Us with an American flag at the beach volleyball court

Whew! It’s been a while since we last talked, but for once, it’s not because I’m just super far behind on updating you. This time, the delay is because of a much-needed vacation! I’m actually in the States at the moment, and I have been for a couple of weeks now. I’m headed back to Peru soon, but it’s been a very refreshing time catching up with friends and family.

The last two weeks in Peru before I left were fun and busy. During the first week, we had another mission team visiting, this time from Kansas City, Missouri. Like I said in my last post, this was an extra exciting team week for me because the team included a couple of electricians!! I spent the two weeks before the team came trying to get everything ready for their service projects, and the electrical projects added some extra complexity into the usual planning. It was cool, though, knowing that I was going to get to watch everything come together. I guess it’s kind of the same with the building project, but that seems like a much more overwhelming situation whereas the team projects feel manageable.

Brown brown brown neighborhood
The neighboring neighborhood (hehe) where a bunch of our families live. You can see some of the team members climbing up the hill!

The demographics of this team were also a little different than what is typical. Often, there are a few team members in their teens, maybe one person in their 30s, and everyone else is 40s and up. This team had the whole range of ages represented, but there were more 30-somethings than the usual. It felt a bit like hanging out with my friends from home which was a lot of fun.

The team with our neighborhood in the background
The team!
The team's boat heading out to sea
Headed out on the boat ride! I haven’t been joining the teams for the boat ride recently because last time I went, the water was really rough and I mostly spent the ride with my eyes closed trying not to puke. Not my favorite feeling.

On top of all that, Betsi’s (a 3-week intern) mom came with the team, and Betsi filled her in on how much we like brownies (we’re basically in a constant state of desperate for anything that feels like home). She brought 5 BOXES of brownies with her. Talk about an MVP. They made three of them during the week and left two for us! I know that this probably doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but just trust me. There’s nothing better than having our weekly Sunday movie night with a warm brownie on the side.

Selfie with Dina and Betsi
Me with my friends Dina (she’s a translator at EA) and Betsi

In general, it was a great week. The brownies didn’t hurt. Also though, it was fun working with everyone, they got an amazing amount of work done, and the results of their hard work were super visible. For example, the property has felt very dark since the construction started because they took out some of the exterior lights, and there weren’t very many to begin with. The electricians installed a bunch of new lights outside, so the night after they put them up was the first in a long time where I was confident that I wasn’t going to unexpectedly walk into/trip over anything while walking around the property. Imagine that!

Electricians at work
The electricians installing some switches for the irrigation pumps we have underground
Disassembling the temporary roof on the bathroom
There’s been a “temporary” roof over the bathroom building for the last 5 years, but it needed to be removed because part of the new building is going on top!! The team helped to disassemble it. This new building is getting VERY real!
The bathroom without its roof
No more roof! And within an hour, the construction team was already storing materials up there… probably not the best idea structurally to have stacks of bricks on a roof not designed to hold them… but no one else seemed to think it was a problem sooo here we are.
Parade in Chilca for Peruvian Independence Day!
Colorful Barranco buildings
Lima sightseeing with the team!
Friends!
Jocelyn, me, Betsi, and Julie in Lima

I was the most excited about the lights along the sidewalk. They’re the first lights that I’ve picked out that I haven’t just felt neutral about. Usually, I’m picking things that are simply functional. These are functional, AND I think they look cool. They turned out exactly how I hoped, and the fact that we found lights that were actually what I was looking for is a miracle in itself.

Linear lighting underneath the walkway roof shade
The new walkway lights!! Aren’t they cool? (Feel free to keep your opinion to yourself if you don’t like them.)
Pump house with a new over-door light fixture
This is also the best thing… The front of this building used to be completely dark, so good luck trying to find the keyhole to unlock the door. But now there’s a light right above the door! And it’s also overgrown with the passion fruit vines, but that doesn’t matter for lighting the keyhole.

I’m going to totally overuse the word “exciting” in this post, but I’ve accepted it and you should too. Do you know what else was exciting? The construction! GUESS WHAT? We have our first ceiling!! It’s crazy because now I feel like I can really begin to imagine what the new building is going to look like. It’s the ceiling for the first floor on module 1, and that’s the side of the building that’s adjacent to the existing 2-story building. There’s a railing between them still, but you can climb over it and move from construction site to existing building. It’s awesome.

In the process of preparing to pour the floor/ceiling, they put in the electrical conduit (the tubes they’ll run the wires through) for the lights on the first floor and the outlets on the second floor. I had to dimension my drawings… talk about stressful! I had to make the exact final decisions about where things should go, and now there’s no changing my mind because it’s literally set in concrete.

Getting the ceiling ready for concrete
Almost ready to pour concrete! The big brick area is over/under classrooms. The corridor is the bricks to the left. The stairs are the bottom right where there is SO MUCH steel
Formwork in place for the stairs
Future stairs!
Electrical conduit zig-zagging the future ceiling/floor
This mess is all of my electrical conduits. Not quite the same way it would look in the States… Debbie and I went and checked to make sure that everything was in the right place before it was time to pour the concrete.
Ceiling with tubes in place
It looks like someone threw a handful of giant spaghetti at the roof and then decided to use that as a guide for the tube placement.
Pouring the ceiling
Pouring the ceiling!!!! We had two concrete trucks bring the material, and it was crazy how quickly it went compared to when they’re hand-mixing it
A dude with a board texturizing the top of the concrete
I was totally fascinated by the whole process. This guy came by after they made sure there were no air pockets in the pour and finished it off
Wet concrete on the stairs
Stairs!
Almost finished pouring the concrete
Just a little bit more…
Module 1 second floor!
The next day… voila! New floor!
Debbie using a hose to water the concrete floor
Debbie watering our new concrete floor to help it cure
Module 1 second floor with the beginnings of a wall and some columns
Wasting no time after putting in the floor… it took one second before they were working on the walls and columns for the second floor!
Two brick walls on the second floor
I love how quickly the walls go up
Finishing the second brick wall
Almost there!
Back view of Module 1 and the bathroom building
It’s starting to look like an actual building!

Since I left for vacation, they’ve been working on the ceiling on the second floor. Eek! It feels like they spent forever getting set up for the first ceiling, and I wasn’t prepared for Debbie to send me a picture of them already working on the next one. I feel like I’m missing too much! But I can’t be in two places at once, and this really has been a nice break. So, who even knows what it’ll look like when I get back? We’ll be surprised together.

Oh! I almost forgot. One more exciting thing! Every four years, in the year before the summer Olympics, the Pan-American Games are held. It’s like a mini-Olympics just for countries in the Americas. This year, Peru was the host country! Julie, Debbie, Jocelyn, and I bought tickets to watch beach volleyball. I don’t think any of us were expecting much, but it was a ton of fun. We cheered on a bunch of random countries until the last match where we got to see the U.S. women beat Paraguay in the quarterfinals (they ended up winning the gold). It was cool getting to see an international competition live. Now I feel like I need to go to an Olympics someday!

Us with a Lima 2019 sign... and the "9" is cut off
We asked someone to take our picture… and this is what happened. LIMA 201!! Hahaha
Selfie with the sign
We decided we’d better just do it ourselves
El Salvador vs. Guatemala men's match
There were two courts: the “A” court with the big games, and this one, the “B” court with the losers’ bracket games. We went here first and had fun being 4 of maybe 7 people in the stands. We picked whichever country to cheer for and then screamed our heads off.
Selfie at the main volleyball court
At the main court
USA vs. Paraguay beach volleyball game
We moved closer before the USA match, and we ended up with awesome seats!
Us with an American flag at the beach volleyball court
Julie, me, Jocelyn, and Debbie with Karissa Cook of Team USA! We only saw one other group of U.S. fans, and we asked them after the game if we could take a picture with their flag. Pretty sure they were Karissa’s family because they called her over to be in the picture too (and she listened to them haha).
Rebar for the beams and the beginnings of the ceiling formwork

I feel like a broken record, but I’m going to say it anyway. Even after the team from Hudson left, the following two weeks were still chaotic. I’m sure you’re not surprised. More surprising would be if I actually said that a week was calm and relaxed. Ha! If there is such a thing as a calm week here, I have yet to experience it.

The Hudson team left on a Saturday night, and by Monday, we were already planning for the next team, coming just two weeks later. It seemed like an early start, considering we started planning for Hudson about three days before they came, but we had much more to figure out this time. This team was bringing electricians with them! We were all super excited about this, but probably no one more than I was. It’s nice to have people around who speak the same language (in this case, I’m referring to the language of electricity… hehe), especially because I’ve been trying to troubleshoot some problems, and it’s hard to do that without anyone to bounce ideas off of.

On top of that, we had a looong list of electrical projects for them to work on. It’s always exciting when people with very useful skills come, and we do our best to take advantage of their knowledge and abilities while they’re here. That meant that I had to do a lot of planning to make sure that they could work efficiently, like making diagrams showing what we wanted, figuring out how/where lights should be installed, and buying the equipment and supplies we needed to be prepared.

