Sunday, July 10, 2011

Our last day of "rest"

Good morning Cochabamba! We woke up early today to get a head start on our remaining tasks. We left the hostel around 8 to check out some of the local hardware stores and take a rough inventory of potential supplies. After a brisk walk through downtown Cochabamba, we found several stores. After explaining who we are and our project, several storeowners were more than eager to exchange contact information and allowed us to view their catalog. During out stroll, we were able to get a lovely glimpse of Cochabamba. Quite different from La Paz, it has a much more European feel, with sprawling plazas, tree-lined avenues, and statues in the middle of almost every roundabout.

In the afternoon, we visited one of the older parts of the city and strolled through a local artisan market. Our bags slightly more full, we headed back to the hostel to prepare for our an evening meeting with a Cochabamba Rotary Club chapter. With a few hours to spare before the meeting, we decided to squeeze in a little bit more tourism and visit the world’s largest statue of Jesus, perched on a hill overlooking the city. As we took pictures and marveled at the view, we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the mountains lining the Cochabamba valley.

The meeting that evening went over quite well. While the chapter president was absent, we were able to meet with the secretary and once again exchange contact information and lay the ground for a possible future relationship.

To celebrate the conclusion of our trip, we all went out for ice cream afterwards, and spent the evening watching the city fly by around us.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Back to civilization

Wow. It’s hard to believe it’s only been a week here in Asanquiri. As we enjoyed our last breakfast with the students, we spent the morning teaching Rolando about the rainwater catchment system, and making a video tour of the center. Luc arrived to pick us up around 11:00. After a lunch with everyone, we said our goodbyes to the students and stopped for one last picture beside the Asanquiri sign.

We then piled into Luc’s truck for the dusty drive back to Cochabamba. The ride was fairly uneventful with no unexpected stops or oil leaks, and we arrived at our hostel after 3 hours on the road. While we greatly enjoyed our stay in Asanquiri for seven days, words can not relate the joy of having toilets that flush and (somewhat) reliably warm showers, albeit electric, once again. Once settled in, we took a short walk around downtown Cochabamba and had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Feeling pretty tired from our past week, we took it easy for the night and squeezed in one more short stroll before going to bed.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


We woke up Sunday expecting a fairly laid back day. We only needed to do a little more surveying, and we would be done with our data collection. However, after double-checking some building plans we had been provided with, we noticed some pretty major discrepancies, and spent the morning measuring buildings and getting more accurate measurements. With our work finished, we decided to celebrate with lunch and a quick power nap.
In the late afternoon, Andrew and Ben accompanied the male students for a short walk and a lively conversation to the nearby town of Jatun-Kasa for a game of soccer with professors at the local school. What we originally thought was going to be a nice brisk 20-minute game turned into an intense hour-long marathon with the thin mountain air as a constant enemy. As the sun set, the game concluded and we walked back to the school with aching legs, ready for our last dinner at CECTFIA.

That night, we passed the time watching more movies with the students and started packing for our departure the next day.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


While the weekend provided a break for the students, we were far from done. After waking up and having a breakfast of flat, fried dough and hot chocolate, we split up to tackle the day. Sara Allen and Monti stayed at the CECTFIA to help teach our fast-forming friend Don Mario how to perform water quality tests and start a thorough review of the previously installed rainwater catchment system. Meanwhile, Ben and Andrew squeezed in a bit more surveying, and prepared for another hike to the upper spring.

During this entire time, a few of the students were convincing us to come with them for a day trip to Arampampa (a nearby city, about 2 hours walking distance) and an afternoon of playing together as a soccer team. Unfortunately, business comes before pleasure, so we stuck with our tasks.
When Ben and Andrew returned, we devoted our full energies to checking over the system. Overall the system has been a great asset for the school; providing the students and professors with additional water from the wet season and is generally in good condition. At the time of surveying, the tank had no water, so checking everything went very smoothly. For full information on our review, see our report, which will be released in a few weeks.

When the review was done, we helped prepare a spaghetti dinner for the remaining students. Over a cup of after-dinner tea, we had a very candid discussion with Rolando Quispe, a professor, and some of the students. The evening was then spent in the professor’s dorm watching “Troy” with the students.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Bolivian Mother's Day!

