Traveling in Yungus

Today’s guest post is by Jim in Clark’s Grove.

A few years ago I was given an agricultural volunteer assignment in the Yungus region of Bolivia by a non-profit organization, ACDI/VOCA. Yungus is a region of Bolivia located in the mountains East of La Paz. I was asked to help a small export company control bean weevils that were attacking black beans which this company was introducing as a crop. Many Yungus farmers grow coca as their main crop and were interested in growing black beans.

Coca is a legal crop in Bolivia. Illegal production of cocaine from coca is discouraged. I passed through several control points where checking was done for chemicals that could be used to manufacture cocaine. Dried coca leaves, which are chewed by some Bolivians, are sold locally. Coca tea is given to people to help them with altitude sickness. I drank some coca tea and didn’t experience any change in mood that you might expect from cocaine.

My trips to visit bean fields involved traveling on very narrow mountain roads and walking up long steep trails. Part of the time we traveled in taxi cabs that went very fast on the winding roads. I was extremely frightened by the taxi rides until I got use to traveling in those cabs. On the trails I was barely able to keep up with my party and then only if they slowed down. It was my good luck to have a bright young translator and a good natured representative of the export company as my traveling companions. They maintained their good humor throughout the trip.

I visited a wide selection of the farms that were growing black beans. These farms were located near small villages that had facilities for travelers which were not always in great shape. There was usually a nice small park or town square in the middle of these villages. Citrus grew along the edges of roads and trails. The fruit on these trees was freely available to eat by all who passed by. Chicken was the main dish served locally and it was often served with quinoa soup, rice, and cooked plantains. In some places we used a translator who could speak a language used before the arrival of Europeans. Some woman wore the traditional colorful skirts seen in many pictures from this part of the world.

This trip was a great adventure. I have many fond memories associated with my visit to Bolivia. I was highly impressed by the political climate. The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is a former coca farmer who had been involved in political organizing in rural areas. Some people were creating a problem for Morales by demanding a change in the location of the government. During my stay a rally of more than a million people was held to provide support for Morales. The head of the export company that I was helping said that Morales was the best hope the country had for solving its many problems.

I very much enjoyed my trip to Bolivia in spite of the difficult traveling conditions.

Do you remember having a lot of difficulty on a trip that turned out well in the end?

65 thoughts on “Traveling in Yungus”

  1. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Yes, I have had trips where the trip was worth it but conditions were not great. However, the conditions in most of those trips were endured in airport waiting areas, rather than in the remote fields of a third world country.

    Jim, what an adventurer you are! I find this an impressive story and I am in awe.


    1. I had the good luck to get picked by ACDI/VOCA to make the trip to Bolivia. There are a number of agencies or organizations that send volunteers to do work overseas. I think volunteer work in another country is a good way to have an interesting traveling experience.


  2. When my son was in 6th grade he won a trip around the world at the grand opening of a shopping center. Luckily it was for 2 so he did not go alone.Unfortunately he broke his leg very badly just before the trip so we had to travel around the world with a wheelchair.

    I made several rules in planning including: no war zones and easily accessible medical care soTim’s daring trip to Bolivia was out. Our itinerary for 3 weeks included London, Paris, Amsterdam, Seoul, Tokyo, and Honolulu.

    The world is not very wheelchair accessible with flights of stairs, unpaved paths, and tiny bathrooms everywhere. Even in big cities there are few people with disabilities out in public so my son was stared at all the time.

    On the other hand because of the mobility issues we had to talk to a lot of people and ask for help. There were moments where the goodness of strangers transformed our trip. We met many more “natives” than we would have otherwise. We were easily recognized. At a museum in Paris we were asked if we had enjoyed “The Phantom of the Opera” earlier in the week in London.

    By the way there is a wheelchair accessible bathroom on the Eifel Tower!


    1. I remember taking a trip to Washington D.C. in the 80s with a group of students from my high school that were orthopedically handicapped. It was stunning to me how much of our nation’s capitol was not accessible at the time – I hope by now there have been improvements.


