Category Archives: Bolivia/Galapagos 2013

The Galápagos

Milton and Norma Aguas – our wonderful hosts for the two weeks we spent on San Cristobal Island Today Milton (the man who owns the farm we are staying/working at) told us some stories about himself, and the interactions with politics and the island. It was quite interesting to see the parallels between the history of activism on the islands with the history of activism in Bolivia. At one point, the island residents took over the airport and shut it down. These actions reminded me a lot of the blockades in Bolivia. The people do not have the ability to take on the outside world directly, but they do have the ability to take away valuable things like tourism. It’s funny how a little island can quickly become relevant when they make that kind of noise. It was also crazy to see how the gentle and kind man was quoted internationally as a leader of all of it. I really wish that I could communicate with this man. I’m sure he is a wealth of information.

-Travis Riesen


Today we went back to the area in the woods we were at on our first We hiked a lot (in our rubber boots and often through black raspberries) during our two week stay on the island day here at la Finca (the farm we are at). We’re working on preserving scalatia trees and the areas where they grow. Once again today we cleared away blackberry bushes. Today was more fun than before when we cleared the bushes, because instead of working by myself, I worked with Marla. Not only were we more productive as a team, but we had some pretty great and funny conversations along the way. The highlight of my day though was watching Marla attempt to get on the donkey. At first she didn’t use enough force to jump on, then the second try was too much and she slid off the other side. When she and Alex finally got on though, it kept stopping, and at one point she fell off the back.

After lunch we began the sugar cane processing. To begin, we needed to carry over the sugar cane stalks that Milton had cut down. Instead of us individually carrying the stalks over to the processer, we made an assembly line and “passed them.” This was a lot easier, and more amusing for me because I got the throw them at Marla. At first we processed the green stalks, which Milton added lemons/limes to, and we were able to drink it and it was very delicious. We then processed a whole pile of browner canes. The process happens by Milton putting the cut canes in between the gears, and then people get on either side of the wooden bars and push it around in a circle. Once we were done and had a whole bucketful we came back for dinner. Afterwards they put the pot of sugarcane juice over the fire and cooked it into syrup. This cooking takes 3 hours. While we waited, Milton brought out a guitar, maraca and an instrument none of us had ever seen/played before…a horse jaw!

-Kaitlin Stauffer


I love the rain! Watching the low lying grey rain clouds role across the beach and lowlands was magnificent. I could see the rains sweep across the hills inching closer to our house. I was awestruck! I found the more I work here on the Galapagos, the more I connect with home. Today we continued to remove black raspberries from the fields that contain coffee and bananas. We also processed sugarcane for sugar in the raw. Both of which were labor and time intensive! I loved both projects! I could not imagine a better way to spend my time! When I’m at home I love working outside and being in the environment. Today we also discovered that our host, Milton, was the mayor of San Cristobal. I had no idea! He is so humble and down to earth, definitely not boastful or arrogant. I find that he is the epitome of a leader. I have discovered that I am adapting to not having continual access to my global community. At first I was struggling, like a drug addict going through a withdrawal. However it is nice to be disconnected and fully soak in the culture. I cannot wait to see what tomorrow holds.

-Blake Rogers


Cochabamba, water, monkeys and coca

I am loving the culture here and the importance of family. I have been struck by how close families are and how my host family took me in as their own child. They didn’t have to be so kind and understanding, but they have gone above and beyond the call to be my host parents.

I love the speakers we have heard so far. They have given me a lot of insight on how much oppression there is in Bolivia and where we are currently living in Cochabamba. Water is something I have always had access to throughout my entire life. Being here in Bolivia makes me realize how I have taken water for granted. Something so important to maintain life is scarce here. It makes me so sad for the people of Cochabamba because they shouldn’t have to be without clean water. It doesn’t seem like the government is doing much about it, and that doesn’t make sense to me!

-Sarah Phillips


Today was a very long day. I decided after classes this morning I was going to do some exploring on my own. My first stop was a little Mayan Shop on Heroinas. I spent some time there looking at various items and decided on a new bag to carry my notebooks in. Back on the other side of the street I spent some time just standing and observing. On my right was an Aymara woman in the typical garb (skirt, bowler hat, two long braids) selling sunglasses. To my left there was a group of about 12 high school students dressed in uniforms playing with expensive looking cell phones.

It was hard to be inconspicuous and just observe. I moved back towards the school, bought a Coke and some papas fritas and settled on a bench. A bench littered with wrappers and fruit peels. The little plaza was quite lovely – save for the garbage. That sort of summed up my thoughts on Cochabamba – I was surrounded by so much potential beauty and so much poverty at once. That theme plays out through most everything our group has done. Concentrating on the problems of Bolivia’s past, present, and future has made me feel somewhat small and helpless. At times I feel I want to join all the causes (knowing that’s ridiculous).

-Katrina Price


Saturday, May 11

First we went to a Coca market in a city about 30 minutes away from here. It was in a huge hangar looking building, but there weren’t very many people in it. They had huge bags full of Coca leaves and people would come and buy amounts in weight. We then stopped at a fruit market; I bought some oranges-25 for 10b (bolivianos-the local currency). I also bought a pineapple for my family. The fruit was delish. It was so good! And cheap! We then continued back to Chapare for lunch at a really good restaurant we ate at last night. Then the most interesting part…We went to a park where they rescue monkeys- capuchin and spider monkeys. Our tour guide led the way as all of us began the 30 minute walk to the top of the mountain. We had previously been warned of an unfriendly capuchin monkey with no tail. Low and behold, the first monkey we run into is the capuchin monkey with no tail… At first he jumps on Sarah (probably the worst person in the group to jump on), who freaks out and luckily the monkey just jumps off her. Our tour guide, a rather large and goofy fellow, starts towards Sarah and so the monkey proceeds to bite his leg, then attack him sort of (I, think, it was all kinda a blur). I was standing on the top landing where all of this was happening with Alex and Evan. After the monkey bit our tour guide, he [the tour guide] started backing up behind me, and the monkey sat on the ground angrily picking up and throwing rocks onto the ground. We all somehow managed to walk away slowly, without further injury. After that excitement, we came back to the hotel and went for a swim. Then I went exploring around the town with Austin, Blake, Travis and Kurtis. The town is really cute and quaint and seems a lot nicer than Cochabamba…! There was a little park, which had recycling in it!

-Noel Johns



Who would have thought that such a little leaf could have such an impact?

I find the health benefits of coca very interesting and am excited to try to find more research on the topic. I also wonder if I could find any of these products in the States. It’s a shame that the perception is that coca is all bad because of cocaine, but this simply isn’t true. As a farmer’s grandchild, I also find it intriguing that the use of pesticides is an issue with this crop, even as it is grown in such remote regions by indigenous people. The main reason they are used is that there are restrictions on how much land you can produce coca on. I can understand that farmers want to maximize profit, but it seems to me that this is taking away significantly from the benefits and history of coca. I wonder if those using pesticides are doing so out of pure economic need. Another question I still had was whether or not the farmers themselves know when their crops are being used for drug production? This would weigh heavy on my conscious if that were the case. It is a shame that the pesticides are causing deleterious side effects on humans, which had not previously been seen with raw coca use. Getting to chew coca was an experience in itself and I’m glad for the opportunity. I’m also glad that we got to visit the Chapare before listening to this talk so that we had a background on the subject. Although I will not be seeking out the coca leaf to chew in the States, I think it is great that it is starting to become popular in New York for the health benefits to Americans and for the economic benefits of Bolivia.

– Kayla Smeltzer