Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Have you ever walked to 12,000 feet in mud?

I received a last minute call that I was to go visit two different mountain communities with Bruce, Alfredo, Juan ( a contractor for HCJB) and Tanya (hygiene trainer). Bruce came and picked us up in Shell and we left about 7:30 am Thursday.

We drove for 3 hours before arriving in Yanacocha. The town was about 100 families or about 700 people and they had installed a hand dug well using a large concrete pipe. The pipe was placed vertically and people climbed inside and dug out the dirt. As the dirt was removed, more sections of the pipe were added and the process continued. They had completed the project and built a pump house over the well point. Everything was very well built and the people were excited. The next phase of the project is a distribution system. This system is expected to need nearly 10 miles of hand dug ditches to being water to each community. This project is going to be one of the first projects to help raise funds for. These are very hard working people and they have a heart to complete the work they have begun.

Typical houses in Yanacocha.

As we drove to Daldal we stopped at the oldest church in Ecuador. This was built in Aug of 1534. The Spanish came to this mountain community and claimed the land for Spain. If you get time, read up on the conquistadors. It is a very sad story of enslaving the people and ravaging the land. Their history is very different from the USA. Indigenous people here have only received land ownership within the last 50 years. As I understand it, some people groups are not even full Ecuadorian citizens yet, even though they have lived here for nearly 1,000 years.

Oldest Church in Ecuador - Aug 1534

Information in the old church

In Daldal, a community of about 160 families, we spent the afternoon walking to 2 of the 4 springs the community had captured for the water supply. The trail was high, long and hard. The people had carved the trail nearly 2 kilometers into the high hills to get to this water. I was very impressed – but as it turned out – I had not seen anything yet.

That evening we ate guinea pig for dinner. It tasted like a mix of chicken and pork. The meat was very fatty and it did not help that it was deep fried. Guinea pig is called “cuye” here and is a nice delicacy. One guinea pig costs about $10 cooked, which is quite a bit considering you can get a really nice chicken dinner for about $2.00.

We slept that night in a house where the owner had left us the key and the radio blasting behind a locked door (supposedly to keep robbers away). We ended up cutting the power to the house to sleep.

Bruce (my boss) and one of the spring boxes

In the morning we ate breakfast early and began the hike to the 3rd spring site. The people said it was a long way – I should stop trying to guess what that means – but we started walking/riding local horses to the site. I really enjoyed the horses. They were friendly mountain animals that had carried heavy loads for most of their lives. They responded well to the reins and very rarely slipped, although the mud was intense. I gave my horse to Alfredo who was having a hard time walking and I walked to the site. The site, as it turned out was nearly 5 miles away for the village uphill nearly all the way. We ascended to nearly 12,000 feet when we arrived at the base station. I was exhausted, winded from the elevation and just plain whooped. I had not slept but 2 hours the night before from the new environment, and the chickens going at it at 2:30 in the morning. I am not sure whoever came up with the notions that chickens wake up with the sun, but they obviously never had a chicken.

One of the springs.

Anyway… After this very long walk, we arrived at the base station. It turns out the community had carried by horse all the materials necessary to build the spring capture to this site and then carried it on their backs to the site further up the hill. I was completely exhausted, but I was not going to let the older ladies show me up like this (as they were walking with us). We began what seemed like it “could not be that far” types of hikes. We ascended another nearly 700 feet, up a 45 degree slope or better to the site. I had to stop several times along the way to catch my breath. Needless to say the ladies beat me to the top and they carried a lunch with them for all of us. I tried to take several pictures of where we were to give perspective, but I am not sure the pictures will tell the story.

I have a very healthy respect for these people. They worked crazy hard and completed task in one week with the entire community that most Americans would think crazy to even attempt. They worked in an area that not even a horse had a chance of going to and without any equipment of any kind. They only had hand tools and a strong spirit. In the end they have captured enough water to supply all the area and they are thrilled with their systems. They should be. They captured 4 springs and hand dug the pipe, by my estimate, about 7 miles for their community.

I tried to capture the perspective, it's a hard climb. The little spec of silver in the background is the base house we "parked" our horses at. This is about half way up to the spring.

View from the spring.

My new car (sort of)

After a huge lunch of potatoes, fish and rice, we headed back to our homes. Bruce dropped Alfredo and I off in Ambato where we caught the bus home. It was a nice ride in a very nice bus, but I was dirty, smelly and ready for a shower.

On a side note, I asked the lady of the house for a guinea pig for Adrianne. She sold me two pigs for $2.50 each. I washed them up when I got home after the long car/bus ride and we presented them to her. She picked the brown one and named it “Pepi “. They boys took the white one and named it “Bingo”.

This is her laundry room (very typical)

This is her daughter.

This is her daughters bicycle.

Overall it was a good trip. It really re-set my perspective of hard work and what Gods people are capable of when they set their minds to work. I think the church and many people have lost perspective of what it’s going to take to reach the world.

This picture is not bad, we just ascended into a cloud.

As I thought I was dying climbing these hills, here is the verse that my son Joshua had this week that came to mind. I quoted it while struggling to make it to the top.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.


  1. What a wonderful work U are doing. This is an amazing story of the fight for survival and willingness to go to extreme measures to do it. God bless your family and may the Lord provide your every need. Steve Willhite

  2. i pray that our churches get as good and continuous a living water supply as these people are making sure of in the physical/ how about brussels Lord?

  3. Absolutely beautiful! I loved reading this article. The determination of those people is wonderful to hear about, think about how much we could all accomplish if every one of us worked that hard. Thanks for posting, God bless!


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