Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 12: And I thought I'd have nothing to write about today...

Today I was traveling from Sucre to Santa Cruz.  I woke up this morning, my last morning in Sucre, and opened the curtains of my room for one last look at the morning sunshine falling on the city.  I was overcome by a bit of emotion at the thought of leaving Sucre so soon – it felt like I had just gotten there.

I reeled in my emotions, packed up the last of my things, and headed to breakfast.  I wasn’t very hungry, and I was going to be in Santa Cruz around lunch time, so I had a very light breakfast.  I got some help dragging my suitcase and the giant tub of soil samples down the three flights of stairs, and waited for my cab.

My flight to Sucre was supposed to leave at 11:50am and arrive in Santa Cruz at 12:55pm.  Only once I arrived at the airport did I find out that my flight was delayed until 3:15pm.  The woman at the Aerosur counter told me that they didn’t have a phone number for me in Bolivia, so they sent me an e-mail (which I later checked, and still have not received).  So after my 30 Boliviano cab ride, I checked in with the airline and decided to wait it out in the airport.

I found a place to sit and read for the next four hours.  The time passed so slowly, it truly was painful.  The airport is small, with only two gates, and not much to do.  The bathrooms are also extremely disgusting, but I just kept telling myself the dead llama earlier in the trip was much worse than the bathrooms.

Around 2:45pm, we began to board the plane to Santa Cruz.  We went through security (and I use that term lightly) before waiting in another holding area.  Let me explain the security check in Sucre.  You line up, and they hole punch your ticket if you’ve paid the airport tax (11 Bolivianos), but don’t check you passport or photo ID or anything.  Then you put your carry-on luggage on the scanner belt, walk around the scanner, and pick up your bags.  You don’t take off your shoes, your belt, or your jacket.  You don’t go through any type of body scanner.  And again, you don’t show any form of ID.  When you line up to walk across the runway to get on the plane, the woman at the door rips off the ticket stub, you pick up your complimentary sandwich, and you get on the plane.  There is no ID checking.  I think the U.S. airport security has made me paranoid because I wasn’t feeling very safe on that flight.

I arrived in Santa Cruz shortly after 4:00pm.  I stood waiting for my luggage, keeping an eye out of the taxi driver from Los Tajibos.  I found my suitcase quickly, but had to wait about 20 minutes for the soil to show up.  A very nice gentleman helped me put everything on a cart and informed me that there wasn’t anyone there from Tajibos, but he would help me get a cab.  He expected a tip at the end of that, but I only had 100 Bs bills and one single Boliviano.  So, feeling guilty, I only tipped the man one Boliviano, which he wasn’t happy about at all.  But I wasn’t giving him 100 Bolivianos.

I made it to the hotel, where I was informed that my cab driver had gone to the airport twice – once to pick me up at 12:55pm and once to pick me up at 3:30pm.  Well, obviously I wasn’t there at either of those times – my flight was delayed.  I also had to make some calls because I had missed the soil exporter who was supposed to meet me at the hotel at 3:00pm.  Another guy from the same company came around 5:30pm and (thank goodness) took the giant heavy tub of dirt.

After that I started to relax a bit.  I had a couple of beers in the restaurant of Los Tajibos.  Then I ordered room service to my room (I am so over sandwiches at this point).  I took a shower and repacked all of my stuff for the second time in 24 hours, and now I’m just relaxing watching some TV.  Tomorrow is going to be a long day, as I leave the hotel around 6:15am for the airport, and my first of three flights is at 8:55am.  I’m scheduled to be in Pittsburgh around 11:55pm tomorrow night.  To be honest, I cannot wait to get home.  It’s been a long, tiring journey.

Day 11: My Last Full Day in Sucre

Today was probably the most unproductive day I have had since I’ve been in Bolivia.  Nick and Susan were off handling business long before I woke up, so I slept in until nearly 9:00am.  I was feeling particularly lazy today.  I even went to breakfast in my sweatpants, which was probably frowned upon by some, but I wasn’t really doing anything today, so why rush my morning?

I went to breakfast, then came back to my room.  I convinced myself to put on real clothes and go out and explore a bit more on my last full day in Sucre.  So I stopped at the front desk and arranged my cab for tomorrow morning to the airport and went to SAS (the supermercado) to change a few more US dollars into Bolivianos.  Then off I went!  I walked around the plaza a bit, then through the markets once more.  I picked up a few more souvenirs for folks back home, then headed back to the hotel for lunch.

What I really wanted for lunch was tomato soup and grilled cheese.  Which I ordered, because both of those items are on the menu.  They were out of tomato soup, so I settled for cream of mushroom, which was way more cream than mushroom.  It was a pretty decent meal.

