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…

Day 5: Muscles I Didn’t Even Know I Had Hurt

Today started out as a great day.  The first day of sampling residences in Potosí was finally here!  We had breakfast, I packed up the sampling supplies, and we left Cayara for Potosí.  Once we arrived at Olivo’s office, we met up with our new colleagues and were getting ready to head out the door.  Until…I realized I forgot the dust wipes.  I was so mad at myself, having triple checked the sampling bag before we left, I could not believe I could be so stupid.  So, Cesar and I headed back to Cayara while the rest of the team headed out to get started.  After over an hour of travel, we met back up with the team, dust wipes in hand, and found out they were only on the second house.  Perfecto!

Or so I thought.  The day continued to unravel in a less than ideal way.  The young ladies we are working with have done a lot of preparing for our trip, setting up the 50 houses and explaining the project to them.  They had a list of names and addresses of people who had agreed to participate, so we were following them.  A team of two of the young ladies was always one step ahead of the sampling team, making sure people were home, etc.  Except, it didn’t quite go so smoothly.  Some people who had agreed to participate no longer wanted to participate or weren’t home.  Others didn’t want to listen to the 15 minute long verbal consent.  It was a long day of tracking down participants.

The houses here are very different than in Huancavelica.  A majority of the homes have both sealed walls and floors, so collecting adobe and soil was a bit challenging.  We managed to collect a decent mass of adobe and soil but not quite as much as we had hoped.  But by the end of the day, we had collected adobe, soil, dust, and air samples from 15 homes.  Not too bad for the first day.  And Nick is right: it was good to push people to their limit today, because tomorrow is going to be even worse (or better, depending on who you talk to).  Our goal for tomorrow is 20 houses.

Today, however, I discovered muscles I didn’t even know I had.  Potosí is very high altitude (14,000 feet), and we were lugging sampling equipment up and down steady inclines.  Having grown up in Pittsburgh, the “hills” we walked seemed silly.  But I was stupid enough to bring my computer in my backpack, along with some other things we needed for the day (including my SPF 50, Mom, even though my nose ended up sunburned anyway), so I was hauling extra weight.  These “hills” kicked my ass, to be honest, with the weight of my gear and the altitude.  I have muscles aching all over my body, in places I didn’t even know were supposed to have muscles.  I’m pretty sure I burned at least three times the calories of my breakfast and granola bar/cheese sandwich lunch.

Well, I’m exhausted.  My wood burning stove has my room nice and toasty, and I think it’s time to call it a night.  Tomorrow is going to be a long, productive, awesome day.

Day 4: The Day I Finally Went to Potosí

This morning we woke up, packed, ate breakfast, and headed to Potosí with Cesar.  Along the way, we stopped for a newspaper, to take some pictures, and to feed some dogs.  We stopped about an hour outside of Sucre where this incredible bridge was built around 1870.  It’s about a 1.5 lane bridge, with architectural structures on either ends of the bridge that are magnificent.  The bridge stopped being used around 1970, as there is now a paved, two lane road that people use for the route between Sucre and Potosí.  We also went up this hill, where dogs sit mostly evenly spaced apart, waiting for travelers to throw things out the windows for them.  Luckily, Susan was prepared and brought along a loaf of bread (I was the only newbie at this game).  Apparently, the dogs have homes but they come out during the day for food from passing cars, then return home in the evening.

Along the way we passed incredible mountains and a lot of agricultural land.  People were growing mostly wheat and potatoes, staples here in Bolivia.  After 2.5 hours of enjoying the scenery, Nick woke me from my nap to say, “Look out the front window!”  And there I was face-to-face with the Cerro Rico.  Impressive is the only word I can use to describe the size of the Cerro Rico, and depressing to describe the way it looks and the history that has come with it.  As you will see from the pictures, Cerro Rico is rough around the edges.  There is nothing (at least not that a human eye can see) growing on it and it wears its mining history directly on the face of the mountain.  It stands tall over Potosí, and can be seen from kilometers away, and is just phenomenal.

Once we arrived in Potosí, we unloaded our luggage at Cesar’s house, and set out on the tasks that lay before us.  First up: fix the Jerome (recall from yesterday’s blog the chaos Susan had to deal with).  Ah, except, that didn’t happen first.  So…we stopped for some salteñas, which are like empanadas, but are stuffed with beef and chicken and are typically only served in the morning (Susan and I ate tuna, from a pouch and a can, respectively).  Then, we decided to sample our transect.  We sampled at five locations along a transect we had sampled before, this time getting more than enough dirt to do soil characteristics and other metal analyses.  It wasn’t too difficult, and only took about 2 hours.  We picked up some basics at the grocery store, and then, it was really time to fix the Jerome.

