure” part of adventure travel. But after four months of building here in Ecuador, we are sure that this is real immersion!! That’s right–commit to a building project…in one of the more rural areas of a country that some call 3rd world. Call it challenging. Refreshing. Frustrating. Invigorating. Exhausting. And the end is nearly here!
Building in a super rural area like the Quijos Valley of Ecuador can be limiting as far as the resources available; but also rich as far as the resources available. Our Ecuador outpost is really rich in available resources. Sand comes from our beach, rocks for stone walls are collected from the same place. Bamboo cut to size makes a great siding and special plants are used for roofing materials. Great wood comes from nearby; but we learned you must be careful as wood has to be cut at a certain moon cycle or it rots and termites will eat it up. Seriously.
Some wood like the corcho we ended up using for ceilings is resistant to bugs and rot and its beautiful color cames from scorching it with a propane torch so that it looks like black walnut, bonus! Windows and doors are made out of cedro, which is one of the most beautiful woods you can find in Ecuador. Wood in general is bought at a little local saw mill–there are no Lowes available. You order what you want and it gets cut. Want it dry, no kilns here, you need to plan ahead at least 4-5 months and stack it so it can dry.
First thing is to forget all the fancy tools we have at home! There are no transits. You either find a line level or a clear hose and put water in it. Hand planes that would be in a builder collection of antique tools are still used daily. Back hoes to dig footers are a group of workers that when they come upon a big rock, they get a long piece of bamboo and some rope to lever it out.
Speaking of bamboo, you know that fancy scaffolding that you see all the contractors using in the states? Not here. With enough bamboo you can put together a multi-story scaffold that works just fine. Oh and my favorite: mixing concrete. It is hand-mixed on the driveway (usually the only clear spot because enough traffic has driven back and forth). Build enough stuff and your gravel drive will eventually be paved in a thin sheet of concrete. There is a wealth of talent in machetes, chain saws, strong backs, and ingenuity.
When you start with a construction project, clearing the land is the fist step. Here clearing land is a real experience. You go out and hire 3-4 indigenous lads with machetes. You point them in the right direction and get out of the way. It looks like a thrashing machine and in a short time piles are made, land is cleared, and finally with the help of a few old tires everything is burned and cleaned up.
Now the thing that is the same the world over is the workers themselves. Except for their hours (they work here from 7:00 to 6:00–typically seven days/week until the work is done, with the exception of days when they are too hung over, called “chuchaqui” to show up) things are pretty much the same. They have nicknames- “apodos,” for each other–negro, gorgo, chino, flaco… They tease each other relentlessly and work harder than I have ever seen elsewhere. They improvise tool wise when necessary and still somehow get the job done. It takes a good bit longer to do a specific job sometimes, but it always seems to get done. While they work they talk about their girl friends or wives and all of them like to fish (although the thought of putting a fish back does not compute at all).
So there it is! That’s building in the jungle. Got to go now, we are mixing about two yards of concrete by hand today and carrying it with buckets up a steep hill about forty fifty feet high to pour a pad for the water tank. And then finishing up filling the kilometer long water line trench with sand (using shovels). I am beginning to understand that it was possible for the Incas to build everything they did; although after four months of this, I am amazed that they built such impressive structures as Machu Pichu considering that they were around less than 70 years!!