You may be well aware of my professional and academic goals in Nicaragua at this point but I have also made a personal goal: to see a sloth. During my time here I have had the pleasure of engaging in a number of excursions, each of which presented an opportunity to see a sloth in the wild. The only thing is, I could never find one. Whilst at COPRAJ, the director, Randy, had informed me that “sloths are mystical creatures and you do not find the sloth, the sloth finds you.” Wise words, Randy. Clearly he was right. After spending hours upon hours looking to the tall trees of the jungle, I was slothless. One morning we geared up to install a solar panel at a small farm that was about a 1.5 hour panga ride from Bluefields. On the way out, it finally happened! I saw my first sloth. Or did it see me? This was going to be a good day.
The farmers were actually the parents of Marling, a lovely woman who works in the blueEnergy kitchen. They had lived on their farm for 50 years and never had electricity… Until now! The day prior we had the opportunity to attend a solar PV installation workshop wherein we learned all about the strengths and weaknesses of solar power along with positioning for optimum efficiency, maintenance, and care. I was so excited as I am concentrating in water (which has been covered greatly by my mission to monitor biosand filters) and renewable energy (something that, up until this point, I thought I would have only experienced in the texts). No, now I was getting the opportunity for a hands on experience from start to finish. We were also taught about how to wire the system, the battery, and the inverter. Essentially everything from wire stripping to powering on was covered. Following the class, I felt fairly confident in my abilities but was still thankful that a seasoned volunteer and engineer would be accompanying us as we brought power to the farm. The next morning a group of five of us gathered the necessary tools and supplies, including the actual panel. There is not exactly an Amazon or UPS out here where items can get from point A to point B seamlessly and conveniently. No, this was on us and the transport was an adventure in itself to say the least.
We arrived at the farm and, after taking a look around, meeting the family, and allowing some time for jungling (a term I developed whilst here which is the act of hiking and exploring the jungle). Time to get to work. The family had already chosen an area that provided ample, direct sunlight and fabricated a post from a tree that would support the panel. The rest was yet to do. I got to assist with measurements, sawing of metal to size, and fastening the panel to the wooden post. Alongside me were the family from the grandfather to the young grandson. Everyone was involved and each person took part – it was great to share the experience with the recipients. Next was the rising of the panel. When it were up, the family (and us) looked on in admiration. We spent the rest of the day stripping and connecting wires, installing lights and switches, and the inverter and control center.
Somewhere along the lines, a connection was not quite right so we had to postpone completion to the next morning. It was almost dark out and there was no room for us to stay at the farm. Luckily, a friend lived about 30 minutes down the river and offered to host us for the evening. I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous about taking the panga through the jungle waters at night (with just flashlights). It actually turned out to be quite relaxing in truth. The cool night breeze was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the day’s work. The lack of light pollution and clouds also provided for a highly visible night sky and we all looked on at the stars and constellations – beautiful. We arrived at the house and trekked through a slightly swampy area up a hill and began setting up our hammocks. These hammocks had mosquito nets built into them – bonus! I slept amazing and woke round four in the morning to the sound of howler monkeys calling in the jungle and chickens from the farm who had also camped out with us. We got ready, enjoyed some coffee (yes!) and set back to the finish the job we had started. The work that remained was simple so another fellow and I decided to get in some jungling before it was time to go. After about an hour of roaming, we decided to head back but came across the grandfather. He ended up taking us on a two-hour tour of his property, explaining his farming techniques, crops, and wood and produce sales. He was extremely knowledgeable of the flora and fauna and we were grateful for the tour. When we got back to the house the lights were on! The panel was going to increase the safety of the family (no candles and lighted areas outside to assist with getting to the restroom) and save them some money on batteries (they had previously relied on flashlights at night). We gathered round for a photo, said our goodbyes, and got back in the panga for yet another journey.
On the way back to the Bluefields, two more sloths found me.