Susan was both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .
26 August 1999 - The Start of Training.
"We have been staying in hotels up through tonight, and tomorrow at lunch, we´ll meet our host families. It just so turns out I´ll be one of just a couple of people that will get showers in their host house, as well as actual toilets for that matter!! such luck. I still haven´t cut my hair, no time, but I could have sold it in Miami if I´d had more time. But I get the shower because of my hair. On the home interview, the guy asked if I had a solar shower and if I could deal with it. I said yes and if I could get a house with a shower, great, if not, I´d cut my hair, at which point he told me, don´t worry, I´ll get you a shower, just don´t cut your hair. Who am I to refuse eh? So I´m just a bit happy about that. All of the training has been a lot of fun and I have only had one shot, yellow fever, cause I already have my vacc for Hep A and B. I get rabies shots next week though :( really, yuck! so there are so many things to do and be done."
The Twelfth of the Autumnal Equinox, main figure on the
back of the Great Idol of Tiwanaku, a monolithic pillar
excavated in 1932.
1 September 1999
I have 6 other people in my house. The father is Esteban and mother is Natividad Maldonado, in their 60s. They are nice but I can't understand them very well as their spanish is sprinkled with Quechua. But after my second day in class, I'm doing better. One of my bothers is Gualberto and is a Vet, and my other brother is a dentist. My sister is Ana, around 19 and is still in school. Stiven is 5 and loves to play with my fingernails, go figure. They are all very nice to me and are fairly patient with my broken but slowly improving spanish. There is a shower and toilet, but the shower isn't exactly hot, more just under body temperature. I having a small reprieve before working soley off of my solar shower. I live in a village right outside of Cochabamba called Rumi Mayo.
Classes are incredible and fun, but I will soon have a TON of homework. We go to class from 8:30 to 6ish in our village, and on Weds we all go Coch. and have a bunch of other classes. Today, we all got our rabies shots, no kiddin, fun fun! I feel like I should have some tags on me or something. We went to market yesterday (as part of our class) and saw everything from clothes, shoes, batteries, tape players, fresh meat?(with many flies), fried conejo (guinea pig, not just rabbit), to dried llama fetuses, striped llama heads etc(I think they were for blessing a new home, I think it would have been better just to hire a priest, by the smell of it!!) All very interesting. The real work load hasn't hit yet.
We worked with A frames and string levels today and there will be an overnight field trip to Capinota, forest reclaimation land and Apillapapa, for introduction into tree nuseries.
Late September 1999
We will be going on a 4day tech weekend starting Thurs, and then a 7 day tech week near Tipa Tipa, my possible site. The work load isn't very hard yet(I say before tech week) and my Spanish still has a bit to be desired, but its coming along somewhat. Languages aren't a strong point for me.
We will know our sites fairly soon, very exciting, its also pretty nice because we almost get to choose our sites. This is the first time for such a thing outside of Ecuador, no other country is doing this.
I might be going to Tipa Tipa for my site, its about 200 km E-SE of Cochabamba, between larger villages, Mizque and Aiqline(that isn't spelled correctly) It takes about 7 hours to get there from Coch and is a lot of cactus and everything has thorns, fun fun. and a horse is no problem, maybe just feeding it in winter will be a little hard. Try to see if you can find it in an atlas, they usually have smaller villages on it, at least Mizque should be on there. Also look for variations in the spelling, like Misque, etc. Also, At my site, there was only one volunteer there before but he wasn't in the site much for some reason, But while he was there, he did get the funding to put a water system into the school there, but its never been put in, the money can be accessed when I get there, so I should be able to put in the well and water system as soon as rainy season is over, Nov to March, and get something big achieved very early on in my service, thus proving my ability to my village etc, all except for the small fact that I know nothing about wells or water systems, but I've been told that is not important,(go figure) no, really, Ill be there more for getting the experts to come in and do it. I think Ill be able to do a bit there. AND I wont be working for an NGO- Non government agency. I will be working for the village, as they have requested a PCV,(not very common) and not an outside agency. The weather there is a little warmer than Cochabamba, and is about 8000 ft, and is flat, so I don't think there is a lot of erosion problems. The winter wont be harsh, no snow or anything, possibly not too much of the temp going below freezing in winter, which is June to Sept. Summer shouldn't be too hot, maybe 70-90. It is also rather arid here with lots of cactus and snakes as well, grand, lots of thorns and pointy plants. It doesn't rain a lot there, I also have some ideas for water catchment systems if it would work with the house roofs, filtration system and all. I'm not sure what the place is like yet, but I will be visiting it for 1 week in 4 weeks. I am doing well, I had food poisoning 2 days ago, and didn't really feel sick, just a couple of restroom trips. I am getting lots of sleep and eating less potatoes, but still a lot of starch. I am learning all about soil conservation, water cons. making viveros(tree nurseries), agriculture with mixed systems, animal husbandry, etc etc, but still most of this is talking and looking at it, not much doing yet, but we did dig a 50-40cm retention ditch in a slope in some laterite(hard dirt)using A-frames to give it a 1/2 slope, luckily it didn't have a lot rocks there. I'm still sore from my pick-axing and shoveling. The campansinos will be planting trees there to help prevent erosion.
