Thursday, October 24, 2013

Some Observations

While I have been here, a variety of things have stood out to me. Due to human nature, I find myself comparing them to things back in San Francisco, but always trying not to judge them - just noticing similarities and differences.

Driving / public transportation:
Well, when it comes to driving, Bolivia is a polar opposite of the US. There is a pecking order and pedestrians are at the BOTTOM. Based on my observations I have deduced that the larger you are, the more damage you can do, the higher up you are on the "pecking order". It essentially goes from large trucks, to micros (which are a little bigger than small school buses), truffis (which are large vans - also used for public transport), private cars are thrown in somewhere in there, then motorcycles, bikes and finally pedestrians. One of the first things I learned was that no matter what, pedestrians do not have the right of way, on a few occasions I have spent almost 5 minutes trying to cross at a roundabout because cars are always going from every direction (and you never know where the cars are going to exit the roundabout). Although I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people that use blinkers here! (I would say it is about equal to the amount of people who use blinkers in the US.)

Stop lights are a totally different issue. A red light here means it is optional to stop (or at least that is the sense I get). At the some of the largest intersections there are countdown timers next to the lights that tell you how much longer the green, red and yellow light will last. And generally these intersections are too busy with cars to go through the red light, but at smaller intersections, when there is no traffic going at their green light people always go the other direction.

I think taxis are great here, as long as you get a radio taxi you should be fine. They are really cheap. I don't think I have ever paid more than $2USD to get home even in the middle of the night.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: well I think the system here is pretty great. There are tons of different "lines" that take you all over the city. Every ride no matter how long (or short), costs 1.7 bolivianos, which is about 25 cents. On micros you pay when you get on and on truffis you pay when you get off. Other than that they work the same. You hail the buses like a cab so you can get picked up wherever along the route you would like. And you can also get dropped off wherever you like. There is a constant flashing of highbeams and honking of horns because that is how drivers ask if you want a ride.

Another difference is inside of the cars. They windshields are nearly completely blocked with things. Crosses (and a wide variety of other things) hang down from the rear view mirror. To block the sun, stickers cover up to the top half of the front window. The flat part above the dashboard is almost always covered in so fake fur or other fabric. Also, on the right hand side of the windshield there is a least one sigh which tells you well known places along the route of that particular truffi. In the end, I am truly confused how they even see out of the car, but it works so I just go with it.

Side note: the license plates here say "Bolivia" on them, not a department/state like the do in the US. 

Right now, the city is trying to connect everyone (at least in the north of the city) to a central gas system. That means they are digging up streets and sidewalks and everything else in the way. It reminds me of San Francisco because before they even cover up one block they move onto the next. So there is partially completed projects everywhere. 

Forest Fires:
The first few weeks I was here there were a quite a few forest fires in the hills the surround Cochabamba. Since Cochabamba is in a valley, the smoke from these fires greatly adds to the smog in the city. Also, most of the fires have been in the national park, Parque Tunari. I have heard a variety of reasons why these fires start, but this one seems most believable. Since it is a national park people are not allowed to live in it, but there is a group of people who believe they should and say they would take care of the park. I was told that these people set the park on fire, on purpose, in order to be able to say that if they had been living there and taking care of the park this would not happen. This seems really sad and unfortunate to me. But there is nothing I can do...

There is lots more happening but these are some of the main things I wanted to point out. More coming soon (on other unrelated topics...)!

Friday, October 4, 2013

My Project

I actually decided this 2 weeks ago, but I have been very busy so I have been unable to update you. I have decided to work on Gaia Pacha's project entitled No Gracias, Tengo Mi Bolsa (No thanks, I have my bag). I am working on a variety of things within this project. I am currently creating four different designs for postcards that will be distributed to educate people about our campaign. I am also starting to design, find funding and plan a class to teach youth how to reuse plastic bags by fusing them.