Besides the electrical stuff, we had a bunch of other mostly finished projects that needed to be completely finished sooner rather than later… so we were hoping that the team could get them done. Practically, I think that smaller teams are better because everyone can really get to know each other. When I’m puzzling over how we can possibly finish everything that we need to during a team week, I wish that every team had 40 people.

Sesame seed-covered cookie
Debbie and I were out shopping for supplies, and I smelled something amazing… usually the air smells like garbage, so this was an especially welcome change. I followed my nose to a little, hole-in-the-wall bakery, and Debbie asked what smelled so good. I had my doubts when the woman pointed to this cookie, but it was SO GOOD. Moral of the story: trust your nose.

Aside from the planning work, there was some extra excitement as well (I know, there’s always something extra). A few of the Hudson team members stayed for one more week to do a medical clinic, plus we had a short-term intern, Betsi, who arrived the night the team left and stayed for three weeks.

Debbie "proving a point"
It was Betsi’s birthday, so we went to buy her a cake! This is Debbie proving to me that she doesn’t need a new organization system in her purse because her car keys are “right here!” She has things from her purse under both arms and her chin while also balancing the cake box. (If you’re wondering why I’m not helping, I was already holding her water bottle and mine, some snacks we bought from the bakery, and our notebooks.)
Betsi with her birthday cake
Happy Birthday Betsi! It’s a Peruvian tradition to crack an egg on the head of the (un)lucky birthday person, but Betsi made it clear that she wouldn’t be happy. I’m with her.

The medical clinic was great! It’s run by a husband and wife, a doctor and nurse duo, plus their daughter, who have been doing this for the last few years. At this point, they have ongoing relationships with some of the patients which is pretty cool. Often, when medical groups come in, they focus on the kids in the program, but this one is primarily for the parents, staff, and people connected to them. It’s a big blessing for the people in our community to be able to visit a doctor who really knows what he’s talking about! I could tell you dozens of stories about doctor-related headaches here. It’s hard to find a doctor you can trust, and sometimes, it’s hard to find a doctor at all! Once, one of the kids had a medical problem, and the staff had to take her here, there, and everywhere to find someone who would help her. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for that to be your ongoing reality.

I only popped in a few times during the week, but it was fun to see the clinic in action. People asked questions about whatever aches and pains were plaguing them, they gave out reading glasses to people who needed them, one of the moms brought in her 1-month-old baby for a checkup… It made me so happy that all of these people could see a doctor who really cares and knows his stuff.

Illuminated waves
Night ocean views in Lima
Googly-eyed head with grass hair growing out of the top
One of the younger classes made these little seed-heads. I’m pretty sure they’re essentially pantyhose stuffed with dirt and seeds. Once the “hair” started growing, they stopped looking like creepy potatoes and started looking kind of cute! And hilarious. Do you like this one’s hair tie?
Googly-eye head with a haircut
This one is a little disturbing… someone cut his hair and now he’s sitting on a bed of his own hair clippings. Eek.

In construction news, THINGS ARE HAPPENING! I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that the building looks more and more like an actual building each day… I’m still in “foundations” mode where I think that we’re going to move at a snail’s pace for the rest of forever, and we’ll never make it above ground. Silly me because like I said in my last post, we have walls! And now we have the beginnings of windows! And WE HAVE FLOORS! And they’re working on making it so that there are CEILINGS too!

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Duh, Lara. You’re just listing all of the parts of a building. You knew that they were building a building, didn’t you?” YES, I DID. But seeing it come together right in front of me is a whole bunch of insanity. And now, take a gander at the pictures and please also be awed by the fact that what was once a hole in the ground is now actually starting to look like something that could be recognized as a building.

Module 1 with completed brick walls
Finished walls in Module 1!
Module 2 with new walls
More walls in Module 2! And you can see the wooden formwork for a concrete bench in front of the building
Wall and columns in Module 2
After they finished the brick for this wall, they poured the columns so that the entire wall/column structure is working together.
Brick wall with a column in the middle
Here’s one of the wall-integrated columns.
Window holes in Module 2
This is how they frame out the windows in a brick wall. They basically pour mini-columns on the sides and frame out the top and bottom with steel and concrete.
Module 2 with formwork around the mini-columns
These are the same windows, now with the formwork for the concrete.
Window hole with concrete surrounding it
One of the finished window frames on Module 1. I’m so excited about these windows! These classrooms are going to have way more natural light than the other rooms we have.
Module 2 walls
The bench has been poured! (See above the blue tarp) and you can see the window wall going up in the background
The top 2/3 of this wall is going to be exposed brick, and the bottom 1/3 is going to be covered. Can you see the difference? The brick pattern on top is different, and they clearly put a lot more effort into making sure it looks nice and neat.
Freshly poured concrete floor in Module 1
MODULE 1 FLOOR!!! It’s like a real room now! They were still in the process of pouring the back of the room in this picture.
Construction guys preparing concrete for the floors
The concrete mixing station. For big pours, they’ll call a concrete truck, but even for these floors, they mixed the concrete themselves using this concrete drum. Concrete, gravel, water, sand, repeat. Pour days are always VERY long, and I’m sure they’re exhausting.
Ground level view of the new floor
This is just the sub-floor, so there’s going to be another layer of concrete on top of this… but we have a floor!! Can you tell I’m excited?
Floors in Module 2
Floor in Module 2! There’s a floor inside the classroom, plus they poured the walkway outside.
Concrete floor in the future staircase
Future staircase! It’s cool to see everything starting to take shape.
Sticks holding up some planks
Next step: ceilings! This is the very beginning of the “scaffolding” they built to hold the ceiling up.
Framing out the beams
These horizontal pieces of wood are where the beams are going.
Rebar for the beams and the beginnings of the ceiling formwork
Look at the steel where the beams are! And those planks in between are going to help hold up the rest of the ceiling.
More rebar for the beams
Almost finished with the beams!
Sticks to support the ceiling
Stick forest. Jocelyn was laughing at their strategy for making the sticks the height they need to be… what do you think? Seems very stable…

There you have it! See? It’s like a real building now. Hopefully you’re not bored of all of these construction pictures because there are many more to come. I think the process is fascinating! And sometimes mildly terrifying, but mostly fascinating.

Guys working on the brick walls

I barely had a chance to settle back in after coming back from the States. My first day back at work was a Tuesday, and by the next Sunday, the next team was here. Talk about a reality check! Not only was the actual team week full of extra responsibilities, but I also did more than usual for the pre-week preparation. Debbie put me in charge of making the work schedule and supply shopping list. No pressure! She was there if I had any questions, of course, but it was still stressful because I wanted to do a good job. Thankfully, the projects for the week were pretty straightforward, and we already had a lot of the supplies we needed. That made for a short shopping list… which almost worked against me because I felt like I must be forgetting something. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t! We had everything we needed, and the projects all went just fine. Phew!)

Green mountains out of the bus window
This is the craziest thing. These mountains are all usually brown. This is right near where we live. Recently, they’ve been turning green because it’s been such a damp winter. I wish they looked like this all the time! I like calling them the moldy mountains. The so green that they’re practically glowing, though. Radioactive moldy mountains.

This team was from Hudson, North Carolina, and it was my first time having a team come with a few people I already knew! When I was here in 2017, I was around for one team week, and it was this church. The only repeat people were the two team leaders, Rick and Kirsten, but it was exciting to see some familiar faces! Last time they were here, Rick helped Debbie and me with the soldering for our robots, so they hold a special place in my heart.

I feel like I say this about everyone, but every time I say it, it’s absolutely true… this team was so much fun! Team weeks are an extra burden no matter what because there’s simply more work to do, but there are things that can be made easier by a good group of people. Everyone listened and wanted to do a good job on the work projects, and on top of that, they were all interesting and entertaining people. We have a unique opportunity in being here to build solid relationships with people from all sorts of different places and backgrounds. It’s pretty cool!

Selfie by the ocean
Me and Jocelyn by the ocean on our team sightseeing day in Lima

We kept plugging away at the work projects, and guess what? The bamboo fence is finished!!! It only took like 3.5 weeks’ worth of work. Like I said in my last post, the team from Pleasant Ridge finished putting it together, but there was still a bunch of detail work left. My Hudson fence crew helped with some final sanding, stuffed the tops of the bamboo with this material that I think is a type of plaster? (not really sure about the English translation, but we put it in there to keep the kids from sticking trash inside – hehe – and to keep bugs out), reinforced the connections between the poles and the horizontals with wire and wicker, and finally, touched up the varnish job and varnished over their wicker wrap. Things I never thought I would do in my lifetime: wicker a fence. What a ridiculous concept! So yeah, that all took seemingly forever to finish, but now it’s done and I’m a bamboo fence expert!

Half of the fence
THE FENCE!
The fence with all of its beautiful, finished details
IS FINISHED! Look at that fabulous wickering! (Wrapping pattern designed by wicker experts Lara and Jocelyn.)

One of the other work groups kept going on the trench for the septic system. That has also been an endless project, and I still have no idea what they’re doing. I assume they did a good job… they dug and dug and the hole looks different from when they started, so let’s just say that everything went well.

Wooden thing getting varnished
One of the side projects was finishing these wooden covers. They’re going to go in the ground to cover holes in the sidewalks where we have water tanks/pumps/whatever other secrets are hiding down there.

