I discovered that some of you may not have been receiving the automated messages informing you of my Blog Posts. I’ve discovered the problem and believe I’ve corrected the issue. Since you’re reading this now, I encourage you to scroll back and visit those older postings you may have missed. I promise it’ll be worth the effort.
While in Ottawa, during our Pre-departure training at the CUSO offices, one of the volunteers offered to set up a Facebook Group so that we could follow each other’s adventures. As has been the case for me, internet isn’t always available and when it is, it isn’t always stable. Nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of an upload of images and loosing all the work. Still, I can’t or shouldn’t complain. The fraternity of Brigadiers has been posting and uploading and it’s great to hear from disparate parts of the world. It’s been fun to read final messages from departure points, first impressions and cold realities. From reading the challenges faced elsewhere, I’ve come to realize how different our assignment in Bolivia has been from those elsewhere.
Right off the top, the projects we’ve been documenting don’t involve schools, hospitals or extreme poverty. We’ve visited with people who maybe struggling to improve their lots in life, but no one is going hungry. Hope is, none-the-less, very important and providing people with the tools necessary to make wise decisions, may prevent them from sliding into the dire situations faced somewhere else. Our projects have focused on improving management of natural resource, on a small scale, empowering small communities and helping young people to be less reliant on hand outs.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that the harvest of Almonds, Cusi & Copaibo Oil was just the beginning of the chain and that the entire process was designed to stay within the hands of the local communities. Enter stage left, San Ignacio de Velasco.
A rather large town, San Ignacio is another of the Jesuit Missions and it too could easily double as a movie set. Fact is that not far from here, in El Parque Nacional – Noel Kempff Mercado, were filmed scenes from The Mission, with Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, specifically the dramatic water falls. Road was too rough to take a quick look see.
Located in San Ignacio is Minga, which closely translates into English as Cooperative. Minga is where the almonds collected in Palmerito end up, to be sorted, roasted, salted and packaged. A relatively unknown product for many Bolivians, marketing the almonds is still largely by word of mouth. Supply is keeping ahead of demand and to insure their availability, the raw almonds are stored in large sealed, steel hoppers and process only on an order-by-order arrangement.
Not to suggest that all Canadians are marketing wizards, however, there is a certain lack of sophistication, here, when it comes to self promotion and using existing outlets for spreading the word. This once again, is one of the areas that CUSO is very involved in. By providing volunteers with an expertise in the areas of identifying markets, developing strategies and managing workflows, CUSO, through their local counterparts, is helping to build self-confidence in the local people, so that agencies like CUSO can move on to other projects.
As for the almonds, the packaging is well designed and would look right at home in any Canadian specialty shop, the almonds taste great salted, unsalted and yes even covered in a wonderful, bitter, dark-chocolate. Did I mention that these are larger than the almonds we’re familiar with. I know, I already had you with the chocolate, didn’t I? How many boxes would you like to order at only CDN $3.00 each? Sorry, no chocolate covered Alligators.
Next stop on our tour lies 270 km. and an eight hour drive to the south, in Santiago. Enough said about the roads, however, the highlight of the trip, which we started as the sun was setting around six thirty, was a small wooden bridge, four hours into the drive, on which we stopped. Alberto, our driver, got out his flashlight and I mine and we rolled down our windows. He said to point the light along the water surface of the slow moving river and against the charcoal-black water we could see dozens of pairs of small white reflectors staring back at us. It was my first encounter with wild alligators and was both fascinating and a bit eerie all at once.
For the rest of the trip the winding road continued through very hilly terrain, which was a shame since the night sky prevented us from enjoying the landscape. By contrast, there was no way to ignore the chorus of night critters that was at times deafening, incredibly loud. We reached Robore, just short of Santiago, where we stopped for the night, around two thirty in the morning, and met up with Christian, another CUSO volunteer and our guide for this last leg of the tour.
Bueno, os tengo descuidados. Prometí escribir algo en Castellano, pero llevo unos cuantos “reportajes” sin una sola palabra. Reconozco que el llegar hasta aquí no es fácil, por cuestión de la distancia, y sinceramente el viajar por la Chiquitania es duro por la condición de las carreteras, pero no dejéis que eso os desanime de considerar lo. Los pueblecitos tienen su encanto, y la historia de los Jesuitas es muy interesante.
Algo que aprendí por ver la película La Misión, fue la importancia que pusieron los Jesuitas en utilizar la música, aunque eso si, Europea, como manera de crear una conexión con las indígenas. El legado es que hoy en día, hay se celebra un Festival de Musica Baroca cada año, que atrae músicos de por todo el mundo. El estudio de música clásica sigue siendo algo muy apreciado y hace unos años, un grupo de músicos Franceses, al descubrir ese interés, especialmente entre los jóvenes, investigaron las fuentes locales para los instrumentos de cuerda. Se les dirigió a un pueblo casi frontera con el departamento de Beni, cuyo nombre se me ha olvidado. Al llegar allá, se quedaron tan impresionados con un grupo de artesanos fabricando instrumentos que juntaron los fondos para proporcionar les equipo moderno y mandar les luteros de Francia. El propósito era mejorar la calidad de sus instrumentos, y hoy en día, el Boliviano, que anteriormente no tenia acceso mas que a instrumentos baratos, de la China, desean, aunque son más caros, los que se fabrican en el departamento de Santa Cruz, por la calidad y por que con la compra esta incluido cualquier reparación o ajuste.
Bueno, hay lo tenéis, una exclusiva en Español.