I decide on this project because I felt like I could help out the campaign. I spent three years in high school on the environmental team (Green Team), and I spent a lot of time working on issues related to plastic. I also spent the past year working on a project about problems with plastic at the California Academy of Sciences. Although our final campaign was not very successful, I learned a lot about campaigns and plastics.

A side project I am doing is translating a web page for another project at Gaia Pacha. The project, Bosques Urbanos (Urban Forests), is creating green spaces in the Zona Sur of the city where due to rapid growth there was little to no urban planning. I decide to translate the webpage because I thought it would be good Spanish practice and it would allow me to find out some more about other projects happening at Gaia Pacha.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Smoked Chicken

Sunday we celebrated Andrea and my birthdays. For the celebration we had a variety of delicious foods! There was rice with cheese, a tomato onion cheese salad, boiled potatoes and a few other dishes. Another was smoked chicken which is juicy, amazing and it is VERY easy to make.

Step 1: Buy as many whole chickens as you want (including the head) we got 6.

Step 2: Create the seasoning. All that is in it is lemon juice (from VERY juicy lemons) and LOTS of salt. I believe we used about 6 lemon-oranges and we then added 1/2 kilo of salt.

Step 3: Season the chickens. Put the marinade inside the chicken as well as spreading it all of the skin of the chicken.

Step 4: Wrap a sturdy wire (fairly thick) around the legs of the chicken to hang them.

Step 5: Bring them out to the metal ¨garbage can" that has been retrofired to smoke chickens and place the chickens inside.

Step 6: Light a fire at the base and outside of the can using wood and other flammable materials that smoke.

Step 7: Let the chickens cook for about 2 hours, while keeping an eye on the fire.

Step 8: Remove the chickens from the can.

Step 9: Let them cool and then enjoy!


Sunday, September 15, 2013

My First Week

Boy has this been a busy week! Today is my 8th day in Bolivia. In this past week I have gotten to know my host family, explored parts of the city, spoken lots of Spanish and started to learn the public transportation system.

I have a great host family! They are a very interesting group of people who are constantly willing to help me in any way possible. My father’s name is Carlos and my mother is Daissy. They have three sons: Carlos (Carly), Raul and Tono (the last two live with us). Tono has a daughter, Andrea, who is a few years younger than me. They are always correcting my Spanish, which is a good thing, because I REALLY want to get better. My family also has 2 adult female cats and each one has 4 kittens. The 4 older kittens are leaving later this week :( 
(the 4 older kittens playing)

September 14 was the anniversary of the founding of Cochabamba so my mother and father took me on both Friday and Saturday to see the parades that celebrate this fantastic event. Lots of bands, marching and I even go to see the president, Evo Morales!

Tuesday is my birthday and last Monday was Andrea's birthday so we had a little party today with my family and some other people. Lots of good food, some rubix cubing and lots of fun!

Throughout FSD orientation this week I have traveled through the city. Last Sunday we visited the Cristo de la Concordia (Christ of Peace), which is the tallest statue of Jesus Christ in the world. Along with the other FSD intern, last Tuesday we explored some of the main parts of Cochabamba. We went to the main plaza - Plaza de 14 de Septiembre (the date of the founding of the province of Cochabamba), the post office and this really cool alley next to it and La Cancha (which is a huge market that stretches for many blocks and sells everything at very low prices!). In order to see all of these sites and more we had to use the public transportation system available to us. There are a variety of sized buses and vans that have a variety of routes. All of them cost 1.70 Bolivianos which is about $0.25US, no matter how long you ride on them. They also do not have stops, you just go to the most convenient point for you along their route and flag one down, if they have space they stop, otherwise they just keep driving. It is totally different than the bus system I am used to in San Francisco but I am having fun exploring it!