The elevation in La Paz was rather tough, but I didn't pass out like 2 others did (just was there for 3 hours) but the coca tea helped a lot, but was still winded after walking up half a flight of stairs. The elevation here at Coch, 8000ft is nothing you really notice as long as you dot really exert yourself right away, some people were a little sleepy at first but I've had no problems, and there is no need for medication. It is very dry here, and its easy to get dehydrated. The fauna here isn't lush or anything, but compared to many places in Bolivia, (not Santa Cruz) Coch is considered to be very green, I dot think so just yet. The fauna is different everywhere you go.
Mid October 1999
Real quick, my site has changed, due to a security reason. SOOO, that is good enough reason for me, so I will be going to Sipe Sipe, (pronounced Seep-ay Seep-ay) a town of 3000(big) 1 hour SW of Coch. I can go deep campo if I want to or come to the city. I like this new site pretty well. I've heard its very cushy and green and pretty. Things will work out the way they should, and I guess I wasn't supposed to go to Tipa Tipa, dry with biting creatures and thorns.
You'd never believe, I've been nibbling on the coca during tech week, its just leaves that make you mouth numb and it tastes a bit like spinach. I didn't notice much off of it. Its not as strong as caffeine. We went to Tocacari in Northern Potosi for the week. TONS of back breaking work and hour long hikes up a giant dry river bed and straight up the side of a mountain to do such work, but tons of fun. Its very high up and not much oxygen for all of it. We dug ditches and built rock walls.
October 30, 1999
Just 2 more weeks until I'm sworn in. I cant wait to get out to my site. I will definitely be in Sipe Sipe, just outside of Cochabamba. I spent the past week there and it was so fun. I stayed with my counterpart, Fabiola, and her family. I feel like they are totally my family. Everyone is related there so I was introduced to everyone and know so many people, also because Fabiola is a teacher and now all her students know me. Ill be working with a few schools, after summer vacation, which starts when I get there, so in Feb Ill start on Environ Ed. One of the school directors talked with me about starting up programs for a vivero, tree nursery, at their school, Ill also probably start my own at my house if I can get my hands on my own house.
One small project I want to try is raising oyster mushrooms, I'm not sure how much the campensinos will want to do it, maybe its more for myself.
Also, weird foods I've eaten, cow tongue, liver and feet. I think I liked everything but the feet. Kinda weird texture!
10 November 1999
I am just hours away from swearing in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. Ill be moving to Sipe Sipe, my site on Tues. We have had meetings all day yesterday and today, and one of our guest speakers earlier today was the US Ambassador of Bolivia, Donna Hrinak. She is true an amazing and dynamic lady. Shell also be speaking tonight at our swearing in. I can't believe I am now finished with training!!! It wasn't hard, but I am glad it is now over, and I can begin my service now!!
25 November 1999 - from the quarterly report.
I'll start out by saying that my first priority is finding my own house and soon. Originally I was living with my counterpart, Fabiola, family. She is a 24 year old teacher at a public high school. Her family has a decent sized house, but there are seven of them and only four rooms, one of which I was taking up so now I've temporarily moved in with her aunts family. There is much more space there but every few minutes, inevitably someone will walk into my room and want to talk to me. PC wasn't kidding when they say you'll be the center of attention, constantly. My second day in their house, the 15 year old brother set up his keyboard in my room, I guess he really wants me to listen to him. Both him and the dad love to come in and show me all the acrobatics they can make the family cat do. But they are a very amusing and friendly family. For writing part of this, I escaped to the town plaza, not that it is quieter, but I don't think there are as many people that will just come up to me and want to talk. I think they prefer just staring and talking about me for the most part. There is a so called library here, but I have only seen it open once, and when I went into inspect it, it was a small room with several high school kids talking and the only paper materials there for the most part included only outdated periodicals and such.
Even though she told her mother this is her house, it really isn't.