Waking up Friday, we enjoyed our last breakfast with all of the students before some headed home for the weekend. After breakfast, a professor showed us a few projects around CECTFIA, and we hiked down to Asanquiri for a Mother’s day celebration. Arriving in the town, we were ushered into the school by the head teacher, and seated while he made preparations. As we waited, children trickled in to the building, and we were able to play with them until a small gathering of women came in. When all was ready, the teacher came back in and started playing music, and the children did their best to recreate ethnic dances, complete with masks and traditional wear. However, they weren’t quite on par with their routine, and the teacher had to often toot a whistle to remind them of the next step.

When the dancing was over, we were invited to help prepare lunch and dine with the mothers and their children. When all was finished a few hours later, we slowly hiked up the mountain to CECTFIA for an afternoon of data entry and analysis. That evening, a few of the students had decided to remain at CECTFIA for the weekend, and so we had a more personal dinner with them, followed by an evening of watching telenovellas (Hispanic soap operas).

Thursday, May 26, 2011


And all of a sudden we were half way through our stay in Asanquiri. Last night, we decided to split our duties between teaching the second level students and surveying CECTFIA.

After a morning of teaching the second level of students, the Saras met up with Ben and Andrew who had just received a tour from Marcario going over the water systems throughout CECTFIA. We joined forces over the afternoon and took coliform counts, partook in a nap and continued surveying. At 4:45 Sara M, took leave of the surveying crew and joined our hosts in preparing dinner.

After dinner Andrew and Ben took to the computer room to see what could be done about the improving the performance of the computers. That night, the students were given access to the TV in the teachers dorms, and spent the evening watching Juana Alvarez music video, followed by an astoundingly low-budget Japanese kung fu flick. Around 11 PM, the professors turned off the TV and made the students go to bed. After a short meeting, we did the same.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Getting into the groove of things...

We woke up Wednesday at 7:00 AM, feeling well-rested and ready for the day ahead. Last night, we decided to devote the day towards finding and assessing the upper spring. Following the pipe from the Center, we set out on what we hoped would be a fairly easy hike. However, we soon were unable to see the pipe from the road and had to venture up the mountain. After climbing around 100 feet of incredibly steep mountainside with the ground crumbling underneath our feet, we were able to reach a patch of green, providing a wonderful switch from dry, dusty rock, to incredibly slick mud and grass. We discovered the patch of green was fueled by a small pool of water, which served as a catchment for runoff from the spring above. Determined the get to the spring, we took a breather and continued our trek.

Fortunately, the latter part of our hike was more gentle, and we reached the spring without much difficulty, and we spent the rest of the morning performing tests on the water and assessing the area.

After a light snack, we headed back to CECTFIA. The hike down was much more treacherous, with the ground proving to be yet again a dangerous foe, this time with gravity as an ally. However, we were ultimately the victor, and safely arrived back on the road and walked back to CECTFIA for a late lunch and an afternoon of testing water at the center.

After testing the water, we headed down to Asanquiri with Mario, a community leader who has very close ties to CECTFIA. Not entirely sure what to expect, we gathered in the Asanquiri school while Mario called a town meeting with several resounding blasts of an ox horn. As the men and women of the community slowly trickled in, we started the meeting. Explaining who we are and why we were there, we originally called the meeting to start building some stronger bonds with the people of Asanquiri. After our explanation, we sang a few songs and asked if the people had any questions. Most of the questions came from Mario and the school’s head teacher. Soon however, we realized we were boring the people, and concluded our meeting.

During the walk back with Mario, we were able to have a surprisingly sincere conversation about local agriculture, and we could hear through Mario’s voice the pride he felt for the local crops, grown using minimal chemicals and the skills being taught by CECTFIA. As we neared his house, he asked us to teach him how to test for water quality parameters. Suppressing our excitement, we agreed to teach him on Saturday. We felt this was a major breakthrough for the long-term viability of the project, and were super excited as we withdrew to our dorms to discuss the day and get some well-earned sleep.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

First day in the field

The first morning in “Chiri (chilly in quechua) Asanquiri” brought a beautiful mountainous view, complete with impeccable visibility and sun rays skirting the decisively terraced fields of quinoa, beans and corn.

We gathered and walked to CECTFIA’s kitchen, on the way our ears being stimulated by the Charanga tunes being played by one of the students on the sidewalk outside the dorm. We entered the kitchen where the majority of the students were gathered, enjoying a simple, yet pleasant breakfast of the bread made the previous night and hot chocolate. After joining them, we were joined by the first year students in their classroom, and set about with our lesson.

