Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 23 March 2008

Workin’ on the Chaco tan in the Chaco


        Two vehicle breakdowns, two roadblocks, over 1600kms driven, mercury rising to nearly 40 degrees Celsius, one St. Patrick’s Day birthday celebrated, hundreds of children played with, four puppet shows presented, dozens of plastic bottles recycled and reused for various teaching purposes, thousands of dead batteries collected, little sleep gotten, 39 mariwii bites tolerated, one radio broadcast performed and seven Environmental Education trainees exhausted.  Tech week was, in a nutshell, great.

            We arrived home to Cochabamba last night, and yes, it felt like coming home in a way.  We have been in Bolivia for 2 months now, and after traveling for the last ten days straight, sleeping in a different bed almost every night, it felt great to catch our first glimpse of Coch—the closest thing to a Bolivian home any of us can claim at this stage in our Peace Corps experience—as we came over the last mountain pass on the highway from Santa Cruz yesterday afternoon.

            Our journey to the Chaco brought us down the “new road” to Santa Cruz, through the Chapare region of the Cochabamba department. We drove through the clouds and through lush tropical forest, rife with waterfalls, and rushing rivers.  After a rapid descent from 9,000 feet to nearly sea level in about 2 hours, we arrived in the Santa Cruz department. 

            We broke up the 700km journey to the Chaco by staying the first night in Buenavista, a few hours west of Santa Cruz, just outside the northern entrance to Amboro National Park.  Because it’s the rainy season, we weren’t able to get into the park (most of the roads are washed out), but it was a very pleasant little town nonetheless.

            The next morning we made our way down to Camiri, which is the hub of the Chaco region.  We spent the next week traveling all over the region, giving charlas (presentations, workshops, etc.) on various themes to whomever would listen.  Our plans changed daily as bloqueos, bad road conditions and holidays popped up unexpectedly. All the volunteers we met down in the Chaco were fabulous and I was totally stunned by the beauty of the region.  I had imagined the Chaco as flat and dusty, but at the end of the rainy season, it is anything but.  The far eastern reaches of the Andes gently roll through the Chaco, and the region is awash with green right now.

            Perhaps my favorite day of the whole trip was spent outside of the town of Boyuibe.  We drove a few hours out of town into the campo del campo to collect batteries and distribute sweets to kids.  Megan, the B41 Env. Ed. volunteer that is finishing up her service in Boyuibe had organized this battery drive, and will build an underground cement depository to safely dispose of all of the batteries.  We had the honor of presenting some activities and planting trees at one of the farthest out community schools.  The students were all Guarani speakers and were timid with their Spanish, but they were so beautiful, and warm.  I am so looking forward to working in the campo schools near my site.  It is a totally different experience from the city kids.

            Tech week certainly wasn’t all work. We definitely had our fair share of good times.  We are lucky to have such a great group dynamic, and found ourselves chatting, and sharing meals and beers and games together every evening. I will definitely miss my EE group once we all disperse throughout the country.

            Tomorrow is our official site announcement, so we don’t technically know where we are going yet. But, after tech week, it’s falling into place pretty nicely.  There are seven of us in the group, and we have seven different first choices.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put it all together, but for fear of jinxing a perfectly good situation, I will refrain from sharing any more information than that until it’s real.

            We have a week here in Coch, and then we head to our sites for a week to check it out, meet our work partners and look for housing.  Should be exciting! It appears that the rainy season has passed here in Coch, so I’m off to enjoy a beautiful sunny day (and a tolerable climate!).

            March 18th was my dad’s birthday, and (as far as I know) he rang in 61 on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.  I spent the day in the campo del campo outside of Boyuibe, but I was thinking about you all day, pop! I hope your March 18th was as magical as mine was.  Also, it just so happens that March 18th is  El Día del Padre here in Bolivia.  So, to my own father: ¡Felíz Cumpleaños y Felíz Día del Padre!  And Happy Bolivian Fathers’ Day to any other Dads that may be reading this!

            Love from Bolivia…


Bloqueo in Cuevo. Three dudes and a truck can sure screw up our plans!


With the eco club of one of the Camiri volunteers. We spent the morning planting trees and filming a short video about reforestation and erosion control.


Clockwise from top: Me, Yoli, Erika and Diana. The B47 Env. Ed. ladies. 


Camiri. The Chaco is actually green this time of year. And very beautiful.


EE gets ready for dinner out in Camiri!



  1. Yes Helen, I was walking on the Camino Ingles to Santiago on my birthday. It was terrific – blisters and all. March 19 (St. Joseph´s Day ) was Fathers´Day in Spain. I can be justifiably proud of my fabulous daughter and son!! Dad

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