As published by Ted van der Zalm on Wells of Hope Facebook page. After a month of struggle, resolving drilling and mechanical challenges, on the evening of Friday, May 8th, we finished drilling and casing the well at San Jose Carrizal! Not a moment too soon as there was thundering and lightening all around us, the rainy season pounding on the door, itching to kick in. The perfect scenario would have been if we were able to immediately get the heavy drilling trucks off the drill site and on to some solid ground before the weather changed and turned the drill site into a mud bog. Darkness was setting in so there was no choice but to wait until the morning. We have learned the hard way that, like the Corona virus, “Murphy’s Law” does not recognize borders, boundaries, languages, skin colour or culture variation. As soon as I arrived at Campo Esperanza, the downpour began and did not let up until 3 a.m.
Hoping that the rains were a bad dream or that the ground had miraculously dried up under the cover of early morning darkness, (yes, like Trump and the Corona virus) in my heart I already knew, and dreaded, what I was going to have to deal with in the morning.
After consuming a couple of litres of our home-grown Campo Esperanza high octane coffee (strongly recommended if you need a power kick to your morning), I mentally steeled myself that I wasn’t going to let a little hiccup in the weather get the better of me. We got to the drill site and it was exactly as I had hoped it would not be. The drill site made the Virgil Stampede mud bog look like child’s play.
The heavy rains and immediate water surface run off, cut huge, deep trenches in front of the drilling rig. Pulling the rig forward would be impossible. The only option was to cut the well casing to ground level and attempt to back the drill rig over top of the well to give us some maneuvering room. The well casing would be welded on again after the equipment was out. The deep, muddy clay compacted in the tire treads within the first 360-degree rotation of the tires, rendering the steering wheel useless and the truck sliding uncontrollably in any direction.
The rest of the morning was spent with the community, using hoes and shovels, to clear the mud off the drill site until we hit solid ground. A dump truck was commandeered and brought in a load of dry material that they use in the local construction of dirt roads. This was spread on top of the exit route in order to give the truck tires better traction.
By noon we were ready to give it a go. With a prayer, I put the drill rig in gear and was able to move with control. Using, what must have been a 150-point turn, the truck was angled to make the dash uphill to solid ground. Pedal to the medal, the tires bit in and the drill rig ran up the hill to solid territory! First miracle of the day! Now we had to do this manoeuvre one more time with the heavily loaded support truck. Within minutes the second miracle was completed!
It was decided that we would get the trucks safely to Campo Esperanza first, then come back and weld the section that was removed, back on to the well casing.
Along the way, the support truck was in the lead and at a certain point, sank to the axles at a soft spot in the road. The drill rig, driving behind, was not able to pull the support truck backwards, so we had to take the chance and drive the rig around the support truck (without getting it stuck) and attempt to pull the support truck forward. This was done successfully, but the drill rig, while pulling the support truck free, slid into another soft spot and got stuck.
The game of leapfrog began. The support truck had to drive around the drilling rig, without getting itself stuck, and pull out the rig. There was a huge boulder in the way, preventing the support truck from getting around, so we first had to pound down this rock with a heavy sledge hammer until it was deemed that the truck could pass over without damaging the undercarriage. This was done successfully, and the rig was pulled free. Driving in tandem once again, with men from the community sitting on top of the trucks, with wooden poles to lift low lying electrical wires so that the trucks passed underneath.
Halfway to arriving at Campo Esperanza, the sky burst open and a heavy downpour ensued, drenching the men sitting on top of the trucks as we approached our last major obstacle. The steep clay mountain slope before us had mini rivers of rainwater racing down it, coinciding with the volume of water gifted from the skies. Halfway up the hill, the progress of the support truck slowed as the tires began to spin and lose grip on the slick hill. When pressure was eased on the gas pedal, the weight of steel equipment on the support truck caused the truck to slide backwards with no control over the steering. Not wanting to slide into the drill rig close behind me, nor to slide off the edge of the mountain (which was bound to have serious negative consequences) I maintained pressure on the gas pedal, stopping the backward slide but not moving forward. With the tires smoking, as the heat from the rubber met the cold rivers of rainfall, the quick-thinking men riding on top of the trucks, jumped down and began throwing small rocks from the side of the road under the tires as they span. With every rock, the tires bit in and the support truck literally inched forward. We inched our way up the hill. Soon, the seemingly last obstacle was behind us. (What miracle we on?)
With the trucks safely parked at Campo Esperanza, we loaded a portable welder in the back of the pickup. We had to get the casing welded back on before surface water ran in and contaminated the well. Arriving at Carrizal, we could see that the rain we encountered during the day did not fall in Carrizal. Five minutes of work and the challenges of the day would be over!
Murphy showed his face again. As soon as we got to the well, a tropical storm pounded us. Immediate flooding and extremely high winds. We had to get the casing welded immediately in these impossible conditions. As an added bonus, it began to hail with the rain. Once again, the quick-thinking men grabbed two lengths of sheet metal that sheltered the men who guarded the rigs at night. So, picture this, four of us holding steel sheet metal over Sergio while he is welding with lightening and thunder all around us in a tropical downpour. The Guatemalan men, being short in stature, had to hold the sheet metal with their arms outstretched over their heads while I rested my corner on the top of my head. I thought to myself, “this is not good.” I had visions of a lightening strike and the few working brain cells that I have left in my head, being blasted out through my eardrums. Wasn’t able to conjure up how the obituary would read! 😊
Shivering, and soaked to the skin, the community leader of Carrizal broke down in tears when the welding was completed. As we continued to be pummeled by the rain, he needed to tell us that he couldn’t believe the challenges that we encountered today, one after the other, and we never gave up. He could not stop thanking us for the huge efforts and the tremendous gift that Wells of Hope has given the community. These thanks are translated first to God and second to our donors who help us to make the seemingly impossible possible!……peace……..Ted