Day 1 – May 11, 2011:

Today is the day of departure for the much anticipated implementation trip to Nicaragua. So far everything is running smoothly. The vans are checked out and everyone is on time to depart for the El Paso Airport. Once at the airport we run into a few dilemmas involving the weight of our checked baggage. Any baggage over 50 pounds will result in a 200 dollar fee. Upon hearing this, we scramble and disassemble our tool cases and distribute supplies among each other. We are off to Houston International. It appears that the rest of the trip will run smoothly until I try to check in and Continental Airlines tells me I have no ticket. A few curse words and nine hundred dollars later I am on the flight to Managua.

We land in-country and make it through customs without any problems. The major reactions among the group involve the heat and humidity. Finally, we are at our hostel which greets us with hot rooms and cold showers. This is okay since most of us are exhausted. We hit the sack to prepare for our journey northward to Condega.


Day 2 – May 12, 2011:

I sleep for a few hours and am awoken loudly by another member who says that one of our group, who will remain unnamed, has cut his hand severely. Coming out of a somewhat half sleep I envision a near amputation with blood spurting everywhere. To my relief it was not the latter described. The unnamed member had cut his hand in between the thumb and index finger trying to cut an orange with an unnecessarily large bear killing knife. Fortunately there is a skin surgeon a few doors down the street. The unnamed member is now in debt to EWB for 200 dollars.

After a quick breakfast we load up and head north on the Pan American Highway to Condega. We discuss politics and I perform George Bush impressions on the way. Our van suffers a blowout approximately 5 kilometers outside and it happens to be right in front of school. The school teacher immediately welcomes us and the group gets a nice performance of the Nicaraguan national anthem by the school children. Three of us get to work on the flat. Patrick tries to signal to traffic to continue around us but looks like he is trying to flag them down for help which results in several moments of confusion between him and the drivers. We are on our way!

We arrive in Condega and take lodging in the Municipality’s guest house. We met up with Osmin, the amazing and enthusiastic public works director for Condega and discussed our plans to get this bridge underway. While we caught up with Osmin the mayor was preparing a presentation for us. This presentation was followed by great food and even greater dancing. Sonya Cooper tears up the dance floor in ways I have not thought possible.

Day 3 – May 13, 2011:

We awaken the next morning to ant and mosquito bites. We take our last normal showers for the next two weeks. Our Bridges to Prosperity contact, Milosz Reterski, arrives and we begin our first task of unwinding, measuring, and cutting the cables to be used for the bridge. Those who forgot gloves will soon end up with completely black hands from the grease on the cable. We measure out four 95-meter pieces of one inch diameter steel cable. The next task of rolling each piece back up is back breaking and produces much sweat among the members. We feel like rock stars upon completing the rewinding of five pounds-per-meter steel cable.

We have an awesome breakfast of Gallo Pinto (seasoned rice and beans), fried cheese, eggs, and toast. After enjoying our breakfast we prepare to head to the bridge site. Sal, Sonya, and I head to the site with Milosz while the remainder of the team loads up the cable and await their transportation. The site is about 1.5 hours down a bumpy and windy dirt road. Milosz briefly explains the scope of what we have embarked upon.  We then part ways for the next few days. We immediately throw our bags in the empty community center and begin work on the bridge.

The tiers are completed and we begin to fill the right side top tier with large rocks. The locals immediately begin to help and hand us rocks. We fill up the right side top tier two-thirds of the way and decide to set up camp and get a system going before the rest of the group arrives. Sal and I derive a simple system of tying our tents into each other since the ground was concrete. The group arrives and we help set up the rest of camp. We are prepared to get to work when a torrential downpour occurs. We decide to hold off and prepare for the next day.

Day 4 – May 14, 2011:

The rain has ceased and the portable toilets are put to full use. The idea of the portable toilet involves a seat and a bag with the rest being self-explanatory. The group begins the task of filling both left and ride sight top tiers with rocks and they finish in no time. The top of tiers are then placed with a layer of mortar approximately four inches thick to serve as the base for the towers. Sonya heads up the task of constructing the rebar cages for the anchors. She even enlists some local children with one being a sassy girl by the name of Yaritza. While the rebar cages are being built excavation is being done on the anchor holes located on the left and right sides. This is a slight struggle due to the extreme muddiness but several members adapt and increase the depth by half a meter. Sam thinks that the holes are excavated better by being shirtless. We meet the local mason, Eddie, and begin constructing the left and right side towers which are composed of concrete masonry units (CMUs). He completes most of the left side and the right side is left to us.

