Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wild search for water

Today began day 4 in a row of hiking through the nastiest jungles and rivers of Haiti in search for more water.  My body was already burnt to a crisp and I was as tired when I woke up this morning as when I went to bed last night.  But I saddled up on the 4-wheeler with Gidel and a pile of survey equipment at 6 AM anyway.  The “road” from Pignon to Miasod could satisfy the hungriest of adventure seekers.  The sun was just rising and a fog hung in the central plateau of Haiti.  Although in a hurry I had to stop and take this picture…
A view across the central plateau at dawn.
We drove down a steep ravine to our first river crossing.  The water rose to just below the seat as we scratched the gravel riverbed to make it to the other side.  It was a hair-raising climb up a 100-yard long steep and rutted incline on the other side.  Thirty minutes later we arrived at our second river crossing.  Upon cresting the hill and seeing the river Gidel responded with an “uh oh”.  Not a good sign.  We both dismounted and surveyed the situation.  Before I knew it he had his pants off, (held over his head to keep them dry) and was floating the 4-wheeler across the river with a hired hand.  It was nearly 80 yards across and 3-4 feet deep.  The water seemed almost as thick as mud it was so full of sediment.  So I followed suit, packed my pants in my bag, held it over my head and walked across.  I was thinking the whole time… oh, the things I do for water in Haiti.
I arrived in Haiti last Tuesday and caught a MAF flight up to Pignon.  I gathered my equipment and caught a ride to Hinche.  Wednesday we walked for 11 hours in search of more water sources to supply the new water system we are building.  We found 6 springs, 2 wells and completed 2 surveys in a day that nearly killed me.  We must have walked close to 15 miles, much of it off trail and up rivers.  Every time I asked if there were any more springs they replied “no more”.  I would point to a river on my map and say there must be a source and we would follow it.  And what do you know but there was usually a spring at the end of it!  But the last river of the day took us into a canyon that narrowed to about 15 feet wide with rock walls rising hundreds of feet on either side.   Walking through the canyon it opened up to a virtual Garden of Eden on the other side.  Oh yeah, found another spring just as we were entering the narrowest part of the canyon… really cool stuff.
Waterfall below the spring at Saltade.
Thursday was spent close to Hinche in search of potential sites to place a river intake and water treatment plant.  I kept walking upstream shaking my head at all the laundry being washed in the river and trying to imagine what kind of treatment process we would need to get all that soap out enough to drink it.  This will certainly be a last resort.
Friday we were off to Dondon again… well almost.  Our 4-wheeler had a clanging sound coming from the under-carriage so Gidel decided not to risk it.  We left the 4-wheeler in Pignon and climbed on a moto-taxi.  The taxi on the way out was a relatively smooth ride with light jazz music playing as the sun rose on another beautiful day in Haiti.  The return taxi was exactly the opposite.  The guy was in a holy terror to break speed records.  He didn’t bother to go around the rocks or potholes.  He just floored it and ran over them.  Early in the ride I nearly bit the end of my tongue off as we hit a bump and my jaw slammed shut.  From then on I kept my tongue pulled back. 

Dondon was the same drill as Hinche, look for more water sources.  We found 2 springs, one too low to flow by gravity to town and the other with not enough water.  They have a great big spring that flows out of a river bank next to town.  As much as it scares me to build a spring cap next to a river it may end up being our only option.  So we located a site for a reservoir on the mountain above the spring and I’ll work on developing a pump and treat option. 
A view of Dondon from the reservoir location.
Gidel, surveying the reservoir location.
Still in Dondon I pointed to a likely location for a spring in a valley just out of town.  Our guide confirmed there is in fact a spring but it’s the Satan spring.  After some wrangling in Kreyol to decifer just what he was talking about I learned that the valley where the spring is located is big into voodoo.  Apparently they sacrifice animals and force them down into the spring as part of voodoo ceremonies.  Finding this story hard to believe I asked someone else not part of the first conversation and they confirmed the story.  Craziness… Haiti is complete craziness.  Sometimes I wonder if they just sit around and think of ways to shock and awe the white guy.
My body is completely spent and I am so happy tomorrow has no plans for crazy hiking in the mountains.  Neil and I will hopefully drive back out to Dondon and check out a spring nearby the road that he knows about.  It’s rainy season though and there is a major river at Saint Raphael we’ll have to cross so the trip may or may not happen depending on what the rains do.  Monday I’ll try to find a ride to Port au Prince and get a little work done there before I fly out on Tuesday.  It’s been another hugely successful trip and I’m starting to get used to the fact that this is my full time job.  It’s like a dream come true.  I see so much potential and need for water here and it feels great to be given the opportunity to do something about it.

So darn cute...