I am getting immersed in Spanish, not surprisingly. Orientation was in Spanish, I am talking to my host family or anyone I meet is in Spanish. It is overwhelming but I am slowly accustoming myself to it. And on Friday I  went to a meeting for Gaia Pacha (GP), the NGO I am working for, and participated in a 3+ hour meeting in Spanish. I start my first full day of work at GP on Monday and am really looking forward to it. There are 3 really cool sounding projects I could work on. One is about reducing the use of plastic bags, another is about creating more green spaces in the south area of the city and the third is education and I believe a photo/video project about wild animal trafficking. I’ll let you know when I decide on which project I want to focus on and give more specifics then.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I have arrived!

I arrived at my host family Arce Gonzales on Saturday after quite the adventure!

When my flight to La Paz, Bolivia took off in Miami the captain heard some rattling in the front of the plane so he changed our course to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where the flight was supposed to go after La Paz. We landed without a problem, and were met with fire trucks etc. People bound for Santa Cruz left the plane and the rest of us sat there for almost 2 hours before everything was dealt with and we started to leave for La Paz (at this point I could have made my connection in La Paz to Cochabamba). We ended up sitting on the runway in Santa Cruz for 1 hour! (Meaning there was no way for me to make my connection in La Paz.) During this time American told us NOTHING! When we returned to the gate we learned that there was a problem with the passenger list! We then had to go through customs where I was able to easily buy my visa. After leaving immigration, I waited in line for about 1 hour to get American to organize my travels to Cochabamba. Their way of reimbursing us for our over 3 hour delay on the plane was the send people to La Paz that night at 9 PM! About 12 hours later. They gave people vouchers for food and a hotel, but the food vouchers only worked in 1 "restaurant" in the airport. After waiting 1 hour I finally spoke with someone from American and instead of having to wait till that evening I got on a 2pm BoA (a Bolivian Airline) flight to Cochabamba. I received the food vouchers and American paid the difference from my other BoA ticket.

One of the good things was that I met a German woman on the plane from Miami and the two of us had a similar timed flight, so we shared a taxi and I got to see a little of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is a humid city in the Amazon - it is also very large - and is the wealthiest of the three cities (La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz). It was interesting to see a few sights and learn a bit about the city.

I arrived safely and without any more problems in Cochabamba around 3 pm (ET) on Saturday (about 34 hours of traveling), where I was met by Cassandra, a member of the FSD site team, and she took me to meet my host family.

More on my family and adjusting to Cochabamba soon!

Friday, September 6, 2013

On my way...

This morning I woke at 4 am and headed to SFO with all of my possessions for the next 3 months.
Everything went well and I am now sitting through my 5th of 8 hours in the Miami airport. Nothing interesting happening - but in case you were wondering John Stewart is back at the Daily Show!! See you in December US of A.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Thanks so much for reading this blog! It means a lot to me! I just wanted to introduce myself before I leave. My name is Helena and I am taking a gap year, traveling to different parts of the world volunteering and enjoying myself. In less than 2 days I leave for Cochabamba, Bolivia. I also found out this weekend that I will be spending 12 weeks in South Africa and Botswana starting in April 2014. So far, I have a variety of things planned, but there is more to come!

A little about my trip to Bolivia:
I leave bright and early (well maybe not bright because the sun won't be up yet) Friday morning and I arrive in Cochabamba, Bolivia around 10 am eastern time on Saturday. (Bolivia is in the eastern time zone.) Cochabamba is the fourth largest city in Bolivia with a large urban population. It is at an elevation of about 8,500 feet, surrounded by mountains.

My whole trip was organized by the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD), which is based in San Francisco. While I am there I will be living with a host family, I will tell you more about them later. I will also be working for Gaia Pacha whose mission is "to create, propose, and implement feasible environmentally friendly solutions, based on local & scientific knowledge, to problems where human actions & decisions altered the harmonic natural dynamic between people and nature." Feel free to check out their website (which is in english and spanish) here.

I am very excited to arrive in Bolivia, meet the FSD site team, meet my host family and partner with Gaia Pacha.

¡Hasta pronto Bolivia!