The Shed

Published: February 5th 2012
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First Volunteer Work - The Shed - Jeff

While volunteering at Surfing Turtle, I was tasked to build a shed with Yairo, a local staff member of the hotel. I didn’t think much of it but it ended up being a great experience. We needed to build the shed to replace an old shed that as blown over in a storm during the off season. They use it to store the trash cans, tools, and horse equipment.

Our first task was to break down the remains of the first shed and salvage any materials that could be reused. During that time, I was asked to clear out an area for our new building site. Yairo handed me his machete, gave me a 10 second crash course on how to use it, and had me go to work. Feeling like Russell Crowe a la "Gladiator" I hacked away at small bushes and twigs that were in our new construction site. I thought I was doing an ok job…then I handed the machete off to Yairo. In less time it took for me to clear out some shrubs and weeds, Yairo cleared out two 30 foot trees. He made me feel better by explaining the years of practice it takes to become efficient with a machete. Then I showed him my nickel-sized blister I had from the five minutes of using the huge knife. He laughed and told me I had the hands of a woman. Good start to the project.

We dug out some three foot holes and started to make some headway – the wood used are tree stumps they chop down themselves on the island. With machete and axe, Yairo eyeballed everything and sliced away at the recycled branches with impressive precision. I started to understand why these guys are good at baseball after seeing the strength and precision used to swing their machetes and axes.

Throughout the afternoon we were accompanied by Chancha, Yairo’s dog. Chancha also works at the hotel. She helps herd off any cows from the nearby village who wonder onto the lodge property to dine on the baby palm trees. When Chancha isn’t busy herding off the fugitive cows, she assists the security guard as a watch dog throughout the night.

The second day we ran out of usable wood from the old shed and had to go look for some trees to chop down. So off we went –Yairo with machete in hand, Chancha, and I-wondering through the swampy, densely forested island. Yairo created a path with the machete as we bobbed and weaved around the thick vegetation. I was nervous, sweaty, and really upset I chose to wear my flip flops to work that day. I couldn’t help but notice the holes that were scattered throughout the swampy mud. Fearing they were housing something poisonous, I asked Yairo to explain. He told me they were crab dens and explained how the locals hunt these particular crabs to make a soup. I’d sure like to give that soup a try but haven’t been fortunate enough to come across any yet.

Twenty scorching hot minutes of crawling around the woods, Yairo had finally found a couple of trees that fit the bill. With only two or three swings of the machete, down came each tree. He ran the machete down the length of the stump and pruned off any branches. We needed six trees and found six that would do the job. The trees were tall and skinny so the weight was not an issue. Carrying the long poles back through the woods was a bit tricky but we managed to get out with all the supplies in hand. I was covered in bug bites and sweat but loved every minute of the experience.

The third day we added our newly chopped wood to the shed and finished putting the roof on -which was made from recycled sheet metal from the previous shed. The end product didn’t look like much more than a Little Rascals clubhouse but these kinds of sheds are widely used all over Nicaragua. I can definitely say that I am a big fan of “voluntourism” and look forward to more opportunities. This experience was as authentic as the shed itself.

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