7 January 2000
I had a very interesting day today. My one project that I was starting to feel that may not go anywhere kinda went somewhere today. This is one where Ill work with schools in the area and have a vivero-tree nusery, as well as a small garden and grow flowers(for selling). Well, Remigio, the APCD of Natural Resources came to Sipe Sipe this morning to discuss my project plan for the schools. We dropped by Don Lucho house, my counterparts dad, and they insisted we eat breakfast, again. So after that, we took Lucho to Siqui Siquia with us to see if the Director of the school was there (I spoke with the director once and he told me he had a small plot of land and maybe I could work with his students. This is where the vivero thing comes in). So we get to the school, and find out that the direct is there, and not only that, but there is a town meeting going on. There are about 30-40 of the villagers there. (such luck!) So, Remigio goes in and we are introduced, and the director wants us to talk about my project (we didnt know it right then, but the villagers had already discussed and really wanted a school based project for environment and the parents and adults are willing to work on this) Remigio goes in to talk a little, in Quechua, (which really impresses all of the town people, wish I could speak it, I didnt understand anything he said) and everyone listened so intently, asked a lot of questions and was just all around well received, (understatement). Im almost worried about what was said, maybe something like,- Susan here will walk on water and bring money and prosperity to your village, no worries! - No really, it was almost too well received, because everyone applauded after and as we left, several people, men and women, came up to greet me and shake my hand. (and in the spanish culture, men dont always take so much notice of women as far as their work goes.) I felt like I just walked into the twilight zone or something. I asked Remigio for a translation after, because Im not sure what he said to get this responce, but wasnt really told more than what was in my project proposal and what I told him. ALSO, not only is this school area wanting this, but there are 4 other schools that are in this district that want this too (I really wonder what THIS is, or what Im getting into). I told Remigio I wasnt sure if I could handle 5 schools and he said I could work as many or as few as I want. But what do the town people think. Anyways, after this, we all go back into town and talk with the Alcaldias office and Remigio gets a lot of assurance about that the funding for this project will be no problem, and we meet the Technical director of Education and he tells me anything I need, just ask him. Now this is all very fine and good, but the political parties are changing and I have no clue if the same people will still be working there come February. So, I may have to redo much of the ground work a second time with the new staff (the entire Alcaldias office).
16 Feb. 2000
Also, I will be hosting a tech weekend for some of the new trainees. I will have 10 people in my house for Fri and Sat, Feb 18 and 19th. Carla, their trainer, (assistant trainer in my group) and I went back up to Viloma Cala Cala two days ago, Monday, to find work for them to do. Ambrosio met us there. On Friday, we will be giving a charla (talk) about natural pesticides, insecticides and fungicides. Ambrosio went and showed us some of the problem he was having. Fortunately, Carla is an agronomist, and unfortunately many of the problems they were not easily treated. One of the big problems was a bacteria that was affecting (rotting) the bell peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. She told him it was not a fungus (which he had been treating it for, for many weeks) but a bacteria that is in the soil, and will continue to effect any bell peppers, tomatoes or potatoes grown in those fields for some time to come. Basically, foods grown in those fields would have to change. It is a really good thing she told them this, albeit it was bad news, as much was already in stages of production, but they would have continued planting bell peppers, tomatoes and potatoes there, and the crops would continue to be destroyed. Carla kept explaining this, and they kept saying that they would change the source of the seed, but not the vegetable. So finally they understand (I hope) what can and cannot be grown in the infected sites now. But luckily, there were other problems, very solvable, and could be treated with very little costs and no poisons. I remembering feeling pretty good as the campensinos got pretty excited about some of these solvable problems, and them saying they didn't remember the other hired agronomist telling them of these simpler solutions. I just hope it works as well as she says.
We needed a plot of land on a slope, to practice making irrigation
ditches and slow forming terraces. To my surprise, on the side
of the mountain, there were very few plots on a slope, good for
the land, bad for our search. So we finally found a nice sloped,
unplanted land, and the farmer was there! So, we talk and explain
what we would like to do, speaking with him for around an hour,
and he seems very pleased that we have picked his land, and very
much in agreement. Then we again explain that we will come in
Saturday to do it, and then he explains that his religion will
not allow him to work on a Saturday, nor can his land be worked,
as that would taint it. SOOO we had to try to find another farmer.
Neither Ambrosio nor the other farmer could think of others that
had a good slope to it. We looked around some more and then noticed
small plots on a mountain side that was definitely on a slope,
but were told the farmer wouldn't be back until the next day.
I had almost given up hope for doing this part of the project
in Viloma Cala Cala. But on our way out, we happened to run into
the farmer coming back. So we spoke with him a little, and he
was in agreement for having these improvements put on his land.
Quarterly Report, 21 February 2000
I am inspired to begin this report by candlelight, just so I can say I'm having the 'Peace Corps experience'. I am assuming that I'll have electricity soon enough, but now at 11pm I have 3 candles lit and feel the urge to write (obviously I am retyping this at a later time). I normally have electricity, but the alcalde has all changed and the new one has come in, and someone didn't pay the electricity so mine has been cut.
I now have my own house - alone at last!! Gratis (free) compliments of the alcalde, and the new alcalde has given me permission to stay here too. I moved in shortly after Christmas. It has two rooms and an enclosed backyard. There is electricity (apparently only sometimes J ) and water. The water is every 2 days for one hour, never at the same time though. I have one faucet outside, so that means I get to run around with a bucket to distribute water when available and necessary to my various techos (water catchments, i.e. big plastic trash cans with lids). Trash pickup is twice a week, but I don't know where they dump it at, I'm afraid it may be in the river or something.
