Postcards from Guatemala: Energy Trails Blog
PVREA Safety Director Ben Ludington and 14 other volunteers from Colorado and Oklahoma blog about their experience in Guatemala. The team volunteered to electrify remote communities in northwestern Guatemala through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s philanthropic NRECA International Foundation. See more pictures and video on PVREA’s Facebook.
September 16, 2018
PVREA employee Ben Ludington along with the rest of the Energy Trails international team flew out from Denver and Oklahoma City early, early this morning and arrived safety in Guatemala City today!
The Colorado and Oklahoma crews had a chance to get reacquainted and enjoy a great Mexican-style lunch. The rest of the day was spent driving to Coban, which is about half way to where Empresa Municipal Rural de Electricidad – EMRE- IXCAN, the utility that the team will work with to build power lines to the villages of Pie de Cerro and Terra Blanco Salinas.
The guys enjoyed seeing the landscape, but were somewhat taken aback by the local driving they experienced on the five hour drive to Coban, according to team leader Derec Janaway.
There are lots of new experiences for the crew and lots to take in, added Dale Kishbaugh, who is leading Colorado’s crew.
They’ve had good weather so far, although clouds threatened in the afternoon and the team has told to expect showers in the afternoons.
September 17, 2018
Ben arrived in Playa Grande where he will be lodging at Posada de Don Carlos. The team visited the project site (40 miles away) to access conditions and materials; they also met linemen from the local utility, EMRE, who will be working alongside the team to complete the project. The village kids were peeking at the guys with curiosity, the elders were smiling and waving, and several locals on motorcycles stopped by to say “Thank you” to the team for being there. The villagers are excited their help has arrived!
ON the way back from the village, the team had to stop to take a close look at some small black monkeys on the rainforest who were making all kinds of noise – probably greeting the Energy Trails team! Finally, they had a delicious dinner at EMRE where they were greeted by two board members as well as EMRE’s General Manager, Victor Balsells. Tomorrow they have an early call – meeting at EMRE at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast and then heading to their first day of work in the village. Let the adventure begin!
September 18, 2018
The work has begun in Guatemala. Today the team was able to get started, and by the end of a hot, sweaty day, they had a mile of line up in the air. Seventeen poles are finished!
EMRE, the local utility that the team is working with, had the poles ready, much of the jungle cleared, and they’ve been pulling wire ahead of the crew.
The humidity is making itself felt. The team was soaking with sweat by 9 a.m., and it never let up. Despite the humidity, everyone is good spirits. They are experiencing the way the Guatemalans live, and they’re getting to know some of the people.
The electricians from the Oklahoma crew and Chet Stickler from Holy Cross Energy have been working on the wiring in the individual homes. The villagers are appreciative of what is coming. And the kids are enjoying the crew. During a break today, the crews did take time to play some soccer with the kids this afternoon.
September 19, 2018
The Energy Trails team had a very productive day. It rained towards the end of the afternoon, and temperatures were a little milder than yesterday, providing some welcomed relief. Team member James Willcox says the primary line at village Pie de Cerro -or the equivalent of 20 poles- is complete.
The team enjoyed a day of hard work but also making greater connections with EMRE’s linemen as well as with kids in the village. Ben took pictures of the village, some of the locals and some livestock nearby. He also said that the Energy Trails team played soccer against the local linemen. “Needless to say, it didn’t go well for us,” he joked.
Friendships are already developing between the crews even with the language barrier. The local people have hard work ethics and their strong will is phenomenal. Ben and the rest of the team are thankful that they are letting them be a part of their lives.
September 20, 2018
The progress continues in Guatemala. About 20 houses are ready for duplex to be dropped and they’ve got a few poles set going toward the second village.
The visiting line workers continue to bond with their Guatemalan counterparts as well as the local villagers. The linemen say that the children are especially a lot of fun and they have started calling them “giggle boxes” because as soon as the workers say something to the, they break out into giggles.
September 21, 2018
The day started out with light rain, but by mid-morning it was hot again. The heat didn’t keep the Energy Trails team from plugging along, however, making great progress. The team has nearly completed all primary line work in both villages, with just about 5 to 6 poles of primary line pending in Tierra Blanca Salinas. Once complete, the team will focus on secondary line work.
They wrapped up the day today by hanging one of four transformers.
The villagers in Pie del Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas have kept making an impression on the visiting linemen. Ben let one of the local linemen use his climbing gear to climb and work on a pole. He also gave a bunch of his wife’s clothes that she sent with him to Guatemala to a young local girl named Evany.
September 22, 2018
There was again a little rain, but that hasn’t stopped the team. There has been a lot of pole climbing and the linemen are doing what they are used to doing back home when they are putting up single phase lines.
There is a little bit more of an audience for the linemen while they’re working in Guatemala. They are not only bonding with each other and the local linemen, but the children as well. The village kids really want to connect with the team whether that is by trying on the lineman gear or helping them out by hanging around, handing them tools when they can.
September 23, 2018
The Energy Trails team took the day to rest and spend quality time together. They visited a nearby national park, Parque Nacional Laguna Lachua, where they hiked approximately 7 miles and went swimming.
The conversation still revolves around the friends that the linemen are making and relationships they are forming.
The primary line work at both villages is complete, four transformers have been hung and 8 houses are fully ready to have lights on. There is great leadership and strong teamwork and collaboration among the linemen. The children in the village are the driving force for what the team is working for in Guatemala. They linemen want them to have a better life.
September 24, 2018
The team in Guatemala is making great progress bringing electricity to Pie del Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas despite the rain and humidity. It was even more humid today than it has been.
