Thursday, March 27, 2014

Out into the Bolivian Countryside

Our first full day in Bolivia of course began with breakfast. I was delighted to find I could have what I call Polish breakfast -- a good bread roll with cold cuts and cheese. Also the breakfast buffet at the hotel had a nice selection of fruit everyday with pineapple and watermelon being my favorites. And the coffee was so very, very good -- black thick coffee that needed a bit of leche (milk) with it.

Then we boarded the bus with the idea that we were going to a potato farm.

Above is what the rural area looks like on the route we took.

And I got my first view of what farm fields look like in Bolivia.

 The brighter green areas are crops. Crops are planted in an area of the mountainside that has water and nutrients. Also because this area is very dry, a good farmer will leave some land fallow for 1-3 years or more so that moisture may accumulate there and support a crop.

After some driving we started to see a body of water and suddenly I realized I was seeing the Ucuchi Reservoir that I had heard so much about.
A reservoir is really part of indigenous agriculture but over time many of the reservoirs deteriorated and farmers simply don't have the monetary resources to repair or reconstruct them. This particular area had a reservoir but the lining was not effective. Water would simply percolate through the bottom of the reservoir area and disappear.

Perhaps before further, I should explain that in the part of Bolivia rains comes for about the 3 months of the summer and then there is no rain for the next nine months. One has to store water.

The Ucuchi Reservoir was completed by the community in this area with the help of Mano a Mano in 2005. It serves about 600 families. The access to water helps the farmers to raise a more productive crop and sometimes also to raise a second crop. And like perhaps people everywhere, Bolivians are attracted to water. The reservoir is stocked with fish. The reservoir is also providing economic development. Dirt bikes races are now held on the road around the reservoir. Someone is building cabins for visitors. Just the increase of agricultural crops alone has allowed the farmers in this area to double their income. Now before anyone gets the wrong idea -- these are not rich people! The increase for a family farmer increased from about $150/year to $300/year. Yes, costs are less in Bolivia than in the United States or the EU, but $300/year still does not make one "rich."

And the area about the reservoir also has a playground for children. Some of my trip colleagues tried out one of the swings.

 A short time after leaving this site, we came upon an area where road construction was underway.

Yes, not a very good picture but the best I could do out the bus window. Note how hand labor intensive is this work.

After driving through the construction area we came upon the barrier preventing traffic from driving onto the road from the other direction.

It didn't take too long for the men on the bus to remove and then replace this barrier!

We continued our journey through the mountainous countryside, stopping at a school to leave donated books, notebooks, and writing supplies.

These types of supplies as well as all the donated medical supplies originate basically in the Twin Cities area. If somehow people in other parts of the country could figure out how to donate the things that would normally be thrown away, we could really change the world!

I learned at one of the school stops that supplies are so tight that Bolivian school children write in a notebook with pencil, and then when the course is completed, erase the entire notebook so that it can be used over again.

In just a few minutes we arrived at the "potato farm." Actually the first thing we all visited was the toilet.

I quickly learned that the household is made up of a number of buildings. The toilet and sink appears above attached to a room that held a table and chairs and two beds. To the left of these structures was another building that held a kitchen stove, supplies such as potatoes and spices, and a small table for food preparation. Beside it was another small building for additional cooking.

This type of cooking pot is standard -- at least for all the cooking that I observed.  It is about 18 inches tall.

I was the last person in the line for the toilet and by then most others were down the hill talking. I asked if we were to be there and someone told me no. So I went back to the bus because I thought we were going to on to another reservoir in a few minutes. There I found three curious girls.

In this part of Bolivia most speak Quechua, not Spanish. My elementary Spanish was of no use at all. I went to find someone to help and found ladies shucking corn. Well, I know how to do that, so I helped.

About the time this task was completed we did take a short trip up the road to see another reservoir.

After this visit we returned to the farm for a mid-day meal.

Yes, an ear of corn, two potatoes and piece of cheese. The corn is quite delicious. Even though it had been picked at a somewhat earlier time it had retained its "sweet" flavor. The individual kernels are also much larger than sweet corn kernels typical in the United States.

After the meal we were witnesses to a long discussion about completion of the second reservoir. This one is apparently entangled in a dispute about whose water it is and where it should go with the governor of the department (department is like state or province in other countries) having a different idea than the municipality leaders. The farmer directly looked at us and asked what we Americans could do about this. One of my colleagues was quick minded and replied that we would send our help through Mano a Mano.

We eventually made our way back to Cochabamba where we took a short rest and then held a meeting to process our ideas about what we had seen during the day. Then we walked almost exactly across the street from the hotel to a Middle Eastern restaurant and had a lovely evening meal. A very busy day again in Bolivia. 

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