And then there were three…

Hey there, Melissa here writing from Mexico City!  This morning, I officially left Garabato for what may sadly be the last time…  After a three-hour bus ride from Amealco, during which I underwent great internal debate between catching up on sleep and watching the (Spanish) en-route movie, Space Chimps (SPACE Chimps!), I arrived safely in Mexico City and grabbed a cab to the hostel.  Which I promptly left in order to officially return to civilization (AKA Starbucks) and internet.  And now, updates!

After arriving in Garabato, we developed three project goals:

1) Conducting interviews of greenhouse owners and evaluating the success of the original fourteen greenhouses constructed in summer 2011

2) The construction of a greenhouse at the secondary school

3) Conducting a community analysis by interviewing citizens – for example, the local doctor, mayor, priest, policeman, shopkeepers, students, etc.

After arriving in Chitejé Tuesday, we immediately hit the ground running and interviewed both Francisco and Sofía, who own two of our most successful greenhouses.  Francisco is our unusual case – he redesigned his own greenhouse, making it 4m x 6m instead of the traditional 3m x 6m and increasing the height by about 0.5m.  He is also the only greenhouse owner to grow for profit and has a very impressive variety of flowers filling the interior.  The amount of thought and planning he put into the redesign is evident by the quality of the construction and structural stability of the greenhouse.  Because of the strength of the construction and design as well as his contacts regarding material acquisition, we asked Francisco to consult on the design and implementation of the secondaría greenhouse.

Wednesday we took a bumpy bus ride into Amealco, where we bought fruit and I treated myself to one of my favorite strawberry, guava, banana, and (lots of) chocolate smoothies from the juice man at the market.  The fact that he remembered me from both last summer and January is either a testament to how much I love those smoothies or to just how few foreigners pass through Amealco. (Or perhaps both…)

More importantly, we were able to stop at an Internet café to print off Gaby’s drawings for the updated greenhouse design.  Another bus ride over cobblestone mountain roads later, we returned to Garabato and conducted interviews with Doña Emma and Rosalba.

Thursday, we all sat down to brainstorm and rework the greenhouse design.  We plan to base our model off Gaby’s plans, but to tweak the design to make it both slightly larger with simpler connections.  It sounds relatively simple when we say, “We’re building a greenhouse”; however, it can actually get rather complicated.  For example, here are some lessons learned from the original construction:

  • Buying ½” screws when you actually need ¾” screws results in another trip to Amealco.
  • Realizing that regular screws are almost impossible to put into hardened steel and that there exist self-drilling screws that are sharper results in another trip to Amealco.
  • Buying self-drilling screws and realizing you need a special type of drill bit otherwise the magic self-drilling screws won’t be doing any screwing at all results in another trip to Amealco. For a drill bit.
  • Realizing that screwing steel together is actually ridiculously slow and oh wait, there’s a man in Chitejé who has welding equipment which will actually work better and faster but he needs welding rods so let’s scrap the self-drilling screws and go buy some welding rods… results in another trip to Amealco.  For a box of metal sticks.

In case you lost track, that’s four separate trips into town for a grand total of eight hours of bumpy mountain road because we bought the wrong screws.

Now that you have an idea of what goes into the design, some other things we needed to consider: material cost and transportation, door placement, window design, how to attach the PVC arches to the steel support structure, ways to origami the plastic into the C-channel steel without making the greenhouse look like it’s wearing a lumpy, semi-transparent skirt four sizes too big…

But hey, after all that, we still did pretty good last summer:


And so I have faith that we can do it again, and even better this time!  With the lessons we’ve learned from the past, and Paula, Judy, Marcela, Francisco, Gaby, Rob, students, and teachers all working together to make this project happen, I have no doubt that it will be a success.  I can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the next two weeks!

So to Paula, Judy, and Marcela: I’d say good luck, but you don’t need it.  You got this!

Signing off,



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