Before continuing much further, the team feels it appropriate to explain in more detail what CECTFIA (Centro do Capacitatión Técinica y Formación Integral Asanquiri) is and what it does. Originally established in 2004 and sponsored by Save the Children Canada. It is a two-year school, providing an education primarily in agricultural skills, but also incorporating history, economics, computer technology, and principles of science and mathematics, with a focus on maintaining Andean culture. Currently, the school has ten college-aged students; five girls and five boys. Boys pay a per-year tuition of 200 bolivianos (around 30 US dollars) and the girls all attend on scholarships. The school year lasts 40 weeks and the students live in dorms at the school during the week. Almost all of the vegetables used by the kitchen are grown by students on grounds owned by CECTFIA. Students also help raise ducks, chickens, and guinea pigs for food. Every day, the students tend the crops and livestock. However, for the week the team was in town, the professor for level 1 students was on a trip, so Macario (the level 2 professor) asked if we could teach them about what we do.

In the morning, our lesson involved the basics of engineering, why we were here, turbidity and its significance as a water quality parameter, and hands-on testing of the water at the Center, with the occasional English lesson sprinkled throughout.

Soon, it was time for lunch, and we followed the students into the kitchen, ready to take on our first true meal at the Center. Lunch opened up with a very full bowl of soup with noodles, potatoes, vegetables, and meat. Thinking we were finished, the team was astonished to be presented with the second course, a fried egg, sliced tomatoes, onions, and carrots on top of a bed of rice and potatoes. Despite being delicious, lunch proved to be quite a test of willpower, simply from the sheer volume of food. About halfway through the meal we were all completely stuffed, and sat in awe as the students went back for seconds. Despite our stomachs urging otherwise, we were all able to cram the last bits of food down our throat and set about preparing for the rest of the day.

During the two and a half hour lunch break, the male students like to play soccer in the dusty drive that goes through the center. Feeling ambitious, Ben and Andrew decided to aim for the full experience and join in the fun. About half an hour later, feeling completely drained from the mountain air and constantly chasing the ball as it rolled down the side of a mountain, they had to admit defeat and sit the rest of the game out. Soon enough, the break was over, and it was back to teaching. For the afternoon, the team primarily taught about other water quality parameters.

At the end of the school day, we showed the students how to use aquarium test strips to test for certain parameters such as pH and nitrate levels, and we were pleased by how excited they became, and we were able to have them test several sites for us. We hope that this excitement will continue to permeate the students and interest in water quality is maintained, not only for the benefit of the students, but it will also greatly contribute to the sustainability of our project if students and instructors can test the Center’s water and interpret the data.

As night fell, we concluded our lesson and headed to dinner. Dinner consisted of potatoes, rice, fresh vegetables, and goat meat, served in huge portions by the school’s cook.


After dinner, we split up. Andrew and Ben went to go hang out in the male students dormitory, while Sara A. and Sara M. crashed in their room. Heterophonic melodies streamed from the boys dormitory. Between the five students, there were three sets of pan pipes, two charangas, a guitar, and a blaring radio in the corner. After some attempts to jam, Ben and Andrew eventually settled on trading songs back and forth with the students. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was easily the most popular song.

Completely pooped from constantly walking up and down hills during the day, the team had a short meeting and hit the hay.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Asanquiri at last!

Waking up Monday, Luc’s wife Carol cooked us a wonderful breakfast , and we made plans to leave. Based on our needs and Luc’s schedule, we decided to stay in Asanquiri for a full week; from Monday the 23rd to Monday the 30th. After stopping by a supermarket to stock up on food for the weekend (when the cook and all of the students go home) and picking up a two students and the head professor at CECTFIA, we were off to Asanquiri!

The supposedly four hour truck ride to Asanquiri and CECTFIA quickly got out of hand. After about an hour of making good time through the countryside of the Cochabamba department and marveling at the almost Mediterranean climate of the area, we stopped for a lunch of cow tongue, spicy chicken, and mystery soup in a small pueblo and Luc and the professor, Marcario, stocked up on supplies for the school.