      1. Most people, being able-bodied and not visually impaired, are simply not aware of how difficult life can be with such impairment. I recall during my freshman year orientation at SIU participating in the orientation for visually impaired students. What an eye opener that was. It changed forever the way I view people that have such challenges.


    2. That is an amazing story. Winning a trip around the world at the opening of a shopping mall for a 2 year old in a wheelchair. And what shopping mall would offer a trip around the world today? I can hear the marketing people shooting that one down instantly. “How does it help our brand to send people AWAY from the mall? We should make the grand prize a shopping spree right here!”


  3. Nicely told, Jim. You are a more bold and enterprising traveler than I.

    I’ve had a trip–two trips, really, to the same place–that were fraught with difficulty and pain. I wouldn’t claim that they ended well except for the relief I felt when they ENDED! Each of these hikes was an attempt to hike the length of the Superior Hiking Trail, end to end, from Canada to Two Harbors..

    I soon learned that I attempted those hikes too late by about 70 pounds and at least 25 years. My biggest mistake, however, was in my choice of a hiking partner: just me. On long hikes you sometimes build up animosity toward your hiking partner, and on the first Superior Hiking Trails hike I got so disgusted with me that I would have thrown me off Mount Oberg, if I could have figured out how.

    Since I have some guest blogs in mind that were inspired by these walks, I’ll say no more about them here.


    1. Maybe people won’t mind if I quote the Writer’s Almanac for this day. It contains an item of goat news!

      Police Notes

      by Alice N. Persons

      Female reported running up Main Street yelling “No, no, no!”
      She was described as wearing dark clothing and loud shoes.

      Subject was reported standing in the roadway with a sign
      saying “lawyers suck and police are outlaws.”

      Woman called to report a man lurking on her patio.
      Officers investigated and found a runaway goat.

      Clerk in convenience store reported male customer was
      looking up someone’s skirt. Subject was tracked to the

      911 report — woman says her wallet was stolen from her
      kitchen.Before officers could investigate, she called back and said
      that it was her son, 45.

      Elderly woman called to report a moose, people carrying
      torches, and strange music on her property. Officers
      searched and found nothing.

      911 dispatcher got a call saying there was a “huge party”
      in the woods off County Road 3. Officers find empty
      bottles and discarded clothes. Residents of Elm Street
      report seeing four naked people.

      Paris Road resident reports peeping Tom. Later told
      police it was “one of my boyfriends.”


      1. Speaking of goats, many years ago I was a fairly new townboard officer when I got a call from a resident about sheep on their deck.
        This was in a residential subdivision and the wife was not at all happy to be living in the country. Residential or not, she was not comfortable outside of ‘downtown’. So to have evidence that ‘Wild animals’, like sheep, had spent the night on her deck drove her into a nervous frenzy. Well, the sheep weren’t there when I got there but they had been spotted before and they certainly left a lot of reminders that they had spent the better part of the night there.
        It took a long time to figure out where they came from in the first place. A farm half a mile away and the owner wasn’t all that interested in getting them back. Various people tried corralling them, tried to lure them into pens with feed, lassoing them, trapping them and it all only served to make those sheep more wild. And they would still come back and spend the night on this families deck.
        Meanwhile, in the week this was going on, city wife is packing her bags and husband is trying to persuade her to stay.
        I’m sorry to say it did not have a happy ending for anyone and the family moved back to town.


      2. Maybe they lived happily ever after in the city. The story reminds me of living in Inver Grove Heights some years ago. We hadn’t been there long, when one day standing at the kitchen sink, a horse’s head appeared in the kitchen window. I was used to cats and dogs and had no idea how to approach a horse. While I had obviously seen horses before, even tried riding one once, I learned that standing there in my flowerbed, I didn’t have a clue about how to get that large beast out of there. Over the years we lived there, that same horse, which belonged to a neighbor, would regularly stray into our yard, I guess the grass was greener there.