I have started a garden in my backyard, or should I say I paid two guys to come in, clear the weeds (shoulder high), clean up my backyard and put in some beds for planting as well as a pit for composting (I, being busy and lazy, hired some help for it). I do feel rather guilty paying two men $5 each for an 8 hour day of rather back breaking labor, but what I paid them was a bit over normal wages and I also supplied them with a ½ kilo of coca (yes, its legal here, just in the leaf form) and plenty of fresh filtered water. They were a bit emphatic about letting me know if I EVER needed help with work again, to let them know. Then I was left over with three mountains of cut grass and weeds, as tall as I am, and I didn't know what in the world to do with it. I originally had planned to use it in my compost hole, but it wouldn't have taken a fraction of this to fill it up and then some. So I invited a couple of neighborhood women with cows and goats to come take what they would like, and they did! Two women came by with there aguayos, filled them up several times over with grass up and beyond my body weight, heaved them up onto their backs and carried them off to unseen, hungry animals. And within an hour, there was nothing left but a decent pile of weeds, of which I used in my compost hole. My compost hole has become very useful too, as I tend to eat a LOT of vegs, therefore lots of peels, cores, etc.
I now have MANY pets, I just can't help myself! I think it is more just because I can here, that I have gotten all of them. But I will stop at my last pet, no more for me! I have my little monster, I mean Jakie, my dog. He's staying outside most the time as he is not getting the hang of house breaking yet and still likes to bite me a lot. I built a rabbit cage and have three rabbits, 1 male white angora, 1 female white angora, and 1 female gray short hair. I keep thinking I'll the white angoras babies for fur collection, but the gray ones babies for meat, but I don't know if I can do that, they may end up being presents to my neighbors. I have my newest addition to my happy pet family is a big white Peruvian Paso Fino horse. She is 6-7 years old, very pretty and very calm, but also very skinny right now. I bought her for 1000 B's, around $167. Her back is about as high as my shoulder (I am 5'6) and is in good condition, despite her skinniness. If you've never heard of a Paso Fino, they are born with a different type of gait for a horse. The legs on the same side, both right legs move at the same time and direction, giving a very smooth and comfortable run. While it is not rare, it is not too common. Although I really did get her mostly because I have always wanted my own horse and because this is the only time I will be able to have one and afford one, she actually would be very useful to me as a sturdy form of transportation. One of my new sites I want to begin work at, Viloma Cala Cala, doesn't have transportation going to there. It is not so far I couldn't walk, but I probably will be bring supplies there and it would be much easier to pack it on my horse. Also very convenient if there are any more paros, its not like they could pop the tires on your horse J.
There have been lots of 'paros', the stopping of public transport due to protests of ever increasing prices. First there was the increase of gas prices, and the public displayed their displeasure by not only stopping public transport, but civil transport as well as shutting down ALL businesses. This is done to hurt the government, so they can not be drawing money from these areas. The government protested the second to last time they cut off the water. This paro lasted 5 days, 3 of which there was no running water in my village. The last one was a lot more violent, and as I just found out, still is unresolved. There may be another paro coming up tomorrow for this. This one was due to an increase in water prices.
Mainly things I have done since I've gotten home has been primarily
writing, talking and having formal and informal meetings. I have
two main projects on the burner, one for the school in Siqui Siquia
(SS) and another for the community of Viloma Cala Cala (VCC).
I have written a project proposal for the school in SS. This project includes a proposal for construction a vivero (tree nursery), a small garden and a flower garden. Most of this will be worked by the students, but I believe there is enough interest of the town people themselves that whole families may become involved. Along with this project, I will be teaching soil conservation practices (more outside in the field) along with information on native trees and their uses. In both sites, there are rivers that have severe erosion problems along the sides, as there are few trees along the river beds. The vivero part will be primarily for reforestation, the garden will involve demonstrations and explanations of natural pesticides, as well as extra food for the school children, and the flowers are for profit so as to help financially sustain this program, and maybe a little extra money for those campesinos helping run this project. In both projects, my goal is not for me to run them, but to involve the community members and get them to want to run it, understand it, teach it and get others to do this as well. Hopefully, it will work out that way.
At the ruins.
My second project site is VCC, and the people there are very enthusiastic about this project. The land that the vivero will be on, like SS, will be on land owned by the school, but unlike SS, they haven't thought about involving the children at the school. I will broach the topic later, when I find out just how much time I will have. The main objective of this vivero is raising trees for three purposes. 1- for erosion control, reforestation, and agroforestry, 2- for construction material, firewood and extra money, and 3- for fruit trees, to improve the nutritional situation of the community here in VCC.
Late April 2000
[In April Susan moved to Buenavista.]