The last big project was setting up an irrigation system for some new plants with the optimistic goal of actually planting them before the team left. Have you ever installed an irrigation system? It’s not terribly easy. I mean, I suppose someone thinks that it is, but that person has probably done it a million times. All I know is, getting the system to work across the entire planter was quite the feat.

The trench the team dug for the irrigation line to the new plants
The irrigation trench

Friday morning was a stressful mess of adjusting the pipes, raising and lowering them to try to get water to flow the way it needed to. It seemed like maybe it wasn’t going to happen, but after lunch, Debbie announced that we were going to plant the flowers! I can’t take any credit for getting it to work, but I was happy to share in the fun of planting. It was exciting to see that project finally coming together, too. If you count from when they started building the planters, it’s been a work-in-slow-progress since March!

Team members digging out holes for the plants
Getting the planter ready!
The irrigation tubing in the planter
Check out that beautiful irrigation line
The flowery plants that we put in
Pretty flowers!
Cutting off the bottoms of the plant bags
Getting the plants ready to go in the ground

In other news, WE HAVE WALLS! Sorry, topic change. The construction is moving! We’re making some VERY visible progress. WE HAVE WALLS!! Enjoy these pictures of the construction site that actually is starting to look like a building! AHHHH!

Brick walls in progress
Starting to lay the brick for the walls in Module 1
Walls starting to look more wall-like
A mere 5 hours later…
Finished walls in Module 1
We might as well stop now because it’s basically finished
Module 1 with its brick walls
Like… what is this? It’s like a real building! Almost. Nearly. You can see the formwork up for the column in the back right corner.
Brick walls around the future stairwell
Future stairwell
Pouring the concrete for a column in the dark
A little late-night concrete column pouring in Module 2
Module 2 with formwork-encased columns
Here are the Module 2 columns still in their formwork
Module 2
Module 2 looking good with those fresh columns
Module 2 pre-walls
No walls
Module 2 with some new brick walls!
Anddd walls!
Guys working on the brick walls
I can’t get over how quickly this happened in comparison to everything else in the construction process thus far! We went from no walls to all of the walls in like 3 days

And so, we wrapped up another successful team week. As always, it was sad to see everyone go. This time, I was half asleep because we didn’t say our goodbyes until about 10:30PM (I started feeling like I was falling asleep around 8. Is this old age setting in?), so it wasn’t as traumatic as usual. Plus, a few members of the team were sticking around for another week to do a medical clinic for the families, so it wasn’t a full goodbye. AND we picked up a new arrival from the airport, an intern, Betsi, who is going to be here for three weeks. So even though one busy week ended, it didn’t mean things were going back to normal. I’m not sure I even know what normal looks like anymore.

Wave coming into the beack
We stopped at the beach along the way to Lima, and though I don’t think the picture shows it very well, the waves were huge!
The group walking through the pretty walk to the ocean
Sightseeing with the team in Lima
Foliage-covered walk down to the ocean
So much green! (This is all it takes to make us VERY happy. We’re very easy to please, after living in the brown desert.)
Me and a team member working on the fence

Remember when I said that I was going to post weekly blogs? Well, if you don’t, then please, continue to not remember. If you do, whoops. As you can see, things aren’t exactly going as planned. The thing is, life has been VERY busy. I know, life anywhere is busy, but there’s something about being here that makes everything a little bit harder and a little bit more tiring. Recently, with all of the teams coming through, it’s been extra hectic. When a team is here, we’re running around and trying to manage everything that goes along with that. When there isn’t a team, we’re running around and trying to catch up on the things that fell to the wayside when there was.

So, what has happened since my last update? That’s a big question! It’s been five weeks, but I’m going to focus on the first four right now because that’s basically the month of June and is already far too much to talk about in one post. The first week was another team week, two days after the previous team left. The second was a “normal” week, the third I was in the USA, and the fourth was another normal one. My gosh. Like I said, I definitely need to be better about writing updates because have a lot of ground to cover! Let’s start with the team week…

Team selfie on our way to Pucusana for lunch on the team’s first day

Last time, I told you about the team week with ACF, a Christian student ministry at Penn State. Usually, teams are here for seven days. ACF was here for TEN which is essentially a 10-day marathon. And on top of that, they’re a bunch of college kids with lots of energy (they made me feel old, but I’m surprisingly okay with it). So, at the end of that “week” we were, understandably, all feeling a bit drained.

They left on a Thursday afternoon, giving us only two days to recover before our next team arrived. This one was also 15 people, they flew in Saturday night, and we hit the ground running on Sunday. It was interesting going from the college crew to a team with more varied ages and skills. This team was from Pleasant Ridge, a church in rural PA. I can’t possibly say enough nice things about them, and it’s not even just because I’m putting this on the internet for the world to see. They were incredibly hard workers, fun and nice and interesting people, and thankfully very easygoing. It was such a joy to have them here.

Sea lions flopped on the rocks
So many sea lions! Also, the sea was INCREDIBLY choppy, and except for the moments when I opened my eyes to look at the animals and take these pictures, I was trying not to get sick from all of the rocking and bobbing we were doing. I don’t get motion sick easily, so it was an exceptionally rough ride.
Penguins on the rocks by the ocean
Can you see the penguins? I’ve never seen so many at once! Though this is kind of a terrible picture. They blend in a bit with the white poop-covered rocks.
Selfie with Pleasant Ridge at Huaca Pucllana
At an archaeological site with the Pleasant Ridge team!

We made an amazing amount of progress on the service projects! We had one crew, mostly of the younger guys, who continued the work ACF started on the trench for the septic system pipes. They worked like a well-oiled machine. I felt like every time I looked over to check on them, they had a new piece of pipe installed, the dirt filled in on top of it, and a new section of trench already dug out.

The three trench-digging guys working hard
The trench squad, doing an awesome job (Pic by EA photographer David)
Small remaining section of trench
Where the trench people left off. The pipe they installed stretches straight from here to the end of the concrete patio you can see on the left
The septic pipe route
Then, the pipe cuts diagonally along this whole stretch of dirt
The septic trench stretching across the property and under the swing set
Here’s that section before it got filled in. Look at how deep and skinny it is. I honestly don’t even understand how they managed to dig it so skinny.
The last stretch of septic pipe
And it goes underneath the sidewalk and through the grass patch… you can see exactly where it goes because the grass was removed during the digging process, and the grass around the trench died from getting stomped on so much.

My bamboo fence squad finished installing the fence posts, and at the end of the week, it finally looked like a real fence!  It’s a bit of a pain, though, because it’s one of those jobs that is 95% finished, but the last 5% of work seems to take as long as the first 95. There’s lots of tedious detail work to do after the posts are installed, and that’s slowly been getting checked off in the weeks since.

Two of the team members attaching vertical poles to the bamboo fence
The two most dedicated members of my fence team. They made it happen! They were determined to finish attaching the poles by the end of the week, and they did it! (Pic by David)
Me and a team member working on the fence
Me working with my fence post buddy! She and I worked super well together and helped with the attachment of the vertical posts when we weren’t off working on other things. (Pic by David)
The fence, nearly completed
The fence! The fence! They’re almost finished!!

Besides those two big jobs, they crossed off so many other, small jobs that have been lingering. For example, there were some concerns about the construction fencing near the school buildings because the little kids are completely oblivious, and there was a real chance of one of them wandering past and falling into one of the foundation holes on their way to the bathroom. We had some of the team members build a more substantial barrier using plywood which has been very good for the peace-of-mind of our teachers.

The soccer court with a new wooden wall
The new construction site wall separating the site from the school area. It’s so much better!
Team member taking some measurements for the construction barrier
Putting together the construction site barriers (Pic by David)
Some of the team members painting the workers' shed exterior
Finishing up a second coat of paint on the workers’ shed. (Pic by EA photographer David)
The new ties to attach the canopies to their frames
They also helped out with a project to fix the shade canopies we have. They were all falling apart, getting disconnected from the frames every other second. One of the team members and I came up with a new system for attaching them (see the ties on the corners and the middle of each side?), and so far, it’s been working!!
Julie toasting a marshmallow with her hat pulled over her eyes
At the end of the team week, we had the world’s hottest bonfire. Julie used her hat to attempt to block her face from some of the overwhelming heat while toasting her marshmallow
Me, hiding behind a chair to toast my marshmallow
We all had our own strategies for staying protected from the heat… mine involved sacrificing a chair to save myself. Just kidding, the chair survived unscathed. My fingers still nearly melted off.

Meanwhile, the construction has been steadily moving along. The foundations are finished! No more giant holes in the ground (so I guess there’s no more danger of the kids falling in, but definitely still better for them to be kept away from the site either way). It’s exciting/nerve-wracking/strange to see something that looks like a building finally starting to take shape! They poured the bases of most of the walls which means that we can actually see how big the interior spaces are going to be. I’m starting to go into a bit of a panic because this means it’s nearly time for some of my conduit to be installed (the pipes that they put the wires in), and after that, it’s concreted in which means it isn’t changing. I hope I didn’t mess anything up! Eek!!