  4. Morning all… I traveled to China to pick up the baby 16 years ago. We stayed in a “resort” in Hufei, about 200 miles west of Shanghai, where the babies were delivered to us and we finished the final paperwork. Compared to Jim’s winding paths and frightening taxi rides, my trip was comparatively comfortable physically but the baby was sick and we ended up at the Chinese hospital twice with a doctor who didn’t speak English and an interpreter who didn’t have much medical English. And I was very glad that I had read Bill Holms’ essay about the Swiss Army knife being the most useful tool he took to China — I had to use it to crush pills into powder so I could medicate the baby at our hotel! Holding it together emotionally was very difficult but, of course, the ending is that I have a healthy, happy, marvelous teenager now!


  5. thanks, Jim – very interesting and very well-told. you are a bold traveler.
    i’m still lurking because this is such a busy week preparing for Harvest Festival at Bayfront Park on saturday, 11 a.m to 5 p.m. The Girls and the Goat Ladies of the North will be there – milking, making soap, hoof trimming, and having fun in general. stop by if you’re i the neighborhood! better get busy
    thanks for the great reading lately!


    1. That sounds like such fine (and I could really use my hooves trimmed too!).

      I, alas, shall be heading neither North nor South this weekend, I will be slogging into work. I don’t actually work on Sundays, but apparently for the next few weeks I do.


      1. Oh NO, mig! I was looking forward to meeting you at Rock Bend. We will send positive Rock Bend babooner vibes your way to comfort you as you toil.


  6. Morning–

    Thanks for the story Jim. I admire you using your ag skills in this way.

    In the metaphorical sense of the word ‘trip’, I’ve worked on a few shows that I thought were going to kill me before opening arrived. Just last fall I built a huge, two story interior, Victorian style house setting. Great show but man was that a hard trip!

    Quiet day here… Wednesdays are ‘lunch date’ days with my wife. Plus, you know, more “Research”….


  7. Another really hard trip for me was one that I didn’t actually take. When the child was about 3 or 4, my family all came up for a visit (mom, dad, two sisters, two brothers-in-law and five nieces/nephews, four of whom where the child’s age) on their way up north. I booked them into the Sofitel because I got a smoking corportate rate but they didn’t like it.. no game room. One sister wanted to spend 2 days at Mall of America, one sister was unhappy because she wasn’t getting any quiet time for her yoga, my father insulted one of my sister’s kids so my brother-in-law sat outside in the parking lot during one meal. Brother-in-law and mother fought over who would pick up the tab at EVERY meal. Turns out that even w/ the dogs at a kennel, my other brother-in-law was severely allergic to my house to we had to eat ALL our meals out. We got asked by the Edina Embers to please not return. After two days, my father went to the airport and took a flight home rather than continue up north. Child and I were scheduled to go up the following weekend to meet up w/ everyone but they only lasted two days up north, before they all packed up the car and drove back to Missouri. The good part about this is that nobody except my mother (who is always welcome) has ever asked to visit again!


    1. Oh my god, vs, that’s sounds like the visit from hell. I had a similar visit from my parents.
      They came to attend our wedding, but arrived one month early so they could see the sights. I knew that a month-long visit by them would be trying, and I warned husband-to-be that this was not going to be fun. He assured me everything would be O.K., but of course, he had never met my parents.

      Mom was drunk when they got off the plane, and stayed that way the entire visit. My Dad hated America and held me personally responsible for everything wrong with it.

      The first evening’s meal got us off to a bad start. We had decided to cook them a typical American meal: barbecued ribs, corn on the cob, and potato salad. Future husband managed to catch the ribs on fire and char them pretty good, and both my parents disliked corn which they dismissed as pig food.

      A friend was kind enough to lend me his cabin up north somewhere so my parents could experience the northland. Unfortunately, a family of skunks had taken up residence in the crawlspace underneath the cabin. The stench was unbelievable and to make matters worse, the temperatures hovered in the 90s the two days we were there. At one point, driving through a big expanse of forest on the way home, Dad remarked that it was a pity there were so many trees that he couldn’t see the view.

      I consider myself a reasonably good cook, but nothing I served them suited them. In desperation I took them to the Black Forest for a German meal. When I asked Dad how his Wienerschnitzel was he replied that it was terrible and added that the cook should be taken out and shot.

