Sunday, November 27, 2005

Goodbye, My Kingdom...

Frame up....( photo by Steve Morrison)

Today I will leave you. Today, I will give you back this place that I have thrown myself into, cast a long shadow on, and left a permanent change upon. For you have given me a gift. The chance to be a King. While my timber friends and I have been here, you have treated us like Kings…You feed us your best eats, offered the best place to sleep, done our wash and kept us happy. What more could we ask for? You have taken us swimming, to see the top of the jungle, shared your special places. Spoken to us like old friends. For this, we offer you our love and our skill and this carefully crafted timber structure. We are sorry, for it could be better—we are always looking to do better, for we are just students in the largest of games, but it is the best we can give at this time, and we are glad you are the ones to have it. Take good care of it and it will take good care of you. Put the finest roof on top, and the best final touches inside. Make this your special place. For it will always be one of ours.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Sunrise from Voltzberg, atop the Jungle

All done!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Building a wall...over a steep hill. Thanks to Ann Phillips, Proj. Architect for the picture

So far so good! A view from the River. All the big lifts, complete. Now how do we get those heavy parts up to the roof? Hmmm...

Our house for a while...who needs walls, anyway.

Here he is--500 volts of fun.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A day off

“Tomorrow, all of you in this group will be OFF and the rest of you OFF the next day” spouted Gordon, at our evening meal, update chat. Yippee! So now what? What do you do on a day off here? Go to the Mall…. nope, go out to eat…nope, visit friends…they are all here, so that’s out. What you do is go exploring, of course. Our little camp here is the main anchor point for a few surrounding spots. There is a lodge across the river and up a bit for a more secluded tour group. There is the “monkey camp” where a team of research people stay to study….well, monkeys. Then there are some things to see and a few trails to hike. Hmm, what to see? How about ELECTRIC EELS? How about 5foot eels with 500-volt output? Yep, that sounds good.

The river here is the lifeblood of the community. Until air travel, it was the only way in. But it has its dangers. Electric eels being one. These viper like voltage producers live in the fast water during the rainy season, then get stuck in the shallows when the water level drops. They are not electric all the time, I believe only when threatened. So John Miller asks, “what do they eat”…. batteries, of course, I replied.

A hike seemed like a good idea. So Steve, Jim, Neville and I set off on a walk to a waterfall. The hike was about 2 hours, round trip with a nice chat and snack at our stop. The waterfall was pretty uneventful, but the jungle was very interesting. When you think of a walk in the woods, you have a certain mental image. Most likely, the one you grew up around. A familiar picture. A few steps into the jungle and you quickly realize this is a very foreign land. The shapes, colors, size and scale are all different…your mind is confused. You know you are on a walk in the woods, but it’s not what you know. Ah the sense of adventure. Everything here seems giant. The palms, trees leaves, whatever. It’s really interesting. The best thing to me is the light. It’s very filtered from the canopy overhead, only a few shafts peek through from the blazing Sun. And then the noise, you become very aware that this place is one large composition of plant and animal all staking out a small piece, making their own sound, staking their turf, but all and all, living together as one large place—
The Amazon.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

By the light of the Moon

Each morning we all gather with a cup of coffee to prepare for the day ahead. We sit around, usually on a stack of timbers, considering the completed tasks from the day before, and what we will strive for as the new day fast approaches. Tasks are laid out and then teams assembled, people usually shifting from different roles in the frame raising process. Of course, the leadership team is doling out the work… but today a surprise. “Gang, tonight we are going to raise Bent 1 by firelight, under the full moon” said John Miller. We had all been watching the moon, as it seems to us that dawn and dusk here are short. Raise a bent in the moonlight…. why not?

The full Moon---Ready, set, raise!

The day progressed under the heat of the Sun as usual, sweating along at 100+. Remember now, this is still dangerous work so we made very sure that all was in place to essentially just lift the bent into place and stow it for the night. The lifting process is pretty simple really; we attach cables to the top of the frame, which is lying flat, then pull it up with some special winches that are tied back to the frame we raised previously. The hard part; pumping the winch. The cables come inch by inch with each pump…up and down, with the handle in hand. Kind of like deep knee bends with a heavy weight. So who were the lucky (or unlucky, if you will) to pump…. why Chuck of CI and the Architect, of course. Why not let them experience the hard work in the 100+ heat. Pull that cable, pump that winch, up, down….Yea, that’s how. The bent started to lift, creaking and groaning along the way. To help, the local men of Raleighvallen all gathered to bring rhythm to the job with drums of all shapes and sizes…. beating and pounding songs of similar nature as the bent headed skyward. Yet anther life experience to remember, all thanks to a love of carpentry and adventure. So what did you do today?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Thanks to Donna of Bear Dance Joinery for crafting such a great frame! Thanks to all the other helpers, known and unknown.

