Posts Tagged ‘bolivia’

An email and a Favour

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

As some of you may know and have read on this blog, earlier this year I went to climb a 6000m mountain in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real. The trip was organized by two gentlemen, one a Bolivian named Iván Berdeja, and one a German named Christian. I have been keeping in touch with Iván, as he’s got lots of climbing experience, and with the latest email I sent about going to attempt Aconcagua, I got this reply:

Dear Wiktor,

I have very bad news. Our friend Iván died on Oct. 17 at the Cordillera Quimsa Cruz during a hike with a group of Italians. There was a lot of fog and he went forward in search of a path (there is a part with no path), he slipped and fell 250m. I can not describe to you the sadness we feel here. Ivan was a very, very good person.

I very much regret having to write that. At the same time I wish you a good expedition to Aconcagua. Please, will you leave a note in memory of Ivan at the summit?

Luck and greetings,

So I’ll say that this was totally unexpected, and I don’t really want to write any more commentary about it. I will let the letter speak for itself. However, what I will do is take a picture of Iván to the top of Aconcagua and leave it there (if I make it up). May he rest in peace.

Ivan Berdeja

Birdwatching in Bolivia

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Birdwatching. What a boring activity. I can think of many better things to do with my limited time than to walk around looking for birds just to see them. Maybe if I’m out to photograph them so I can share what I see with others that’s time better spent, but even that doesn’t seem very appealing. Birds are hard to get on camera, and there’s many better things out there to photograph after all.

That’s what I thought about birdwatching before I came to Bolivia. And in a way that is probably still how I feel about going to look for birds in Canada or most other places I know. The birds there just don’t excite me. But there’s something about the birds here that makes them actually interesting.

They are big and small, plain and colorful, fast and slow, something for everybody. One of the (few) nice things about working out in the field was working close to nature, and being able to, at times, just sit and watch the birds do their thing. Driving to and from site, sometimes a bird or two would fly beside our car for a good 5-7 seconds (an eternity when watching birds in flight). Or they would fly right in front of our windshield for a couple of seconds, enough to get a good look at the dynamics of its flight.

Once, on one of the very last days of the job, I saw a bird chasing a pretty big dragonfly. It was an intense chase, with swerves and dives and going back and forth, in a way I could hardly believe the bird was fast and agile enough to keep up. The scene reminded me of an intense air combat scene from something like Top Gun or Star Wars or something like that. It was intense, like ‘wow’ intense. Yeah.

I was lucky enough to get some birds on camera, most of which were taken by this watering hole on the drive to site. They are not quite representative of all the different colors and types that were there, you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s nicer to be there and see the variety in real life. So what do you think, could you ever consider birds to be interesting, or have I been in the field too long with a desperate need of real life? :-)

BG Energy Challenge 2008 – Brasil

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Over the weekend I had the fabulous opportunity to take part in the BG Energy Challenge – Brasil. This challenge is run in many countries where BG operates (UK, Egypt, Trinidad, Houston, and obviously Brasil, among others). The event took place in Teresópolis, a town outside of Rio de Janeiro (the city of God!)

Basically the event is a team-building, corporate competition type of thing (think Calgary Corporate Challenge), open to any companies in the Energy sector. BG Brasil sends a couple of teams, other companies that operate in and around Rio also come (I’ve seen Schlumberger, Chevron, I think Shell was here somewhere). Obviously I was representing BG Bolivia; we sent an all-female team and an all-male team.

Each team has three people, and here in Brasil they organize the race as follows: from 8:30 to 12:30 all teams have to run (or walk) to as many checkpoints as possible, and at these checkpoints do a task, or just check in. The checkpoints are on a map given the night before, and strategizing which checkpoints to go to first/last/not at all is quite important. While we have not seen the results yet to see if anyone did, I think it is almost impossible to get to all the checkpoints and do all the tasks in the 4 hours, hence the importance of a strategy (in total there were 11 task checkpoints and 13 check-in checkpoints).

Here are some of the tasks that we had to do: get to the top of an indoor climbing wall and ring the bell; a blindfolded person has to walk a route through an old building being directed solely by his team members’ voices, and not touch any of the “booby-traps” (rope all along the route with bells on it to signify when it’s been touched); two team members ride a route by bike while the third runs along (that lucky third was me!); correctly identify flags of ten countries that were on display; solve two mathematical formulas without the use of anything, except natural elements (ie we could write in the non-existent dirt); smell some food/sauces and name them; hit a golf ball 50 meters; and my [start sarcasm] most favorite, one that made the most sense [end sarcasm] was to have two team members swim through muddy water with three giant inflated rubber balls to the other end, where they gave these balls to a third (lucky) team member who walked back with these balls on land, while the two in the mu… I mean in the water got to swim back. Oh yeah, and the swimmers had to wear their shoes. Ever swam with shoes on? In mud? And then ever ran with soaked, mud-saturated shoes? It’s not pleasant.