Day 5 – May 15, 2011:

It is Sunday, we think, and Sal and I are preparing to construct the right side tower. Neither of us have done much brick laying and it takes us an hour to lay out five CMUs (It took Eddie about ten minutes). We feel like bad asses until another local mason comes to help. He constructs the entire base in about half an hour. The left and ride side tower bases are filled with a 1:2:4 concrete mixture. All concrete used in the project will be hand mixed.

The cables have arrived and are unloaded somewhat close to the site. They are tangled and we are thrown into some peril trying to untangle them, seeing how they violently whip around when being untangled. The entire group works together and we get all four cables strung out across the river with two on each sides of the tiers. The day comes to an end and we spend the evening discussing more politics with more George Bush and random redneck impersonations being produced.

Day 6 – May 16, 2011:

Sal and I are totally lost on the day of week. We sleep about three hours a night thanks to endless snoring, humidity, and a mafia of roosters yelling into the night. This would result in another EWB member, Patrick, putting bounties on their heads. Talk of rooster for dinner would continue for the next hour or so.

It is time to finish the towers! Eddie is back and with the help of Matisun gets them done in no time. Sonya and I carefully measure out the placement of the hand cable saddles on each tower. These are placed in a mound of concrete at a certain height and width apart from each other. Sal and I discuss changing out the toilet bags while we break for hydration. With the saddles placed in the curing concrete we discuss the excavation of the anchor holes. They are already approximately 2.5 meters deep. There have been reasons floating around that they need to be the same depth as the tier foundations. This would mean two more meters of digging. I whip out the plans and my TI-30 and perform a series of sexy calculations to determine that the depth is fine and provides the necessary angle for the steel cables. Yay. We then begin the excavation of the approach walls which is small in comparison to the anchor holes.

Day 7 – May 17, 2011:

It has been nearly a week here in Nicaragua. Work is coming along nicely. We were running low on water but thankfully some members brought some iodine and chlorine tablets. We started with the chlorine which was not bad considering how thirsty we were making ourselves but after a while you would feel like you swallowed a considerable amount of pool water. Some people were starting to come down with fevers and diarrhea. They took it easy for a few days to recuperate. I forgot to mention how we ate. We ate awesome thanks to some local families cooking us breakfast and dinner. We would buy the food and they took care of the rest. It was great! Today was the day the rest of our group would arrive at the site. This was pretty awesome because my wife would be joining us.

With that in the back of my mind we placed right side anchor cage in its hole and wrapped the cable around it. We clamped the cables temporarily to keep them in position. We then began the important task of filling the hole with six cubic meters of concrete. We began mixing by hand and assembly lining it across the river in buckets. It was muddy and wet on the right side and I am getting attacked by ants and bees nonstop while tightening the cable clamps. It is approximately 6pm when Kenny, Santos, and Nancy (my wife!) arrive. We exchange greetings and they head back up to set up their tents. The local community has joined in on our assembly line of concrete buckets which continues into the night when we finally pour the last bucket at 1130pm. Six cubic meters of concrete were hand mixed and transported over 60 meters in eight hours.

Day 8 – May 18, 2011:

The day started like most of the other days with some very exhausted EWBers snoring away while roosters started their crowing at 4 in the morning.  Some of the members were not quite accustomed to this glorious sound and decided that sleeping in would no longer be an option so some started down the hill to start working on filing the left tower area.  This is one of the most exhilarating days we were here since we got to see what we were really made of.  Unfortunately for most of us we realized that we did not have the mixing power of the local Hondura Azul villagers.  Our fearless leader organized some teams into drilling holes into the 50 or so crossbeams, while a team worked on trimming down the wood for decking.

Day 9 – May 19, 2011:

The group did not skip a beat and weathered through some of the toughest work that Jared called “moving a shitload of rocks” Today the cables were raised and it actually started looking like a bridge and I think some of the non-engineering students actually started to believe that this would be a bridge at some point. Most of this workday involved assembly lines of rock throwing with fierce competitions between the men and women of EWB-NMSU.  This rock slinging is not for the faint hearted it is serious back breaking work even for the 18 year olds.  Later on that night we realized that Elmo from Sesame Street somehow snuck into somebody’s luggage and kept some of members up with crazy stories of showers with buckets, getting stuck in the mud, roosters crowing at all hours of the night.

Day 10 – May 20, 2011:

The decking and crossbeams were treated and set out to dry while a splice for one of the cables was completed.  More rock slinging going on to try to work on the approach to the left tower. First set of crossbeams began with our fearless leaders starting us out in teams of four. This day we learned that even light sprinkling of rain will shock people when using a generator.  Our progress on the crossbeams and decking turned out to be slow at first but by the time the second team went up we were setting about 4 crossbeams each hour.