I arrived at the airport and met up with Alex, a new friend with whom I was sharing a ride. Alex had quit his job to come down and volunteer permanently.
It took over an hour to get to the base as we wound through unmarked mountain roads. It was green everywhere, and the soil was red clay. Some areas had returned to normal, but the damage is everywhere.
The base at Barranquitas was in a church's summer camp. Spread out on high hills, the views were spectacular. I started at the command center, and received a tour of the camp and the dorm in which I'd be staying. I was lucky and got a corner bunk.
Every day there was a task board that was updated. It was a great system and you always knew everything that was going on and where you were supposed to be. I was in one of the better areas. The most difficult was Toa Baja, which had been flooded with a tsunami of mud and debris from the hurricane and an emergency dam release. The houses there are filled with mud, debris, and mold. The valiant volunteers at that site sleep on the floor of a church and return to base on weekends.
I had dinner and watched the sun set. At night there are some amazing jungle sounds that the local fauna make.
Dressed in my All Hands and Hearts outfit, I went to my first roof assignment at Anna and Irma's house. The concrete roofs suffered in the hurricane, getting damaged and being stripped of their waterproofing. The roofs look sound but they leak badly, and it rains frequently. We had a lot of work to do including chiseling out cracked and loose layers, pressure washing, and removing debris, before moving on to waterproofing. Our team leader, nicknamed Concrete Pete, was great at showing us what to do.
Anna and Irma were wonderfully hospitable, making us nice lunches and teaching us a little Spanish. Their house is on a very steep hill; the front is only about 10 feet off the ground, but the back is at least 30 feet down and has three levels.
I had done well enough with the concrete roof that I stayed on Pete's team. Alex was promoted to assistant team lead, and would soon be the team leader as Pete was going on break soon. I was happy about that as it had become obvious that Alex is hardworking and a natural leader.
I met more of the group, including professor Mike, who had brought many Olivet college students with him to help. Mike is a great guy and all the students I met were good people, a lot of fun, and had very positive attitudes. In fact I'd have to say that about pretty much everyone there.
Tired, I was in bed that day before night-time, but I did capture some more nice pictures from the camp.
Every day's ritual was an early breakfast, packing the van or bus, attending a safety briefing, and then driving to our project. The ride was always interesting. I nicknamed our driver Conductor Fantastico, meaning fantastic driver. His skill in negotiating tight curves in large vehicles is amazing.
As the day wore on we covered more and more of the cracks in the roof with Quikrete. We mixed it by hand and deployed it quickly as it dries out and becomes useless in about a minute. The team all worked hard and the roof was looking better and better, becoming ready for priming and sealing.
Camp dinner surprisingly good every day. Tonight it was burritos. A sample plate was always laid out as a good guideline of what to take for a first helping, to ensure that no one went without. As a result, there was always enough for second helpings.
There were stray cats everywhere, and many of them were cute. I managed to catch a fun video of one kitten teasing another.
The four orange and white cats were playing happily, jumping through fences and leaping on each other, as we loaded up the van. The roof was taking shape, with more and more smooth spots and covered up cracks. Finally we were able to start priming and sealing; the finished parts looked like a sea of gray, repelling all water.
Periodically, rain forced us off the roof, but we'd get back on as soon as it stopped and continue work. We were all determined to finish this roof by week's end.
On the way back to base, I took some videos of the bus travel -- it was quite something. Back at camp the church had started to make ready for summer, and that only made the views even more stunning as the sun set and night fell.
During dinner, Alyssa invited me to come with everyone to Nando's, the local hangout. She and Emily went on a short motorcycle ride with one of the program's drivers who had his bike there.
The morning was plagued with rain and all we could do was wash and prepare the roof, as the primer washes away if it is raining. We moved on to another roof, sadly saying goodbye to the homeowners and the stray cat who I nicknamed Gato Travieso (naughty cat). We did some scraping and chiseling on the new roof.
After the sun had been out a while, Pete decided to give Anna and Irma's roof another try, so we packed up and went back. We were joined by a few extra teammates and we got the roof done! Claudia and Amelia put the last square patch of sealant up and descended the roof in triumph.
Our team picture, from left to right in back: Alex, Anna and Irma, Concrete Pete, me, Grace. From left to right in front: Claudia, Amelia, and Tatum. Everyone worked hard and was amazing. We all did the same tasks, including things like lifting heavy tubs of Quikrete. No one seemed to tire out. We may have differed in some ways, but not in strength, endurance, and the will to help!
When we returned home, Joanne had a lovely steak dinner with a nice bottle of wine waiting for me. I'm so lucky! :-D The next day I replaced my sneakers with the same ones -- I had a lot of roof chemicals on the old ones. I'll save them for more work.
I feel privileged to have gone and done this. As one participant in the toughest area Toa Baja said, it's amazing to be around a group of people where every single person wants to help others. I'm grateful to All Hearts and Hands for allowing me to share in their mission.