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May 2000 Panama Trip Report
Our May 2000 trip to Panama and the Epera Indian comarca in the Darien Province (May 14 - 31) was a rewarding and successful trip. The team consisted of: Loring Green (ex-geologist, retired stockbroker from Tucson); Craig Woodring (ex-Lifewater staffer, engineer from San Luis Obispo); Bob Jarrett (engineer from Decatur, GA); and me (Michael Campana). Loring handled most of the training because of his Spanish abilities. Our primary purpose was to train an Epera crew on the operation of a small rotary drilling rig (the LS-100), water well construction, and hand-pump installation so that they would be able to satisfy their own water needs as well as those of others. A secondary objective was to see if the facilities (welding equipment), desire, and talent existed to set up a small pump-building operation. Lifewater International encourages those it trains to set up businesses (drilling, pump repair and building) to earn hard currency.

Looking west across the Rio Sambu Valley, Darien Province.

Loring Green explains drill cuttings to one of the crew members.

We arrived on the comarca on May 17. We had managed to find a source of bentonite drilling mud in Panama City and had purchased about 1100 pounds for shipment via boat to the comarca. We were fortunate in that a boat was about ready to leave the next day. All our equipment - the LS-100, the pumps - had arrived safely on the comarca. The Ministry of Health in Panama City was instrumental in getting all this stuff through Customs without any taxes or duties being levied.

Training started almost immediately, and by late May 18 the crew of six that had been selected for us was starting its first well in Puerto Indio, the main village (c. 400 people) on the comarca. From almost the beginning, Loring had these fellows doing most of the work, and they worked hard with an eagerness to learn. The first well was a good one - the crew hit a nice sand aquifer about 10 feet thick, and decided that it would provide more than enough flow for a 0.5 HP electric submersible pump. The crew cut slots in the casing, installed the casing, developed and chlorinated the well, and capped it.


Loring Green instructing the drill crew.

After that we moved the equipment via canoe about seven miles up the Rio Sabalo to Bayamon. The first well there was not successful; we went through about 30 feet of shale, not real good for water. At that point we requested that the village advise us where they wanted the next well. They held a meeting, and told us that the next well should go up by the school. We told them that we would have to have them provide water via bucket brigade from the river - enough to fill five 55-gallon drums. When we awoke the next morning, the entire village was out there with their 5-gallon jugs and whatever else they could find to fill the drums. What an effort! We were quite impressed! To make a long story short, the crew drilled a successful well, installed a hand pump and now the village has safe water. At some point it may be possible to install an electric pump in that well.

We had a great time. The rainy season had just started and was not yet in full swing. The conditions were a bit rough, especially in Bayamon. We had our fill of plantains and yams. All four of us got sick to some degree. I awoke on May 25 with diarrhea, vomiting, and a fever of almost 104. The fever subsided by the end of the day, but I was plagued by fatigue, dizziness and "Noriega's revenge" for the rest of the trip. Some of the Epera also suffered this same fate. I had been lucky on previous trips to the tropics - no problems. Actually, this was good for me - as a friend once told me, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so perhaps there is one less bug to torment me on my next trip. We all endured mosquito and colorodilla (chigger-like critters) bites despite bathing in DEET. One positive side effect - I lost almost 7 pounds, about a third of what I need to lose, so perhaps I'll start marketing the Epera Extreme Weight-Loss Program.
Loring Green discussing the fine points of the
LS-100 drilling rig, Puerto Indio, Panama.


Epera Indian boatman, Rio Sabalo, Panama

 


Epera Indian children helping to move equipment to a new site.


Trying to finish before the storm, Bayamon, Panama.


The Epera Indian drilling crew and Director Campana.

Gravel packing a well.


Bob Jarrett and friends, Bayamon, Panama.

What's next? Lifewater International will see about supporting the development of a pump shop on the comarca, as welding expertise does exist. We will also help the Epera with their water distribution system in Puerto Indio, now that they have a good well, and do the same in other villlages if they wish us to. I will likely return in December 2000 - January 2001 to install the submerisble pump and hook it in to the water system. I hope to get some funding to take some students down there to do some hydrology, planning, community development, etc., all with the consent of the Epera. I expect to be going down there periodically over the next few years.

We wish to thank the private donors and the Ministry of Health, Republic of Panama, who made our efforts possible. They were all very much a part of the team.


Craig Woodring and one of the Epera Indian crew inspect a water tank.
Epera Indian women and their handiwork.

If you would like to make a tax-free donation to support this work, please send a check made out to Lifewater International to: Lifewater International, P.O. Box 3131, San Luis Obispo, CA 93403. Please specify "Panama Project" on the check. Thank you!

 

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