The afternoon was when I became really lazy.  I was planning to work on a paper, but the weather was just so nice that I couldn’t force myself to do it.  So, I sat up on the terrace and read a book.  Simple as that.  This was my last real day in Bolivia before I begin to travel, so I wanted to relax and enjoy the sights around me.

I had dinner at the hotel again, which for some reason was less impressive than lunch.  Once again, I had cream of mushroom soup, and a veggie omelet.  The soup was alright, with the same cream-to-mushroom ratio as at lunch.  The veggie omelet was…different.  Very much like my pasta primavera the night before, it had what appeared to be frozen mixed vegetables in it.  It was alright, but I probably wouldn’t order it again.

So tomorrow I begin my journey back to the US.  I leave Sucre in the morning and fly to Santa Cruz, where I will spend the night before continuing on to (eventually) Pittsburgh.  The soil is ready to go so I can get it to the exporter in Santa Cruz tomorrow and I am mostly packed.

Last night in Sucre…it sure did sneak up on me…

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 10: Bolivia Isn't Really Vegetarian Friendly

Today I didn’t really venture out anywhere, so the day was relatively unexciting.  The good news of the morning was that there is no bloqueo, at least until Monday.

My morning started off with some things I needed to get done.  I made myself a to do list and got to work.  I had to sort through all of my clothes and figure out what was dirty and what was clean, and kind of organize my suitcase.  I pulled all the data off of the Jerome, and started the data entry from the field into Excel files.  This way, I can start working on everything once I get back to Durham.  Entering the data took until about 1:00pm, when Susan and I went to lunch.

We went to El German again.  We were going for the set lunch (soup, entrée, dessert, drink), for 18 Bolivianos.  Unfortunately, they had run out of the entrée (if I understood the conversation between Susan and the waitress correctly).  So, we reluctantly ordered off the regular menu.  It took 35 minutes to get a bottle of water, with only maybe 10 other people in the restaurant.  While we were waiting for our food, other people came in and received the set lunch.  We were pretty peeved, and the less-than-polite waitress told us that the people that are on pension (or whatever you call it, where they pay for lunch for an entire month) were her priority, and not us.  She was pretty rude.  But Susan got her sopa de quinoa and I had curry con tofu y espinaca, so the food was good but the service was terrible.

After lunch, I was waiting to go to the archives with Nick, so I laid down on the bed until he knocked on my door.  Well, I fell asleep for about an hour and a half and pretty much wasted my afternoon.  I could have been doing something productive or exploring more of Sucre, but I guess my body is still beat up from the intense sampling days in Potosí.

After my nap, I sat up on the terrace with Nick and Susan, talking through some of the details of future work in Huancavelica and Potosí.  We watched the sun set and the moon rise, and I met Nick’s friend, David, an archeologist from Cochabamba.  We had a few drinks on the terrace, then decided to have dinner at the hotel rather than going out.

Dinner at the hotel was…I don’t even know how to describe it.  Susan ordered mushroom soup with water (not cream or stock) and a grilled cheese sandwich, Nick ordered a chicken noodle soup, I ordered pasta primavera, and David ordered something that looked like hot dogs with an egg on top and mashed potatoes on the side.  Well, Susan’s soup came out first.  It was made with chicken stock.  So, she gave her soup to David and asked them to make her another one.  Then my pasta primavera came out.  It was noodles with what looked like previously frozen vegetables, and a scoop of what I thought was meat sauce.  It was brown, like when you cook a meat sauce all day on the stove.  Nick tasted it and said it didn’t have meat in it, so I ate about half of my plate of food.  It was sure an interesting meal.

After dinner, Nick helped me package up the soil samples and my souvenirs.  Nick and Susan have some business to take care of tomorrow so they’re going to be gone tomorrow and we wanted to make sure I was all packed up before I leave Saturday morning.  I’m going to take the soil to the exporter in Santa Cruz, and he will pick it up on Saturday, weigh it, do the paperwork, etc.  When Susan gets to Santa Cruz on Monday, she will meet with the exporter and finalize everything and pay him.  It’s been pretty hectic trying to figure out the best way to get the soil from Bolivia to Durham.

So tomorrow I’m on my own.  I have some work to get done, a few people left to buy souvenirs for, and some packing to do.  I’m going to be forced to use my own Spanish to get myself around (which, believe me, is going to be entertaining for anyone who actually speaks Spanish) but I think I’ll be alright.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 9: The Day I Stimulated the Bolivian Economy

Today was a recovery day for me.  After four very intense days in Potosí, I needed some time to let my mind and body recuperate from the demands of sampling.  The morning started off pretty slow.  I packed up all of my things from Room 1 so I was ready to go when Room 20 was finally back in my name.  Room 1 was right next to the office so I didn’t sleep much.  I could hear everything – from people walking around, conversations, the printer in the front office, even when people used the bathroom – so it was a long night of tossing and turning.  I was ready to return to Room 20.

