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!


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.


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.


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.

Cajamarca Visit – Part 1 of 2

Last week WindAid Institute got back from an amazing trip to Cajamarca! Gean, Lewis, and I spent three extraordinary days visiting communities, planning out wind turbines, and meeting an incredible array of people in the Andes!

We set off from Trujillo on a hot Sunday afternoon by bus only to arrive at the bustling city of Cajamarca six hours later, ravenous and exhilarated. Standing in this city you are nestled in a valley between mountains that seem to emanate with hidden magic in the dying sun. We immediately set off on a nice walk around town, found a great meal at Don Paco just off the town's Plaza day Armas, and settled into what turned out to be a very nice new hostel a few blocks more outside of the Plaza.

We rose with the sun on Monday, and set off in the direction of San Marcos. WindAid has done work in the Cajamarca region before, and we have always been fortunate to be able to have the support of Victor Acosta whenever we do. This trip was no different as Victor happily welcomed us into his house in San Marcos, and we were able to catch up with an old friend and his family including his daughter and their small farm of animals on the roof of the house: chickens, guinnea pigs, and a rabbit!

Victor had arranged for us to visit the much smaller town of San Carlos that same Monday, and we saw the first wind turbine of the trip! Though we would have loved to have stayed longer in San Carlos, we had been invited to stay at Victor's place for the night, and so we made our way back down the hill. Soon enough though, we'll be able to stay longer as we come back in August to service the turbine, and train up the new community technician as to it's use and maintenance!
As Tuesday rolled around, the mountains were transformed from a beautiful vista all around us, to become an integral part of our journey. Leaving before sunrise with our driver Pascual we arrived at the town of Nueva Manzanilla; a small remote village nestled up in the mountains. The kindness of everybody we met on this trip can not be overstated, and that was especially true in Nueva Manzanilla: within an hour of arriving we had been offered two breakfasts, ate one, and stole our amigo Santos away from his days work on his farm to talk about everything we had missed in the months since we last saw him. We of course checked out the town's turbine too, which is also up for servicing in August, and then set off on the days adventure.

Here I will pause to give just a little bit of back story. This was only my second time visiting these villages, and there is a town named Canlle that is inaccessible by car, and for a local an hour or two walk away. From Canlle, you can continue to walk out to the other side of the valley, and catch a completely different road back into the town of San Marcos. I had done the walk with Jessica in the reverse last year, and she and I vividly remember being flabbergasted with how much energy it seems to take hiking around at that altitude. I had been thrilled to get back and tackle that trail again, the only problem being... there isn't really a trail for half of it!
So, Tuesday morning, Lewis, Gean, and myself set off from Nueva Manzanilla with a house at the peak of a hill as our first guiding point. From there the idea was that Santos would run up the hill (we were not to stop, he would catch us), point us in the right direction, and then run back and continue working on his farm. Well, we made it to the house at the top of the hill, and a young man we met on the way up had pointed us in the direction we should continue, and we happily did so. The route had struck me as familiar, so we followed it along until I felt it was time to check our bearings. As Santos had never shown up (perhaps unable to find us), we hiked along to a couple houses, and got pointed a couple different directions until finally running into somebody who had never even heard of our next destination! This, my friends, was an adventure!

It is hard to explain the kind of peace that land and those people give. We had been hiking for only a couple hours, but it was a gorgeous day, and in every valley in that area you can see at least a house or two scattered along the way. The idea of getting lost here isn't something to worry about, it is something in which to revel! You connect with your friends, with yourself, with the earth who continues to give to us all we can possibly take, and more than we sometimes should. Add to that the fact that every single person we met along the way was kind, and though in many respects a little lost, we could not have been enjoying ourselves more.

As the day wore on however, and we kept going deeper into an increasingly unfamiliar valley, I could feel the hike and the altitude taking their toll. We had made it a goal to check in with Canlle, and still be able to make it down to Cajamarca that same evening! Ever optimistic, the sheer expanse of this unexplored mountain range began to dawn on me. We started checking houses with nobody home, and as we got deeper into this valley I began to fear we might have to hike up out of it again, a much more daunting task than the descent we were taking looking for someone to guide us towards Canlle....

Earth Day & Fishing in Playa Blanca

Posted on May 13, 2015 by Lewis White

This month I was lucky enough to travel to Playa Blanca for the third time to take part in the installation of WindAid’s tenth turbine. This coincided with the 45th “Earth Day”, which is marked all over the world by acts of “green” aiming to promote respect for the planet. It was my first celebration of the event and it was a great feeling to take part!

I’d like to thank the whole team for making the goal of lighting up Eleanora’s home with a wind turbine on the 22nd a reality. Working with Ben, Jack, Sn Abel, Yordi, Gean and Perry was an absolute pleasure and the past month is something I will never ever forget.


Getting up early to avoid the heat of the midday sun, we headed down to the beach armed with water and sun cream. This was our last day in Playa Blanca and while the trip had already offered much excitement, we had one last activity in store. The activity involved a very old rowing boat and a heavily pregnant woman. Who’d say no to fishing in the pacific?

She had gotten up even earlier than us and we all looked on as she expertly steered the rickety boat through the surf and onto our beach. We were off; 5 of us squeezed precariously into the tiny boat which felt like a strong sneeze could take it down. As the shore got further away it finally occurred to us to offer to row, we were not pregnant after all (and we’re men..), but she was having none of it – this is what she did every day, powering this boat out into the sea was as normal as making breakfast.


