Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 11 April 2008

Site Visit

           I returned last weekend from my week-long site visit in La Palma, Chuquisaca. (Choo-kee-sock-ah).  Life has been moving at a pace that approaches the speed of light recently, so I haven’t been able to post until now. Apologies.  Site visit was everything it should be: awkward, fun, confusing, fulfilling, frustrating, boring, exciting, tiring, restful, scary, inspiring…


            I traveled overnight from Coch to Sucre and was able to spend a tranquilo Sunday wandering the colonial streets and getting to know a few of the haunts frequented by PCVs.  Downtown Sucre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and like Granada, Nicaragua, Luang Prabang, Laos and all other World Heritage Sites, the word is out, and the backpackers have shown up in droves. With the backpackers, however, comes a decent selection of bars and restaurants, one of which even brews its own microbrew in the Belgian Wheat tradition. J I know this may seem like old news to most of you dear readers, but to a PCV in a nation drenched by crappy Pilsners, it is a most welcome addition.


            Sucre may only have one branch of the federal government still operating from its soil (judicial), but they have most certainly achieved capital status in two other important areas: Chocolate and Chorizo.  Both are plentiful, and delicious in Sucre. That makes for a very happy Helen.


            Needless to say, I am very excited to have Sucre as my regional city.  The PCV community there is solid and people are doing great work all over Chuquisaca.  I look forward to learning from and working with them. 


            On Monday, we met our counterparts and had an orientation in Sucre.  There was fear of a paro (transportation strike) on Tuesday and Wednesday, so we all scurried out of town Monday afternoon so we wouldn’t get stuck in town and miss our site visits. 


            My official counterpart is the Director of the nucleo of schools I’ll be working with, but Don Natalio, who is the president of the Parents’ Association was also present on Monday and was able to accompany me to La Palma while the Director stayed in Sucre to attend to some more business on Tuesday and Wednesday.


            I arrived Monday evening in La Palma and was hosted this week by Don Natalio and his family, because there is no furniture in my soon-to-be-home.  They were wonderful hosts and I felt very welcome in their family, despite the fact that they speak mostly Quechua! I spent the first night sorting through voting registration books (they are the equivalent of the town notary public, so people are constantly coming and going to get paperwork filed and what not) by candlelight (the lights went out all over town) searching for Quechua names I could never remember.  I was grateful for the little Quechua I do know because I was at least able to tell when they were talking about me, but I haven’t progressed far enough to date to really know what they are talking about.  Poco a poco, little by little…


            On Tuesday morning, I went to the school to introduce myself to the teachers and students, and spent most of the day traveling from class to class explaining who I am and why I am here and what I will be doing.  The students are wonderful, enthusiastic about lots of things, and range in age from 5 to 17, so I will have lots of different groups to work with, which will be wonderful.


            This is the only public school in Latin America I have ever seen wherein the students attend classes all day long.  Normally, they go either in the morning or the afternoon, never both. But here, the kids enter at 8:30am and leave at 5:00pm.  Granted, there is still ample time for recreos, lunch and descansos. But, it is still cool to see the kids occupied by something relatively productive for so much of the day.


            I spent a lot of time wandering around town, chatting with the ladies at the tiendas, relaxing by the river, and wandering to the nearby community of Teja Huasi, which is where one of the satellite schools I will be working with is located.  There was not a lot of structure to my week, but I certainly feel like I accomplished a lot. I met a lot of people, and began developing relationships, which will be key once I get back to site.


            There certainly were lonely moments, challenging moments, boring moments. But they were always counterbalanced by something wonderful: be it guava marmalade for breakfast each morning, chatting with teachers over ice cream or tea, learning Quechua vocabulary from the kids at the internado (weekday boarding school for kids who live really far out in the campo), watching a soccer game at the local cancha, or losing myself in the sea of stars at night.


            The challenge ahead is certainly great. But it is also just that: great. I am inspired by the possibilities that lie ahead and an eager to begin discovering and unveiling the potential in La Palma.


            We swear in as official PCVs a week from today, and I can say with a high degree of certainty that all of us are ready. We have worked hard, we have lost sleep, we have gotten sick, we have experienced different ways of life in various regions of Bolivia, we have been challenged, we have laughed, we have cried, we have sweat and we have become a family. We are ready for the next step.

Sucre is a beautiful town, complete with cobbled streets and whitewashed buildings.

I am happy to be here.

Sunsets over Sucre.

My school in La Palma. Mountains come free of charge.

A street in La Palma.

Coming from Coch, this is your first view of Mojotoro (which is the town right next to La Palma that actually shows up on maps!)

Mojotoro is the adjacent community, and it is what actually shows up on maps.

Teja Huasi is a small community about a half an hour walk from La Palma. It’s beautiful, and one of my community schools is located there.

\"Our diversity is our strength.\"

The EE crew painted this mural as a thankyou to the Colegio Gran Mariscal Sucre in barrio Kami, where we have worked periodically throughout training. It reads: “Our diversity is our strength.”



  1. So good to hear Helly! I can’t wait to check out the Sucre-style chocolate and chorizo some day. I’m truly impressed with your ups. You must have been 3 feet off the ground in that one picture! But I’m really more impressed with your overall awesomeness. Can’t wait to hear more!

  2. Saludos desde Barcelona Helen. What an inspiring, news-filled posting! Yesterday, Rita and I were talking about your challenges and opportunities as a PCV in Bolivia while we hiked to a mountaintop at Montserrat, Catalunya. May La Palma be a mountaintop experience for you. Te amo, Dad

  3. Hi Helen!

    Sounds like you are really ready for your next step, and what a great outlook along with your great opportunity. I am just getting ready to leave BCN today. Its been wonderful to be able to mix buinsess and pleasure here with your Dad. We have had some wonderful times, eating great food, sightseeing and hiking. Certainly alot more fun than being here alone when i tend to just work all the time. Your dad even met my team in person -many of the people that you worked with on the Metreck project (Jordi Manzano, Oriol Prat, ec.) Good luck in your new adventures and we thin of you often. XOXOX R

  4. Hey Helen,

    So good to hear about your site visit. I love knowing that you are becoming a bad ass in yet another language! And that you have the necessities – meat and chocolate – nearby.

    I think you have summed up your experience perfectly — challenging but great! I am going to remember this and try to apply it while taking my very challenging comprehensive exam tomorrow 🙂

    All the best, H fab!

  5. Sucre looks beautiful and you sound HAPPY. Much love as you dive in and go beyond introductions into new relationships!

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