Rather than trying to explain everything that’s happened, I think it’ll be much more effective to show you in a series of approximately 1 million pictures. So here you go! (Brace yourselves, it’s going to be a looong ride.)

Foundations of Module 1
Module 1 foundations, poured and with the formwork removed and the foundation coating painted on
Foundations with dirt haphazardly thrown on top
After the foundation hole was filled in… they didn’t do a very good job of compacting as they added the dirt, so re-doing that process correctly was a big pain.
Columns going into place in Module 1
Putting on the formwork for some columns!!
One of the construction workers leveling off the dirt in Module 1
Leveling out the ground. And check out those columns!
The dirt in Module 1 looking nice and level
Nice and flat!
Packed dirt in the footprint of our stairs
The beginnings of our staircase!

So that’s the first side of the building… and now, on to the other side:

Rebar for the building foundations
The steel for the foundations on the second side of the building (henceforth to be known as Module 2). The foundations for this building are CRAZY. Look at all of that steel!
Rebar for one of the big foundation beams running underneath the classroom
LOOK AT ALL OF THAT STEEL!
The foundations in Module 2 with the formwork for the concrete
The formwork for the foundations. This side of the building is just out of control. So. Much. Wood. So. Much. Steel. So. Much. Concrete.
Module 2 foundations setting in the formwork
After the concrete was poured for the foundations
Module 2 after the foundations were poured
A view from (kind of) above
Module 2 foundations without formwork
And the formwork was removed!
Module 2 with the beginnings of the walls in place
This is how it looked when I came back! The ground is getting filled in, and you can see the concrete has been poured for the bases of the walls!
Front-end loader moving dirt into the foundation hole
Starting to fill in the dirt in Module 2 with some help from our friend the front-end loader
Filling in the dirt!
Module 2 with some new formwork on a column
Getting ready to pour some more columns. You can see the new formwork on the middle column on the right.
Two guys working on wrapping the rebar around the columns
Working on the columns. Is this not the sketchiest scaffolding you’ve ever seen?

They have already installed the conduit that goes underground from one side of the building to the other, so I’m crossing my fingers super tight that I sized those correctly. My gosh this is a stressful situation! Why on earth did I become an engineer? I should have picked something where mistakes are more easily remedied. Not that I think I made any big mistakes (I already found and fixed a few little ones), but I think it would be abnormal for me to NOT panic at least a little about this whole thing. It’s my very first time having a design that’s all mine actually get installed. Sure, when I was working, there were a few projects where I played a large part in the design and felt a sense of ownership when I walked through the finished space, but this is different. This is me being trusted to make the major decisions and hoping more than anything that I’ve created a design deserving of that trust. No pressure or anything.

I’m rambling, I know, but I ramble when I’m nervous. I’m nervous. It’s weird because I really am confident in the work I’ve done so far, but it doesn’t matter. Until this building is finished, everything is installed, and it’s operating properly, I won’t feel completely at peace. I’m insane, I know. It’s going to be a long year of unrest, that’s for sure.

With all of that happening, it was probably a great time for me to take a break and go back to the States for my friend’s wedding. It was fun getting to catch up with friends, plus the week I had at home beforehand was so nice and relaxing. I think I needed it, and it left me feeling prepared to come back and jump right into the work ahead.

Sunset view from the airplane window
The sunset on my flight back to Peru

We had another team here about a week after I got back, so it was back to the chaos of running around and managing service projects and hoping that things go according to plan. It’s always fun to get out of the office and actually get my hands dirty, but it also makes for an exhausting schedule! I’ll tell you more about that week in my next post… which is coming soon (and by “soon” I mean definitely before another 5 weeks go by).

One of the team members and me working on the fence

Are you tired of reading updates where nothing has changed? WELL, then today is your lucky day. Things are happening! My gosh, and it’s such chaos that part of me wishes FEWER things were happening, but isn’t that always the way these things go? There’s nothing nothing nothing and then EVERYTHING hits at once.

I’ll start off with the words I’m sure you thought you’d never hear… construction started!!! We had the first workers onsite two and a half weeks ago, and things really got going about 4 days in when they brought the front-end loader back onsite to dig the foundation holes. That was also the day when our next mission team arrived, 15 people from ACF, one of the Christian campus ministry groups at Penn State.

The site with construction materials organized
The site back when it still looked remotely organized. The wooden formwork for the concrete is in the background, the concrete mixer is to the left, and the steel rebar for reinforcing the concrete is under the blue tarp.

If that sounds like a lot happening at once, just wait. To say that construction got off to a rough start would be the understatement of the century. In ONE day while they were digging the foundation holes, they cut FOUR tubes that were not supposed to be cut. Four tubes that were in known locations. It’s so sad that it’s almost comical, but at the same time, it’s not funny at all because that kind of thing should not be happening. The water lines to the two back buildings were cut, plus the electrical ground line to one and ALL of the electrical power to the other. So besides being a bit stupid, it also had the potential to be dangerous. Thankfully, no one was electrocuted, the water lines were quickly repaired (though then there was dirt in the lines which clogged up the plumbing fixtures. So, all of the toilets ran constantly after the first flush until they went through the property’s entire water supply. A water truck came to refill our water tanks, and the toilets were shut off and bucket flushed until the dirt could be cleaned out. Fun, right?), and the electricity was restored a few days later when we luckily already had the electrician scheduled to come.

The front-end loader getting ready for another go at the hole
The front-end loader digging out one of the foundation holes. This was pre-pipe breaking.
A large hole in the ground
The second foundation hole
A giant pile of dirt from the foundation holes
Our lovely dirt pile. The grounds are looking a bit rough at the moment…

Thankfully, since then, there have been fewer… mishaps… with the construction, though every day still does seem to have its share of crises. They poured the concrete for the foundations on one side of the building on Friday, and now they’re working on setting up the steel for the foundations and columns on the other side. Seeing the columns sticking up makes it easier to imagine a building there, and it’s insane. This building is going to be huge compared to the existing buildings because it’s going to have a whole extra story! I don’t think anyone really understands how massive it’s going to look.

The beginnings of the foundations
On side #1, they started by assembling the steel for the foundations and attaching the columns. You can also see the wooden formwork starting to go in to contain the concrete when it gets poured later.
The building progressing
More steel, more formwork, and the world’s most terrifying scaffolding.
Most of the rebar and formwork for the foundations on side #1
Almost ready for concrete!
Concrete pour in progress
The concrete was poured on Friday, and it was an all-day event. They had extra guys working, and it was nonstop mixing and dumping wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of concrete into the foundations. The guy at the bottom is using this tool that vibrates to help the concrete settle and eliminate air pockets.
Concrete foundations poured!
The end result
The concrete mixer, piles of materials, and crew
The mixing crew. Gravel, sand, concrete, water, repeat.

The construction alone is enough to make life here crazy, but that’s not all that’s been going on. Like I said, we had FIFTEEN additional people on the property for the last week and a half. I didn’t think the number sounded like a lot until I saw it in human form. Trust me, it’s a lot. Especially when they all need to be managed and directed. They mainly worked on three projects: 1. Digging a trench to put in a new septic line (at the deepest point, it had to be something like 2 meters deep), 2. Finishing the drywall and painting the bathroom/break room for the construction workers, and 3. Building a new bamboo fence near the soccer court.

My major job while they were here was managing projects #2 and #3. You ask, “What do you know about drywall, Lara?” WELL, I watched a very informative 2-hour-and-15-minute video about drywall installation, so I’m basically an expert now (I can send you the link if you’re interested. It’s truly thrilling. Strongly recommend watching it at 1.75 speed). You ask, “What do you know about bamboo construction, Lara?” WELL, um… nothing. You know that saying “Fake it ‘til you make it”? Story of my life right now. It’s the same strategy as when I’m in an unfamiliar city and don’t know what direction I need to walk… so, I take a guess and march confidently in that direction until I get my bearings. And then I turn around and march confidently in the opposite direction.

Debbie and the two bamboo guys looking for the perfect bamboo
Debbie picking out bamboo from the bamboo store for our fresh bamboo fence… because obviously there are bamboo stores because where else would you go to buy bamboo?
Bamboo standing on end at the bamboo store
Bamboo forest
The delivery truck loaded up with bamboo
Our bamboo delivery vehicle.

Debbie did go over the general processes before releasing me into the wild, but as clear as everything seemed when it was being explained, it was a whole different story when we got to the actual execution. I had a lot of follow-up questions.

How did it all turn out? Surprisingly well, actually. The drywall/painting project is finished and looks better than I expected, honestly. There are definitely some parts that are a little rough, but it’s a utility space which means that’s not a huge deal. It’s just going to get banged and dirtied up anyway. The most important thing is that it’s finished, so the construction workers can actually start using it for their break room/changing area instead of the little closet they’ve been crowding into.

Mudding over the joints to get ready for painting
Some of the drywall/painting crew, hard at work.

The bamboo fence is still a work in progress, and I’m very optimistic about how it’s going to turn out. So far, we have all of the pieces prepared (they had to be cleaned, cut, sanded, painted with insecticide, and varnished), and the columns are in place. At least half of them are properly aligned which is promising. The other half was just installed, so we haven’t checked the fit of the horizontal beams yet. Fingers crossed! Hopefully the next team (which is already here. They came in last night!) can finish it off this week.

