Sunday, May 21, 2023

Photos of daily life in the village and river.

Photos from around the village of La Libertad, Leticia, and the river.

After our more intense blog posts about the project, we decided to have pictures of things we see in our daily life around the Amazon.

At the end of school shopping, we stopped by a bakery.  The kids said they had never had cookies with animal faces, so we got some!

A doll representing the year 2022.
A New Year's custom in Colombia; burning man.  To welcome the new year, Colombians place a doll outside their house.  They do this about a week before December 31.  When the new year arrives at midnight, they burn the doll!

Another doll of 2022.

Burning Man, Colombian style!
In our village, at the turn of the new year.

Protected from the rays of the sun.

Protective covers cover all of the gasoline tanks used for our boat.  This keeps them from being exposed to direct sunlight.  Our old tank did not have a cover.  After four years, it became very brittle.  One day when we were filling it up at the gasoline barge in front of Leticia, we hit it against the side of the barge, and it cracked!  Luckily, this happened towards the top, and we were able to stop the gasoline escape.  After this, we got a new tank and made covers for them all.

The temporary bridge to the river in Puerta Alegria.

We spend at least five hours, and often much more time, on the river each week.  It is constantly changing in water level, water currents, sandbar dangers, and how people access the river.  Many communities construct temporary bridges, stairs, and docks to allow easier access to the water.  This bridge was only on the river for a month this year. 

Our old guesthouse.

In March, we said goodbye to our first guesthouse in the village.  We built it 10 years ago.  It housed many volunteers, tourists, and members of Gustavo's family.  After many repairs, the rot in the wood was too extensive to be repaired.  We hope to build a combined tool storage and technology area in its place. We plan to construct the new building from concrete and blocks.

A "new to her" bike.

Haircuts before going to town for school shopping.

Watching an action movie in the afternoon.

The scholarship kids are watching a movie on a donated computer.  We power the computer with our solar panels during the early and mid-day.  It is connected to the village's power grid in the late afternoon and early evening.

Our education program is looking for used PC laptops and Android tablets.  (Sorry, no Apple products.  Given our limitations, they don't work well in the Amazon.)  If anyone has either to donate, please send it to us!  All donations are tax-deductible.

Our address is:

Amazon Pueblo
13 Sunset Street
Thomaston, ME  04861

Thank you!

The rising river: Boat crash on the Amazon.

The dangers of river travel.

In January, the river was rising.  The river may rise by up to 25 feet between its lowest (dry season) and highest (rainy season).  We had just taken our boat out of storage and traveled to Leticia to resupply.

Passing through a floating debris zone.

It had been raining for the past three days.  The river was rising rapidly.  When it rises, vegetation, sticks, and logs along the river banks and tributaries are carried downriver with the current.  Depending on the current, it collects into dense patches in some places.  We always drive more slowly through these zones.

The floating debris is easy to spot and move around.  The danger comes from logs that float just below the water's surface.  As long as we move slowly, these aren't too much of a problem.  What we fear most is when one of these submerged logs breaks free of the pack and is randomly floating below the surface of what we think is clear water.  In clear water, we travel up to 30 km per hour.  Hitting a large submerged log at this speed can be disastrous.

After unpacking the boat, we knew we had a serious problem.

On the trip downriver, we struck a large submerged log in what we thought was clear water.  The force of it was enough to knock us out of our seats and send us sprawling forward.  Our pilot lost his grip on the tiller of the motor.  The thing that saved us was that we struck the log straight on.  It would have flipped the boat if we had struck it at an angle.

We shut down the motor and inspected it for damage.  The motor seemed fine.  However, we did notice a rattling on the floor of the boat.  After arriving at our destination in Leticia, we saw that the impact of the log was forceful enough to break five of the welds between the deck of our boat and the structural reinforcers which run along the floor.  If the deck is not supported, it with lead to the failure of the seams which hold the deck to the boat's sides.  In other words, we could sink rapidly.  It had to be fixed.

After asking in the port of Leticia, we found a shipyard in the neighboring city of Tabating, Brazil, where they could repair it.  Our boat is made of aluminum, so the welder needed to be skilled and have a specialized MIG welder.  We left Leticia early the next morning to find him.

Estimating the damage.

When we got to the boatyard, the welder said he could fix it.  He also recommended reinforcing the other welds on the deck, to which we agreed.  He estimated that after wrapping up a job he was currently doing, it would be ready within three hours.  This gave us time to look around the boatyard and get a snack in town before eating lunch at noon.  

Brayan looking at a huge winch.

The winch was used to pull this boat from the water.

Repairing the boat with a MIG aluminum welder.

What did we learn from this?  Always be prepared for problems.  Always wear a life vest (which we always do).  We are also very careful when driving as the river rises.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Internet in the deep jungle of the Amazon!


 At last, we have connectivity.  This will allow us to connect to the outside world for education, employment, and emergencies and to keep in touch with family and friends.

Gustavo with the satellite antenna.

After six months of being unable to sign up for the service, they finally solved the problems and sent us the equipment.  It arrived well-packed.  After a two-week setup and test in Leticia, we brought it to the village of La Libertad.

We first heard of the news of Starlink's arrival in the Amazon in the Colombia media.  After waiting for over two years for the service, it is here.  Other options for internet in the city of Leticia were very expensive (a $75 USD setup fee and very slow plans starting at $80/month to slow plans at $200/month).  No connections were available over 5Mb.  5Mb was the maximum US internet speed of the year 2006!

The antenna is mounted on the roof of the guesthouse.