Little did we know, this was the last town with a paved road we would encounter. After wrapping everything up, we headed out. About 2 miles later, Marcario mumbled something and Luc stopped the car sudeen, got out, and popped the hood, only to discover a pretty serious oil leak. One hour, a bottle of 10W40, and a pretty tall estimate later, we were once again on our way. Pretty soon, we began the three thousand foot climb to CECTFIA and Asanquiri. The view out of the window was nothing short of stunning, and we’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

However, what you don’t see in the pictures are the terrifying hairpin turns on the side of steep mountainsides, the box of chickens constantly peeping for attention in the front seat, and the fine layer of dust that ultimately coated everything. We pulled into CECTFIA just as the sun set over the mountains behind us, and set about unloading the truck. After getting settled in to our home for the week in the professors’ dormitories, we sat down for a impromptu cup of coffee and chatted with Luc and Macario, and later joined by Mario, the Asanquiri-CECTFIA liaison. Pretty soon, Luc made it clear he had to go back to Cochabamba to get his car fixed. And so, after giving him several thank you’s for the ride up and wishing him luck, we watched our contact drive off into the sunset, while wondering what to do next.

Following Macario’s lead, we went to the kitchen and got our first taste of student life at CECTFIA. As we entered the kitchen, we found all of the students gathered around a table, forming circular loaves of bread dough and tossing them into the oven. After some awkward holas and attempts by us to help with the bread, we were able to make our first steps toward building a relationship with the students. Soon, all of the bread was finished and we shared a few pieces with the students and did our best to learn names. When the students went to bed, Macario pulled us aside, and asked if we could pull together a full-day lesson for some of the students tomorrow. We obliged, and set about making our lesson plan. Soon enough, it was time to go to bed and we all crawled into our beds for the next week.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Last Day Before Asanquiri

Sunday morning dawned as our last day in La Paz. For the morning, the team decided to split up. Sara Monti and Andrew attended mass at the lglesia de San Francisco, while Sara Allen and Ben, being less confident in their ability to understand the all-Spanish service, decided to get a jump on scheduling the bus for the afternoon and squeeze in a little more exploration of the city. They were able to find a small local joint for breakfast, and accidentally ordered cow intestine (we think) stew for breakfast. Quite a way to start the day.

Around noon, the team reunited in the bus terminal. After a light lunch, the team purchased “semi-cama” (semi-bed in English, which simply meant more space and a nicer footrest) tickets for the 2:30 bus to Cochabamba.The 7-hour bus drive from La Paz to Cochabamba was marked by a wonderful view of the Bolivian Altiplano (the high, arid plains common to Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador), an overall descent of 4000 feet, and a gorgeous sunset across the mountains.

Upon arrival in Cochabamba, we met up with Luc and his wife, who gave us a quick tour of the city. At the conclusion of the tour we headed to his house to talk about the project over a pizza and crash on his floor for the night.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mas en La Paz

Hola amigos! It’s been a packed day full of adventure! Since we won’t be able to meet up with Luc (our contact who’s going to drive us to Asankiri) until Sunday night, we decided to get out of La Paz for a day trip and check out the nearby ruins of Tiwanaku. We arrived at the bus stop a little early, so we adventured into the surrounding cemetery district. While sounding ominous and gloomy, the district was a pleasant surprise, perched on a hilltop with wonderful view of the city, as well as a quaint flower market and simple, yet elegant Catholic church.

Once our departure time hit, we crammed into a microbus and were off towards Tiwanaku. The bus ride out of La Paz offered even more astonishing views of the city. On the hour-long ride we made friends with some Brazilians and Argentinians sharing the cramped seats with us and got a good dose of the countryside with the soaring Andes mountains in the background.

Upon arrival at Tiwanaku, we explored the archaeological sites and museums. The city was founded before the Incan and subsequent Spanish conquests of the area, reaching its estimated peak population of 60,000 people around . Now, the site is primarily large, flat stone-bordered ceremonial grounds, scattered with the occasional statue or arch. While checking everything out, we had a friendly volunteer tour guide tell us the history of the area, and eventually ask Sara Monti out to lunch. Unfortunately, we had to decline the offer, and sought lunch on our own. After a light late-afternoon lunch of sandwiches and omelettes, we headed back to La Paz.