Bamboo laying out to dry
The treated and varnished bamboo for the fence
One of the team members and me working on the fence
Working on the columns for the fence with one of the team members (Pic by the EA photographer, David)
Me and a team member tying caution tape around our fence-in-progress
Putting up a worthless caution-tape barrier around our columns as their concrete footers set. The kids all proceeded to ignore the caution tape completely during recess. We basically had a human wall in front of the columns, trying to keep balls and kids from knocking them out of alignment before the concrete could harden enough to hold them in place. (Pic by David)

The septic trench is also not finished, though they did make amazing progress and even started to lay the pipe. The deepest part is finished, there’s a tunnel underneath the sidewalk, and the next segment is marked out and started. It’s crazy! They managed to make it so deep and skinny; it’s like a crack in the earth. They started having to reassign the shorter people on the team to other projects because the sides of the trench were getting too high for them.

Septic trench
The trench! It doesn’t look super deep in this picture, but the far end is at least 2m from top to bottom.
The trench and under-sidewalk tunnel
The tunnel under the sidewalk! So glad I wasn’t involved with the digging of that…
The team standing in their trench, holding digging tools
The team in the trench. I’m looking awkward on the far left. Also it looks like I have a double hand and super wide arm, but I promise I haven’t mutated in the last few months, so we’ll blame it on the picture.

The final craziness of the last few weeks is EARTHQUAKES! During the 10 days that the ACF team was here, there were THREE that we very clearly felt. The first happened on the team’s third day. We were at lunch, and it was super short but felt STRONG. In my head, it was like I was seeing through broken glass. Sharp and very pronounced. I don’t know how else to explain it.  There was no question in my mind that it was an earthquake, and the kids and staff were on the same page because we all stood up practically in unison to evacuate… except for the team. The teachers started grabbing little kids out of their chairs, and everyone started moving to the doors. I figured I should clue the team members in, you know, just in case the building was going to decide to fall down. I thought that they’d figure it out quickly once they saw me, but that was definitely not the case. It went something like:

“EARTHQUAKE!” At this point, I was yelling because it was loud but still very calm.

“What??”

“EARTHQUAKE!!” Starting to lose my calm…

“Huh?”

Jocelyn and me in front of a pile of mud bricks
Jocelyn and me at Huaca Pucllana, an archaeological site in Lima. We went with the team on their sightseeing day. That’s a giant pyramid of adobe bricks behind us!

“EARTHQUAKE! WE NEED TO LEAVE!” I signaled with my hands. I was ready to just leave them if this didn’t work. Finally, they got it and joined the crowd headed out to the soccer court. Geez, good thing the building didn’t fall down! No one on the team felt it, and I think they were a little skeptical that it even happened until enough other people confirmed it. Really though, why would I make up an earthquake??

The next one was the extra crazy one. It happened at 2:40AM last Sunday morning. I woke up VERY quickly, and when we were still shaking after like 10 seconds, Debbie and I got up to leave. She pounded on Jocelyn’s and Julie’s doors on the way out, and when we got downstairs, it was STILL going. Our “safe area” is in the dirt outside, and usually, once you get off the sidewalk, you can’t feel anything. Not this time! Even on the ground, we could absolutely feel the shaking, like a deep rumble underneath our feet.

It seemed to go on forever. In the quiet of the night, Julie’s cat meowed his distress from inside his crate. Our metal stairs “thunk, thunk, thunk”-ed against the building, and the steel for the new building’s columns clinked together like wind chimes in the distance. And all we could do was stand there and wait. It was eerie. In the morning, Debbie said that it lasted 2 whole minutes. Two eternities in earthquake time. It was an 8.0 magnitude earthquake about 500 miles away from us, at the edge of the Amazon, 70 miles below the surface. Whatttt?! I don’t think there was much damage, thankfully, because of the location, but you can bet that EVERYONE was talking about it the next day. What a weird thing. As someone who comes from a nearly earthquake-less area, the feeling of the ground shaking beneath me is insanely discomforting.

The EA family
The kids, teachers, team, and us. I’m sure it looks just like the picture from the last team that visited… and I’m wearing the same shirt but shhh. It’s different, I promise.

There have been a LOT of smaller earthquakes since then, way more than the usual (aftershocks maybe? I don’t know how these things work). Two nights later, there was another one strong enough to make us evacuate. Three in one week, and one an 8.0! What is happening!?

I know, this was quite the long update, but I suppose that’s what happens when things get busy and I don’t write for three weeks (oops). I’ll do better next time!

The blue/cloudy sky reflecting on the river

Our final day in El Chaltén was also our final day of hiking… our seventh in a row. The fun wasn’t completely over – we had a flight to Buenos Aires the following day, but the nature portion of the trip was coming to an end. Even though we had a bus to catch, it didn’t leave until 6PM which meant we had nearly the entire day to wander around and get our final taste of the Patagonian wilderness.

The major street with nearly no one in sight
The main road in town

Originally, Mike wanted to do this hike that’s 4 hours of constant uphill and then 4 hours down the same path to come back. It’s supposed to give you a really nice view of the valley on a clear day. He said I didn’t have to go with him, and I’m still not sure if that was him trying to be nice or trying to tell me that he didn’t want me slow-poking along… but if it was the latter, too bad because I decided that I was going to do whatever he wanted, even though there was NO part of me that wanted to go on another 8-hour hike.

THANK GOODNESS he changed his mind. He decided the night before that he didn’t want to do it anymore “because it doesn’t sound very fun”. Tell me about it. I was pretty happy.

Me pretending to wear a backpack-shaped bench
Like my new backpack?
Mike wearing a giant backpack
The sun came out right after my picture… this one of Mike looks like it was taken on a completely different day.
A carved, wooden backpack-shaped bench
The backpack-bench from behind. It’s kind of hilarious…

We decided to have an “easy” day and do three little hikes around town: two to viewpoints and one to a waterfall. This was the itinerary that I planned for us to do on our first day in town as a rest day before Mike overruled me and sent us on the Laguna Torre hike instead because the weather was nice. I gave him a hard time about deleting our rest day, but I have to admit… he was right. I know, am I really admitting that Mike was right about something? Yes, but don’t get used to it. For our entire trip, we got EXTREMELY lucky with the weather. Everyone says that the weather is super variable, and it doesn’t seem like clear days are the norm. We had clear skies and good visibility EVERY day, until this last one when we were doing hikes where that wasn’t as important. It would have been much more of a bummer on the longer hikes we did the two days before. So, good on you, Mike.

For once, we let ourselves sleep in and didn’t set an alarm until 8AM. I know, luxury. Before we could hit the trails, we had to pack our bags and move them out of our room since we were checking out. We were like two sloths getting ready for the day and finally motivated ourselves to leave when it was time for our hostel friends to catch their bus. The bus station was right on our way to the first trailhead, so we walked with them, said our goodbyes, and continued on to the “Los Cóndores” viewpoint. It was just a quick 40-minute walk from town, and you get a nice view of the valley. That’s when we realized how unintentionally well-planned our hiking schedule turned out to be. We could see where Fitz Roy was supposed to be, but it was completely covered in clouds. When we went, it was totally clear! Also, it was so good that we didn’t do that terrible 4-hour uphill hike because it’s only worth it if it’s a clear day, and this was definitely not!

El Chaltén from the first viewpoint
The bustling metropolis of El Chaltén
Fitz Roy almost completely blocked by clouds
Look at all of those clouds around Fitz Roy!
No sign of Fitz Roy
Where is it??? So glad we weren’t doing the Laguna de los Tres hike on this day!

About 15 minutes past that viewpoint is another, Las Aguilas. From there, you can see the valley on the other side of the mountains where there’s a pretty lake. They weren’t the most magnificent hikes, but they were definitely worth the minimal effort it took to get there. Plus, we got to see a few condors along the way! I’m not much of a birder, but even I can appreciate seeing such graceful birds swooping through the air.

Mountains and a lake in the distance
View from the second viewpoint. Not shown: crazy winds.
The road into El Chaltén and mountains behind it
Love these mountains

These two hikes are on the south end of town. Our last hike was to Chorillo del Salto, a waterfall past the north end. It’s only supposed to be a 40-minute hike, but that’s with the trailhead ALL the way at the end of the town. So, we walked from south to north and then went the additional 3km to get to the waterfall.

The hike was easy because it was almost entirely flat but also hard because I kept thinking it should be over soon, and it kept not being over. I guess I would have liked to have some informative signs telling me what kilometer we were on and how many we had remaining, unlike on the Laguna Torre hike when I cursed the existence of such signage. I’m hard to please.

View of a meadow along the way
On the way to Chorillo del Salto
The blue/cloudy sky reflecting on the river
Check out those cloud reflections!
Streaks of algae in the river
Funky algae. Mike loved this. It’s so sculptural.

