A Trip to Suncallo, Bolivia – Assessment Days

Assessment Days
Morning arrived along with Catalina’s breakfast. The plan was to hike up the hill to visit the water sources. The community has an existing drinking water system that was installed many years ago, but there is not enough pressure to deliver water to all the houses. Senor Gregorio explains to us, as we walk back up the mountain, that there are two existing water sources that are piped down to the community. He wants to add two more, and that is where we were going… to see the water sources and look at the pipeline route they have identified. (Six or so locals went with us)

Sr. Gregorio discusses potatoesWe passed by fields growing barley and some small ponds that have potatoes soaking. Sr. G. explained how the different potatoes are grown and processed so they have unique flavors. He tells us there are over 100 varieties of potatoes grown here. Some of them we see are soaking in pits, others are drying in the sun. Aside from some grains and a few beans they grow primarily potatoes and that is their main source of food.

Sr. G. pointed out an irrigation pipeline in the other side of the valley. It provides water to another community down the valley further.

Up the hill againThe first water sourceProposed Pipeline
After a steady uphill hike of a mile or so, we got to the furthest water source. It is a typical mountain spring about 1,000 ft higher than the community. We took a break and Sr. G. offers a prayer of thanks for the project to succeed. I fired up the GPS and marked the spot. They have already roughed out a proposed pipe route and we started following that back towards the community, marking points with the GPS.

[geo_mashup_map width=”500″ zoom=”14″ map_type=”G_HYBRID_MAP”]
What started out as a “half hour walk” is rapidly turning into a major expedition. We were scrambling across the side of the mountain, crossing ravines, and eventually reached the next proposed water source, another spring similar to the earlier one. We continued on… Derek and Nicole split off, going back down the hill all the way to the bottom of the valley to install the weir. It does not appear that the main stream will be a viable source, but we still wanted to measure stream-flow.

The rest of us continued on to the next water source. Soon, the locals decide it was lunchtime, so we stopped on the side of the hill. Each local had been carrying a sack and it turned out these contained lunch. Each sack was spread out and we feasted on the different varieties of potatoes, vegetables, and even a little cheese. Several bottles of soda were also provided.

Water SourceThe third water source is also a spring. A two-inch PVC pipe is laid in the spring which goes to a concrete box ~ 3’x 3’ x 3’. A one-inch PVC pipe leads out towards town. The inflow pipe is capturing very little of the spring. We measured it to be 2 L/min. The pipe appeared to be partially plugged. The locals tied together some sticks and poked them into the pipe until they clear the blockage. This increased the flow rate to 20 L/min. We took the time to clean out the collection box before moving on. We followed the pipeline around the hill and encountered a ravine. The pipe is suspended across the ravine. Support is provided by three poles (sticks actually). The pipe sags a lot between each support and is exposed to the UV of the sun.
We passed across another rugged ravine, which Senor G. explains is source for some irrigation below but has a very large flow during the rainy season. Cannot see above, but must drain a large watershed.

Ravine CrossingFinally arrived at the original water source. Another spring-fed scenario: this is another 3’ x 3’ x 3’ concrete box which also functions as a junction box for the pipe coming from the second spring. We do not open this one. Again, a one-inch PVC pipe leads toward town. We followed the pipeline towards town and encountered another ravine with a similar pipeline crossing, supported by “sticks.” We continued on and soon arrived back at the community building. Our half-hour walk has taken five hours, but we have collected a lot of data.

Derek and Nicole were waiting for us and Catalina had been holding lunch for us. We ate & rested for awhile.

A note about sanitation-there is none. When we asked about bathrooms, they laughed and point “down the hill.” OK, so we kind of expected that, but down-the-hill has a different connotation here. It really wasn’t that far, but does it ever take your breath away, climbing back up. I never did get to the point where I wasn’t winded by the time I got back up the hill.

Marc & Derek went with Sr. G. to view the irrigation system on the other end of town and Nicole makes an opportunity to visit the school and the schoolmaster.
Irrigation Storage TankSchoo Kids

I was asked to make a two-hour walk to a neighboring town—Komucala—in the morning to discuss possible work for their town. The town is on the other side of the valley to the east. It would mean going back down then up. I was tired…didn’t want a four-hour trip tomorrow, but I said I would go. Someone was supposed to walk over in the morning and guide us.

We marveled at the night sky again. The Milky Way is to the south and just magnificent. Being at 13,000 feet with absolutely no light pollution makes for the best viewing conditions I have experienced.

Testing Water SamplesSoil Samples Too
The water samples were prepared for testing. Testing revealed hardness in the water, but nothing else. Ph. is a little high. Samples were prepared for coliform testing and placed in the incubator.

Up and going again the next morning with another good breakfast. The team split up to accomplish multiple tasks. Wilson and I waited for our guide. Soil samples were collected and a variety of other information from our checklist is accomplished. The festival was supposed to begin at 12:00.

The guide from Komucala did not arrive. We were told the blockades had increased and many people from the towns must go to support this important activity. Marc and I walked to the other end of town so I could see it. The town is spread out over a mile along the hillside. Towards the east end, you can see down into the adjoining valley, where the headwaters are running to the east towards the Amazon rainforest. The view is spectacular. I was constantly amazed in looking at this rugged terrain and seeing actively cultivated fields all across the slopes.

Morning RitualEach day, we watched the women drive the sheep and livestock up the road and onto the slopes to graze for the day. Sr. G. says that all the young people leave for the city, seeking better opportunity. Life here is tough, but it breeds a hearty people. Sr. G. tells us of one woman who is 120 years old.

We waited for the festival to begin. Finally, around 4:00 pm, enough people were back and things got going. Six or so musicians in traditional dress start things off and the schoolchildren marched in and sang the Bolivia national anthem and several songs for us then performed some individual recitations. We were publicly thanked, showered with confetti, given necklaces made of flowers (Roses, etc., not sure where they got them.), and a very large sack of potatoes! Soon we were all dancing, offered drinks, and to join in chewing coca leaves. All the men and women either danced or sat around smoking cigarettes, drinking, and chewing coca leaves.
Kids Arrive to SingCelebrationWe All DanceWomen Chewing Coca Leaves
We presented the school with a new soccer ball, postcards of Colorado, and various other gifts we had brought along. The children got candy and I brought out the two Frisbees I had brought along. The older boys were there, but not really involved, so I went over and taught them how to play with the Frisbee. They caught on pretty quick and began to have a lot of fun, too.
The party went on well into the evening and we eventually had to bow out, eat some supper, and get to bed.

The kids and adults were fascinated with our digital cameras. The instant feedback of being able to see pictures caused a great deal of excitement.
This was our last night. Ruben was due in the evening, but he did not arrive. It looked like the blockades would keep us from going back to La Paz on the main road. To Be Continued ….

Drying PotatoesIn the Rugged Andes MountainsMore of SuncalloYoung Man

One thought on “A Trip to Suncallo, Bolivia – Assessment Days

  1. Matt-

    Your stories and pix certainly remind me of how good we have it in this county: I don’t give water, food or tranportation hardly a thought. I take so much for granted. Thank you for this reminder of how blessed I am!


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