Topo Study Success!

August 8, 2009 at 11:45 pm Leave a comment

It was a cool, Honduran Monday evening. My friend Hannah, Carl Weiss (Carl for short) the theodolite from West Germany, and myself were headed to a farwaway aldea tomorrow to start our first official water study in Honduras. How exciting! Tensions were high has Hannah and I played and fiddled with the equipment the night before in my kitchen. Word to the wise, don’t set up a tripod on a tile floor. It will slip. Guaranteed. We also took a good look at Carl. He looks like some kind of robot from the 1970’s, a kind of drab gray green color you would see in an old hospital. with knobs, lenses, widgets, etc. coming out of every side. Fortunately, the knobs had been labeled (in Spanish of course) to help us intimately learn about Carl. After an hour of investigating our specimen, we were tired (or just lazy) and just decided that would had an “idea” of how to use it, and we would just figure it out tomorrow at the trailhead. We neglected to figure out why some knobs were so tight we couldn’t move them, or why we couldn’t turn the base to find north, or really what the labels meant.

The next morning, we piled into my office’s white, beat-up pickup and headed off! Although Hannah and I didn’t acknowledge it, we could both tell how nervous we were. We kept giving each other looks of “Oh shit! What did we get ourselves into?” After a good hour plus on the highway, dirt roads, and cow paths, and after we picked up our Honduran ayudantes for the day (I think there were 7), we arrived at the hacienda.. From there, I imagined it was about a 2 km hike to the caja toma to start our topo study.

“Should we call someone and ask about the equipement, you know when we have signal?” Hannah asked?

“Ah nah, I bet we can figure out,” I naively replied.

And up the mountain we went. It was a hell of the hike, but it was made easier seeing that each aydante shlepped a piece of equipement for us. God forbid a lady, let alone a gringa, carry something. Hey, I didn’t complain because they were all kicking my ass on the hike in rubber boots. So embarrassing. We got to the top alright, and then the trouble began. Hannah and I took out the equipement and managed to level it alright after about 15 minutes. The thing with theodolites is that there are 3 leveling mechanisms. The first is the biggest pain because you have to center this bubble on a flat plane by moving the tripod legs. Doesn’t really help when your tripod legs move once you tighten them! The bubble would center, then the one bunk leg would move, and we would have to start all over again. So the equipo del Diablo (the name Hannah and I soon gave it) had been leveled, what next? I don’t know, do you know? I think it’s this knob. No it’s that one. We have to find north. Why won’t this knob move? Call Kalin, she would know. Hannah, your not listening to me. Kathryn, you aren’t explaining it clearly. About 2 hours of this, and several emergency phone calls later, we finally figured it out, more or less. Meanwhile, all of our aydantes had been sitting around watching the 2 gringas bicker and make faces at each other. Real professional. The day went realitively smoothly after explaining the process to the guys. One guy in the back for the back shot, one guy in the front with the estadia for the front shot, one guy to make estacas, and the rest to machete the shit out of the forest to clear the path. And man, do these guys love their machetes. They are probably sharpened every night, so they can go through trees like butter. On several occasions, I had to tell them to stop cutting because my shot was perfectly clear and they were just chopping shit for the fun of it. What is it with men and knives? It got so bad that one ayudante accidentally whacked the existing water line with his machete and sliced the pvc pipe. Water started to spew, and the men made the phone calls home to tell their wives to fill their pilas (large outdoor sinks) before the water from the tank ran out.

Hannah and I finally found our rhythm for the day, and trudged through the jungle and coffee fincas following a rather slippery forest trail. We were hand delivered lunch by Tito, the president of the Junta de Agua, who had hiked up to accompany us for the rest of the day. Lunch consitsted of a carb fest, as if I were carbloading for a marathon the next day. Rice, 4 tortillas, fried potato, fried chicken, and of course, Pespsi. We were grateful, as arguing seeming to drain our energy. At the end of the day, showing true Honduran hospitality, we were invited to have coffee and pan with Tito and his family; his wife, 5 daughters, and 2 sons.  It always amazes me how humble the people are, and yet how generous they are. After telling him I really enjoyed yucca, Tito disappeared back into his garden, and came back with his hands full of yucca and a huge squash for us to take home. And so day one ended.

Day two definitely went smoother, although we were still dealing with the bunk tripod leg. In addition, a knob decided to become unscrewed and break, but fortunately we could get by. Nothing a little superglue can’t fix. The men were still machete crazy, climbing trees and chopping branches. Around 1, we were starving and waiting for our food. Out of the coffee trees, we see 4 of Tito’s daughters hauling our food up the mountain! Each carried something, in all there were 2 huge ollas, and 2 large rice sacks. What the hell, I though to myself. Turned out they came bearing sopa de gallina (with yucca!), rice, tortillas, and a coffee break for later in the day. The kicker was that they also hauled their nice china up to mountain too for us to eat on. Did I ever feel bad! And as I proceeded to carry it down the mountain and managed the fall and slide on my ass. Fortunately nothing broke and the coffee was salvaged.

By day three, we got the hang of it. After climbing a steep mountain and precariously balancing the tripod on a ledge, we ended up skirting a hillside for the rest of the day. Very relaxing, but still tiring. It is pretty tedious and mentally challenging moving the equipment, setting it up, leveling it, finding your shots, reading the info, packing up, and moving to the next spot only to do it all over again. Take some concentration and patience that I still don’t really have. In addition, we went through some pretty thick coffee farms that day and just about had a conniption when the guys hacked down half of a coffee finca. My tree hugger side came out as I yelled at the workers to conserve their forest! It protects their water source for Christ’s sake! After the finca, the scenery opened up to a beautiful open meadow. Immediately the ayudantes where up in the trees and harvested some Guyaba fruit for me and Hannah to snack on. Guyaba is a small, green, golf-ball sized fruit. Tastes like pure acid, however. They said you can only eat it inmaduro, because when it is maduro, it’s full of worms. Yummy!

We ended at 4:00 en punto, seeing as we were tired and wanted to get back super early to see some friends passing through town. Our ride picked us up in the white, beat up pick up, but we didn’t make it past the hacienda fence. Fijese que the brakes went out, literally. They dropped on the ground and the truck was leaking brake fluid all over the place. So much for getting back in time. As my patience was getting thin, we went back to Tito’s house for some more coffee and pan, and pleasantly passed the time with his lovely family. Our jalon (ride) didn’t pick us up ‘til 6:30 (they had to stop for dinner because they were hungry), and didn’t get back until 8. However, Hannah and I had the most beautiful and peaceful ride back home sitting in the back bed of truck. The night was cool and refreshing, and were fortunate enough to see the most amazing sunset. The clouds were enormous and high in the sky, like huge puffs pillow stuffing. It reminded me so much of the Colorado sunsets I miss. I sighed, and Hannah turned to me and said, “There is no place I would rather be right now”. In the bed of the truck, in the aldea doing the water study, and in Honduras. I smiled and nodded my head in agreement.


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First Topo Study Pics! Mountain Weekend Getaway

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August 2009
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