Friday. You’ve seen those photos with a whole family riding a motorcycle while also carrying three chickens and thirty kilos of rice? This is our research team. Three people per moto carrying machetes, metric tape, and at least three liters of chicha. Today we pile onto the moto because it a 3km walk to our plot and I am a notoriously slow uphill walker. (I am a notoriously slower downhill walker.) The day is long, the bugs are abundant, the weather is hot, and we don’t finish measuring the plot because there are soooo many trees.
That night everyone and their mother come to dinner (actually no women). The community is on the Rio Grande and as such hosts sportfishermen from the city. I can’t help but think that they are a bad influence, offering cigarettes and booze to their guides. Post pressing plants and weighing dirt, A and I also head down to the river. It is cloudy and moonless and no stars are in sight but it is super nice just to be wet. I am not sure of the proper protocol on river bathing in six inches of water. Is it ok to strip to my undies? Is my headlamp waterproof? How do I get all the shampoo out of my hair? I strip. It is. I don’t really. Unfortunately the walk back is through a foot of sand and I drop my wet clothes so all things considered we are just as dirty as before but more content. In fact, it is the first night that I don’t dream in Spanish or about measuring trees.
Saturday. I have survived almost a week. As a reward I get to stay at home base and make numbered placards which, although somewhat awkward because Dona E talks less than I do, is a nice break. So I hang out cutting metal, hammering numbers, chatting with five year old Vero, eating mandarins, and watching birds fornicate. I can’t say that I’ve always wondered how birds do it but I never really knew how it operated. Call me enlightened. Also on the bird topic, the ducks here don’t quack. They sound like someone whispering. Is this normal? Is quacking a myth?
At one point I ask Vero where she goes when she has to go to the bathroom. This is a touchy subject that I never know how to broach. The day before I asked Dona E where the bathroom was and she and her husband just looked at each other and he answered “Anywhere is ok. We don’t have a bathroom.” That doesn’t really surprise me but I suppose I was wondering if they had an appropriate spot, away from the house. Anyone with experience in this, know how to ask this question? Anyway Vero said “go past the jichituriki tree and just a little further down the hill.” (This is exactly how foresters give directions!)
The only low point of the day was when Don B comes back drunk (he has skipped out measuring trees for the day too) and interrogates me again. I notice that as he gets progressively more intoxicated he unbuttons another button on his shirt. This is a pretty good gauge of how long I will have to endure questions about why I wear glasses and my relationship with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a three button day so I also get the speech about how air has no borders. Also I get several hundred mariwui bites. They are the Bolivian equivalent of black flies only with less bleeding and more swelling. Vero helpfully points out each one.
I find out that later that while I was gone Don R was plotting how to get me to stay in the community forever. He says that he will catch fish for me every day but A explains that I am somewhat more high maintenance and require chocolate and cookies. (I would prefer fresh fruit and cheese but you get the idea.) He must have gotten discouraged because he stops coming to work after this.
Fall down/bug bite count: I’ve given up counting