9,000 feet above the sea

 

We had only climbed about 50 steps before our breaths became shallow. It was another perfectly warm and sunny morning when Jeremy and I began our ascent up the 1399 steps to Christo de la Concordia.

El Christo is a giant statue of Jesus on the top of a hill that towers over the valley of Cochabamba. Standing at 112 feet tall, it is the largest statue of Jesus in the world (source: wikipedia). Impressive, yes, if you’re into that stuff, but it was more the altitude that took our breath away. After roughly 40 sweaty minutes we reached the top – a time we’re sure to beat with acclimation – and took in the marvelous cityscape that lay before the horizon, 9,000 feet above the sea.

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Beneath the smog, the city is thriving with restaurants, shops, street vendors, churches, schools, parks, an adored soccer stadium, and our personal favorite: the little museo de la historia naturale and home to the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative – hereinafter to be referred to as BAI.

Let me begin by expressing how incredibly lucky and grateful we are to have been given the opportunity to work for such a great organization. From what I’ve been told, BAI is the only conservation group in Cochabamba. This was surprising to learn given that Bolivia made headlines in the US when it granted constitutional rights to the environment. However, we have come to learn that that has had little to no impact here and was apparently a crock of shit (to be politically incorrect) from the start.

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BAI is comprised of two employees, Andrea and Arturo, a handful of unpaid Bolivian graduate students, and now us, their first volunteers from Sustainable Bolivia (SB). Every morning, lunes a viernes, we walk 30 minutes to work. In addition to running a natural history museum, educational workshops for elementary students, and conducting field research in remote areas of the country, BAI manages a captive breeding program for some of the most endangered (and endemic) frog species of Bolivia. In our first two weeks, we’ve learned to care of these frogs. We feed them lumbrices, clean their tanks, check their filters, monitor their water quality and once a week take them out of the lab for 20 minutes of sunbathing (aka UV therapy). We have also begun working on our individual projects that we aim to complete by the time we leave. For the sake of your attention span, I am going to save the details of our projects for a later entry…since you’ve already managed to stay with me this far! But I will tell you that they are VERY interesting and exciting, and we will be VERY busy over the next three months.

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After our bellies are filled with a questionable concoction of meat and potatoes, we say provercho to our family and catch the trufi into town for our daily Spanish lessons. Jeremy sits in the garden of the SB house, practicing the subjunctivo with his guitar playing tutor, while I listen to stories of the Incan legends and learn how to ask for directions from my oh-so-patient teacher, Pratricia/Veronica. (She, having two completely different names, makes me feel better about having two similar names that confuse everyone I meet).

Overall, these two weeks have flown by faster than I had imagined they could. We’re starting to get used to the lifestyle of kissing everyone on the cheek and putting our toilet paper in the trash. We have learned that Bolivians are proud of two things: their food and their futbol (that’s “soccer” in American). Unfortunately for us, neither are very good, although the latter is entertaining to say the least.

We hope life is well in your part of the world. Our love and thoughts go out to our friends, family, Maiden and Sabbath as we continue to learn more each day about ourselves and this incredible world we live in.

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