We had loaded Mike Rhea’s four wheel drive with our donated solar panel, battery, lights, socket and wire and driven off on our good will adventure at about 7am in the morning. We were driving 55 miles to the village of Serranch, installing a solar powered lighting system in the Health Centre, and driving back. No big deal.
Serranch like many small communities in Guatemala is off the power grid.
The car was full with Mike and Daniel, the health technician who had identified this village as being in special need, in front. I was in the middle with Tim our electrician one side of me and Ivan our video maker the other. Tucked away in the back was Espaldo, the electrician’s assistant who was invaluable.
The first 30 odd miles ticked away no problem and then we hit the dirt road. We bounced around laughing and chatting, no big deal. There were power lines running alongside the road and once in a while we passed a really nice ranch house. Mike mainly concentrated on driving.
After about 10 miles the power lines ran out. The road got noticeably worse and there were no buildings in sight for long stretches.
Then the car bottomed out with a horrible grating sound, my heart sank. We looked behind for a while dreading seeing a dark line of oil following us.
I looked at my phone, there was no signal. Who would we call anyway Mike was unflappable and turning around didn’t seem to enter his mind.
We ground out again and there was a slight air of tension in the car. “It’s going to be a long walk back,” someone quipped.
After two hours on the dirt road Ivan asked Daniel how much further it was to the village, “Oh, about 30mins.” He sounded unconcerned.
I, on the other hand, was racked with guilt about Mike’s car. I hadn’t thought this through properly or I wouldn’t have asked him to risk it.
It took us two and a half hours to cover 24 miles with Mike concentrating hard all the way. There’s a link to our video at the end of this article but it doesn’t give any sense of the isolation of this village.
Once we arrived we meet the headman of Serranch who gave us permission to make the installation. Up until now lighting after dark in the health centre was a flash light. Not ideal for sewing up wounds or delivering babies.
Everyone worked together under Tim’s guidance and with some innovation on his part the panel, battery and lights were soon installed. The headman and the nurse’s face lit up brighter than the bulb when the first light clicked on.
There is also a socket for charging a telephone for accessing medical advice. The most impressive and crucial facility they have in Serranch however is an ambulance, donated by Taiwan. We met the driver who said that in an emergency he can get to Puerto Barrios in four hours. FOUR HOURS. If they had to wait for an ambulance to get to Serranch first from the Rio Dulce that would be an additional 3 hours on the journey. That could be life or death for a child with appendicitis.
I’m glad I didn’t have to make that journey, on that road, when I had my appendix out in July last year.
The next village that Daniel has identified is Chinacadenas. I understand the road isn’t quite as challenging.