I'm actually in Cochabamba right now, I just had a week of much needed IST's and am staying for PDM's next week. My counterpart was picked out by the 2 other volunteers that are in Buenavista (can you believe there are 2 others there!) I'm almost disappointed that there are others Americans, even though they are very nice. Really, this town is very beautiful. I'll give you all the logistics on it in my next report. I just feel rather disjointed now, having had to move and all. I'm just glad it was in the first 4 months of service and all, but still I had a lot of stuff going on, ready to go. Now at 2 weeks at my new site, I have a ton of stuff going on too. I'm working with the youth group, already started. Joel had picked it back up for a while, but it fizzled out again. So, I'm going to get it going again, as these kids have all of Amboro national park in their back yard, and need to really understand how incredible that is, and how to keep it. The 3 main objectives are education, public service (thus making a little money) and fun things.
My new site is here in Buena Vista, department of Santa Cruz. It is a huge change from the drier valley of Cochabamba. But we are heading into winter now, and it is drier now. This is a tourist town, inhabitants numbering around 3,000. It seems as though there should be a lot to be done with ecotourism here, as the Amboro National Park is right down the road (I've been there twice now). There is a very clean river running down the boundary, Rio Surotis and there are numerous other rivers running all throughout the park as well.
I would say the most common farming method is slash and burn, then they put up fields for their cattle. They are under a common misconception in the tropics that they have such rich, good soil, but we are in the tropics, not old volcanic soil, and these sandy-silty soils here, once rich in nutrients is quickly degrading with no constant leaf litter of the native trees. Land is fairly plentiful and luckily, people own smaller parcels of land, but unfortunately, they believe cattle is where the money is at, while importing most of their vegetables and fruits from other countries or the altiplano. There is a great amount of movement of the collas to this area (lots of cochababinos) and these people are bringing with them, unfortunately, their method of farming - slash and burn. Traditionally, canbas (people from Santa Cruz), did not farm much, nor raise cattle, as food was available year-round. Also, typically, many people live in crude thatched roof, mud houses and do mostly subsistence farming, growing yucca (instead of potatoes) maize and rice. There are some citrus fruit growers here, but not many especially as this climate is ideal for many food crops, but aren't used for it. Most of the housing and people live VERY poorly, but they have resources here, and the roads are decent, but they don't yet bring products into town (Santa Cruz) or closer towns, sometimes they are cut off in the rainy season. There is a fairly constant water source, and actually it is very clean as well. There are many wells here, as well as rivers and springs. Most of their farming equipment is crude, like shovels with really short handles, and they still use oxen for flowing. Only on the larger plantations will a tractor be seen, but there aren't a lot of them. There is A LOT of sand being removed from the river beds. I got a ride down the 3 km., to get to the river in one of the dump trucks my first week here, and returned again with them. The driver being Don Rafael. I asked him how many loads a day does he take and he said 5 or 6, but he is only one of the trucks with that route. In with the Curichi wetlands, there is a lot of wetlands, especially for the amount of sand present. I've been told it is sand for at least 200-400 feet, with a lot of mottling. But in this general area, there are supposed to be 3 or 4 different soil classifications. I will include this in my next report. The climate here is almost always humid. We are now entering the winter, and therefore the dry season as well. That will last the from mid May to mid August , when it is possible to touch some days at freezing, a little frost on the ground, although this is not a too common occurrence, but the winter is not a constant cold, its intermittently warm with a few flashes of cold. The rest of the year is VERY humid and average temp between 34-41B C. I have heard though that in the last few years, that the rain is a bit less and the dry season-winter, is increasingly dryer, a little bit of hearsay from the older folk in the area.
In the Amboro, there are some mountain formations reaching
around 3,000 ft. There are several species of predatory animals,
including puma, jaguar, and spectacled bear.
I have been working with the youth group GEA (the Amboro Ecological Group) for the past few months. We organized a Dia de Limpieza (Day of Cleaning) for the whole community of Buena Vista. It was originally planned for June 5th, but then was moved to June 9th. Unfortunately I had already purchased my plane tickets back to states several months before and I had to leave June 7th, missing the whole affair. Beforehand, I procured a donation from Subway sandwiches in Santa Cruz for feeding 32 people. It was quite a nice treat for the club members. I am trying to make it so that more kids would see the perks that the club gets, so more will want to join. There were 3 other volunteers that went to the clean up, and it was reported to me that all went well.
We (the GEA group) all went out to the park, an area called Mataracu´ for 3 days. This was a fantastic trip, seeing the pools and waterfalls in this area of the park. We went out for walks and swam quite a bit. On the first evening, I started up a conversation about chaqueos, which are the clearings made by slash and burn methods of farming. I was trying to have this as a discussion, but realized that they weren't very comfortable with me asking them to tell me 'What could be the possible outcomes if chaqueos would continue at the rate set last year by an outlandish burning of 10% of the forested area in Santa Cruz alone, due to the unseasonably dry burning season?' They were better able to guess possible outcomes if chaqueos were just completely restricted, such as people not working in the campo, and a dramatic increase in food prices. After we talked for a while, several teenagers were interested in giving charlas in the surrounding areas to schools and compesinos about alternative methods for chaqueos.