The waterfall was so pretty! Mike and I both admitted that we hadn’t been expecting much. It was definitely worth the seemingly endless walk to get there. We also showed up at the perfect time. Maybe we were right between tour buses? I don’t know, but it wasn’t terribly crowded when we arrived, and like 15 minutes later, it was completely swarmed with people (you can drive almost all the way to the waterfall, so I’m sure it’s a popular stop for tour buses).

Me with the waterfall
Almost fell in on the way back from this spot, but I didn’t so that’s all that matters.
Mike with the waterfall
Mike made it there much more gracefully than I did.

Guess how far we hiked on our “easy” day. 10 miles. Ha! So much for that. I mean, it was definitely much more relaxed as far as intensity goes, but that’s still quite a distance for a day that was supposed to be easy! I was pooped by the time we made it back. I can’t even imagine how terrible I would have felt if we’d done the more intense hike! 8 hours? No, thank you!

Pretty view of the river on our way back into town
Heading back to town

We still had some time to kill before our bus departure, so we obviously just sat on our butts at the hostel and watched time pass. I was so happy to have some time to sit down… yes, I know that we had a 2-hour bus ride ahead, but post-hike sprawling isn’t the same as bus sitting.

Mike on a roller treadmill
Mike got a kick out of this outdoor “gym”. Obviously he found it necessary to give the equipment a try. This treadmill looked like a greattt workout.
Mike on another "gym" contraption
Elliptical, anyone?
Mike on another mystery piece of exercise equipment
Literally no idea what this is.

The bus took us back to El Calafate for one more night before our flight to Buenos Aires. The scenery along the way was awesome! I know I said that about the ride to El Chaltén also, and that makes sense because it’s the same road… but I didn’t think anything looked familiar. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Maybe my memory is failing. Maybe I was sitting on the other side of the bus. Who knows? It was fab, though.

A lake and fields with ground plants
Along the drive back to El Calafate
Fields topped with menacing clouds
This picture kind of looks like a storm is looming, but I think part of that is smudges on the bus window.
Chalky blue lake along the drive
How did I miss this on the way drive into town??

All we had to do back in El Calafate was repack our bags for our flight the next morning. Of course, we took forever to do that and ended up going to bed WAY too late. Like past 1AM late. And we had an airport shuttle coming to get us at 5:30 in the morning. Do you see what I mean about us being self-saboteurs?

Selfie in front of the ocean

There’s a reason why I haven’t been posting every week. Well, there are two reasons, and they’re rooted in the same thing. First, I’ve been so busy that every moment not occupied by work is taken up by me trying to maintain my sanity (aka flopping on the couch and doing nothing productive). Second, work is essentially all that’s been happening, so there’s nothing exciting to report anyway. If you feel like my last three posts have been almost the same, you’re not wrong. Things are chaotic, I’m not sleeping enough, and I continue to hope that the light at the end of the tunnel will appear anyyyy second. I’m sure it’s just around this bend…

Yellow and orange flowers
Pretty flowers in Lima!
Selfie in front of the ocean
Me, Jocelyn, and Paul on a walk along the coast in Lima
Flowers strung up across the sky at the mall
Decorations at the mall for Mother’s Day.

Remember when I said that construction was starting on May 13th? Well, make that May 15th. And this time, it’s actually going to happen. Really, it is! Are we ready? Hmm. I can say for sure that I’m not. I don’t know about Debbie. I still have things to finish figuring out in my designs. This whole “designing a building” thing is a lot of work!

Things are definitely coming together, though. Last week, Debbie and I went shopping for light fixtures! Up until then, I was making lighting designs with hypothetical fixtures and crossing my fingers hoping we’d be able to find something similar. If you think that sounds less than ideal, you’re right. I didn’t realize how much that was weighing on me until after our shopping trip when I finally felt like I had a grasp on things.

Light fixtures hanging from the ceiling
Most of the pictures I’ve taken over the last few weeks have been VERY exciting shots of light fixtures. This is from the lighting market where we went fixture hunting.

After our shopping trip, we met with the guy who is going to do the electrical work. He’s done work at EA before, and he’s also an engineer which means he can help to make sure that my designs make sense! Hooray! It’s VERY reassuring to know that my plans will have a second set of eyes checking over them. Even if I was fully confident in everything I’m doing (which I’m not), I would still want someone looking things over. People make mistakes! And it’s like anything else. When you’re staring at the same thing for so long, you get to the point where you don’t even really see it anymore. You look at whatever you’re working on at the moment and ignore the rest. Even though I walked out of our meeting with drawings covered in notes about things to fix or change or update, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Yes, I have work to do, but at least I know I’m headed in the right direction.

So, all in all, things are good. Crazy, but that’s to be expected. Construction starts on Wednesday, and our next church team comes on Tuesday… and then they’re here for a week and a half, and the next church team comes two days after. Like I said, no “light at the end of the tunnel” in sight yet, but I’m holding out hope that it’s coming soon.

 

Jocelyn's classroom with her new projector
This job has been a long time in the making. I finally finished mounting the projector in Jocelyn’s classroom! We installed the outlet for it like 5 weeks ago when the team was here, and last week I got the wood ready for mounting to the beam. And now it’s finished! Fingers crossed it doesn’t fall from the ceiling. A nice, low-pressure job.

Our only full day in El Chaltén was dedicated to the hike to Laguna de los Tres. It’s the most popular hike in the area, is listed as “difficult”, and is supposed to take 8 hours, so we were prepared for all of the above. In our usual “let’s avoid the crowds” fashion, we aimed for an unrealistic early departure time (6:30AM) and left at a more reasonable early departure time (7AM) which is apparently still long before anyone else in town is even awake. Well, except for this one guy we met who said he hiked there for the sunrise, but he was a rare bird (we’ve been over this before, but who wants to hike for 4 HOURS in the dark??). Anyway, we were not in good company at 7AM. We were in nearly no company. Fine with me!

The valley on our way up
Sleepy valley

The general profile of the Laguna de los Tres hike felt pretty similar to Laguna Torre, the hike we did the day before, but slightly “more”. The beginning has a bunch of unshaded uphill with great views of the valley. When you feel like you might collapse, it turns flat, and trees start popping up!

The shadeless beginning of the trail
No. Shade. Also, see the little rock peeking up in the far background? That’s where we’re headed (though I didn’t know it at the time).
Slightly sunnier view of the valley
The world slowly waking up
Gnarled forest along the way
Funky forest

About an hour in, the trail forks, and we picked the path that goes to a viewpoint where we got our first glimpse of the mountains we were headed towards. It was breathtaking! And we were super lucky with the weather again, so the skies were clear and the views were completely unobstructed. Seeing the mountains was good motivation to keep going but was also like… “Wait, we’re walking ALL THE WAY THERE??”

Me gazing at Fitz Roy from the viewpoint
First look at the mountains. Can you say WOW!?
Mike with Fitz Roy
This is where I start having the same-ish pictures over and over again because they’re all so darn beautiful.
Selfie with Fitz Roy
Brother-sister selfie!
Fitz Roy and the rest of the mountains
Okay one more. Fitz Roy is the tallest peak in the middle, to the left is Poincenot, and to the right is Mermez.

From the viewpoint until the very last segment of the hike, the trail wasn’t bad at all. It’s basically flat… and then you get to the end, and there’s a sign that says the last kilometer is going to take an hour because it’s like 400m of elevation. And then it actually takes an hour. And it is SO steep. And long. And steep. It wasn’t the worst hike I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either (lol but technically it was a walk in the national park).

Fitz Roy with some cloud cover
Stay away, clouds!
Fitz Roy with some clouds trailing off the peak
It’s like a little smokestack. Getting closer…

The good news was that we were there early, so there weren’t a lot of people coming down. That part of the trail is only really wide enough for one person at a time, and it would have made things much worse if we had to keep moving aside to let people pass. And, probably most importantly, the sun still wasn’t too hot because of course there was zero shade from that point on.

The one thing that was far from ideal was the wind. It was crazy! Most of the way was shielded from by the mountains, but the final stretch was completely exposed. I know I’ve said this before, but I meant it then and I mean it now… I was not confident that I was safe from blowing away. At the very least, there was a very real possibility of blowing over, and it was so steep that blowing over would probably also mean rolling down the mountain. I stopped multiple times and just dug in because I wasn’t confident that I could land my foot where I wanted.

Green valley
100% chance that I took this picture as an excuse to stop hiking for a second. We came across that river on the left side and through the green patch above it.
Rock and wood-covered trail
The way up…
The rock peaks just over a ridge
Almost there almost there almost there!

Then, I got to the top (Mike was already there), and the struggle was all but forgotten. The mountains you’ve been looking at all day are RIGHT THERE, with their jagged peaks and snowy slopes. The lake below them is the bluest blue you’ve ever seen. (After the brownish Laguna Torre from the day before, it looked especially blue.) There weren’t many people there, and it felt like we were part of an exclusive group lucky enough to experience the magic. Like what the heck is this world we live in??? Who would expect a lake like that, tucked up in the mountains? It’s not even fair for places like that to exist in the world. You blink and blink again and then one more time just to be sure… and it’s still there. And it’s still incredible. And even though it’s clearly real considering you’re standing there looking at it with your own eyes, you think they must be messing with you. How is this place real??? And the weather! I can’t talk enough about the weather. There was one little cloud near the peaks when we first arrived and then it cleared away completely.