My fears about capsizing proved unfounded and we soon had the anchor in place, ready to fish. We used simple hand lines with some sort of sea louse (about an inch long with wriggly feet) as bate. Off we went, casting and waiting for about 2 hours moving the position of the boat every so often in attempt to find a shoal. Conditions weren’t perfect; apparently the sea was rougher than usual which meant a lesser chance of a big haul. Ben brought home two specimens however and Eleanora managed to get three. After she sensed we were getting tired she dropped us back at the shore and headed back out to continue her days work.

Amidst all the joking around, the better luck next time kind of thing, it occurred to me just how hard a life this must be. In Playa Blanca, stuck in the middle of Peru’s vast coastal desert, the sea is all there is to live on – a couple of bad days in the boat must be incredibly stressful as a large proportion of the food supply and along with monetary income immediately runs dry. The vast majority of the people living in Playa Blanca face this fear, but if you think that would lead to a community on edge then you’d be wrong. I’ve seen more stressed faces during an hour of a tough university exam on “Industrial Management” than I ever would if I lived for the rest of my life in Playa Blanca. People get happy, get sad but it feels like people just don’t have time to be stressed.

We had installed the turbine at Eleanora’s house the day before. This involved getting the help of half the village in lifting the tower where after we moved inside to tackle the more fiddly wiring. We noticed one corner of the building adorned with fresh flowers (a rare sight out in the desert) and a drawing of a girl. The girl, we were told, was Eleanora’s daughter who had died last year. She had passed away in hospital after complications with an infection and was only 20 years old.

Me and the turbine

This is me with the final product. Here’s to more projects with WindAid and above all more turbines!

Reflections of a Long Term Volunteer

Posted on April 29, 2015 by Perry Simmons

When I first arrived in Trujillo for my long-term volunteer program with WindAid, I had no idea what to expect. I found myself in a strange city, in a strange country, and soon enough, in the back seat of a strange car. The official WindAid vehicle, affectionately referred to as “the beast,” is covered in artificial grass. As we rumbled down the road on a warm January night I quietly wondered what I had gotten myself into.

Fast forward three months and I feel as though I am leaving home all over again. The people I befriended here have become another family. It is hard for me to believe the time has passed this quickly and that it is already time for me to move on.

WindAid is a special organization with special people. Everyone involved is so enthusiastic and committed to the mission of providing sustainable energy to people who otherwise wouldn’t have it.

WindAid is a place to learn and ask questions. Ask Nick, or Jess, or Gean, or Sr. Abel, or Lewis anything and they will bend over backwards to help you understand. Welding, soldering, wiring, the Spanish language, knot tying, Peruvian cuisine, surfing, card games, dancing; if there is an interest or skill you wish to pursue you will find a teacher or, at the very least, an enthusiastic companion to learn with at WindAid.

WindAid is a place for ideas. Any idea you have is taken seriously by the team and thoughts to improve aspects of the organization are encouraged and incorporated on a regular basis. Since WindAid is a relatively small, but rapidly growing organization, there are ample opportunities to take initiative and do something that meaningfully that impacts WindAid’s development.

WindAid is a place for fun. From good times in the work shop and installation, to roasted marshmallows at a fugatta (bonfire), to multicultural dinner parties, to long weekends in Cajamarca, to days on the beach at Huanchaco, to salsa dancing at Segovia, to intense games of extreme solitaire, WindAid is about so much more than simply putting up a turbine. It’s about experiencing something new and different and enjoying the people that you are with all along the way!

A fond farewell, but never goodbye! -Perry Simmons, now former long-term volunteer at WindAid

Work Hard, Play Hard!

Posted on April 10, 2015 by Nick Warren

At the end of last week WindAid Institute wrapped up an incredible March; A month that stretched even our bounds of what can be accomplished in four weeks! Ashish, Cecilia, and Hang from IBM joined Enrico, Perry, and Lewis to start off the month with a brand new wind turbine in Playa Blanca. Playa Blanca showed us how to celebrate by putting on a Yunza; a tree laden with treats and toys is toppled over as kids dance around in a circle waiting to pounce as the prizes touch ground! We too treated the kids of Playa Blanca to a brand new tradition: Tie-Dye! I am not quite sure how, but I think they managed to keep themselves clean far beyond the norms I would have expected of children and permanent ink. Though I imagine the recurring dips in the sea helped the clean up dramatically. 🙂

As the month continued on we tackled some incredible projects. With the team from IBM we further developed the structure of the WindAid Institute, and an expanded fundraising plan; plus there was the incredible work Lewis and Perry put in overhauling the WindAid Institute inventory program in excel, Gantt diagrams for building turbines in the shop, and a study of the base of the WindAid 1.7 (to name just a few).

Though new excel files, multi-page timelines, and possible fracture propagation in cement are thrilling, I would hate to say so much as to quell curiosity. 😉 Suffice it to say that the Salsa nights at Segovia, and guitar jams at our grill-out to close out the month were well earned!

After an incredible March, and some heart-wrenching goodbyes I will close this post saying thanks to Enrico, Ashish, Cecilia and Hang. Welcome to the family you guys, get back soon!