There were a few tasks that we never got to, never attempted, so this is not an exhaustive list. An important point though, many tasks could be lost, and then you get no credit for it. Touch a booby-trap rope and ring the bell on it? Game over. Don’t get both mathematical formula questions right? Sorry, no part marks! Then the entire 15 minutes of intense uphill climb, and then 5 minutes of descent, to get to and from the checkpoint is wasted, and everybody is that much more tired and unable to get to some other potential task.

In between all these challenges was obviously the physical part of getting to and from the checkpoints, and also the mental challenge of correctly navigating among them. And for the end, you pretty much had to make it back to the start/finish in four hours, or you start losing points for every minute you are over. We finished in exactly 3 hours, 59 minutes, and zero seconds.

I must say that the event was very well run and put together. Things flowed pretty smoothly; inevitable injuries (I personally saw a cut that later got 6 stitches, as well as a twisted knee) were handled well by the paramedic staff on site; they had about 3 photographers and 2 videographers recording the details of people’s runs and climbs and everything in between. If I ever get my hands on any of that media I will definitely share it.

So yeah, that describes the way the Challenge looked. It was fun, exhausting, interesting, a little bit dirty, and very exhausting. As of now we don’t have the results yet, so I can’t tell you how we did, but we were one of the more physically fit teams (though we failed on several challenges), so we have some hope. We will see and I will update!

Update: So we got 2nd place in our category, lost to the other team by only two points (we could have gotten 5 more points if not for missing a minus sign in the math formula task!) But that is quite good nonetheless, and most important it was fun for all. Oh, and our all-girls team got first in their category, so BG Bolivia represented quite well!


Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

One of the nice things about living in a Spanish speaking country is getting to know all the Spanish music that is around. And there is a lot of it, all different genres, for everyone’s tastes. I have to share my knowledge about one artist in particular, whose songs are really nice to listen to, whether you know what he’s saying or not. That artist is a Colombian named Juanes. He has won many Latin Grammy Awards, has recorded songs with the likes of Black Eyed Peas and Nelly Furtado, and in 2005 was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Personally I think his best songs are when he performs by himself, but either way his stuff is really good. I’ve listened to his last two albums titled Mi Sangre (My Blood) and La Vida… Es un Ratico (Life… Is But A Moment), and even without understanding any of the songs they got a nice sound to them. Someday soon I’ll try and get some of his older stuff that made him famous.

Anyways, give a few of his songs a listen. I have posted below two of his most popular songs from his latest album. If you like what you hear then you can look for the full albums (don’t know if any stores in Canada would carry it, but iTunes has his albums for download).

Let me know what you think!

Gotas De Agua Dulce

Me Enamora

Field work in Bolivia

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Recently I put together some pictures from my field work here in Bolivia, describing what it’s like to be working on a gas pipeline river crossing project. Click on the picture below to link you to the photos, which will describe a bit how we do what we do, as well as the working conditions. Any questions let me know!

Bolivia is better, but more importantly, I am disabling emails from my blog!

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Just an update on the things going on in Bolivia, I left things kinda open at the end of my last post, so I wanted to close off how they ended. I ended up going to the grocery store a day or two later, expecting it to be near empty of the most important food items like I had heard, but instead I found the store full of everything I could have wanted to buy! So instead of leaving with pictures of empty shelves I left with over $100 worth of groceries! (I still wanted to stock up.)

Similar thing with gas. Yes, there was a shortage and people were stocking up, causing an artificial rise in demand. But a few days into the ‘situation’ I went to a gas station, waited 15 minutes in a 15 car lineup, and then filled up no problem!

Oh, and the rumor that the military was being deployed in the city? Didn’t happen. And last weekend, we went out to some discos but they were not letting people in, and instead were closing early because there had been two deaths in the city due to some ‘problems’. Well, that turned out just to be another rumor also, there were no deaths. But that kind of shows the misinformation that floats around and makes things uncertain, and doesn’t allow people to make the right decisions.

Anyways, now the problems are all but over. Almost all the roadblocks have been lifted. My project at work is mobilizing to site (we were waiting for the roads to open. I will spend the next 4 weeks or so in the field, meaning all the perishable food that I stocked up on will probably go bad!) Politicians have decided to spend some time talking (though not before about 30 people died in a province quite far from us). Honestly I expect things to flare up again (there are already rumors of blockades being put back in place), but right now all is well.