The group is interested as well in creating a vivero. I want to help them with this as well, but I have just agreed to take over the Curichi project of Chris, the other PCV in Buena Vista. This is a wetland project, protecting about 150 hectares of prime marshland and has an incredible amount of wildlife on it. During the warmer seasons, this small area alone is visited by birds numbering in species to be about 50% of those found in all of both the US and Canada combined. This will also be an area to be visited by ecotourists, a future site for an economic boost for guides in the village. I am in the process of writing for a SPA grant of $2500 for this project. Chris has already written for the first $2500 for this, and I am following up for the second half. Also, Transredes, a US based oil company, owned in part by Enron, will be making a donation of $10,000, and Lomes de Miradores, a local business, wants to fund the construction of the lookout towers for bird watching.
I have recently acquired a boa constrictor, a new little pet. I got the boa from the new secretary at PC in Santa Cruz, Victor, that didn't want it anymore. I had meant to feed it then soon let it go in the Curichi (the swamp land of my project). I found a small chicken for it to eat, a week ago, and brought it to the youth group meeting for GEA (Grupo Ecological Amboro´). It attracted quite a number of kids to come to the meeting, but the snake had stage fright and didn't eat it. I thought the snake was too scared to eat the chicken, having been carried to the office, or that the chicken was too big for it to eat, so I looked for other smaller foods (live) and couldn't find anything!
I resolved yesterday just to let it go if I found no food, and set the time for the afternoon to do so. I went to the market to pick up some oatmeal and butter, but while walking there, I heard this chirping. Strangely enough, there was a tiny dirty chicken, running about in the street, unattended. I've seen quite a number of large, grown chickens in the streets, but not tiny baby ones. I asked around to find the owner, but no one claimed it. So, I caught it, after no little trouble, it wasn't an easy chicken to catch, it ran pretty fast. I was thinking that maybe I was supposed to keep the snake a little longer, feed it the chicken, and let it go on a later date. On the walk back, after having forgotten about buying the oatmeal and butter, I see Linda Liz (my 13 year old friend here) and 3 other neighborhood girls. I show them the little chicken and they all beg me if they can come watch the snake eat it. (They all knew I had been looking for something small enough for the boa to eat.) So we all go over to my house, open the lid to the box of the snake and place the chicken inside. It immediately tries to fly out, so we put the lid on. The snake seems a little interested at first, flicking its tongue out, but then is not interested at all. So a few seconds go by while I'm thinking this snake may be vegetarian, who knows? Then the chicken starts kicking up a fuss, and the snake definitely doesn't like this at all and starts hissing and telling the bird to shut up, as it's box is all metal and sound resonates in it. I was hoping it would just eat the little chicken and be done with it, but no. The snake just gets extremely irritated with this horrible noisy thing with feet that has just been shut in with and starts trying to get out, as the chicken just runs around in the box, squawking. Both parties involved did not wish to be there. So this goes on, as I can't open the lid to remove the chicken as the snake would get out too, as well as I don't want to get bitten by an aggravated snake, non-venomous or not. So finally, the snake just hisses horribly for quite some time, and the chicken just quiets up. All I can tell of what is happening is just by noises, as I've stepped back during all this. During this time, I made the girls go play in the yard, as I really don't know what I'll find coming back to the box. I take off the lid, the chicken is stock still and the snake has managed to bury itself under some leaves and debris I had put in there. I wasn't sure how to get the bird out, even thought the snake was mostly hidden, I didn't want to get bitten. There were some old rags, and I slowly placed them over the snake from above, so maybe it couldn't see what I was doing. I couldn't quite cover up all the snake, but I think I got it for the most part. Then, it took me another couple of minutes to build up enough courage to actually stick my hand down in the box, as it was rather deep and I couldn't just get the bird from a side. During this time, the bird is so still and quiet, I wasn't sure it was okay. Finally, I just hold my breath, as I slowly lower my exposed hand down and then snatch up the little chicken, hoping it wouldn't squeak, upsetting the snake again. Well, as it turns out, I pull out this little wet bird, as it has run through the snakes water dish several times, and it remains rather quiet for sometime, just shaking. Poor little guy, first it was lost, in the street, just to be caught by some horrible giant and put in a small cage with something that didn't like it, to say the least! I felt bad for the both of them. The girls felt bad for the chicken, but thought the snake was really evil. While I had no desire to try to touch the snake then, I don't think it was evil at all, just really shook up having some noisy little monster into its quite small box and it couldn't get away from it. I had meant to take the snake out and let it go some distance from the village, but there had been light showers dispersed with torrential downpours all day, and not the best conditions to take a long walk, nor for the snake.
