Building the Road to Cacao

Up here in Minnesota, folks say we have two seasons: winter and road construction. It's hard to say which is better. Ice covered roads peppered with bone jarring pot-holes or busy freeways narrowed down to one lane smack dab in the middle of rush hour. Flip a coin. Either way, it's better than this:

Imagine hauling cacao, produce, and other supplies up and down a mile long stretch of winding mountain path. Twisted, treacherous, washed out by rain, and often blocked by runoff and natural debris. For the farmers and families of La Colonia, it was business as usual. Just another day in the life.

As their cacao revenue grew, the community voted to bring in electricity, which required a road for heavy equipment. A good road, able to support large flatbed trailers carrying huge poles and spools of heavy duty power lines. This will be a big project for a small group with huge hearts.

The community elects Ms. Elucadia Soza to lead the project. First thing she does is organize the volunteer labor force. Thirty families, spread out in 10 teams of 3 families each, are assigned responsibility for their section of the road. Armed only with shovels and pick axes, they begin by removing debris, filling in gaps and cutting edges so the skinny path becomes the width of a truck.

Next, Elucadia reaches out to the municipal government of Rancho Grande. She will need over 40 tons of sand, clay, and gravel transported up the mountain. The local government agrees to haul the materials by truck up the path as it is widened and flattened, depositing piles every tenth of a mile or so.

But things don't always work out as planned in Nicaragua. Resources are stretched too thin and the small government cannot make good on its promise. The materials are left on the bottom of the mountain. It's now up to the families to haul it up by hand, one wheelbarrow at a time. And yet they persevered.

And then there's the rain. They don't call it a rainforest for nothing. The more they built, the more the water liked it. Even light downpours washed out whole sections of road before the clay and gravel could get tamped down, causing them to start over time and time again. And yet they persevered.

The road is finally complete, but their work is never done. The rains continue to aimlessly wash away entire sections and deposit random debris. Elucadia has organized repair teams based on proximity of homes to the road. For them, road construction season lasts all year. And yet they persevere, happy to have a road at all.

Eric Hiller