My primary preparation for 12 days in the super campo was to search high and low for Nutella and/or peanut butter. This, I know from previous experience, is of prime importance so I braved the rain and mud to head to the supermarket. Nutella was unlocatable and the clerks at IC Norte (of which there are many) were surprised by my incredulity. I mean, the building has an Apple store, a Radio Shack and at least two fro-yo places. It is obviously the height of westernization. Why wouldn’t they have Nutella? My other preparations include purchasing a tent and practicing setting up said tent. Anyhoo, once packed, I try to convince a taxista to take me to the office but he refuses citing the fact there is too much traffic. This is in fact true: as it happens the entire stretch of road between my apartment and the office is under construction and by “under construction” I mean that it is closed because they have dug up the road and it is one giant mud pit for 20 blocks or so.
I finally arrive to find that we have postponed departure and that I will be going to the field with Aquilino (A) instead of Ivan (V). I am not sure I’d rather spend 12 days in the woods with: V has worked with me from the beginning and he is somewhat older and more experienced. However, he is somewhat bossy and has that uniquely Latin need for music at all times- even when I’m trying to sleep. A is much calmer and quieter and more precise. He also appears to be able to read my mind which is good because when he does talk it is way too fast for me to understand. He is also cute in a kind of big-headed Bolivian sort of way which worries me because I don’t want to spend two unshowered weeks with someone I find even remotely cute, even if it is only in a big-headed Bolivian sort of way.
Saturday. I am supposed to meet the guys to buy supplies but it seems that they have taken my advice that they will be gringo-priced if I come with and they don’t call until later to tell me to meet them at the office at 2 to head to the bus terminal from there. I have a full backpack with a tent and a thermarest strapped to it and A shows up with one of those carry-on roller suitcases. I feel like a complete douchebag of the consumerist American variety (not for the last time on this adventure I assure you). But I was a Girl Scout, I am a woman, and as my wise sister said “One man’s tent is another man’s sheet strung over a rope” so I think it best to be prepared. (Pro tip: bring mouthwash and floss instead of a toothbrush and toothpaste; it doesn’t require clean water and if things get really bad you can theoretically get drunk on the mouthwash.) Also, everyone has told me that it will be really frikkin’ cold where we are going. I doubt it but I respect the whims of Bolivian weather and pack plenty of sweaters. Anyhoo we pile six people into a station wagon and head off to Gutierrez. I make the guys buy a full case of water because they have only bought 8 liters for 12 days. V tries to convince me that I can drink river water….but no. We arrive in Yumao, set up our camping gear in the school house, and I rediscover that spiders’ eyes glow in the dark and that my pee stream arcs way to the right. The last two, as you may have guessed, happen in our luxurious outhouse which is packed with spiders, packed I tell you! (In fact, one night I refuse to pee because there is a huge spider way too close to my backside, huge I tell you!)
Sunday. That morning we go to eat breakfast at the mburumbicha’s house (Dona E). She is basically the equivalent of the mayor in this community of twenty families…but with less paperwork probably. It is fairly obvious that she has never cooked for a gringa before so I avoid all vegetables and drinking water. I think she might be offended but I’m pretty sure I can’t explain parasites and stomach flora so I choose gastrointestinal security over cultural sensitivity. Walking from breakfast to the river and then back to the school A asks me if I’ve ever eaten wild boar (no) and if I think it will make me sick (no). He then reveals that that was the mystery meat in this morning’s breakfast.
We sit through a ridiculously long meeting on sportfishing, are introduced, and try to explain why the heck we’ll be wandering around the community measuring trees (and dirt, and logs, and stuff). No one wants to volunteer to help. We offer money. Still little interest. The mburumbicha’s husband offers to be our guide and we’ll have to beg more to help later. We spend the rest of the morning hammering numbered plaques to hang on the trees. I take the opportunity to introduce the guys to peanut butter. They quickly realize its curative power but it is unlikely that we will be hungry again on this trip. That afternoon we walk to our first study plot. Our experimental design is pretty flawed (ie we don’t have one) so we just walk down a trail until we find intact forest and start to measure and mark transects. Since I have never done this before and I am very bad at following directions in Spanish, I have some problems. Perhaps it’s not Spanish but Bolivian Spanish. I do not find statements like “more up” and “more down” helpful in guiding me in a flat area.
We have survived a full day!
Fall down count: 1
Bug bite count: 7