So last night, I took the little shook up chicken and wrapped its shivering dirty little body in some old rags and put him in a box with some crushed rice bits and water. I thought it was possible it wouldn't live, as it was rather young and tiny and so frightened.
This morning I woke up to its chirping, not wanting to be in the box any longer. Today, I've been thinking about what to do with this strange dirty little chicken, as I don't have time for pets really. So I take it out, and put it in the yard, as it appears quite well, and hope it'll go to my neighbors yard which has a number of chickens, or hope that it'll see some of her chickens running around in my vegetated yard, looking for bugs and tasty things to eat and want to follow them home. It does inspect the yard a little, but then comes back to the patio. I think, somehow, this little chicken has imprinted me as its mother, as it comes running towards me when its sees me. When I put my hand down, it runs around and jumps into my palm. It only seems to quite down when I'm really close by or when its occupied. I was laying in my hammock on the porch and it jumps to the stump where I set my tea on, in reaching distance of my hammock and then jumps to my shirt. At first I was going to remove it, but it quickly falls asleep. I didn't have the heart to move it. A minute later, it wakes up and heads straight for my face and into my hair. That was about enough closeness for the time being with such a dirty little bird, but I made a mental note that maybe I could give it some sort of bath when it warms up outside. I'm not sure about having a pet chicken though. Hopefully it'll want to go to some of the other chicken later on. I want to let the snake go soon too, but I'll need to wait for the rain. But regardless, I'm glad for the rain. The burning season will have to be postponed for a little longer.
[Editor's note: this came in later.] Just a little update on the story there. The next day, I did get out to the Curichi and let the snake go. I set its box on its side and after a little time, the little guy got curious and poked its head out. After a little more time, it decided it was ready to check out the rest of the world and slowly went out into the jungle, not glancing back. (I guess I really don't expect snakes to be nostalgic.)
As for the little chicken, it became increasingly more fond of me. I was afraid to walk around as it would be constantly at my feet, and far to easy to step on. A couple days later, I was talking to my friend at the market and she said she wouldn't mind having a chicken, so I gave her the little guy. I never did give it the bath as it hasn't warmed up.
22 November 2000 - Extracts from Susan's quarterly report
I attended an ecotourism conference on September 26th and 27th in Cochabamba. PC gave this and invited the CD (Country Director) from Belize, Costas Christ, to come be a part of it. That was pretty interesting, and they featured several ecotourism projects from PC in Bolivia, including the Curichi. During this time, I met Jose and Jazmin.
I invited Jazmin to come down to see the Curichi, as she is a tour operator. She had also helped begin Chalalan in the Madidi National Park. Chalalan is a prime example of a functional community based ecotourism site, the community runs and owns this lodge. The following week, she was in Santa Cruz and ended up staying with me for 4 days. Then she introduced me to someone else from Peru that had worked with her at Chalalan. Then later when I went up to La Paz, I had a chance to go see her office. They offer a full range of sports and other activities like canyoneering, gravity assisted mountain biking, sea kayaking and river expedition and bird watching. If you know of anyone interested in seeing the most amazing parts of Bolivia, she is definitely the person to see. They do all of their tours exclusively in National Parks and work strongly with community-based ecotourism in all parts of Bolivia, and some outside as well.
The View from the Curichi observation tower.
Jazmin also told me about SAT (Servicio de Asistencia Tecnica). This group has a large amount of money available to assist with grants for ecotourism training. One thing Jazmin suggests I do is write for a grant to SAT to begin classes within Buena Vista on ecotourism to help the community understand more about what their goal can be about. SAT will provide 70% of the money needed and the Alcaldia will provide the other 30%. I haven't yet gotten around to that, as I want to get a few other things done first.
The Observation Tower.
Plans for the next quarter:
Um, survive. No, but really, I do plan to have the towers built in the next quarter, as if they are not, they won't be done til April. Also I plan to work with GEA with their vivero. There is a lot to get done, and it is like pulling teeth doing anything.
4 March 2001: Base camp at Huayna, Potosi, 4900 meters
I just got back from a great mountaineering/glaciering trip with Brooke and Victor. We drove up to the Refugio de Zonga at the base of the mountain called Huayna late Friday night. Such a treat as it was snowing on our way up. Driving all of the turns and curves along the dirt road up into the mountains was almost something off of a Jurassic Park scene, as the lights were cutting through the falling snow in the dark. When we got up to the cabin, we met some of the other people that would be going with us the next day, and settled into making a fire in the hearth, heating up dinner in the kitchen and preparing our equipment for the early morning the next day. Liz had brought peppermint schnapps and someone else had brought some Guinness and Samuel Adams beer, something I have not yet seen here in Bolivia. I settled with some schnapps in my coca tea with a dollop of maple syrup. Dinner was a culinary delight with the array of gringo food, spiced lentils and beans, curried chicken and vegetables and a pasta salad with broccoli. I really love eating with gringos. Also, others brought chocolates to pass out for the climb the next day, and Brooke had packed me some gorp (nuts, an assortments of dried fruits and chocolate chips), granola bars and other little snacks, all of which were the biggest treats. I haven't seen that type of food in a long time. Also, she had brought along Starbucks chocolate covered expresso beans.