      At my wits end, a week before the wedding, I drove them to Chicago to visit my good friend Tia, whom they had met on two occasions when she visited Denmark. They loved Tia, Tia’s house and Tia’s food, so they agreed to stay in Chicago while I returned to St. Paul alone. They would return to St. Paul with Tia and Bob for the wedding. Tia later told me all the horror stories they had told her about staying at our house, including how I had once tried to get rid of them by taking them to the Como Conservatory and left them. They failed to tell her that I had gone to do laundry, and that I had showed them where the bus stop was in case they wanted to go home prior to our appointed meeting time.

      On the day of the wedding, which was a low-budget pot luck affair held in our garage, Mom was drunk before we arrived at the Chief Justice’s Chamber at the Landmark Center where the ceremony took place. As the evening progressed, I had to put Mom to bed, she was stumbling around making a nuisance of herself. Every so often she would try to rejoin the party half naked.

      When Tia, Bob, husband and I drove Mom and Dad to the airport the following day, we were all positively giddy with relief that we had survived this ordeal. That was by far the longest month of my life!


      1. I’m so, so, so glad to hear all of this. I’ve been thinking I have the most dysfunctional family in the world. How utterly self-centered of me! I’m glad to know you are all out there and have experiences to rival my own! (Future stories, not today!)


      2. mig, I’m not particularly pleased to be in contention for that award, unless of course, it came with some worthwhile prize. The silver lining was that husband first hand experienced what I had fled. Had he not seen it first hand, he would never have believed me.


      3. Like Krista, I have to say these stories put things into perspective, and make Husband’s family look like a walk in the park.


      4. The older I get, the more convinced I am that we all have horror stories. Some people weather them better than others. I hope to hear some of yours as we travel this trail together.


  8. Renee, the answer to your question from yesterday is yes, and thank you very much for “outing” me on that. Watched the tv series this earlier this summer (guilty pleasure, the costuming is pure heaven-good old BBC) and decided to read the books, some of which can be had only on inter-library loan.

    I’ll get back to TR and La Follette later-right now, I can use a little purely recreational reading.


      1. Have you read ALL the books? The tv series only went so far (which is partly why I have to read the books-to find out what else happens!!!) I finished the second one and am halfway through the first (because interlibrary loan wanted it that way). I cannot help it, I love the way the author writes his characters.

        For those of you wondering what I am on about- the Poldark series is more or less a soap opera that takes place in Cornwall during the late 18th/early 19th centuries. If you like things like Upstairs Downstairs or The House of Eliot, you may well like this-the reverse is probably also true.

        Now, if I could just find the original Flambards on disk……


  9. Sorry this is long—it does have goats in it.
    I had a trip that started out great, ended great, but experienced difficulty somewhere in the middle. Years ago, one of my brothers and I traveled from Dakar, Senegal through The Gambto Ziguinchor in the south of Senegal. I had made the trip before so I was the navigator. Neither one of us has a good sense of direction but another brother had given us a map of some of the places on the route.

    For one leg of the trip, we found a very cheap ride in a poor cousin of a bush taxi; it was an old panel truck that had been outfitted with five benches, three rows behind the driver and 1 on each side of the truck, attached to the sides between the front benches and the back doors.

    As my brother and I settled onto one of the backbenches, we stretched our legs into the wide space in between the benches and congratulated ourselves on having some legroom for our 4-hour trip. Not a minute later, a third bench was pushed into the middle space and more passengers were seated. Then a rope was tied from the back seat to both back doors to keep them from popping open. A call went out for bystanders to push start the vehicle and then we were on our way, goats, chickens and baggage tied to the roof.

    The rusted out bottom of the truck had been replaced by boards and through the cracks rose fine red sand that settled over all of us. Only the windshield had glass, so the roar of the engine, the wind, the shuddering and lurching of the vehicle, and shouting of conversations made small talk impossible. My brother and I laughed for the first 45 minutes of the trip; then he leaned over and yelled in my ear, “I wonder when we are going to stop thinking this is fun.” And we continued laughing.