Mike and me with the lake
We made it!
Laguna de los Tres
Okay, sorry in advance but like… I took a LOT of pictures, and I only picked a few… But there are still so many because they’re just too pretty! And also basically all the same, but can you blame me?
Me with the lake
Okay now glamour shots
Same pic without me
Okay now get out of the picture, Lara!

We walked down to the lake and then around the edge until we could see another lake right next to Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Sucia. That must be one of those Iceland/Greenland naming things (they named the green land Iceland and the icy land Greenland so that people would leave the green land alone) because “Laguna Sucia” means “dirty lagoon”, and that name couldn’t possibly be less suited.

Me on a rock looking down at Laguna Sucia far below
Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia from above
What dirty water, right?

While the two lakes are, basically, right next to each other, it’s super weird because Laguna Sucia is like 100m lower in elevation (that’s a pure Lara estimate though, so take it with a grain of salt because my estimates can absolutely not be trusted). There are waterfalls coming out of the top lake that turn into rivers flowing past the lower lake. So strange.

Laguna Sucia and Laguna de los Tres above
This was my best attempt at getting both lakes in the same picture so that you can see the elevation difference between them. How weird is this??
The blue waters of Laguna Sucia
Someone please explain to me how this lake got the name “dirty lagoon”. The glacier that feeds the lake is at the far end of the picture, Glaciar Rio Blanco (white river).
Laguna Sucia and its awesome surroundings
How is this place real?
Laguna de los Tres and the drop-off to Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia is to the left, where it looks like the world just ends.
The waterfall between Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia

We admired the lakes for a while until Mike said he was getting cold from the wind (he was in shorts and a t-shirt. I had long pants and a jacket). Then, we hiked up this little mountain nearby to get one more view of the two lakes before heading back down. Already, we could see that the crowds were getting bigger (aka they actually existed), and clouds were starting to gather around the mountain peaks!

We also eavesdropped on this tour group whose guide was explaining how people rock climb Mount Fitz Roy, the tallest peak. After doing the hike that we just did, they walk around the lake, strap on crampons, and hike up the ice. Probably they will stay the night on the ice, so he pointed out a good place to set up your ice cave for sleeping. The next morning, they walk the rest of the way up the ice, partly having to ice climb until finally there’s just rock. They’ll switch into their rock-climbing shoes from there and take one of the routes that have been defined over the years, basically all named for the origin country/state of the people who first completed it. And after all that, they have to go allll the way back down. Geez. People are crazy!

The water. The mountains. No clouds. HOW did we get so lucky???
The lake. The mountains. Again.
I can’t handle this. Also, that’s the ice patch you have to climb up to get to the peak.
Another lake pic
No words, mostly because I already used them up on the infinity other pictures.
The lake. AGAIN.
THE WATER. I’m still not over it.
The valley
View from the top while trying not to blow away
Laguna de los Tres and a little Mike
Spot the Mike, running away from the wind.
Pano of the lake and surrounding mountains
Pano by Mike from the edge of the lake. AHHH so pretty!!
Me with the lake
This was hurriedly taken in a split-second of calm when the wind stopped blowing because I looked like a marshmallow in the other pics with my shirt all filled with air. Also, look at how the peak is already starting to gather clouds.
Super aqua waters of Laguna de los Tres
LAST ONE I PROMISE.

Mike had big dreams for the rest of our hiking excursion. After we hiked down from the lake, he wanted to explore these two other offshoots of the trail. One was to see another glacier, Piedra Blanca. We walked until we had a good view (we decided there was no need to go all the way to the viewpoint when we could see it just fine already) and then turned around and walked back to the main trail.

Piedra Blanca
The glacier Piedra Blanca is peeking out between the mountains

On that path, there were SO many caterpillars. Earlier in the day and the day before, we noticed that there was a weirdly large quantity of caterpillars on the trail, and we tried to avoid stepping on them. On this trail, there was no avoiding them. It seemed like they might have been an invasive species because there were WAY too many. Besides being all over the path, they were also EVERYWHERE in the branches of the tree and bushes. It got a little creepy once you noticed all of the places where they were lurking.

 

Trail littered with caterpillars
Spot the caterpillars! (It’s not hard.)
Creepy bush-lurking caterpillars
Me refilling my water bottle from the river
Water break! Drinking from streams never gets less awesome to me.

There was one more offshoot that Mike wanted to check out, and I had decided that I was fine with doing whatever he wanted to do (my feet were feeling surprisingly okay). We got about 6 steps down the path before he decided that the weather seemed questionable, so we should head back. Also fine with me! We still had like 3 hours of hiking ahead. The skies had been getting cloudier and cloudier from the moment we left the lake, and by the time we decided to head back, you could see almost nothing of Fitz Roy! Thank goodness we went early! I’m sure the lake is still beautiful even with cloudy mountains, but if you have the chance to see them all together, there’s no question that clear weather is the best way to see it.

The valley with two lakes
The two lakes in the distance to the right are Laguna Madre and Laguna Hija. They’re along the second side trail Mike wanted to explore
Fitz Roy blocked out by clouds
Looking back towards Fitz Roy… So. Many. Clouds!

On the way back, we went the other way at the fork and walked by another lake, Laguna Capri. I wasn’t expecting to walk right along the shore! I imagined that we would be up high above it. It was a cool surprise. We didn’t stick around for too long, though, because I think we both just wanted to get back at that point.

The clear waters of Laguna Capri
I wouldn’t mind going for a swim in there!
Campsite in the woods
One of the campsites along the way
Trail through the forest
Nothing better than a hike through a forest! Also, on the way in, there was a sign warning you about the high winds in the area and saying that if they’re really bad, you should avoid standing under a tree. Can someone explain to me where we should be standing in this FOREST to avoid the trees?

Back at the hostel, I think I sat on the ground and “stretched” for about 2 hours before I felt like I wanted to move again. We hung out with some of our new hostel friends, ate our usual ravioli dinner feast, and went to sleep at the usual “way later than planned”. At least we could sleep in the next day, for once!

Me and Mike with the glacier in the background

Our stay in El Calafate was especially short the second time around. We arrived at about 10:30PM, went to sleep at 3:30AM because we apparently love to self-sabotage, and caught a bus to El Chaltén at 8AM. The morning started off extra rough. Any morning after 4 hours of sleep is not going to be pleasant, but we also got a surprise at 7:30 when the lady from the hostel told us that she was confused when she said that the bus would come to pick us up, and we actually had to be at the bus station at 8. EEEEEE!

Thankfully, we were going back to the same hostel in a few days, and they let us leave some of the things we didn’t need (like our tent) which meant packing was infinitely easier. We ran around like maniacs trying to pull ourselves together and were out around 7:45… and we then powerwalked to the bus station because I do NOT like to cut those things close.

We made it there a few minutes before 8, and then the bus also left a little late. Buses always seem to run a few minutes behind schedule until the one time when you need a cushion… and then they leave exactly on time.

The bus ride was uneventful: the scenery was beautiful, Mike slept the whole time, some obnoxious person played music without using headphones. The usual. When we arrived in El Chaltén, the bus went straight to the ranger station so that we could get an introduction to the park and the hikes.

Flat landscape with mountains in the distance
The road to El Chalten

El Chaltén is a village in the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, the same park that we visited on our first day when we trekked on Perito Moreno Glacier. The town is inside the park. This is super weird to me because we don’t have people living in national parks in the States. I found myself frequently confused by the “national park” concept during our trip. Like there are portions of some parks that are privately owned. In Torres del Paine in Chile, some portions of the actual W Trek are on private land, some of the campsites are privately owned, etc. You literally can’t do the trek without crossing between private and national land. Very confusing while you’re hiking and get to a sign that says, “Welcome to Torres del Paine National Park,” and you didn’t think you’d ever left.

View of El Chalten from above
El Chaltén

I did some research before we went and thought it would be a good idea for us to take it easy on our first day considering we were coming off of four long days of trekking. There are some short hikes around town, so I had those on the schedule for the first day and had the two major long hikes on the following two.

At the ranger station, the guy who did our orientation said that the weather was really nice, so it would be a good idea to go on a hike in the afternoon if possible because no one knows what weather tomorrow will bring. I said, “We’re doing that already!” Mike said, “We should go on a longer hike just in case.” Ugh. So much for a rest day. His plan was to do the “short” 6-hour hike on the first day, the most popular 8-hour hike on the second day, and this one that’s literally 4 hours up and then 4 hours down on the way back on the last day. He’s a loon. He told me that I could skip the last day if I wanted to rest, but who rests on the LAST day of a hiking trip? That defeats the whole purpose of a rest day!

 

Mike and me along the way
Trail selfie!
The trail with blue, clear skies
Okay, so the weather was pretty perfect…

So, Mike decided that we should do the Laguna Torre hike because the trailhead was literally across the street from our hostel, and it was ONLY 6 hours, unlike the other two hikes he wanted to do. By the time we checked in and got settled and ready to go, it was about 1:15PM aka the hottest part of the day and definitely the ideal time to start a 6-hour hike (sarcasm, in case you didn’t catch that).