Sleeping didn't go over so incredibly well with me at that altitude. I think though if I were to stay up there for a while, I would adjust, but that one night spent up there was pretty uncomfortable. I managed to stay hydrated throughout the night, but that was only because I woke up every 20 or 30 minutes. I couldn't sleep more than an hour at a time, and then as well I was very cold, despite having on several layers of clothes and wool socks, burrowed deep into a sleeping bag and blanket. I only had a slight headache but it wasn't too noticeable. Finally, morning came, none too soon as I had to pee like a racehorse but didn't want to get out of my sleeping bag and let what little heat I had managed to collect dissipate for no reason.
Breakfast was another delicious appeal to my stomach, which actually didn't feel like eating, but that was just another effect of the altitude. There was maple syrup in oatmeal, steamed cinnamon rolls, hot coffee, chocolate and tea, fresh milk etc.
The next big feat was to get dressed. Luckily by then someone had started up another fire, and I had a chance to warm up my icy feet before putting on my big boots. I put on about 3 to 4 very decent layers of warm clothing, mostly borrowed from Brooke (we are about the same size), actually I wore almost everything that I brought on the trip. That morning there was a light misty snow from the south, and the wind was just a low breeze. I finished packing my equipment up and we braved the cold morning and set out on the 1 ½ hr hike to the glacier. There was a lot of going up and down the sides of the foothills, and I of course was the last to get there. My major excuse was that I was coming from the tropics at 500 meters, and everyone else lived up here in La Paz, at 4000 meters. Never the less, I made it and faired well (without incident), if not just a little slower than the rest. Also, walking with the big ice-climbing boots is not the easiest thing to do either. They have little give to them. The walk there in general was a little grueling, but the views were well worth it.
Once we got to the glacier, I looked around and the mountains would occasional peek out from the passing mist and fog, giving a spectacular view of snow covered peaks and not so far away summits. Luckily the group I was with were still in training for a trip they would be taking the following week. There were a few beginners, as well as some excellent trainers and more advanced climbers (including Brooke). It was a very good combination, and I didn't feel out of place (as I have never been ice-climbing in my life, just some basic rock climbing). We all were shown how to put on the cramp-ons on our boots and how to walk in them. Those are the most vicious looking things, but are extremely effective for kicking into and crawling up a wall of ice, or repelling down it. The ice picks also were very handy after they explained their uses. We learned how to walk up a steep gradient of snow covered glacier (sideways), then how to walk down it (straight down, squatting, really using your thigh muscles, ouch!).
The sun came out intermittently between clouding over, blinding you in an instant. It was important to have sunglasses on at all time, and to not miss a spot of coverage with sunblock. I had my little sunglasses on, much more comfortable than the heavy wrap around. But coming back to La Paz, I noticed my eyes were a bit red due to the effects of snow blindness. If I go again, I'll be more careful. The sun reflected off the snow was rather fierce.
After we got comfortable walking up and down the slope, the instructors selected a sheer-faced wall of ice for us to practice repelling down. After watching one woman being very afraid to go down, I wondered if I too would be able to just walk off the edge of the ice, backwards. Well, to that answer, - yes, I could, and it wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it would be. The only thing holding me onto the anchors above was the rope I was holding onto. That was attached to this little metal loop (I am ignorant of the names of my equipment) connected to my harness. I slowly fed the rope through the metal loop and as long as I held it back in the opposite direction, it would serve as a braking devise. That was great, but I had to move it to the front to let it slide through and for me to move. A little ways into it, I got the hang of it. The rope was cold and wet, but this needed to be done without gloves -cold fingers!! A little later, I got to go up with short picks and my cramp-on shoes. This was pretty impressive to do, and didn't require a lot of strength, as it looked like it did. Mostly all my weight rested on my feet, which required a good kick into the ice for purchase. With an ice pick axe in each hand and metal spikes poking off every direction of my boots, I managed to scramble up a nice 20 meter wall of ice. With that though, I did have a rope securely fastened to my harness, with a person at the bottom belaying me the whole time (holding the line and keeping it tight), in case I fell, of which I didn't. After reaching the top, I got to walk back down backwards again, standing perpendicular to the wall.
The return walk went much faster. Even though I was very tired
after a long day, the thought of changing into normal clothes
and warming up by a fire made the trip back go by quickly.
Parker Fox Metcalfe.
Susan and Parker.
Clare (left) with Parker. Clare Grace - August 4, 2006.
There are many good web pages about Bolivia. Here are just a few:
The US State Dept page on Bolivia.
The Instituto Nacional de Estadistica.
*Andean Culture, which includes Bolivia.
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Most recent update: 31 August 2006.