    At our first stop, the driver’s assistant demanded more money from the passengers, an angry revolt ensued. My brother and I speak French, the official language, but most of the argument/shouting was conducted in Wolof. We were the only foreigners in the crowd; the assistant singled us out and threatened us with jail. As I reached for my money pouch, a lovely woman, who had moments before shared her food with me, slapped my arm and forbid me to give the thief my money. I chose the passengers.

    The assistant gave up. The vehicle was push started and we were on the ride of our lives. At high speed, horn blaring, animals and people jumping out of the way, we raced and bounced through villages and open areas on the dirt roads on the way to a police station.

    Once there, the driver drove the truck up the steps to the door! The outcome: the passengers had to pay extra because the fare had gone up. BUT the driver had to pay a fine because the fares must be listed and he had not displayed the increased fare.

    And then? all was well, we continued on our merry way to Ziguinchor.


    1. Nan, I can’t equal that story of difficult travel. I did experience some very tight crowding of taxi cabs in Bolivia. They sat four of us in the back set of a normal size car for a long trip. Taxi cabs are often over loaded with passengers in the mountains of Bolivia to increase the pay for the driver and decrease the cost for the passengers. Taxi drivers in La Paz might do a little over charging of people who don’t know the proper charge and one very nice taxi driver in La Paz gave me advice on avoiding over charging.


      1. Jim, Laughing at the “four of us in the back.” Yeah, personal space is relative in some modes of travel. Sometimes it has to be enough just to be happy sitting down.


      1. Thank you Barbara. One of my brothers spent 2 years in the Peace Corps in Senegal and then worked there for 2 years after that. I was young, curious, and out for adventure. My brothers were too. Travel, without reservations, changed my life.


    1. Thanks. I have taken three trips for ACDI/VOCA. They were all great opportunies to see parts of the world that I wouldn’t be very likely to visit on my own and to see these places in a different way than one would see them as a tourist.


  10. Thanks, Jim, for a story with lovely visual images. It makes me want to go there too.

    When in my early 20s, I went on a week-long backpacking trip in the Sierras with TB (then boyfriend). I had prepared a little by biking the 5 miles to and from school for a few weeks to increase my stamina, and that seemed successful because I was able to keep up with him just fine, as long as I remained standing during rest stops and did not sit down. The first 3 days were almost entirely up mountain, with lots of switchbacks, and it was a relief when things leveled out. Then there was one day with a rainstorm and a pretty wet night. Got past that, but on the way out (DOWN), next to last day, I turned my ankle on a second tippy stone (I could’ve recovered from just one) when crossing a little stream. There was nothing for it but to carry on, so we found a stout walking stick, and took it slow. Luckily it wasn’t a full sprain, but it did hurt to put much weight on it. I clearly remember dinner that last night, for which we had saved the best – ramen noodles with dried peas…


    1. Barbara, every time I’ve twisted my ankle hiking, I have walked out. It really seems to help the sprain. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but I believe it works. It’s happened to me a number of times and when I’m out hiking alone I don’t have the luxury of self-pity or first aid. I just give myself a second to pause and wince, and then I start walking. I sprained my left ankle a few days ago and I’ve been going like normal on it. It hurts a little and is swollen, but it hasn’t slowed me down. Good going!

      Gotta love those ramen noodles with dried peas!


    2. I don’t know what people with medical expertise would say about that theory, Barbara, but my own experience with a sprained ankle (when I was trying to round up Kent so he wouldn’t miss the train to Chicago) bears it out. It hurt like hell, but after I continued running, it got warm, swelled up, and the pain eased. A few ice packs and a good ankle wrap later, I was much improved.


      1. Actually, when I really did sprain it many years ago, I walked into my chiropractor’s on crutches, he said “Ok, hang on while I pull this out”, gave it the appropriate yank, and I walked out on my own, minus the pain.


  11. You ARE a bold traveler, Jim. I’m not worthy of such courageous adventure travel. I’d like to be more of a traveler but I haven’t had the opportunity so I don’t have adventure stories to tell.

    Rock Bend is, however, an adventure. It begins slowly in February and builds gradually until the week prior to the festival when the pace becomes frantic and a little hysterical.