So, the Jerome (the mercury analyzer we use in the field) had a little problem yesterday.  Little is an understatement, because it really was a crisis situation, and we could have lost a lot of our research.  The battery died.  As in, it would not hold a charge after we unplugged it from the wall.  Big problem.  Solution Number 1: Susan talked with the technical support folks and decided we needed a new battery overnighted from Arizona to Sucre.  That was extremely unlikely, as even FedEx overnight could take up to a week, and that’s if it isn’t held up in customs.

Over dinner last night, Nick came up with a great idea.  Since the Jerome worked when it was plugged into the wall, let’s hook it up to one of those adapters with a plug that goes into the cigarette lighter of a car.  Hmmm…pure genius…except…we were going to be on foot for all of our sampling, and not able to take a car to every house.  But wait – Nick had another great idea!  Let’s buy a cigarette adaptor for a car, some alligator clips, and 12V battery – that’s portable!  So we stopped at a market in Potosí and bought the cigarette lighter from one guy.  Then we bought the alligator clips from another guy.  Then we bought wire to run between the cigarette lighter and the alligator clips from a third guy.  Then we had another guy solder the wires onto the alligator clips.  Result: a Jerome that can be used in the field!  Ta da!

After all of our sampling and errand running in Potosí, we ventured about 30 minutes outside of town and to about 11,000 feet altitude to Hacienda Cayara.  It’s a beautiful old building that’s been here forever and is on a dairy farm.  The rooms are nice, a little cold, but there’s a wood burning stove, so that seems to keep me warm (plus my 3 layers of long johns and clothes).  The best part of it all is the artifacts in the home.  It’s also a museum of sorts, and the husband and wife who own it have really made this place amazing.  I cannot possibly go into all of the detail, but it was very, very similar to El Museo Charcas that I wrote about yesterday.  It’s seriously a history of Potosí.  From the paintings to the furniture to the books to the original tools and weapons, it’s just amazing.  Arturo has made a salon in the upstairs part of the main building, with lighted, glass front insets in the walls with all of the weapons, fashions, tools throughout the history of Potosí.  There are original shovels that the miners used in the Cerro Rico mine, and the first telephone that was used by his grandfather in Potosí.  It was just amazing.

The highlight for me, though, was seeing the pina mold.  There wasn’t even one at any of the museums I had visited.  The silver-mercury amalgam was placed inside the pina mold once it had set.  The amalgam would be pressed down to release any excess liquid mercury through small holes in the bottom of the mold.  The resulting molded amalgam, called a pina, would be smelted to remove the mercury and produce pure silver.

Well, I’m off to bed.  Tomorrow we begin our residential sampling, and I need to be well rested.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day 3: Sucre's Surprise for Me

Today was the big day: I went out into Sucre to do some sightseeing alone!  After talking with Nick and Susan last night, my plan from yesterday changed a bit, but I was excited to be on my way.  I set off around 8:45 a.m., armed with my map (which I didn’t need because I had memorized it), my Bolivianos, and my camera.

First up was El Museo Charcas Colonial Antropológico.  This is the museum where the Miguel Berrío Gaspar painting of Potosí is housed.  Nick informed me when I arrived that, unfortunately, the painting was on loan to Spain (of all places, the painting of Potosí went to Spain?!).  So I went to the museum anyway to check out some of the other amazing pieces there.  I walked through the archeological works first.  There were gorgeous pieces of pottery, hand carved tools and weapons, and beautiful pieces of jewelry.  I moved onto the mummy room, which was grotesque but very cool at the same time.  From there, I walked through a hallway that displayed all of the typical dress throughout the years, which hasn’t changed much – very colorful, hand woven, mostly woolen and animal hide garments.  I descended to the area with all of the religious paintings and colonial furniture.  The furniture had so many ornate details, just absolutely stunning (although, some of those details would require daily dusting, which I will pass on, thank you very much).

Then, as I walked from Room IV to Room V and made my way up to Berrío’s room (already expecting an empty space on the wall), THERE WAS THE PAINTING!  Many of you who are familiar with my research already know about this painting and have seen it.  For those who don’t know what I’m talking about…Berrío painted an image of Potosí in approximately 1706 that shows, in great detail, an aerial view of the city while the amalgamation process of refining silver was in full swing.  I had ever only seen pictures of the painting (and not quite all of it, from what I learned today) so seeing in person this painting that has had such an impact not only on who and where I am today, but the hundreds of thousands of lives in Potosí throughout the last 500 years, was just indescribable.  This was most definitely the highlight of my day.

