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Roberto Barrios and the Hungry Pipe

Written on: Friday May 9th, 2008

A journal entry from: North America in our Camper Van!

On several occasions I?ve complained to Rob about the amount of tools, supplies, and miscellaneous stuff that he insisted that we bring with us on our trip. Of course I appreciate that if we were to break down on the side of the road, we certainly would be able to help ourselves, but on the other hand, we haven?t much room to begin with and so minimize is the key. ?You?ll never know when we?ll need it,? and Rob would insist that there was no need for discussion or minimization of his tools and random supplies.

Rob?s eclectic collection of supplies came in especially handy on Wednesday afternoon. Chilling in my hammock that in the Caracol, I heard some commotion and saw a large group start to gather around the spot where some men had been digging the foundation of the new dental lab. We soon discovered what had happened. Someone had accidentally struck the main water supply line and the hole was now filling with water. Uh-oh. I suddenly felt very proud of my husbands stash, and called him over to see if he thought we could help. They accepted our offer to help and Rob soon made a temporary patch using cut rubber hose and a hose clamp. There was still a small leak, but at least the water system would not be out of commission while waiting for the permanent fix. We offered to head into Palenque on Thursday and purchase a plastic coupling and PVC glue to make a permanent fix. Rob also picked up a loaf of bread, having learnt about a sneaky plumbing trick from my Uncle Luc. To keep water away while the PVC glue dries, bread can be shoved into the pipe to form a temporary plug. It eventually dissolves and is safe to use in potable water systems. We chuckled in anticipation of the reaction from the Zapatistas when Rob would go to shove bread in their plumbing line.

Upon returning, the men helped Rob bucket-out the accumulated water from the hole and dig out room around the pipe. However, when Rob removed the temporary patch, he realized that the crack was much larger than he anticipated. A proper fix would require two couplings and a new pipe. Now that Rob?s solution wouldn?t work, the men were busy discussing other options. They found an old piece of plastic pipe of slightly larger diameter and decided to cut in down its length and use it as a sleeve. Now, we didn?t want to be the Gringos who ?knew it all? and tell them that it wouldn?t work, especially considering the language barrier. Instead, we decided that we would try and help them with their ?fix?. Rob explained that if they planned to use the sleeve, it would be imperative that the pipe was absolutely dry for the PVC glue to work. Seeing as how the hole was still seeping water, it would first need to be plugged. He pulled out his loaf of bread, ?Yo no soy loco?, he said before starting to shove small pieces into the crack. Everyone roared in laughter as Rob continued to shove bread into the crack attempting to plug-off the water. Jokes were abundant, ?La pipa tiene hambre!?(The pipe is hungry!), ?Yo tengo hambre tambien!? (I?m hungry too!), ?Necesita marmelada!? (It needs jam!). I could tell that the men were very doubtful of Rob?s fix and soon a woman appeared with some putty. Rob stepped back to allow one fellow to put the putty over the crack and tried to explain to them that if they wanted to use the putty they would have to make sure that it was flush with the PVC pipe. After working the putty for a few minutes, the fellow stepped back and the putty fell off the pipe, exposing the expanding bread that was now plugging the crack. ?Mas Pan! (More bread!)? he yelled, and everyone roared into laughter as Rob handed him the remaining bread and he started shoving it madly into the hole. It sure was funny.

Once the hole was plugged, they attempted to slide the sleeve over the pipe with no success. After several attempts, the bread had dissolved and the pipe was leaking water again from the crack. Defeated, Rob and I finally offered to make the 1.5 hour return trip back to Palenque to pick up the required pieces. The Zapatistas took the hack-saw (another van-stashed item) and cut the pipe in order to drain the remaining water. As we were preparing to leave however, we realized that the stores in Palenque would be closed. Aghhhh, now what? The Caracol had no water (as the pipe was now sawed in half) and we were going to be leaving at 6 am the following morning for our next destination. Peter and Rob met with the Junta to discuss the options. Rob donated $20 for transportation and additional supplies and he also strongly urged the Junta to consider moving the water line a few feet over. As-is the foundation for the new dental lab would be directly above the already weakened pipe joint. Even after a permanent fix, if the pipe started leaking again it would be inaccessible. Leaking water could also do considerable damage to the foundation. The Junta was very grateful for the donation and advice.

Late that evening Rob and I decided that we felt uncomfortable leaving the Caracol with no water supply and so we decided to attempt a second temporary fix. Since the pipe was now cut, we would try and install the coupling in hopes that it would cover most of the existing crack? or at least enough for them to turn the water back on. We hadn?t any bread left, but did have some buns that we had planned on consuming the following day? oh well. Armed with headlamps we headed over to the pipe, bailed-out the water that had collected in the hole, dried and sanded down the pipe ends, shoved the buns in each end and then installed the coupling with the PVC glue. We informed the Junta that we had come up with another temporary fix (emphasizing the temporary nature), and that the water could be turned back on in 24 hours (as per the instructions on the PVC glue label).

In the wee hours of Friday morning we awoke and prepared for our departure and the long drive to San Cristobal. Rob checked the coupling, and saw that, as suspected, it was slightly leaking. We couldn?t do much else and so simply crossed our fingers that the coupling and glue would hold enough for them to be able to turn the water back on later that day.