Elation. It is almost impossible to express the feeling of clinging to the back of a dirt bike careening down steep rocky roads that sharply wind through the highest and most expansive mountains, taking in seemingly endless green vistas, crowned in clouds and morning fog, while the sun rises above the peaks and slowly wicks away the moisture. If there were a word to capture this exact feeling and moment, elation could be it. The word comes close to capturing the joyful and expansive soaring of my heart, the wide-eyed wonder, and the adrenaline-cushioned fear, concealed behind my contented grin. Many people reading this will never have the opportunity to see these views or experience this trek, especially not as their morning drive to work. It is a Tuesday morning and I am en route on my first ever community visit in Waslala to see our project progress in the community of Dipina, located deep in the heart of Nicaragua.
Off road racers, mountain bikers, climbers, serious hikers, campers and mountain dwellers can probably wrap their minds around this scene; filled with a mix of intense hiking and effort just to reach the small community of Dipina. I was entirely unprepared. My expectations, formed from previous experiences in which I arrived in a community in the comfort of a 4-wheel drive Land Cruiser, parked, went about my day’s work, and was back in the office by 5pm, completely missed the mark in this case. Until the evening before we left, no one had mentioned to me that we would be riding motorcycles to community, wearing rubber boots with all of our gear to spend a night crammed inside a middle school knapsack. There was absolutely no mention that we would have to ford four rivers, rivers which were easily knee high, pushing our motorcycles. Nor did they mention that this endeavor was only half of the trip and that, after an hour and a half of riding, we would park the motorcycles in someone’s house and hike for another hour and a half along a narrow trail into the mountains – a trail often slippery, pocketed with quick-sand like mud, and at times quite steep as it ascended in elevation until arriving in the community of Dipina.
I kept my pace and tried my best to keep from falling by staring at the ground and placing my boot in the muddy imprint exactly where Junior had placed his boot seconds before. I could feel blisters forming on my feet and my legs quickly turned into stinging rubber weights that grew heavier to lift with each step. The heat and the sun were unrelenting. I almost fainted, and did not have the words in Spanish to explain that everything started spinning each time we stopped to rest, so could we please just keep walking. Junior, realizing how I felt and understanding my soon-to-be defeat, trekked into a nearby cornfield and returned with an ear of corn which he insisted I eat in order to raise my blood sugar.
By the time we reached Omar’s house, the house of our host where we would be eating and sleeping that night, I was unable to do anything more than sit down on a bench and stare. I can only imagine how I looked to everyone else. My shirt was dripping with sweat as if I had dived into one of those rivers fully clothed, which, when considering it, I felt I nearly had done. I had no energy to remove my boots or my waterlogged socks. After what felt like forever, I managed to pull off one boot. Junior pulled off the other and I placed my socks and shirt in the sun to dry.
I felt beyond tired, uncomfortably filthy, run-down and worn-out. What I really wanted was a steaming hot shower and my bed with fabric softener-fresh sheets. I had not physically pushed my body or my mind to that extent since my first time doing P90X Plyometrics or hiking a volcano in Guatemala six and a half years prior. Junior and Taleno just laughed at me. This grueling trek was only the beginning of our hike. Now that we had arrived in Dipina, we had to hike much higher – to an elevation higher than any water point in the community – to view one of the two water storage tanks that would be supplying water to the community. With legs aching, I managed to pull my socks and boots back on and we set off again.
When accepting this position, I theoretically knew the need for the work WfW does – because in these parts of the world clean water organizations can change the lives of an entire community or region. I studied the world water crisis and had seen gravity fed water projects in rural Honduras. Still, with this first experience in Dipina, the reality of the need became very real to me. Here was a community more than removed from the main stream of society – no electricity, no cell phones, and until this point in time no running water. All of the community resources had to be carried or hauled by mule for over 90 minutes into the interior of rural Nicaragua. Locations this removed from society almost do not exist in the US. Even in the forests of rural Pennsylvania or the vast plains of the American Southwest, more often than not there is a cell phone tower blinking in the distance. Here there was no restaurant serving pancakes, nor any gas stations within walking distance. If anything was rural, this was it.
All of that hiking, sweat, and pain became so worth the effort once we reached our next stop – the school in Dipina. It just so happened that on this day the trench digging and pipe laying had reached the school. The school children were outside watching the construction efforts and several boys grabbed pickaxes and shovels to help dig the last bits of trench. I stood witness as Taleno and Junior helped the community members cut and glue the final pipes and attach a faucet to the tap stand providing clean fresh water to schoolchildren just outside of their school for the first time ever in the history of Dipina.
We continued onward and upwards to the water storage tank. I arrived at the tank drained, almost less than human. I could not raise my legs or keep my balance to cross the barbed wire fence enclosing the tank. My clean water had run out. We filled my bottle from the pipe at the tank and passed it around, each person drinking almost the entire 800mL themselves. After our tank inspection, we returned to Omar’s house. I am unsure of how I made the descent and barely remember walking back. I do remember how badly I wished for a shower – a truly first world problem in a community that had never had running water. Yet in the end, the day ended beautifully, with a swim and bath in a cool clear stream, hot fresh corn tortillas, a majestic thunderstorm filling the night sky with streaks of lightening, and me passed out cozy and warm in my hammock.
Since my first visit to Dipina I have returned several times as progress on the project nears an end. I have hiked the same route and several different, equally treacherous routes. I have slid down muddy hills so steep that descending on my backside was easier than trying to climb. I have ridden horseback to the second water storage tank, located even higher in the mountains. I rode on the roof of the worn out truck, which I lovingly nicknamed Marcy, that serves as public transportation from Waslala to the town where the trail and the journey to Dipina begins. Once I arrive, I watch students line up to drink clean fresh water from their new tap stand. I observe how much easier life is for families with a tap stand at their home. People constantly express their gratitude for the support of Water for Waslala and the funding that made their clean water project possible. The trip that was initially the death of me has become an amazing adventure and a source of great joy.
I love words, conveying ideas, expressing emotions, providing a snap shot into an experience, yet I have done and seen so much in such a short time, I struggle to find the words to explain or express all of it. If you really want to know Waslala and the elation of working here, you will have to visit us and experience it for yourself.Read More