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City of Eternal Sun: Casma Post-Mountain Excursion

It has been raining in the mountains.  It started the day we arrived in Peru, sadly. That means the mountain region, above about 7,000 feet in elevation, is relatively unaccessible for the rest of the trip, unless we decide to rent donkeys to take us and our equipment up the dirt roads in the drizzle for several hours to try to do some installations of equipment up there.  Since another group will return to Peru in June when the rains will have stopped, we decided to concentrate more on lower elevations.  Thus I find myself back in Casma once more.

Anyway, I´m getting ahead of myself…. We left the city of Casma, nicknamed city of eternal sun because it rains here less than one inch per year, on Monday for the mountains, as I said in my last post.  The Casma hospital truck, driven by Lolo, took seven of us (group 1 and 2) up a rugged dirt road to our new homebase, Quillo.  The truck seats maybe five but certainly not seven.  Ah, my poor back, with the window handle digging into it all the way up the bumpy road.  Ah, but we ALL suffered during that hot, uncomfortable ride.  It´s par for the course! Along the way, we stopped at three villages to see what help they might need later and to make a tentative appointment.  In Huanchuy, one of those towns, I made friends with a little girl who was thrilled to have her photo taken on my digital camera.  She would burst into gleeful giggles whenever I showed her the photo I just took.  Must have seemed like magic to her. When I get home, I´ll be uploading some photos to show you. I discovered that taking photos of niños is a great way into conversation with moms!  They like to see the photos of their kids, and then I pull out my printed photo of my son to show them ¨mi hijo¨and we have a nice chat. That´s usually when I also pull out the soccerballs and volleyballs for the town´s school children.  They are always so happy 🙂  Anyway, we were glad the trip to Quillo was broken up by a few stops — yikes, what a drive! 

We were told by one of the personnel at the medical posta in Quillo that that is the poorest city in Peru. Of course, there are pueblitos (small villages that are poorer, but as far as cities go, Quillo is pretty poverty-stricken). At Quillo, we slept in a storage room at the posta, and it was great to be able to stay in one place for a few nights.  I used my mosquito net for the first time, though we only saw one mosquito!  I liked sleeping in my little net tent, though.  Very comfortable with a Permarest inflatable mattress and sleeping bag inside the net, even though I was sleeping on the cement floor. Chilly up there at almost 4,000 feet. I was glad I had packed some warm clothes.

In Quillo, we made friends with several people, including our driver for the next few days, Antonio (goes by Tonio); the director, Elizabeth; a dentist named Monica (whose grandfather was Italian); Max, a dispatcher; and Lily, a nutritionist. Our first night we fixed a problem with Quillo´s radio, so that was a good start.  They are on the electric grid there, but they also have blackouts sometimes and there was one when we were there.  The solar system is a good back-up for them, especially because Quillo serves many surrounding communities and is a big posta. Our first night we met two Quechua women from mountain villages who had come down to Quillo.  One of the women had brought her son, who had cut off his toe in a machete accident.  And the other had brought in her husband, not sure for what.  Quillo is a very important posta for thousands of people.

The next day, Tonio drove us down to Yanacaca, where we had several projects to complete: checking on the water tower we had built there a year ago but that was not entirely structurally sound, testing water as a part of M.´s project, and measuring for a possible bridge where the road crosses a river (swollen with raging water once the rains start and thus not passable via car) — the undergrad´s project. We also discovered once we were there that the water pump was not working for the tower, and the faucet had been taken.  The water tower was basically being used as a jungle-gym by the kids, and the water, when there was any flowing directly out of the pipe, was a fun thing for kids to play with.  Hmmm.  Service learning gone awry…?  We hope to go back to Yanacaca at the end of the trip with JK´s husband to see if we can fix the pump problem, since JK and M. could not figure out what was wrong. Maybe we can get to the bottom of why the system is not being used….

The undergrads, meanwhile, took a ton of measurements for a possible bridge at the bend in the road.  I got to help measure altitude at three points (distance from the water to the road, straight up!)  It felt good to have an idea of how to do it and have that idea accepted.  Who woulda thunk an English prof could figure out such a thing?!  Clearly the people of Yanacaca could use a bridge for trucks to reach their village.  Right now all they have is a footbridge consisting of a log that is far too skinny in the middle, and a handrail that juts far too far away from the log in the middle as well to b of much use.  Most of us were very uncomfortable going over the log bridge, but we did it anyway. I was proud of us all!