This evening, La Paz held a special event downtown, opening up all of the city’s museums for free and filling the streets with local musicians, dancers, and small vendors, creating a festival of Bolivian culture. We went to a quirky local pub and had a pizza for dinner, with 80’s American pop resonating from the bar, Charlie Chaplin silent movie soundtracks coming from a TV nearby, and Bolivian indigenous music echoing down the streets outside. Quite the assault on the ears. After dinner, we hit the streets, drinking in the culture and character of the city at its finest. We strolled through the outdoor markets, viewed local art exhibits, and maneuvered our way shoulder-to-shoulder through crowds of Bolivianos. Ending the evening on a high note, we enjoyed a local folk band rocking out in a crowded plaza, complete with multiple pan flutes, charangas (a kind of small guitar/mandolin hybrid that is a steadfast in Bolivian music), and dancing men in zebra costumes (which we’re still not entirely sure about). Completely pooped, we danced our way back to the hostel and look forward to our trip to Cochabamba tomorrow.

Adios! -Andrew, Ben, and the Saras

PS: Since we’re headed to our project site in Asanquiri early Monday and will spend the week day, we won’t be able to make any additional blog posts during the weekdays. Since our blogging host allows us to change the dates on post, we will make a daily post on Ben’s laptop, and then at the end of the week upload them with the corresponding post dates.

Friday, May 20, 2011

lo siento

We´re experiencing minor technical difficulties in this lovely internet cafe, we will fix the formating and some of the text at another time.

¡Bienvenidos a Bolivia!

The team from left to right: Sara Monti (Junior, Industrial Engineering), Sara Allen (Mentor, Grad student in Environmental Engineering), Andrew Santos (Junior, Chemical Engineering), Ben Lord (Junior, Environmental Engineering)

Wow! What a crazy past couple of hours. After gathering at RDU airport, we flew out on a 7:35 flight to Miami, arriving just in time to catch the red-eye flight to La Paz, Bolivia. After boarding at 10:30 and enjoying the scenic views of the Miami runway while taxiing for an hour, we lifted off and the journey really started to sink in. Adios America!

During the six and a half hour flight, we were treated to delectable airline food, two crying babies, and the joys of sleeping in strange position. As we were flying in, just outside the window, we could barely make out the ice caps of the Andes just a few miles below us. Very cool. Upon landing in La Paz, we were whisked customs and thrust into the brisk mountain air of El Alto (the airport of the highest capital city) just in time to catch the sun rising over the city of La Paz, casting beautiful shadows on the surrounding mountains. The only hiccup till that point happened to be some technical difficulties on the user end, turns out for land lines in La Paz you dial 02, not 01, 001, 002…you get the picture. We were able to get touch with the front desk at Hostal Tambo de Oro.

We got checked in and headed to the bus terminal to get our bearings on the city. The bus terminal is gorgeous, it is a large yellow and white building as seen below. (insert image of bus terminal). We collected maps and ventured off for some desayuno, we found Café Moss where we were treated to a buffet that rivals the lovely food of Golden Coral. Highlights of breakfast included, hot evaporated milk, papaya juice, huevos y jamon, and a smorgasbord of breads. After breakfast we headed back to the hostel and got some much needed shut eye. We woke up bright and ready to adventure out into the city, after just a few more bumps in the road. Turns out we had yet to become superstar cellphone users and after a few attempts were able to get in contact with Luc our Save the Children contact here in Bolivia. Luc has instructed us to take a 1:00 bus on Sunday afternoon and will reach Cochabamba in the evening.
After our naps we took to the streets slowly, it turns out that some of the climbing at this altitude leaves a few of us short of breath but not short on smiles. We have explored some of the city which includes landscaping similar to San Francisco.

The hostel is not located far from the museum district and we were able to find the Museo de Instrumentos Musicales de Boliva , we decided to spend a few moments and wander through the museum. The museum is a private museum and was extremely educational. Highlights included sections devoted Ernesto Cavour, who traveled around the world playing the Charanga, the hands on portion of the museum (playing the accordion and beer bottle xylophone), and two lovely birds named Bach and Flores lived in the courtyard, with solar oven. After the museum we took in lunch with included some sampling of llama and quinoa (sandwiches, crepes, and empanadas). After a delightful lunch, we took to the market and explored the streets and took in some of the culture of the town.

Luckily there have been no serious issues from altitude sickness (some minor headaches and shortness of breath but everyone seems to be championing through). And we are looking forward to a fantastic authentic dinner here in La Paz.

Hope you’ve enjoyed our updates,

The Sara’s, Ben and Andrew