After saying goodbye to Cesar, I walked to the grocery store with Nick.  First, we went to a store to see if they had a smaller plastic container for our samples.  But, the next smallest size from the one we already have would have been too small.  Then we went to the grocery store, where I stocked up on bottled water and traded in my US dollars for Bolivianos.  That was an ordeal.  I gave them a $100 bill, and the girl at the register spent about three minutes inspecting it before having someone else come to look at it.  Apparently, the problem was the one corner had the tiniest bit torn off, so they thought it was counterfeit.  I gave them a different bill and all was well with the world.

After Nick made the phone calls to make shipping arrangements for our samples, he was kind enough to give up some of his time to show me around the markets so I could do some shopping.  I bought a few souvenirs for folks back home, and then we went to this amazing fair trade store (Inca Pallay) which sold some of the most beautiful hand woven pieces I have ever seen.  The prices were a bit outside of what I had planned to spend on myself, so I had to think about my potential purchases over lunch before I went to buy anything.

After lunch at Los Balcones with Nick, I decided to splurge and go back to Inca Pallay.  I bought a Jalq’a axsu weaving.  These things are incredibly gorgeous.  The one I got was from Potolo, so it is red and black and represents the world of the ukhu pacha.  Ukhu pacha is a sacred world as one of the depths, a remote place, with diffuse light.  There are both realistic and fantastical creatures throughout the weaving, creating a darkness and confusion that represents the world of the ukhu pacha.  It’s absolutely beautiful and I can’t wait to hang it in my home.  (If you want to read more about the Jalq’a axsu weavings, click here.)

I spent the afternoon catching up on some odds and ends and trying to sneak in a quick nap.  The nap didn’t happen, despite how exhausted I was, but that was okay.  At sunset, Nick, Susan, and I watched the full moon rise over the mountains.  What an incredible sight.  It’s the only thing I took pictures of all day.

After watching the moon rise, we went to Joy Ride for dinner.  It was pretty good, but at night the atmosphere is more of a bar/dance club/pool hall all in one.  It was a bit loud, but other than that it was a good time.  Nick, Susan, and I talked about the trip and the people of Potosí and Huancavelica, comparing and contrasting the two communities that we’ve been focusing on for so long.

There is a threat of a bloqueo that would shutdown the roads pretty much everywhere for at least 48 hours, starting tomorrow.  It’s a good thing we’re back in Sucre and don’t end up stuck in Potosí and missing our flights.  Apparently, it’s over unregistered contraband cars and residents getting them registered.  Seems like a silly thing to shut the roads down for to me, but we’ll see what happens.

As I said before, it was a pretty laid back day for me.  I hope that I will catch up on the sleep I’ve lost in the past few days and wake up refreshed and ready to go tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 8: Hasta luego, Cerro Rico!

This morning, we were actually able to sleep in a bit.  Although, at the Hacienda, there isn’t much sleeping in going on.  Birds are chirping, dairy trucks are delivering and picking up from the dairy farm, donkeys are…doing whatever it is that donkeys do at 7 o’clock in the morning.  However, it was a lovely, relaxing morning at the Hacienda.

After breakfast, Arturo took us out on a little adventure.  We stopped along some of the land his family used to own as a part of the Hacienda and saw a very old church, El Templo de Santa Lucia.  We took some pictures outside the fence before following Arturo’s lead and climbing the fence to get a better look.  It was incredibly gorgeous, with mestizo carvings in the front of the church, two tall bell towers, and a cobblestone patio.

Following our trespassing at the church we went out to find a silver mill along the Tarapaya River.  After a bit of searching, we did in fact come across it – hidden on the back of what looked like an old adobe house from the road.  This mill was where they would bring the ore and crush it.  The ceiling was only a little over five feet tall in the highest place, with what looked like maybe a chimney in the middle, and a small carved out area that may or may not have been used to channel water into the mill.  It was pretty cool to stand in the middle of something over 400 years old.

After the mill along the Tarapaya river, we went to another place where they smelted lime for use in concrete to build aqueducts and other structures during the colonial days.  For some stupid reason, people have installed kiosks to sell drinks and snacks directly in front of the smelters.  So we climbed up a small hill and looked down into the smelters from above.  It sure was a far drop, maybe 25 or 30 feet, and they were only partial structures that remained.  I can’t imagine how big they would have been during their prime.  This was also where we saw the natural hot springs.  The water was ridiculously hot, coming from a natural spring up in the mountains.  Most of the water was collected for use in the area (pools, thermal baths, etc.) but some of it flowed into the Pilcomayo River.