We had lunch up at the top of the road in a little town that has a restaurant.  Jorge, Yanacaca´s mayor (sorta) escorted us — it was his family´s cafe.  After lunch, R. did a pesticide use survey with Jorge, so that was helpful, too. A graduate student in the US wants to try to see if he can help Peruvian farmers to use fewer pesticides. While in Yanacaca we were told that the government is going to build a footbridge over the river and they had already collected soil samples and done an analysis.  We were promised a copy, but never got it.  The undegrads decided to trust that they would get that info.  Now I don´t know what they will do, as we left without taking our own samples.  Interesting.

Since we finished all of the tasks that we COULD do in Yanancaca, the undergrads and R. (group 2) decided to leave the next day (Wed.) to try to get to another valley where they might be installing a biodigster project.  They caught a ride from a station wagon in the central square of Quillo, and headed for Casma and Huarmey.  Two days later when we were working at another posta, we actually heard R. on the police station´s radio in Huarmey (we had discovered that it had a problem, but were unable to fix it earlier).  So anyway, we know they arrived safely in Huarmey.

The night we got back from Yanacaca, by the way, I did an interview with Elizabeth, the Obstetrician at the posta in Quillan, asking her how the radios have helped them. I am clearly not a great film-maker, but I am trying my best to get some usable stuff on tape.  Anyway, I waited two hours for the 10-min. interview, and that´s when I got to know Lily.  She was reading a book in the waiting room!  So I asked R. to ask her what she was reading.  It was so nice to find someone who appreciates literature like that.  We had such a lovely converation.  I told her about my grandma´s book, and she said I must translate it into Spanish so she can read it. It was so nice to see someone here so interested in MY work.  I do feel a like a fish out of water, and this conversation reminded me of why I love what I do!

The day that group 2 left, we went to Huacuy (¨central,¨ as opposed to ¨alto,¨ which is at 9,000 ft.)  Huacuy is pronounced wah-koo-ee.  Tonio, Quillo´s posta ambulance driver, took us in his ambulance, which is a 4 x 4 with a large back for equipment.  Good transport.  The road to Huanchuy was the worst we´ve been on and it was pretty misty in the mountains, but we were in good hands with Tonio at the wheel.  At the posta, we met Alfonso (goes by Fonso), the Obstetrician at Huacuy.  He was VERY friendly and kept talking to me despite my obvious lack of understanding.  But he took me on a tour of the residence next door and the entire clinic.  I was surprised to see such a nice posta so high up, but later I found out this is not common.  Huacuy does function as a central place for several villages. We installed a solar system and radio.  I got to help strip wires. Very cool!  When we left, Fonso insisted on my giving him my email address.  He said we must be penpals.  I laughed because I kept saying I can´t speak Spanish. He said, No importanto!  That ought to be interesting.

The next day, we left Quillo with Tonio, who brought us down to Casma, via three villages where we stopped to fix or install systems: Huanchuy needed help with their microphone on their radio, El Olivar needed a radio and antennae installed(they have electricity), and Buena Vista´s radio wasn´t working right but turned out to be an easy fix. El Olivar was a pretty cool installation becasue we raised a 17 meter bamboo pole with the antennae on it. I did get that on tape. I hung around a lot and played with the kids, who were so totally psyched about the balls.  One girl, about eleven years old had the hugest smile on her face and was playing with the volleyball.  So sweet!

At last we arrived back in Casma last night (Friday) and were thrilled to enjoy a cold shower and bed.  Yeehaw!  It´s all about perspective.  🙂  We had Chinese food last night — pretty good! Today I took a rest day here at the hotel while JK and M did a couple of quick installs in nearby towns. Where are we off to next?  Huarmey, I think….  We are hoping to rejoin some of our friends in another valley and help them with their projects to free up JK´s husband to come back to Yanacaca with us at the end of the trip and figure out that pump problem.  Ah, but if there´s anything I´ve learned it is that nothing is set in stone here.  Whatever plans you make are always tentative.  Once one accepts this, it´s no big deal.

As for me, I feel a good deal better for today´s respite.  It´s been a challenging trip in many ways, but I have not regretted coming for one minute, even when times have been pretty tough.  As Sarah Orne Jewett once wrote: ¨You are growing when you feel most hindered.¨ 

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