Already knowing that nothing at the other two museums could top seeing the Berrío painting, I moved on to Casa de la Libertad, which houses a lot of the political history of Sucre.  It was a pretty small museum, with only three or four display rooms, but still interesting.  There was an incredible old piano in one of the rooms that I enjoyed seeing.  After Casa de la Libertad, I walked over to El Museo Eclesiástíco de Sucre, which was connected to La Catedral.  I walked around looking at religious paintings, and pieces used in services that were just overflowing with emeralds and rubies.  Then, I walked into La Catedral, where I was able to see Virgen de Guadalupe.  Now, you will have to visit in real life to get the full effect, but there are pictures on Facebook.  She’s studded with rubies, emeralds, and many other precious gems and sits right above the altar.  It’s no wonder people tell you she is a must see in Sucre (although beautiful and awe-inspiring as she was, I’ll still rank the Berrío painting as my numero uno).

I went back to El German for lunch with Susan.  They have “set lunches” here in Sucre.  People can pay for a month worth of lunches, and a lot of families will go to a restaurant rather than the mother packing a lunch for her kids or going home from work for lunch.  We had the set lunch at El German.  The soup was made from some type of cereal grain and a lot of vegetables and was really good.  The entrée was a baked tomato stuffed with spinach and cheese and a side of rice.  The dessert was this yummy Jell-o like dessert, but was made with fresh orange pulp and was just perfectly refreshing.

After lunch, we ran into some technical difficulties for our field trip that I won’t go into right now.  Leaving Susan to deal with the chaos, Nick and I went out to sample five control houses in Sucre, collecting soil and adobe.  The interior of houses, even adobe houses, here in Sucre are extremely different than in Huancavelica.  The floors and walls are sealed with plaster or cement or tile.  We found a few holes to take our samples from, but overall, it was a very different sampling experience than last year, even in Ayacucho.

Dinner was pretty good as well.  Nothing to write home about, but another pasta dish in a cream sauce.  On the way back to the hotel from dinner, we saw this parade/Mardi Gras/drunken college students thing in the plaza.  There were marching bands, and people in costumes reenacting…something.  We haven’t quite figured out what it was, but it reminded me very much of Franklin Street when UNC beat Duke not that long ago.

Tomorrow we head to Potosí to begin the hard work that lies ahead.  Buenas noches amigos.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 2: Sucre es una ciudad hermosa.

This morning I woke up to the beautiful sunshine peeking around the draperies of my three huge windows.  I climbed out of bed and immediately opened the curtains to soak in the view of Sucre.  I walked up the terrace, deeply inhaled the fresh Sucre air, and I was surprised how quiet it was compared to yesterday, but I guess it was still early.

I joined Nick and Susan for breakfast at the Hostal a little after 8.  The variety of food was shocking, compared to Huancavelica last year.  There were lots of pastries, including pound cake, an apple cake, and some meringue pie, as well as fresh fruit and an assortment of breads, and of course, meat and cheese.  There were also freshly made crepes with a bunch of different fillings that looked really good, but I was still too tired to assemble anything before my first cup of coffee.  And once again, I’m wishing I had a juicer.  The fresh orange and papaya juices were delicious, as always.  I actually only had one cup of coffee because I preferred the juice over the coffee.  For those of you who know me, you probably don’t believe me, considering I drink a pot of coffee per day (usually before 8 am!) when I’m at home.

After breakfast, Susan had to work and Nick went to the Archives.  I was not yet fully comfortable with venturing out into Sucre on my own.  This is for many reasons: a. my Spanish isn’t great, b. I do not want to be hit by a car (the drivers and pedestrians here are all in a rush all the time), and, most importantly, c. I did not want to get lost.  Although Nick gave me a tour yesterday and oriented me somewhat, I was so tired that I don’t think it all was retained.

So, I spent the morning basking in the sunshine on the high terrace at the Hostal reading a guidebook about Sucre and Potosí.  I found a few things I want to do here in Sucre tomorrow morning, including visiting El Museo de Arte Indígena, El Caserón de la Capellanía, and La Capilla Virgen de Guadalupe.  Most things here open in the morning for a few hours, close for a few hours at lunch, then reopen for a few hours in the afternoon.  I’m going to try to visit all three places tomorrow between 9:30am and noon, which is when the earliest place opens and the latest place closes.

I have also been looking at things to do in Potosí.  Obviously I will be going to La Casa Nacional de Moneda (the National Mint), where the refined silver was stamped into silver coins to be sent back to Spain.  I would like to go to El Museo del Ingenio San Marcos as well, which houses a 6 meter diameter water wheel that powered the machinery in the refining mills that crushed the silver ore before the mercury was added.  I also would like to visit some of the churches from the colonial times as well.