We returned to Hacienda Cayara to pack up the car, say our goodbyes to Arturo, Coca, Renee, and Whiskey, and sign the guestbook (which apparently is necessary).  We were extremely late to lunch with our team, but we finally made it to Phishqa Warmis.  Lunch was…okay…but the company was great.  We spent about an hour and a half eating and talking with our new colleagues before saying our “hasta luegos” and “mucho gustos.”

Then we went to La Casa de la Moneda, where the silver coins were stamped.  Wow.  What an amazing experience.  There is far too much to describe, as you will see in the pictures on Facebook, but I will highlight a few things.  One was the press used to flatten the silver into a uniform thickness.  It consisted of four sets of wheels, which consisted of three separate wheels each.  Man power was used on the same floor as these machines, but below there were places for mules to walk in circles, providing the rotation necessary above.  I know that’s a crappy description, but it’s really not an easy set up to describe.

Another incredible part of the tour was where the silver-mercury amalgam was heated one final time before the silver was poured into bars.  Basically, two people blew air into a fire, while another stoked the fire and mercury volatilized out of the amalgam.  The silver was melted in a giant vessel with a spout and then poured into the molds for silver bars.  Perhaps the most unbelievable part was seeing the black walls and ceilings from where the vapor would rise up and out of a hole in the ceiling.  That room would have been a dream to sample in!

Once we finished up our tour at La Casa de la Moneda, we headed back to Sucre.  We drank some beers and fed the stray dogs along the way, and arrived in one piece.  There was a mix up with my room, so for tonight, I’m in a room right next to the front desk.  It’s pretty noisy down here so I’m not sure how much sleep I’m actually going to get despite how exhausted I am.  Tomorrow I get to return to my previous room, which I welcome very much.

Tomorrow we’re going to be tying up some loose ends for the project.  I also asked Nick, if he had time, to go shopping with me to get some souvenirs.  So far, the only thing I’ve bought for myself is a postcard, and I can’t honestly leave Bolivia with just a postcard.  I would really like an authentic, wool poncho, so hopefully we find one that doesn’t break the bank.

Day 7: Necessito llavar mi mochilla, pronto!

This morning started out slow (shocker!).  We left the Hacienda Cayara around 8:00am, and met Olivo at his office around 8:35am.  We were all supposed to meet at 8:30am and hit the road, but Rosa wasn’t there yet.  She ended up coming in around 9:05am, so we all piled into Cesar’s car shortly after that and then we hit the ground running, ready to sample the last 14 houses.

Rosa knows pretty much everyone.  She’s an organizer and leader in the community, so people know and trust her.  She wouldn’t bring a bunch of gringos to their houses if she didn’t trust them.  So we started working around 9:30am.  House after house after house, Rosa found people to let us in and take samples.  The past two days, people have been very suspicious and very concerned about our intentions.  I’m told that this is the Bolivian way.  But Rosa, she’s Bolivian, so she can get the job done.

One house in particular I will never, ever, for the rest of my entire life, forget.  We were standing outside while Rosa was talking to the residents and Nick pointed out that the house had been “blessed” with llama blood.  Basically, a llama is sacrificed, its blood is drained and collected, and then (sorry to gross everyone out) literally splattered across the front of the house and the doorways inside the house to ward off evil spirits.  The residents told us that they had done the “blessing” about two weeks ago.  I thought this was really cool, given that it was an old Incan practice that still lived on today.  So, we went into the house and began sampling.

Nick and Cesar went into a maybe eight feet by six feet room to collect adobe samples.  There were two mattresses (which in most communities are big plastic sacks stuffed with what I can only guess is straw or something along those lines), a chair, a stool piled high with clothes, and two big metal pans that were used for cooking, one on top of the other.  Once Nick and Cesar were done, I went in and plugged in the Jerome and got my measurements.  Susan came in, and I packed up my backpack.  I picked it up and OH MY GOOD LORD I almost threw up.  Unbeknownst to me, I had put my backpack onto what I can only imagine used to be a leg of the llama.  It was a freaking carcass.  And in those two pans that were used for cooking – more bits of llama carcass, including what, from my angle and in the dark, looked like the jaw with the teeth still intact.  The carcass, along with what I think was feces, were in the center of this woman’s mattress!  Susan about vomited and I tried to stop shaking but my goodness it was the worst of the worst I have seen anywhere in the world.

