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Initial Reflections June 5, 2011

Posted by pcerwatersystems in Uncategorized.

This year’s trip was a perfect blend of work, fun, and learning.  With the building for the school and research station already built, we were able to dedicate all of our time to constructing a water filter that will be effective and accepted by the community.  Along the way, we found time to cool off and enjoy the beauty of the Pantanal by taking a swim break in the afternoon nearly every day.  The conversations and stories during mealtimes in the kitchen of the Jaguar Ecological Reserve taught us about Brazilian culture as well as how to speak Portuguese, Brasiliano, and Pantaneiro.  All of these meaningful experiences leave us longing to return and excited to get working on some new project ideas for next year.

When first arriving in Brazil, we believed a month’s time would be plenty to construct a biosand filter (BSF), but quickly remembered that nothing is as easy as it could be in the Pantanal.  The remote location makes it difficult access and leads to tasks taking longer to complete than would be expected.  For example, due to the severity of the rainy season, the road conditions on the Transpantaneira took our Kombi down and we were forced to leave it on the side of the road.  A mechanic was supposed to come down and fix it within a couple days but without transportation of his own he couldn’t make it for almost two weeks.  After this a month seemed like the perfect amount of time to achieve our goals.

Although the BSF design we used called for a metal mold to pour the concrete into, we were unable to find a welder in Poconé and thus were forced to adapt the design to a wood mold.  Pouring the concrete went well, but removing the mold proved to be tricky.  On our third try we finally got the result we wanted.  Look for a new BSF construction manual coming soon in the Design-Built-Test section that will give instructions on using wood molds for areas of the world where a welder is not readily available.

Once we got the mold as we wanted it the rest of the process went much smoother.  Using the sieves we constructed we sieved the sand and gravel to the desired specifications.  The sand was purchased at Construmax in Poconé while the gravel was taken from the side of the Transpantaneira.  Then we washed the sand and gravel to ensure they were ready to be used in the BSF.  The installation of the sand and gravel went quickly, with only minor adjustments needing to be made to ensure the siphon was working properly.  Our final touches included installing the lid and painting using what Brazilians call “burnt cement.”  “Burnt cement” is paint mixed with cement to provide a water tight, easy to clean surface on top of concrete.  After this, our BSF was ready to have the schmutzdecke (biolayer) be formed so the filter would be operating as efficiently as possible.  Julie and Ethan have graciously agreed to help us monitor the formation by performing bacterial tests on the effluent for the next few weeks.

Our last few days in Brazil were spent exploring and enjoying Brazilian culture.  On our final day in the Pantanal we were fortunate to experience a true “churrasco” (a Brazilian barbeque pronounced choo-haas-co).  It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, enjoying the company of our friends we made at the Jaguar Ecological Reserve.  We then traveled to Poconé where we said our goodbyes to our fellow soccer-loving friends at the Pousada Pantaneira before traveling north to Nobres for some sightseeing.  We were hosted in Nobres by our friends Claudio and Graziella on their 600 hectare soybean ranch.  They were extremely friendly and generous, sharing with us meat, fruits, and milk from their ranch as well as showing us the natural beauty of Nobres.  We explored caves and went swimming with fish in some of the clearest water in the world.  We were sad to leave for Cuiabà, but our last night in Brazil turned out to be fun as we unexpectedly ended up playing soccer at a sports club for a while.  Before hopping on the red-eye flight to Miami the next day we got a wonderful tour of Cuiabà from Tito.  We rode the bus around the city to see the zoo, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso, and various markets.  It was a great way to end a fantastic trip.

As was the case last year, the generosity and graciousness of all of the Brazilians we encountered on our trip was remarkable.  We cannot give enough thanks to everyone for all that was done for us, but we will try.  First, thanks to Eduardo for all of the help in getting accommodations set up as well as for allowing us to construct everything on his reserve.  Next, thanks to Soene and Tika for cooking so many delicious meals and enforcing the rule that only Portuguese is spoken in their kitchen.  Thanks to Fransisco for sharing stories, helping us learn Portuguese, and for keeping the mood so light.  Thanks to Tom for being there whenever we needed an extra pair of hands in our construction, teaching us Portuguese, and for being a companion on all of our swimming adventures.  Thanks to Tito for providing so much comic relief, being a great guide in Cuiabà, and allowing us to crash at his place our final night.  Thanks to Claudio and Graziella for being so generous and helping show all of us a part of Brazil we had never experienced before.

We also need to thank many people back in the United States who helped make this trip possible for us.  First, thanks to Professor Margaret Wooldridge for providing so much wisdom and helping us with our designs.  Thanks to Professor Stephen Skerlos from the Multidisciplinary Design Minor for providing us with the support we needed to get this project off the ground.  Thanks to all of our friends and family who have supported us by reading the blog and those who have donated financially to the Pantanal Partnership.  Without you all, none of this would have been possible!  Thank you so much!!

Last, but most certainly not least, we thank Ethan and Julie for everything they have done for us.  Their organization and support made us feel comfortable at all times during the trip.  Without them, the Pantanal Center for Education and Research would never have been conceived.  The memories we made together were amazing and will never be forgotten.  We wish them the best of luck with the rest of their time in Brazil this summer and can’t wait to see them when they get back.

Look for more posts (and pictures!) soon.




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