But perhaps the one thing that I want to do the most and the least at the same time is a mine tour of Cerro Rico.  Cerro Rico is the silver mine, and is still being mined for what little silver remains, as well as zinc, tin, and other minerals.  For around $10 US, you get boots, coveralls, and a headlamp, as well as a 4 to 5 hour guided tour around and into the mine.  The mine is still active, so there are many gases and dusts in the air, tight spaces, muddy passageways to crawl through, and temperatures up to 115°F.  I’m truly torn as to whether fully experiencing what it’s like to be a miner and the conditions they work in outweighs the fears I have.  It will be a physically demanding adventure, and would be mentally and emotionally draining, but I know I will regret it if I don’t take advantage of the opportunity.  But…I have a few days to decide.

Lunch today was pretty decent.  Nick and I went to Los Balcones, which over looks the main plaza.  I had the salad bar (no lechuga para mi), which was small, but pretty good.  They had quinoa, which was delish, along with some other fresh veggies, some beans that looked like lupini beans, and some salads and slaws.  I also finally had llajua, which is a spicy tomato puree that I am going to be making a million gallons of when I get home.  It is really simple, but so delicious – on everything.  There were also these spicy pickled onions on the salad bar that I would like to make as well.

Dinner was pretty good.  We went to El German, el restaurante vegetariano, with Nick going, of course, for the Mocha Cake.  I had a baked layered dish of potatoes, quinoa, egg, and cheese.  It is by far one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.  I will be most definitely trying to mimic this dish in my kitchen.  We returned from dinner and I sat staring at the stars on the terrace for a while.  They are so beautiful.  It was so peaceful and relaxing just staring off into space.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 1: Bienvenidos a Bolivia!!

After five flights and 24 hours of travel, I finally landed in Sucre, Bolivia.  I flew from Pittsburgh to Chicago to Miami to La Paz to Santa Cruz to Sucre.  Going through customs in Santa Cruz was much easier this year than last year.  I don’t know if it is because my Spanish has very slightly improved or because I wasn’t hauling around a suspicious looking piece of scientific equipment.  I was able to get myself a visa, go through customs (getting the red light AGAIN! this year), and get another plane ticket before leaving for Sucre.  Relatively uneventful compared to last year.

Once Nick picked me up from the airport, I settled in at Hostal de su Merced.  Let me tell you, this place is unbelievably gorgeous.  The main areas are open patios, with beautiful flowers everywhere, and there’s a very high terrace that overlooks the city.  I have three huge windows in my room that look out over the city, and the view is just incredible.  The room itself is quite enjoyable, with dark wood furniture, high ceilings, a TV, and even a mini bar.  The painting of two naked little boys on the wall kind of freaks me out, but, it’s a small price to pay for such a beautiful room.

After I dropped off my things, Nick, Susan, and I went to Café Joyride for lunch.  It used to be owned by a German guy, then was bought by an Italian guy, but the food is pretty general.  In true South American tradition, I had a sandwich for lunch.  After lunch, Nick showed me around Sucre for about an hour.  The history in this town is just amazing.  The buildings are hundreds of years old, and there are a lot of historic sites I would love to learn more about (and will, in the next day or so).

Nick went to the Archives this afternoon, and Susan had to work, so I came back to my room, and settled in.  By settling in, I mean that I opened up the huge windows to let in fresh air and immediately fell asleep in the sunshine.  I was exhausted from the travel, and very much needed to sprawl out.  When I woke up, I went out to the terrace and took some pictures before happy hour.

The place we went to for happy hour was high up on a hill here in Sucre.  The view was amazing.  You could see the entire city from the patio.  We sat on the patio until dusk, watching the lights turn on in the city, then ventured to dinner.  We went to a little French restaurant that was pretty good.  It was a warm, cozy atmosphere inside, with wine bottles on display all over the place.  The food was pretty good too, and it wasn’t a sandwich, which is always a plus.

After dinner, we went and picked up a Mocha Cake that Susan had ordered from a little German restaurant.  We came back to the hotel and shared the cake with the kitchen staff.  Oh my gravy.  What a delicious slice of heaven!  I’m not usually a sweets person at all, and typically pass on dessert for another glass of wine, but this cake was so good I could have eaten half of it before going into a sugar coma.

Just like last year when I arrived in Huancavelica, there’s some kind of band playing music outside of the hotel.  It’s loud, and sometimes it’s in English and sometimes it’s in Spanish.  Must be a welcoming gift just for me…ha!

Edit: One thing I forgot to mention yesterday was the amazing view from the airplane as I flew from La Paz to Santa Cruz.  I watched for about 25 minutes as the hills of the Antiplano rolled by.  Within minutes, you could clearly see where the Altiplano dropped off into the jungle.  Clouds were covering the jungle, but the change in landscape was very clear.  See the pictures on Facebook from the airplane!