All of the primary is done to both villages, and crews are are working on getting the houses wired. “The crews are really getting into the rhythm, and the Colorado and Oklahoma crews are working really well together,” Ben said.
Overall, the team has been really well taken care of. There are five women in the kitchen who have breakfast ready for the team when they get up in the morning and are there at the end of the day with a hot meal, and three interpreters help them talk with the local apprentices, connect with the villagers and communicate with the kids.
September 25, 2018
The Energy Trails team fully completed the electrification of Pie del Cerro today. They are well into their work at Tierra Blanca Salinas and making great progress. Some of the guys will transition from working on poles to helping with the completion of internal wiring in the homes.
The men have been impacted by the local living conditions and how well the Guatemalans take care of everything they have. Rather than going home and throwing dirty laundry in the washer and then the dryer, the women scrub clothes in water that isn’t always the cleanest. Seeing these things really makes the crew grateful for what they have back home.
September 26, 2018
“Boys, you have no idea how easy you have it.”
Those will be Kelly Snow’s first words to his fellow lineworkers when he returns home to his co-op. Snow has had the chance to spend a lot of time climbing poles, as the team has brought electricity to Pie de Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas.
“It’s been incredible. It’s an amazing place and they are amazing people. These people have so little and yet they take such pride in what they do have,” he said.
There are some beautiful homes in the villages, where the people have found plants to landscape with and ways to make the most of the little they do have. The team is amazed at how resourceful the people are and how hard they work, from the time they are youngsters.
September 27, 2018
The Energy Trails team wrapped up another productive day. Primary and secondary line work on both villages are complete. Internal wiring of all homes is nearly complete; some more wire is needed but will be on hand by Monday morning. Also on Monday, the team will test connections to the villages ahead of the Inauguration Day on Tuesday. Team member Curtis Schlouber shared that several of the linemen have been able to step away from linework to help the electricians finalize wiring in the homes.
Curtis has personally enjoyed the opportunity to experience another side of the project. He says his experience so far has been very humbling.
“We take for granted what we have every day. I pack more luxuries in my backpack than most of these villages have combined,” Curtis said. “They’re such hard workers; every day, their mission is simply to survive so they can see another day.”
One of the highlights for Curtis in the village every day is to interact with the local children. “They watch us while we are having lunch and eagerly wait to play with us. This has been a very rewarding experience, and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” he says.
September 28, 2018
“It’s been a trip of a lifetime and an eye-opener as far as how good we have it. I’ve always been thankful and able to count my blessings, but this trip has really heightened my awareness of what we have,” shares Chet Stickler, crew foreman at Holy Cross Energy in Glenwood Springs.
The homes the crews are working to bring electricity to are mostly thatched roofs with plank siding. Some have dirt floors; some have concrete floors. There are a few concrete block homes where the owners work in the U.S. and have the money for a little more substantial building. None of them have indoor plumbing.
September 29, 2018
The Energy Trails team spent the day in Tikal, Peten in northern Guatemala. Tikal is the ruin of an ancient city found near a rainforest. It is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization – truly a historical gem.
The team will head back to Playa Grande tomorrow and prepare to finalize the work at Pie De Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas.
September 30, 2018
The visiting co-op workers from Colorado and Oklahoma traveled to Guatemala to be there for Tuesday’s inauguration when the lights are turned on in Pie del Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas. The project is nearly done. There are about 10 services to hook up and then the team will test the system, energizing the lines and making sure everything holds.
It’s been “an amazing experience,” according to Nate Towne from Mountain Parks Electric. Nate has enjoyed how happy the villagers are. They don’t have much, but they are not depressed about it. They are happy with what they have and are even willing to share. Nate recalled one house where they were working on setting a pole. The man who lived there watched as they worked. They still had to get wiring done and the house didn’t have electricity yet, but that man came out and brought the men two coconuts as a thank you for what they were doing. It’s something Nate will always remember.
October 1, 2018
It was a unique day for the Energy Trails team. It was the final work day in the villages, and they used it to test connections and wrap up loose ends. The Inauguration Trip delegates from Colorado and Oklahoma arrived at the village by lunch time and were able to see the work of the team. The entire group participated in a symbolic “turning on of the lights” moment at one of the villagers’ homes in Pie de Cerro. Students from the vo-tech school did most of the work on the internal wiring of the homes; however, Scotty Branham, Chet Stickler, and Ben Ludington worked to finish the wire in the breaker boxes.
Each home received 4 light bulbs, switches and outlets. The team is eager for Inauguration Day tomorrow when the lights will officially turn on.
October 2, 2018 — Inauguration Day
The festive atmosphere was evident to all. An arch of palm tree leaves adorned the entrance of Pie de Cerro. Village ladies wore their best attire, the kids wore their best smiles and the men a sense of immense pride. A musical band was equipped with their best instruments to lead the much anticipated parade.
When their heroes arrived – the Energy Trails linemen – the party started. The festivities began with a joyful parade – linemen and villagers walking side by side. They walked to the local elementary school where an area had been set up for a ceremony. There was a prayer, the singing of the Guatemalan and USA national anthems as well as remarks from local authorities, and Colorado and Oklahoma officials.
Each Energy Trails team member received a plaque of gratitude from the host utility, Empresa Municipal Rural de Electricidad (EMRE). The festivities concluded with a ribbon cutting and the lights coming on, followed by a delicious lunch. It was – without a doubt – a joyful celebration of what will be earmarked as a historical day for the villages of Pie de Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas. The day the lights came on!
October 4, 2018
It has been an incredible journey to all involved. This morning, the EnergyTrails team said their good-byes, but with the sincere hope that they can meet again soon. They have become brothers for life. Buen viaje, amigos!