Thanks to Bob Smith of Bear Dance Joinery for joining a great frame!

Building Walls

I'm up in the frame, the crew below is building a wall on a stage I helped build---"Wallzilla" because the ground is very steep here.

The Project

So why come all this way just to build a timber frame building? Well, to me it’s not just to build a building (I do plenty of that at home) It’s more for the opportunity to learn new skills and work with other people. The Timber frame knowledge base mostly grows through sharing. This building is for the Raleigh Vallen Nature preserve here in Suriname. The preserve is about the size of NJ and the goal of the building is to provide a nice destination for eco-tourists. In a sense, “if you build it, they will come” This lodge will provide rooms, a good kitchen service, common area and a place for administrative offices. It’s kind of funny in a way; walls aren’t really required, as it never gets below 70.
The timber frame was crafted by Bear Dance Joinery (good friends of mine) and Adrienne Walker. The 3 of them spent several months in the Paramaribo, the capitol, cutting all the joints and preparing the timbers for transport. Remember the canoe ride?
All the timbers came the same way. 100 tons of wood. Plus all the stuff you need to get it up. Tools, scaffolds, ladders, generators and all our personal gear was sent via the canoe. There were many trips over several months. When we leave, much lighter, we will fly out via small plane. For more photos, check out the where there are daily reports. Thanks for checking in.

This is bent 5. Bents are "slices" of the structure. This is one of the biggest.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Here is the whole buiding as a drawing, And our progress as of Friday; Red is Up!

Our timber project. This is Bent 3 going up. The wood is very heavy and beautiful.

The locals....

Allways time for Monkey business. These are spider monkeys, getting a treat of Plantain.

Our lives here are busy with the assembly and erection of this timber building. And we have in some ways overwhelmed this little community with our tools, big timbers and sprawl of gear, that it will never be the same again. We’ve also fit right in. There are 3 cooks in the Kitchen who keep us well feed with some amazing chow, the locals come and help us during the day on the frame and the children that live here all find us friendly. We like them too. I had not seen the monkeys who hang around the village until lunch today (Sat) when the kitchen help offered me a plantain (like a banana) to feed them. As soon as they saw this, they tuned right in, coming down to see who could get the first treat. All I had to do was hold up the small piece and they would take it right from my fingers with a very gentle hand. Some even carefully guided it to their mouths while I held it up. Then of course, the fight broke out---someone got a piece and someone else decided to take it. It was like a siren went off…. screeching and chirping the whole bunch went into this crazy frenzy in the bushes. Everything settled we all moved on.

Welocme to our Job Site--or at least the view from our rooms.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ship out! The driver's name is "Bigga" He's an ace!

Up the Coppename...for 8 hours!

Zipping along on the 8 hour...yep 8 hours, ride.

Often times long travel involves several modes of transport; the noted planes, trains and automobiles. But today it was the bus and boat. Out to the bus with the gear---wow, are we really taking all that? This must be some boat, I thought. We loaded boxes and bags, camp stoves and propane tanks, 7 people and some bags of lunch. And off we went. Through the busy streets and out to the country on a 3 hour ride to Boskamp (boss-camp) on a bus that, while well suited when new, seemed a little tired. A little bouncy, dirty and well used. Most of the city appeared the same way. After many years of civil war in the 80’s and a government that is dysfunctional in many ways, the city seemed weary. The traffic—very lively. They drive on the wrong side here, according to me and also drive where they like, beeping at anything that suits; “Horning along”, our guide told us.

Arriving at the dock—pulling right up to the end, by the way, we loaded the boat. The boat is a long single piece of Greenhart that has been dug out to form the bottom. The bow end has been bent up like a tongue. The sides are formed by large pieces of local cedar and benches make up seats. Oh yea, the boat is 45’ long and powered by an 80 horsepower engine. The boatman, Bigga and his mate—who rides the bow to watch for rocks—spun us around and had us under way at a very nice pace. As we made our way deeper into the jungle the river became more like a river and less like an inlet. When we left it was really wide—1 mile, and very muddy, but as we traveled, it became very clear that we were headed to a place that for most of us was only an image from the Discovery Channel. The trees became taller and the river narrower with rocks scattered about. Bigga was an ace. He needled that boat through the river and around the rocks like a seasoned naval captain.