By about 1:30pm, we had finished up 12 houses and only had two left to go.  We had to wait until one of the girls could meet us at 3:00pm to go to three households that were waiting for us.  We took Rosa home, and along the way, she agreed to let us sample her house.  Woohoo!  Only one more house to go!  Rosa and her daughter, Angela, made us lunch.  It was really good and was what we all needed to refuel and kill some time before the next house.

We finally made it to the last three houses.  At the first house, the residents changed their minds and no longer wanted to participate.  The second two houses allowed us to sample, so we actually ended up with 51 houses overall.  Not bad in three days.  The last three houses were also in a neighborhood pretty far downstream the Ribera and in an area with the jackpot of adobe houses, so hopefully we have a future opportunity to sample in that community some more.  We definitely had more interest than we were able to accommodate on this trip.

After sampling was finally completed, we headed back to Cayara.  Susan and I worked on packaging up all of the samples, then we ate another amazing dinner prepared by Coca, sat by the fire with Arturo, and finished packing up the samples.  Tomorrow we’re going to go do some exploring, to a waterfall not far from the Hacienda (hopefully, if we can get up early enough to hike before breakfast), to the mills along the Tarapaya river, to an old mill in Potosí, and to Casa de la Moneda.  As a thank you to our Bolivian team, Nick, Susan, and I decided we would take them out to lunch tomorrow as well.  Then it’s back to Hostal de su Merced in Sucre for a few days.

Just to fill you all in…I have decided not to do the mine tour.  I look at the Cerro Rico and the miners that work there, and I just do not think I am emotionally capable of handling being in the mine right now, especially being so invested in this project.  I also am not sure if I am physically able to handle the demands of the tour, with the altitude and temperatures.  I have spent the last three days feeling the effects at 14,000 feet, and cannot imagine going higher, and then descending into what most miners describe (from what I’ve read) as the closest place to Hell.  If I am lucky enough to come back to Potosí in the future, which I hope I will be, I will take the tour then.  I do not think I can do it now, and I know that I do not want to do it alone.

Day 6: Como se dice “quick as bunnies?”

I must have said that phrase a dozen times in the last 48 hours.

Our day started off with a delicious breakfast at the Hacienda.  We had fresh, homemade cheese, as always, fresh fruit, bread and crackers, fresh eggs, and, perhaps the most exciting: fresh homemade strawberry yogurt.  It was so creamy and velvety and delicious.  I honestly don’t know if I can ever eat the crap I have been eating from the grocery store for the last 26 years ever again.  I just may have to buy a dairy farm instead.

After a quick breakfast, we hit the road to Potosí.  We had all of our supplies (for real this time) so we were set.  Remember that our goal for the day was 20 houses.  We met Olivo at his office, then headed out to the meet the girls.  Things were going pretty smoothly this morning.  We still hit the same bumps in the road as yesterday, with people not being home and not having another house ready to go when we finished the one we were sampling.  We wasted quite a bit of time here and there just walking around looking for participants.

A lot of the houses we saw today were incredible.  As I had previously mentioned, the houses here tend to have plastered walls and sealed floors.  But there were two houses today that I was shocked to find in Potosí.  One house looked like old, crooked adobe on the outside.  But once you walked into the property and crossed the patio, you found an amazing two story house with more china cabinets than I could count.  The second had a similar exterior but the house itself was, again, two story, and being remodeled.  This one even had velvet paintings and leather furniture.  These two houses just seemed out of place in Potosí.

We worked today from 8:30am until 6:30pm.  We met our goal of 20 houses.  And passed it – we finished the day with 21 houses.  So we have 14 left to do, hopefully tomorrow.  I have a feeling it’s going to be another long day.

When we returned to the Hacienda, we were informed that they had a surprise for us for dinner.  And oh boy, what a surprise it was!  Silly me forgot my camera in my room, but…  Recall the “museum” I wrote about a few days ago.  Well, we had dinner with Arturo, his wife, Coca, and Renee in the formal dining room on a table from over four hundred years ago.  I felt extremely out of my element, but it was an extraordinary experience.  Coca made a delicious cream of spinach type soup that had fried potatoes in it (I’m definitely going to try to recreate it at home!) and fresh homemade pasta with tomato sauce, and of course, cheese from the dairy farm.  Absolutely amazing.

Well, tomorrow is going to be a long day and I’m exhausted.  We’re supposed to leave at 7:45am.  However, there is a 50/50 chance of a bloqueo tomorrow, so someone may be knocking on the door telling us to move it at 6:00am so we can get into Potosí before they shut down the roads at 7:00am.  This could get interesting…