We mounted the antenna on the roof of our guesthouse.  We can power it during the day with our solar panels.  The village diesel generator can power it from 4 pm to 9 pm.  Starlink may be connected to a commercial router with an adapter.  This allows us to share part of our connection with the villagers.  They connect with their cell phones to make calls using the app WhatsApp, which is widely used in Colombia.  They can also make free calls to any part of the world with this app!  This helps them to work with volunteers, tourism, and other businesses.  Plus, they can more easily communicate with friends, family, and emergency services.

The router we use to share the internet with the community.

Screenshot of our internet speed.

We were surprised and happy to find our connection speed up to 200Mb.  This is fast enough for many people to use the connection for internet browsing, messages, and voice/video calls.  We are even able to watch the occasional streaming movie!

A Starlink antenna in the city of Leticia. 

Leticia, 38 km downriver from our village, also has Starlink.  We had a shared connection from a local internet service provider (ISP), but the connection degraded rapidly as more and more people bought Starlink, and the ISPs sold many lines.  When too many people use the service in an area, the internet's bandwidth (speed) declines.  Within one year, Leticia had the highest concentration of Starlink antennas in the country of Colombia!  Starlink no longer supplies new accounts for residential services in the city.

Luckily, there are NO other Starlink systems within many kilometers of us.  We hope to have a fast connection for many years with very little or no competition for the satellites.

The notice of no new Starlink accounts in Leticia.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Building the Wall! Our work on the health center goes forward.

We have built the walls!

Now that we are back in the States with a good internet connection, we can share our latest story...

Our work during the winter and early spring is complete.  We have built the walls of our health care center.  It was more difficult than planned.  A high inflation rate added at least 25% to our costs.  The low level of the river made transportation difficult.  Finding a reliable mason was a challenge.  And now, the story.

Moving 1,300 brick construction blocks was very labor intensive.  After ordering the bricks at the business of Bom Jesus across the shared border of Tabating, Brazil, we had to wait five weeks for them to be fired and delivered.  The delivery day was February 7.  The day started with a hearty breakfast of pancakes.  Three of our scholarship students helped our main crew to move the bricks.

Pan-que-ques! (bread-what-whats)

Bom Jesus is one of the largest brick yards in the Colombian Amazon.  They supply the majority of the material for the region.  Their friendly staff help to coordinate the delivery.  Unfortunately, the orders were mixed up, and the bricks arrived during the second delivery time of 10:30 in the morning.  This caused us some problems, as the trip upriver was planned to take at least four hours, not including the time we needed to load the boats!

Brick making.

And more bricks.

Picking up the smaller brick blocks at the business La Confianza.

We used a combination of a large dump truck and a smaller motorcycle/cart vehicle to transport the bricks to the riverside.  This was about a two-kilometer trip.  Once at the river, we had to carry the blocks and stack them into our two boats.  Each of our boats was 11 meters long and built in the traditional style of the wooden riverboats of the region.  One boat is harbored at our village of  La Libertad, and the other came down from Vista Alegra, Peru.

We stacked about two tons of blocks in each boat.

While the boats may look overloaded, the pilots said they were not.

The day was hot, in the low 90's, with brutal humidity.  Most of us had varying degrees of heat stroke.  We did attempt to stay hydrated by drinking fruit juice and large quantities of water.  When we were packed and ready to go, it was 11:45.

The trip upriver took four hours for the boat on the right.  They arrived at about 4:30 pm.  Their trip was uneventful.  But our other boat ran into problems.  Halfway through the 38-kilometer trip, their propellor hit an underwater log.  This broke off one of the propellor blades.  After looking for a replacement propellor in the nearby river communities, they found and installed an old, used one, enabling them to resume the trip.  The only problem, the cost of the propellor was four times what it should have been!  Gustavo, our pilot, arrived in the village after a seven-hour tip, well after sunset.  We were preparing a rescue to see what had happened to him.  Luckily he arrived before they left.

Now the fun part.  Construction.

At last, the blocks are safely under the health center's roof.

We started the construction one week after the blocks arrived.  We had some problems finding a reliable mason, but we employed Larry after having one person back out.  He has over 20 years of building wood and concrete structures in the area.  His helpers are from the village of La Libertad.  This works well, as they are eager for steady work.

The first days of work.  Luckily, the weather was beautiful during the construction.

All mortar must be mixed by hand on the floor of the center.

Little by little, the walls take form.

Larry, the contractor, and Ben, our project director.

The camera angle makes the center look enormous.
Its dimensions are actually only seven meters by five meters.

Victor, one of the workers, with one of our scholarship students.

Finished at last!  At least for this year.  The planning and logistics for the walls took about two months.  The construction took about three weeks after we had all the materials in the village.  That included wood needing to be cut, more trips to Leticia for missing things, and food resupply.

We had about 500 blocks left from the construction.  That will be enough to build a bathroom for next year's project.  Other improvements scheduled to make include: installing a metal door and window bars, mosquito screening, tile floor, plastering the walls, electrifying the structure, painting, and furniture.  We will be busy!

Moving the extra blocks under Gustavo's house.


Our last work was to move the extra construction blocks under Gustavo's house.  We did this through community work.  All of our neighbors came over to help move everything.  We supplied cookies, crackers, fruit drinks, and soda.  The group work is called a Minga.  Many hands make light work.  Think of this as the barn-raisings we had during colonial times in the States.

Would you like to help?  Our next construction time is planned to be in July/August of 2023.  We are always looking for volunteers.  Plan a trip to the Amazon and join us!

And thank you, from us and everyone in the village of La Libertad, to all of our friends, family, volunteers, and donors, without whose help, this would not have been possible.