The jungle, is not like to woods you might visit in my area of the US (NE). It appeared like a blanket of green, everything just growing all over everything. Trees of all shapes and sizes, vines, flowers and some things I not sure how to explain. And it was tall. More like a river through a canyon. The trees and flora forming very high walls. The ride was a great 8 hours with a stop at Witagron—a small village (one hut & a truck parking space). A few jumps off the bridge by some of the crew to cool off and underway again. We stopped, you see, to take the canopy off the boat so Bigga could see the rocks/route better. Zipping along, the clouds became our friend by covering the Sun for a while. And then the rain came. Imagine the worst down burst you’ve seen, now double it, drive along in a boat at 15 mph and feel the tempeture drop 10 degrees. It was just that good!!!! That exhilarating! There are a few times in your life when you feel alive…this was one. Cruising along in a dugout canoe, 50+ miles from ANYTHING and if that boat breaks…your swimming to a rock and waiting a day for the next one (no boats at night). But, Bigga, he has no worries. This is his world and you are with him. You are ALIVE!

So what do you do when you come to a bridge in the Amazon? Why jump off!

Around town on Tuesday

As the schedule suggests....we'll get there when we get there. The river trip is set for Wednesday. Things have been a little crazy here with "he said--she said" games from the local government. As Gord explained---"There are lots of middle managers who make promises they may not be able to deliver" Seems as my father used to say "don't make waves". Well, they all make waves. Customs is in the game protecting the public from an awkward lifting machine....The Local officials are not talking and agreeing to do what they agreed to agree to...If you can get that.

An then the heat. It's not really hot, about 85-90, but the humidity is high and the air does not move. It's weird in a coastal town. Like at the shore (NJ) the breeze picks up at night...not here baby.

The food has been really great. Tonight we had pumpkin stew...more like really sloppy mashed potatoes....Tofu and cabbage with Hot Peppers YUMMY, and green beans with potatoes and curry and some homemade flat bread.

You keep reading, I'll keep posting. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

And the VERY Rickety stairs to the top---Yep, there were more above these.

And the view from above!

One of South Americas tallest and largest cathedrals...built in ALL WOOD in the 1870's

The ocean blue below!

Into the Mystic

Day One…. As we sailed into the mystic.

The ride to the Philly airport was very enjoyable as there was little traffic at 3:45AM. With the airport details out of the way I boarded the plane only to hear the Van Morrison song, The Mystic. How fitting. I was off on an adventure that still seemed beyond the reach of my imagination. Travel while exciting, can also be heavy on the spirit…. get to the airport, do the shuffle, fly, land and do it all over again. The flight to Miami was crisp, clear and bright with the Sunrise off our Eastern wing. A new day. A sail into the mystic... As I shuffled through Miami and made my way to the Surname Airways counter, I meet the rest of the timber framing gang.(they all came from all over the US and Canada)The 9 of us were meeting there with a group booking to Paramaribo. As they handed out the tickets….”hey this say’s Aruba, I thought we were to stop in Port Of Spain” was the words repeated a few times. Inquiry to the agent seemed pointless…Aruba was the stop over…and again the airport shuffle.

Aruba is pretty flat from my perspective. It seemed like a big green sandbar in the middle of the blue ocean. The resorts were lined up on the beach, topped with clay tile roofs, like pieces on the Monopoly board. Now with leg 2 of our journey complete, next stop Paramaribo. Did I mention that once we left Miami, the schedule seemed to be only “suggestive”? Well, it was. As we boarded the plane we met a local lady who informed us that we would need to stop for fuel…. in Curacao, of course. I gather that it would be similar to the comment you might make to your spouse on the way home from the store “honey, we need to stop here for a moment”. Sure enough, “attendants---prepare for landing”. Up to the pump truck, fuel up…. and now we will add some passengers. The fuel stop would have been fine except that they would open the doors to the plane and the hot humid tropical air would plow through the plane and cover you like a heavy blanket.

Anyway, we arrived late, went through the Visa process and got a bus ride to Chuck’s house where we sat a bit and got the details of the next leg. Up the river we will go on Wednesday. We planned to go today, but the island housing has become a concern. We are learning that the government people, Conservation people and the tourist people are all competing and posturing for the position of “Chief of what we do”. In any case, I’ll just consider it part of the schedule…. suggestive.

Be well!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Getting Ready

The packing continues...The reported weather info is hot and humid. At about 4 degrees above the equator the temps during the day are in the 90's and humidity is 75%+. Our group tools have arrived and are in place. A few members of the leadership team are leaving today to get a jump start on things. The rest of us meet up in Miami on Monday the 7th for a flight to Parbo---the capitol city.

On the next post, I'll try to outline the project and give you some more details---right now, I've got to pack. JKW