The hike itself really wasn’t that bad, but my feet were still killing me, and it was HOT. Even the woman who checked us in at the hostel said that it was abnormally hot, and she was ready for it to cool down again. Yeah, same. The beginning of the hike had some uphill that wasn’t too bad… except for the fact that there was no shade. I learned my lesson after the unfortunate arm-burn incident of the Torres del Paine trek day 3 and covered myself in sunscreen. Mike seems to think he’s superhuman and is fine with a little sunscreen on his face and nothing more. What is it that they say about doctors being the worst patients? I believe it.

Me climbing up a rocky hill
Almost at the lake… just a few more steps! Up, up, and up! (That’s me. Hi, Lara!)
A gorge along the trail
I make the “gorge”ous joke literally every time I come across a gorge, so here it is again. Ain’t this just GORGEOUS?
Green landscape with mountains and a glacier in the distance
First glimpse of the glacier!

After the start, it got much flatter and much shadier for the entire middle stretch of the hike. That was a welcome break! And then, after a tiny uphill, we made it to the lake! Laguna Torre, with its breathtaking waters the color of very milked-down coffee. Yeah, it was kind of gross looking. If that was the main attraction of the hike, I would have said, “NOPE not worth it.” But, you’re really there for the glacier at the far end of the lake.

Tree-shaded trail
There’s nothing better than a tree-covered path
Glacier in the distance with a nice, shaded trail in the foreground
We were definitely thankful for that shade along the trail!
The brown, murky lake
Check out that crystal clear water… yum…
Panoramic picture of the lake and surrounding mountains
It’s still pretty awesome, though.
Laguna Torre with the glacier in the background
Spot the glacier!

We did this extension of the hike to a viewpoint closer to the glacier, and as well-marked as the beginning part of the hike was, this part had exactly ZERO trail markers… unless it was actually so unclear that we were not even near the actual trail. I think we were, though, because part of the hike was along a ridge where there weren’t many other options, so I’m thinking it was actually just terribly marked. The extension was completely exposed to the sun, very rocky, and all uphill. And we spent the whole time going, “Hmm, these rocks look like they’re a little more trampled down, maybe the path is over here,” crossing our fingers, and walking that way.

Me walking along a ridge
This part of the trail was pretty easy to follow, but it wasn’t all this clear.
Mike way up ahead on the trail
Pleaseee don’t make me climb up anymore. (Bye, Mike.)
The glacier!
Glacier glacier glacier!

I don’t even know if we made it to the actual viewpoint because we never reached a sign that said we did. We got to a place that looked like it COULD be the end and then Mike decided that if it wasn’t, it was better than the actual thing anyway (based on nothing but his intuition). That was fine with me. I was ready to turn around. We ate a snack in the shade of some rocks before turning around.

Mike with the glacier
Mike’s classic thumbs up
Another glacier pic
As usual, it looks like we’re on another planet

On the way back, my body was so over walking. Mike was laughing at me because I spent considerable energy ranting about how they have some nerve putting up signs that tell you what kilometer you’re on. How rude, right? You may be thinking, “Oh, that sounds great! Then you know exactly where you are and how far you have to go.” Yes, but no. Yes, I knew exactly how far we still had to go, but no, it wasn’t great. It ruins any chance you have of deluding yourself into believing that there’s only a little bit left. I spent the rest of the time yelling at him (kindly, of course) to tell entertaining stories to distract me from my misery.

Me and Mike with the glacier in the background
Us with a glacier. No big deal. No matter how many glaciers we visit, I’m still totally awed.
The path headed down the mountain
On the way back down! Much better than the way up, though we still had no idea where we were supposed to be walking.
Little waterfall along the trail
Pretty!

When I’m hiking, I go through these phases. At the beginning, my feet hurt and it’s awful, but soon enough, they go numb, I feel fine, and I’m cruising. Later, my feet inevitably remember how unhappy they are and start screaming at me, and I hobble along in agony. Eventually, I get like a 4th wind and can crank out a few more kilometers until I crash and burn again and hobble the rest of the way home. The good thing about this hike was that the trailhead was maybe 20 steps from our hostel, so I really could just collapse at the finish line.

As grumpy as I was at the end, I was happy that we had just done it and had one less day to worry about getting good weather. We spent the rest of the night hanging out with some people we met at the hostel, draining our fresh blisters (that was only me), and crying over the sad state of our feet (also only me). And eating mass quantities of ravioli, the official hiking food of Mike and Lara. All in all, it was a good (and exhausting) day.

The last couple of weeks have been overwhelming, hence why I haven’t been posting recently. Last time, I wrote about trying to maintain a work-life balance. It wasn’t going very well then, and it hasn’t improved since. That’s why I’ve been missing in action recently. I could feel myself starting to fall apart, and I needed to cut something out in an attempt to give myself a chance to recover. I think it worked? Maybe? A little? But I’m still in the middle of a period of chaos, so we’ll see if I can make it out on the other side in one piece.

Let me try to catch you up on all of the happenings…

1. Our construction start date got pushed back again until May 13th. I know it sounds like we’re never actually going to start building, but this is the final final final start date. On May 20th, we have another team coming from the US, so if we don’t start before then, it’s really never going to happen. This is a good thing, though. We were so not going to be ready by the other date, partly because…

2. Our new structural engineer may be a miracle worker, but he’s still human and needs time to get everything done. I mentioned in my last post that we switched engineers because the first one wasn’t working out. Basically, they delivered a half-finished design, and a bunch of people found errors in their work that they refused to fix. Good, right? It was unfortunate to have to make a change in the middle of the project, but this new guy we’re working with really has it together. His design is SO much better, he meets deadlines and communicates well, and we’re actually confident that he knows what he’s talking about. Imagine that.

3. Two weeks ago was simultaneously the best and worst week because of the Easter vacation. We only worked Monday – Wednesday which would have been more fabulous if I didn’t need to fit 5 days of work into 3. It was stressful, to say the least, and by the time I went to sleep on Wednesday, I didn’t have much left in me… energy, patience, or brain functionality. So maybe it was good that it was only a three-day week.

Most of the time, I’m not thrilled about our lunches… but this was on a day with my favorite lunch, aji de gallina. It’s rice with a thick sauce filled with chicken pieces, potatoes, and a boiled egg. This picture was taken after I got seconds and was the most excited!

4. For the holiday break (Thursday – Saturday), we went on a mini-vacation into the mountains! The pretty, green, not-in-the-middle-of-the-desert mountains! It was exactly the break I needed (until I got a reality check back at work on Monday). I can’t even explain to you how nice it was to be away from the compound. Everyone was so relaxed. The mountains were beautiful. The weather was cooler. We didn’t talk about work at all. I think we all needed a bit of an escape from reality. I’m going to write more about our trip in another post because I have lots of pretty pictures to share!

The vacation crew! In the front, it’s me, Jocelyn, Julie, Dina, and her daughter Rachel. In the back, there’s Paul, Julie’s friend Kylie, and David. Look at all of that green behind us!

5. Last week was a mess. Our deadline for “finishing” our drawings is next Saturday, and yesterday we had a sort of pre-submission to prepare for a meeting this week to make final decisions about a few things that are currently up in the air. I feel overwhelmed. There are so many things left to do, and it seems like I keep getting surprised with more and more. Like maybe I asked a month ago if we wanted ‘x’ in the building, the answer was no, and last week, the answer became yes. I had a bit of a meltdown. It’s been worked out, though, and I’m praying for focus so that this can be a productive week. It needs to be.

I thought this sunset was cool until the next one…
Fiery sunset
This sunset is insane!! I took this in the stairwell on my way home from work. There’s always like a “pink hour” when the sun is setting where the whole landscape looks pinkish. It’s crazy. I call it “radioactive hour”.

6. The reason I said “finishing” in quotes in #5 is because we need to put together our drawings for pricing, but we haven’t had time to look at light fixtures yet. That means that I have maybe 20% confidence in my lighting layouts because how can I be sure about something that is based completely on speculation? At least construction happens from the ground up, so there’s some time to do research before they need to start installing pipes for the wiring and such. Still, it’s stressful to feel like I’m being pushed to make decisions without nearly enough information.

7. Even though actual construction hasn’t started, pre-construction has! This week kicked off some of the site preparation work. We had a front-end loader here on Thursday to put in a gravel driveway, and the guys are putting up a little building with a bathroom/shower and storage and changing areas for the construction workers. Legit construction companies make plans for this kind of thing – where materials will be located, where to put construction fencing, how pedestrians will be re-routed, etc. It might be okay to just wing it on a smaller project here, but this is going to be a big disruption to the programs no matter what. We want to minimize the impact as much as possible.

The front-end loader clearing the way for our fresh gravel driveway.
Then, the gravel truck came through and dumped piles of gravel for the loader to spread out. I don’t have any after pictures, but imagine a gravel driveway and you’ll be spot on, I’m sure.

Okay, I think that’s all. This week is sure to be another one of chaos with the goal of making next week slightly more manageable… until construction starts the week after, and we’re right back to chaos! Hopefully that will be an exciting chaos, though, and not the type that makes me feel like I’m going to implode.