URS hydrogeologist Olivia Patterson comes to the end of a her trip volunteering in Ecuador.
The water system had been installed in three days so now we could get on with doing DIY around the eco lodges - unblocking toilets, painting showers, installing guttering and handrails.
The people in Zabalo did not have any tools apart from machetes, so everything they did was with their hands. Part of the gifts we left for them were sets of tools, which would make lots of jobs much easier.
While we were beavering away the next day the water stopped flowing out of the taps in the kitchens and bathrooms. We immediately began investigating the cause, and discovered that the water tank had filled up with iron oxide precipitate that was clogging the particulate filter.
We lovingly cleaned the filters with a toothbrush and reinstalled them but the water only flowed for another 24 hours before the problem recurred. We flushed the tank a couple of times then cleaned and replaced the filters again and also looked at the activated carbon filters that had been installed to remove oil contamination.
Because we had found none of this contamination when we tested surface water in the area, and as they were also slowing water flow we decided that these filters were not necessary, so removed them from the system and organised to exchange them for more particulate filters.
We then checked the distribution lines to the bathrooms and the kitchens. On the way to the showers there was a muddy puddle and when a Cofan elder dug it up he found one of the fittings had broken off completely. We replaced it with an unused joint and cemented it in place before burying it again. Now the system was running smoothly and we drunk water from the tap for the remaining week with no further problems.
On the final day, Cofan from the surrounding villages descended upon Zabalo for a football tournament, market day, gift giving ceremony, and party. Before the game could get underway, the Cofan went out on the field with their machetes cutting the grass.
I think this was one of the hottest and muggiest days we had out there and I didn’t envy them the job! The women changed into traditional Cofan dress and brought out beaded jewellery to sell. After the football match and market the gift giving ceremony began.
The expedition sponsors had provided medical supplies, books and stationery for the school, a large selection of hand tools and lots of other items. This was all gratefully received, although the kids were most interested in the cardboard boxes!
That night, after a traditional Burns night celebration supper the Cofan thanked us formally. They were very appreciative and said that they had never received this level of aid before and were glad to have been so involved in the process.
They showed their gratitude with a traditional dance and chicha ceremony. Chicha is a mildly alcoholic drink made by women chewing manioca and spitting it out into a vat, and to me tasted of a strange mixture of lime and sausage!
We returned the favour by performing an eightsome reel that we had rehearsed briefly the day before but by no means perfected - they were, however, very polite about our performance. It was a great night and a perfect end to the trip.