Los Tajibos, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

The view from my window at the Los Tajibos Resort, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
The view from my window at the Los Tajibos Resort, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

I’m going to begin posting images and snippets of story from my Bolivia Experience. I’ve been back in the Estados Unidos for a couple of weeks, nearly. The FHWA project meeting is behind me. I’m recovering with Daughter and her family in Pennsylvania. It will take me a few more days to get my feet under me, deal with the backlog of tasks that need my attention, and figure out what I want to post.

I had a great time. I met interesting people. I talked about interesting water-related problems. I saw many interesting things, both about water and just interesting. I made a few images, but not nearly enough.

Bolivia is a fascinating place. I think Bolivia captured my heart while I was there.

Huari Beer

Huari is a Bolivian beer. One of my favorite things to do is to sample the local wines and beers.
Huari is a Bolivian beer. One of my favorite things to do is to sample the local wines and beers.

Monday was one of the big days. We held seminars all day, from about 0900 to 1500 hours. Breakfast was fairly early and just before the chef began cooking omelettes. I was disappointed, a bit, but the various breads were quite good.

I might remark that the coffee here is just OK. It is brewed in a way that is unfamiliar to me. I expect that if I lived here I’d have to find a good source of beans, learn to roast my own, and then grind and brew my own coffee.

Along that line of thought, coca mate is legal here in Bolivia. Coca Mate is made from the raw leaves of the Coca plant, meaning that it contains a small amount of coca alkaloids. While we were working on our presentations Sunday afternoon, I brewed some coca mate using the hot water and tea bags provided by the hotel and added just a bit of sucralose. It is a very good tea and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Unfortunately, I cannot bring the tea home with me. It’s illegal in the United States. Also, I’ll now test positive for cocaine, although I have had none of the refined drug. I don’t actually care because the experience of tasting this wonderful tea is worth the risk of not passing a drug test.

Back to my story — we had two translators provided by the US Embassy. They are sufficiently skilled to do simultaneous translation while we are speaking. Those speaking in Spanish are translated into English and vice versa. It works amazing well… if the speaker remembers to pace him/herself such that the translators can keep up.

The morning sessions went well. One of our speakers was the head of a local resource agency, SEARPI. He is an experienced, animated speaker who has good command of his material. Even without being able to understand Spanish, his delivery of his material was highly entertaining and I enjoyed his talk. The translation was good enough that I was able to follow along.

After his talk, he invited those of us from the States to his home for dinner. That will have to be another story, I think.

Lunch was also fun. He sat down with us and one of our hosts (from Tarija) is fluent in both languages. So we were able to have a lively discussion over sandwiches.

My talk came right after lunch. I learned that I can still put them to sleep with the help of a food-induced coma. The room was warm and I was working to pace my talk to keep from getting ahead of the translators. I listened to the translation in my right ear with the volume down so I could track the translator. That worked well, although my pace was a bit slower than I usually use. It worked, nonetheless (unless you count putting them to sleep not working).

After the talks, it was time to mingle. One of the professors from Catolica Universidad Santa Cruz greeted me and we chatted a bit (small bit) in his broken English and my broken Spanish. I have his card and if I get back down here will attempt to spend some time with him discussing his work and students. A number of others asked for a photograph and then we did a group photograph under the university emblem.

Ing. Aquilera volunteered to drive us back to the hotel and we graciously accepted. That meant we had time between the seminar and supper to rest a bit. I did and it was good.

Today I’ll meet with a group of students (with my colleagues), spend some time with the dean of engineering here in Santa Cruz, and fly to Tarija this evening for more meetings tomorrow. I will have to write up my supper story in a second entry. I also need to retrieve photographs from my camera and choose some of the best.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

On final approach into Santa Cruz from La Paz, Bolivia.
On final approach into Santa Cruz from La Paz, Bolivia.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity already. I left Denver at about 1300 hours, after arriving at the Denver airport, checking my bag, and working through security. My flight was delayed for two hours, first because of a maintenance problem, then because of weather in the Miami area.

Still, I arrived before the rest of the team and met them at their exit gate. We then wandered through the Miami airport until we found our connection, then got a bite to eat.

The flight to La Paz and then to Santa Cruz was a challenge. It’s about six hours from Miami to La Paz, which isn’t all that bad except the flight left Miami at 2300 hours. That meant sleeping on the aircraft, which isn’t that bad for a nap but is difficult for any decent sleep. Still, I cat-napped on and off all night.

We were handed immigration and customs forms, which I worked though. We left the aircraft at about the appointed time and worked through the system. I am now officially a world traveller, having left my country of birth and spent time in another country.

The weekend was a bit of a blur, trying to recover from the travel. But I had a great deal of fun with my friends and our handler, Ramiro. He knows his way around Santa Cruz and showed us some interesting things. The plaza was more interesting than the mall (ha!). The mall is the same as hundreds of them I’ve seen in the States. There was nothing there that interesting, yet the walk was still good.

Today I did my first presentation. I took my time so the translators could handle the flow. I think my pace was about right, although I put my audience to sleep. I’m not all that surprised, given it was a warm room and right after lunch. Yes, I can still put them to sleep.

I had a couple of good questions and enjoyed the interaction. I’m looking forward to more. We’ll spend time with the students tomorrow, then I’ll fly to Tarija while they go to Cochabamba for their next set of meetings. I’ll be able to spend some time with old and new friends in Tarija and will enjoy the higher altitude (and cooler air).

I’ll have more story and pictures, I’m sure.

Bolivia Calls

Bolivia, map courtesy Ian Macky, Portable Atlas.
Bolivia, map courtesy Ian Macky, Portable Atlas.

A few months ago, an old friend and colleague called me and a couple of others for a meeting. He retired from Texas Department of Transportation a few years ago and returned to his home in Bolivia. Now he’s the equivalent of a dean at the Catholic University in Tarija.

His interest was in having one or more of us come to Bolivia to talk about our research work in Texas. We chatted over appetizers at one of the restaurants in Lubbock and then went our separate ways.

As time passed, the workshop began to develop. Now all three of us are traveling to Bolivia for a set of workshops. The U.S. Embassy in Bolivia got wind of the project and decided to participate. I’ll be doing talks in Santa Cruz and Tarija. The others will have talks at those locations plus Cochabamba.

Now this is a Big Deal. The Bolivian government is interested in our seminars. Many professionals and policy makers are interested in our talks. The press is showing interest.

I should be trepidated by all the attention that will be directed at me. I am not. I find this very exciting and am so looking forward to the trip, to meeting people interested in the work, to seeing a place very different from my home, and in finding out what they need. It’s possible they might need what I do.

When I returned to Reno from Mount Vernon, I immediately retrieved the necessary papers from my lockbox and applied for my passport. It was returned in a couple of weeks, so I turned right around and applied for a Bolivian visa. That was returned to me on Tuesday. I have the paperwork in order. The flights are booked and reservations are made. I’m beginning to assemble things I need. My talks are nearly done.

I depart in a week. Older Son and DiL will keep the Girl for me while I travel. I will miss her terribly. But it’s only a couple of weeks and this is important.

I’m ready. Let’s go…