Leaving for my last Engineers without Borders trip, I figured I'd finally get around to finishing a blog post I had started writing last summer! This one's about the time we acquired all the construction materials we needed for maintenance work in La Pitajaya. Though our visit to Trujillo this year will be much less hectic, this story gives a nice preview of the adventures to come with the new project and the expect-the-unexpected nature of international development!
The time has come again for us to take a day trip to Trujillo and buy materials for our project. As familiar as these hardware stores may appear to you at first, this is no shopping spree at your local Home Depot. You have to know where to get what, how to haggle down transportation costs to a reasonable price, how to manage our time so we'd get back to La Pitajaya before morning, and I'm sure our financial subteam leader would greatly appreciate it if we remained mindful of the budget ;) So after compiling a nice long list of needed materials with our mason Tito and learning the best places to get them from Alan, we had a lovely 5am wakeup and hopped on the combi to Trujillo.
Grabbing breakfast at hostal colonial (only spilling two drinks in my weary state) and finalizing plans for how the four of us were to split up during the day, we set off towards the ferreterías. But as we've learned over and over again during our adventures in Peru, there's a really good chance that things wouldn't go exactly according to plan.
Arriving at El Maestro and asking around, Kasturi and I were surprised to learn that they were currently unable to supply the sand and gravel we needed to mix with the cement. They suggested an Arenera down the road, but when we got there the guy at the arenera told us they didn't sell arena D:
He did give us the phone number of someone he knew from a cantera. Through a translate app lookup and some context clues from the call (the closest thing to an address he gave us was to stop on the side of the road to hHanchaco) we learned that the word meant a quarry, literally just gigantic mounds of sand and gravel straight out of the desert!
So after hitching a ride with one of the trucks we hired to bring everything to La Pitajaya, we set off towards Huanchaco - a pretty long straight road through the desert wasteland I might add. We saw something with a sign and some sort of structure, but after talking to someone there we were clearly in the wrong place. Calling the guy again and attempting to communicate where we were, he eventually found us and told us to follow his car.
Lead off the highway on narrow dirt road, we traveled a good kilometer into the middle of nowhere before turning off into mountains of dirt as far as the eye could see!!
Driving through these mounds a to clearing, our sand and gravel guy then tells us to wait here while he drives off somewhere. So there we were, stuck waiting in the middle of the Peruvian wasteland. The minutes ticked on. I tried to see how many flies i could smack of the 20+ that were annoyingly buzzing around inside the truck. I got up to eight ;)
After a call reminding the guy of our continued existence, a tractor arrives! By this time our second materials truck has also found its way into the wasteland and the tractor impressively pours waterfalls of arena and gravilla into the trucks.
Driving back to the city and picking up the rest of the materials (41 cement bags, 5 planchas of wood, rods of fierro and rolls of alambre), I then meet up with Amanda and Spencer to pick up the pipes while Kasturi attempts to navigate a third truck over to the wasteland to fill up on more gravel.
Loading the galvanized pipes onto the truck at 3A and then driving over to Eurotubo to stack on a rather overestimated 20 packets of 2" pvc, (over a km was resold at the end of the trip) were reunited at last with Kasturi back in front of El Maestro.
After some redistribution of the load in preparation for the long uphill climb, we set off for the mountains!
The journey into la sierra:
Eating my chifa take out on the truck, I chat with the driver and his wife a bit. After explaining a bit about our project and what all this material is for, the wife started to tell me discomforting stories about past trips they've taken into the mountains, with particular emphasis on the time their truck broke down on the way to Santiago de Chuco. Some time into the long winding roads the truck slows to a near halt - we can't go into second gear. Still ahead of the others we crawled up the never ending incline, we pull up on the side of the road and wait for them to catch up as the sky darkens. The rest of the night dragged on as we grew increasingly more tired. Kasturi's truck finally came. Spencer's was nowhere to be seen. There's not much more you can do but lean back, appreciate the stars, and give the occasional call to make sure the others are ok.
We get the truck started again. The crawl continues. At long last we see some familiar sights. We pass the entrance to Samne…then go over the bridge to Casmiche. We reach Lucho's house, a leader figure in La Pitajaya Alta though not a resident, who invites us in as we wait for the third truck. His family treats us to some tea and nuña as we show them photos of our crazy adventures throughout the day. Despite the temptation to stay and continue cuddling their newborn puppies, we politely explained that it'd be better to wait outside and keep an eye out for Spencer.
At long long last (and at the expense of the patience of our truck drivers) the final truck arrives!!! But to their despair this was not a dump everything and go home sort of ordeal! Most of the aggregate needed to be brought further up the road where we would later carry it up to the source and springbox location, while a portion needed to be driven all the way up the mountain to La Pitajaya Alta for the maintenance work there!
The community members and us quickly worked to unload all the pipes and store it in Lucho's house, while Kasturi negotiated pricing for this extended portion of the trip.
We then parked two of trucks back to back, so that we could shovel sand and gravel from one to the other. Correct amounts shoveled and cement bags distributed according to what Tito needed, we headed off on the final kilometer to Sol Radiante (a restaurant by the path up to the springbox) while the other truck went up the narrow dirt path that zig-zags up to La Pitajaya.
It was well past midnight now. More slow crawling, more unloading, and we finally met up back at Lucho's house. Kasturi coordinated plans for tomorrow morning, making sure we had enough potato sacks for all of us to carry the sand and gravel up the mountain in. We parted ways, and one of the truck drivers was nice enough to drop us off at the entrance to Samne before making the significantly faster downhill drive back to Trujillo.
Only a half hour's walk now from the row of mattresses we called home. Closing my eyes for extended blinks as I shuffled down the dirt road towards bed, I could swear I was still hearing and answering Spanish conversations. One of the few times if not the first that I've dreamt in another language - just goes to show how tired I was! A post 2am arrival to a sleeping travel team, some tip-toeing into our pajamas and sleeping bags, and a peaceful slumber in prep for the hearty manual labor that lay ahead ;)