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Initial Reflections June 5, 2011

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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.



Bom Dia de Miami May 4, 2011

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Hello All!

We – Cory, Ethan, Greg, Julie, and Micaela – have arrived safely into the Miami airport.  We arrived around noontime, and quickly got to entertaining ourselves for the 8 hour layover before our flight to Sao Paulo by using technology: (see picture below.)

Quick update:  We’ve finished our testing stateside and it shows that all of our designs are operating with very similar efficiencies.  We thereforewill implement the design that will be most easily built and maintained with local materials upon the re-inspection of the site when we get down there.

As well, I uploaded the 2011 Multidisciplinary Report detailing our trip for the purpose of informing the reader of our rough plans and agenda while in Brazil.

The latest schedule for us upon arrival (Which will be approximately 2pm Eastern time,) is for Cory, Micaela, Greg, and Julie to head down to Pocone while Ethan finds us an automobile that we will use to bus children to school in Cuiaba.

Until then,

Water Systems Team


Pre-Travel Greetings April 29, 2011

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So much has happened since our last update chronicling our summer 2010 travels to the PCER site and the Pantanal as a whole!  To be comprehensively updated on the larger organizations development, I suggest the blog that Julie Bateman and Ethan Shirley keep (a link can be found in the left-hand column.)  The updates that they chronicle lead to a large milestone for our team; the first day of classes at PCER.  Pending approval from the Secretary of Eduation – school should begin in May/June!

Updates for the Water Systems team include: a new addition to our team (Welcome Micaela!), new testing on bio-sand filter (BSF) designs, and approval for our travel and design proposal for 2011!  The team will be traveling down to the Pantanal on the fast approaching date of May 4, 2011.  We are excitedly awaiting our departure on what will be – for some – our second design-build-test trip in the Pantanal.  For others (Micaela,) they are extremely excited to get into the heart of the Pantanal and start getting their hands dirty.

Opening the school will be extremely rewarding for our team, but also an anxious time for us in terms of making sure that the systems we’ve spent so long to develop work perform for the children when they get there.

Please stay tuned for more updates as we get closer to our departure.  As well, we will be updating the blog throughout our stay in Brazil for the month of May.


Pictures July 18, 2010

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Here are a few of my [Greg’s] pictures.  There’s a chance I’ll make a picasa which will have more pictures, but for now here are a few – mostly focusing on the work we did.  For some really great pictures, I suggest you look at the picasa connected to the architect’s blog.  Take a look! http://picasaweb.google.com/JamesLChesnut

The rightly named, Honey Pit

The Old Honey Pit, filled in by hand by Cory and Greg

Septic Hole for Phase I

Gravel for Bio-Sand Filter.

Brick laying in the base of the septic hole for Phase I

Laying Bricks for Phase I Septic Pit

Sand for the bio-sand filter

Main Lodge, our tents are about twenty meters to the right of this pic.

Empty Filter Container with Diffuser Railing and outlet tube

Gravel and Water before the sand.

Pouring Sand

Chapada Falls

View from Chapada

The cowboy is not dead in Brazil. This herd is about 1000-1500 big.

View from the end of the monkey path

Tree in a swamp where hundreds of white birds would sleep.

Phase II

Stateside July 18, 2010

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As of today July 18th the whole of the water system should be back in the United States.  I (Greg,) got back friday morning and Cory – barring any hick-ups in Bolivia and Peru – should be back at his home by the end of the day.  Overall it’s been a month full of early mornings, dozens of cups of Brazil’s finest coffee (with just as much of sugar as coffee,) great food, hot sunny days, happy and helpful Brazilians, and lots of hard work.

We are gone, but the project continues.  We left as the architect’s were finishing the columns of the first building.  Soon the I-beams will be going up, the roof, and then the walls.  From there plumbing, electrical.

Similar to the building, our designs have yet to be fully implemented and completed.  This is because – like any construction site -many of our projects and designs are contingent upon the completion of the building.  Therefore, we have left without being able to look at the final product of all our hard work.  As frustrating and somewhat disappointing a fact this is, it is as much part of the learning process within the design-build-test process as the physical product upon completion.

