Maintaining a World Record!

I chewed some dry coca leaves and felt a surge of energy run through my body. Whether it came from the leaves’ stimulating properties, or from the image of the world record turbine towering over us, or from the glow of the slanting afternoon sunlight reflecting off of the glacier, I couldn't say. But it was exhilarating. Or, rather, (bad pun alert) it was electrifying!

Pre-installation

The highest wind turbine in the world, feat. July project crew!

 

 

Just a week prior, the nine of us in my volunteer group had no idea that a trip to Pastoruri was in store for us. We had been focusing for the past two weeks on building the small turbine that we would bring to Playa Blanca at the end of the month, but on the side we’d been doing some repair work on the Pastoruri turbine. We’d all heard the legend of the record-breaking installation, and I personally felt honored just to be able to touch the blades. So when Nick and Jess asked us if we were interested in a trip to the glacier to help with reinstallation, the response was unanimous, and a couple days later we piled in the Beast and pointed south.

Pre-installation

Community women putting us to shame as they helped us tighten the cables and dig the trenches.

 

 

 

Fast forward two days (past a certain anti-hike that did not end at a lagoon) and we were suddenly 16,000 feet high, shielded from the brilliant sunlight by alpaca ponchos and trying not to audibly gasp for air. We heeded Nick’s advice to sit down when we felt out of breath, but the altitude definitely surprised our bodies. We worked mostly in shifts, screwing in a couple bolts or splicing a wire and then retiring to the Beast or sitting on a rock to recover. The resident horses, which carry tourists up to the ever-receding base of Pastoruri’s shrinking glacier, blinked at us as they grazed on sparse clumps of grass. As the sun crossed its apex and the shadows began to lengthen, the landscape became more and more striking.

Pre-installation

The photogenic Andes, as seen from the base of the turbine.

 

 

 

By early afternoon, we had lowered the tower, adjusted some wiring, and attached the repaired rotor, stator and blades. Our eyes glistened as we watched Nick and the Beast raise the turbine up to regain its former, Guinness World Record-holding glory.
After various safety checks, all that remained was to dig a trench to house the main wire. Simple enough, but easier said than done. At that point we were pretty spent. There were only a few pickaxes (which didn’t matter, actually, since we each hacked at the gravelly ground in two-minute sprints before passing the axe off to someone else). Then, out of nowhere came Oliver, our electrical engineer. He’d spent much of the day working inside on the control panel and on configuring an anemometer that we’d attached to the tower for data collection. He grabbed a pickaxe and began hacking at the ground with a caffeinated fury. His energy was contagious—suddenly we felt a second wind (perhaps a WindAid-aided wind?) and followed his lead. We held true to our team motto, “Just do it!”, which was inspired by Shia LaBeouf and not by Nike advertising.

Rocks flew and the trench grew. The only person who managed to outshine Oliver was a local woman who approached and softly asked to take a turn with the pickaxe. She proceeded to let loose a frightening and rapid series of swings, until somebody offered to relieve her of her duty, probably because watching her attack the ground with that pickaxe was awe-inspiring but also mildly terrifying.

We finished the day with a trip up toward the glacier that involved some impromptu off-roading and magnificent views. We departed Pastoruri at sunset, ready to rest up in Trujillo for a couple days before embarking on our next adventure in Playa Blanca.
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