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The Builders Blog... by Al

Written on: Monday November 17th, 2008

A journal entry from: Trails in 2008

A special guest appearance by Al, on building a roof in Bolivia....
Not one for giving Alison 100% of the blog space I thought Id better post my own experiences of working in Rurre.
Our arrival was well timed, because the house used for accomodating volunteers had just had a tree fall onto the roof, completely destroying it. Unfortunately the neighbours had a dislike of our eco-activist boss Maria and trees, so had poisoned a very large one in the yard. I thought with a bit of help I could get the job done in a few weeks... a little bit optimistic in hindsight.
Day 1 - 2
The fun part and the only time I could get a group of locals to work effectively was the demolition on and clearing the first floor. It took only a day, even with me attempting to co-ordinate things by barking out directions with a combination of pigeon spanish and frantic hand gestures. The benefit of dismantling the roof was I could learn how to put it back together. The original timber was Cedar, unheard of as a framing material back home. Cedar is also a favourite for local termites so half of it was unsalvigeable.
Day 3
Spent most of the day sorting out the remaining usable timber and tallying up what materials I would be needing for the job ahead. I had just heard that 2 or 3 trees had been blown down in the rainforest reserve and could be milled.
Day 4 - 17
A very frustrating period of waiting for the timber to arrive in Rurre. Alison put me to good use in the meantime. I spend two days queing with hundreds of locals to buy gasoline, it is a precious resource here. There is not much consideration given to safety, and once had to run for my life with the crowd from a possilbly exploding gas pump. On a positive I did manage to finish my book which I started 3 months ago.
I turned out that my extremely long wait for timber was because the original guy had skipped town with the cash deposit never to be seen again. Apparently this is quite common.
Day 18
My timber finally arrived. It had been delivered by river boat and was lying on the beach about 6 blocks from the house. It needed to be collected quickly to make sure it didnt warp in the sun, and more importantly, not get stolen. My next job with the help of my useless assistant Jasmani was to transport it through the middle of town to the house. The problem was that I had a few tons of timber around 6m in length, and most of the vehicles in town are no bigger than 3 or 4 metres long. We walked around town and finally found a guy with a suitably sized truck (everyone here is always open to earning a few bucks), even if we still had the timber canterlevering 2 - 3 metres over the truck cab.
By this time it was about 40deg and we still needed to lift it all up onto the 1st floor. At this stage my trusty assistant desided to disappear and leave me to do this part of the job on my own. The rest of the day involved copious amounts of sweating, bruises and swearing.
Days 19-24
My 1st day building and my biggest problem is that I have a lot of very green timber which weighs a ton and is almost impossible to cut. My tools are a saw, a wooden plane that would have been more useful in an antique shop, a hammer and lots of nails.
It is slow going but by the end of the day Ive finished half of the main roof support, ready to erect with the help of a couple of pairs of hands the following morning. This all sounds easy enough but when the 2 people helping have a low attention span and high testoterone things became interesting. While attempting to secure one of the main columns my 2 helpers decided there was no need hold the columns upright and surprisingly enough they all came crashing down, pulling up the surrounding floorboards in the process. I quickly came up with a method of building that eliminated the need for any further assistance, and things started to move along pretty quickly after that. 40deg heat combined with no electictry and no shade things became very slow going. The positive was that my wobbly bits were quickly disapearing. Alison was very happy with that progress.
Day 25-32
Things went along pretty well this week with only a couple of delays due to downpours (beginning of the rainy season). I discovered and removed a wasps nest and a haircutter bees nest (yes they actually do land on your head and cut your hair).
By this stage we had overstayed our original plans by a couple of weeks and so I had to make the desicion to complete the framing and leave the thatching to another willing pair of hands. This was a bit disappointing, but we also have Argentina and Chile to see.
Day 35
All framing completed today and only a bit of cleaning up to before I hang up my tools for the last time.
Admittedly I would have preferred to help out with a qualified group of people rather than do the whole job on my own, but its definitely been an experience - I'm glad to have had the opportunity to help.