    So far I’ve baked a dozen loaves of Amish friendship bread (thanks Ben!) and two batches of oatmeal bars. I started the first of five gallons of baked beans this morning and they’ve been simmering all day. There are three dozen brats in the roaster simmering in Schell’s beer. I have to be in the park tonight by 5:30 and we won’t be done setting up until 10:30 or so. Tomorrow I’ll make two more batches of veggie chili and finish my errands. Friday I’ll make two pasta salads and be back at the park by 6 p.m.

    No matter what happens in the months and weeks before Rock Bend, it is always a wonderful festival. There has never been anything bad in 21 years. So, it’s a journey and it always ends well. I’m looking forward to seeing some of you there!


    1. Oh Krista, that is so much work and bless you for doing it. I so wish I could make it, but we’re trying to finish a painting job on the house while the weather still holds. Maybe next year.


  12. My worst trip occured when I was 20, when I accompanied my mom to LA for some surgery she was convinced was going to “cure” her MS. I knew in my heart that the doctor was doing fraudulent treatment, but I couldn’t convince my parents of that, and they insisted that I had to go with her. The surgery involved clearing out the carotid arteries. He told people MS was due to lack of oxygen to the brain due caused by clogged carotids. I had to sit there and watch her and about 6 other patients have the surgery and talk to them and their hopeful relations. The doctor got away with it by billing it as cardiac-related surgery. He relied on word of mouth referrals from patients who, of course, were desperate and willing to believe anything. I hated every minute of that trip, feeling like Cassandra, with no one willing to listen to what I saw happening. The only good thing on the trip was seeing Geoge C Scott in Tartuffe. I am thankful the only other goofy thing my mom did to “cure” her MS was to drink colostrum from newly freshened cows. That lasted for about 3 years. The LA doctor eventually lost his license for performing unnecessary surgeries. I can feel myself getting angry just thinking about this. I like your topic, though, Jim.


    1. Renee, so sorry that you had to endure such a trip. Must have been pretty traumatizing for you to still feel angry about it.


  13. One small part of a trip to visit a friend in New York included what became called the Bataan Death Bike (with apologies to those who were actually on the march). Friend had rented a house for the summer in the Catskills, not too far from one of the myriad railroad track beds that have been converted to bike trails. Friend was a huge fan of biking, and I was up for it, so why not, it was a lovely day for a ride. We found the local bike rental and I was outfitted for our afternoon’s adventure. A caveat: the bikes in question were mountain bikes set up for cruising up and down the ski hills that had been closed for the summer…not for 20 mile trips cruising along a path. What might the difference be? you may ask. The difference is in the seat. Or in my case, the mostly lack thereof. A true mountain bike seat is not sat on very much or for very long and is about as wide as a pencil. Also, it is as hard as a rock – titanium is cushy compared to these seats. Added bonus: I had broken my tailbone the prior winter and it liked to bark at me if I sat wrong for extended periods of time. Not a seat meant to actually put your tushy on for long periods of time. All things neither friend nor I really contemplated as we headed out on our afternoon’s sojourn. I tried not to complain, really I did. But by the time we reached a logical spot to turn around, where handily enough there was also a general store where we stopped for a snack, I admitted to my difficulties and we turned back. This meant I still had a chunk of road to head back (I think we figured the total ride was just shy of 20 miles round trip), a lot of it ridden with me standing up on the pedals as we rode.The scenery was lovely, the path smooth, but ow, ow, ow was it hard on my backside. I made my friend return the bike without me when we got back to her rented house while I stayed put, sitting on an ice pack.


    1. Anna, sorry for your hurting butt. The story did make me laugh though. Hope you and your butt have fully recovered.


    2. Ooh, Anna, I really sympathize. I just got a new bike, and one of the main criteria was a really nice WIDE seat like in the 1950s Schwinns.


      1. I now own what is called a “comfort bike.” It has shocks on the front fork, shocks on the seat, and the seat itself is a nice, squishy gel seat with a divit for the tailbone. Love my comfort bike (and so does my posterior). Ironically, it was the same friend who I visited for the infamous bike ride who went bike shopping with me…she remembered our ill-fated afternoon and was adamant with the sales guy that no really, I meant it, when I said it needed to be easy on the tush.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s