What we have finished though, is promising.  We have all but laid the plumbing for the Phase 1 waste water system, and have marked out a comprehensive plan for Phase 2 (Julie Bateman – a fourth year civil engineering student – will be in charge of oversight for the build, and for pretty much everything else we need doing on site.)  When I left, Julie was in talks with the workers at Jaguar Ecological Reserve (who live in a house on our work site,) about setting up an aquifer fed well.  And the most rewarding – for me because I was actually able to see the design through to completion – was the finishing of the bio-sand filter the morning we left! (see pictures at the bottom.)

Before I forget, I need to give thanks to some people.

First and foremost we need to thank the Brazilians that were so important in making anything happen.

  • Eduardo (the owner of the land we lived and built on,) deserves many thanks.  Without his help we would have had no connections to the locals.  Our project starts and ends with him.  Many thanks to his wife too.  She was immense in getting my checked luggage after the airlines continued to drop the ball.
  • Tito – he is an extraordinary guy.  Before he went back to the city to await his first child, he was incredibly helpful.  He was always with a smile, and always willing to help – no matter whether that meant driving us to the city to buy materials, shuttling fresh water from his parents house to the job site, or patching the holes in the pipe us Americans broke while digging with a piece of rubber from an inner-tube.
  • Fion and Fatchima (and Olivia) – Fion and Fatchima are Tito’s parents (Olivia, his sister who lives with them,) who live by the Ranch and the job-site.  They opened up their house to all of the Americans whenever there was a world cup game that either involved Brazil, or the USA (and the final.)  Without them, we would have watched the games without any atmosphere surrounding us; no good.  They were also very helpful when it came to drinking water.  On top of that, when we asked to fill our huge barrel (really, it was massive. Pictures of our big white barrel are below.) with clean water to finish the filter – the answer was yes.  We are incredibly grateful for their help.
  • Gerzinoni – this guy can do everything handy; we know – he’s done so much for us.  He: set up the hand pump, fixed the hand pump (countless times,) set up the concrete mixer, fixed the mixer (countless times – including swapping out the old electric motor with a new one that seemingly didn’t match with the number of belts the cement mixer had, but he made it work,) set up the electric jet-pump and he wired it straight into the generators lines, and fixed many other things with this white petroleum based glue that he put on everything.  We would have been at a serious disadvantage if he never helped.  AND he let us (John, James, Cory, and I) borrow his car – to go into town – where on the way back we got a flat.  Party’s wouldn’t have been the same were it not for the big speaker in his trunk blaring the same Brazilian country CD for the entire month.
  • Milton – to say he was the cook would be to grossly understate the role he played in our stay.  Apart from cooking some off the best desserts, breakfast cakes, and rice ‘n’ beans Cory and I have had, he was just a great positive personality to have around.  He was the life of the party.  He will be missed, and not only for that chocolate pudding, cake, chocolate wafers, and condensed sweetened milk dessert he made (oh, and that tasty breakfast cake that I swear was all butter – yum!)

Next, the Americans:

  • The Architects (John, James, and Nisha) – many thanks to these three who were our work – and coconut-baseball – buddies.  Nobody put in the hours they did, and their dedication to the building really shows.  They were extremely helpful in working out changes in designs to the systems.  Thanks again!
  • Julie and Ethan – without their vision, we wouldn’t even have considered spending a month of our summer in Brazil.  Thank you two for your continued dedication and hard work in getting the project completed.  As a side note, Ethan is really the only person on the trip that actually knew Portuguese, so many thanks go out to him for being our front line when dealing with Brazil and its sometimes frustrating logistics.
  • Professor Wooldridge – she has been the faculty advisor for Water System’s project since the beginning.  She’s always there give us help and some new ideas.  Many thanks must go out to her for helping us get this far.
  • Professor Skerlos – Skerlos was the one who made this trip and the build of our design economically feasible for our team.  Thanks have to be given to him for allowing us such an opportunity.

Well, that seems about all for this post.  Expect updates to both Design-Build-Test and Community page, as well as more photos soon.

Greg Constructing Filter

Finishing the filter the morning I left.

It works!

Filter upon completion in it temporary home