Okay, that’s the update in Bolivia. Next thing I wanted to say is that this will be the last time anyone will receive an email when I make a post! I am disabling the automatic email notifier. Why you may ask? Well to be honest, when I had the automatic email notifier on, I felt like I had to write something REALLY REALLY RIDICULOUSLY GOOD for it to be worth you getting an email and heading over to read. So I am disabling it, but I will now feel more free to write small, insignificant little things that keep people in the loop of how life is different here, and what I’m doing or what is happening. BUT, for those that still want to be notified of when I update the blog (both of you), there is an option with an RSS Reader. I use and highly recommend Google Reader (anyone with a gmail account can easily set up a Reader account), and will give a brief description below of what exactly it is, and how it can make your web life easier! For those of you that regularly use an RSS reader just skip the next part (but not before adding my blog to your RSS feed!)

Anyways, an RSS reader allows you to have one place to go to see when your favorite sites have been updated. I use mine to get updates on some people’s blogs, as well as get news on Formula 1 happenings ( and Digital Photography news ( Those are sites that cover my hobbies and I found myself going there on a regular basis, so now I use Reader to know when there is something there worth reading. See the screen below for a sample page from my reader, click to see it full size.

So what I do is whenever I am at work I have gmail open, and once every couple of days or so (or several times a day for those boring days) I click on the Reader link and it loads up Reader with the latest news. I can then read the headlines as well as the start of the article, and if I want to read on I just click the link. Really easy, really convenient. You can add whatever you want there, almost any site that updates with new information once in a while will have an RSS feed you can subscribe to.

Of course, there are many other RSS readers out there, I just find the Gmail one most useful as I always have Gmail open. Anyways, consider trying it out if you haven’t yet. I will admit when someone first told me about these I was a little hesitant to set it up, but now I check it as often as my email.

If you need any help setting it up or adding my blog to your subscriptions, let me know!

A foreigner’s view of living in Bolivia during political unrest

Friday, September 12th, 2008

In case you haven’t heard, Bolivia is going through some political tension right now. If you go to Google News and search Bolivia you should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Headlines include “Bolivia’s tax disputes lead to blocking of gas wells, highways”, “Bolivia crisis cuts natural gas supply to Brazil by half”, “UPDATE 1-Brazil says it won’t tolerate overthrow in Bolivia”, “US ambassador given up to 72 hours to leave Bolivia”, “Chavez Expels US Envoy to Show Support for Bolivia (Update3)”, “Eight killed in Bolivia clashes, US tensions rise”, “Brazil held to 0-0 draw by 10-man Bolivia” (oh yeah, that last one was the result of the latest football match). Anyways, here’s my impression of what the country is like to live in right now.

I won’t get into the reason for the unrest and protest, you can read about that in the articles above if you like. But in general what has happened here as part of the protests is people block roads. They do that to disrupt basic services in order for their protests to be noticed higher up. So there is no transport of fuel, food, and other essential things. For the last week or so, you could buy gasoline in the morning, but by the afternoon every gas station was empty. Now I am told that there is no more gasoline in the city; in my case I got 3/4 of a tank so I am okay for about a week or so, but once that runs out I’ll be looking to get myself a bike!

Then there’s food. On the weekend I took someones advice and stocked up on water and some canned goods, but because I was hearing mixed impressions of what is going to happen, I never took it too seriously and didn’t really stock up. Today I was told that supermarkets are pretty much empty, haven’t been there for myself to see but I believe it.

Then there’s the rioting. When blocking roads is not enough to get the attention of the federal government, people in this city went ahead and stormed, burned, destroyed, and in general took over every government run building. This included the national phone company (we use that company at work, and after the raid for half a day our cell and work phones did not work), tax agency, and others. This made for some great TV footage, but it’s mainly isolated to specific locations, and the rest of the town is just like normal, you wouldn’t even know anything is up.

Now another reason I didn’t really stock up on food was that our company has an evacuation plan for expats and foreigners in case things get hairy. I expected that if things get as bad as they are now, or as bad as people predict it will be, we’d be on our way out. Well I just found out today that won’t be the case. We are staying in Bolivia for whatever may come. I’ll admit at first I was a little annoyed at that, I was expecting the company to take us away before we had to stock up on food, water, gasoline, take care of where we go, put up with a military presence, etc. But now for me it’s actually an opportunity to really live and experience things like a local, not have an easy way out, and put up with the annoyances that everybody else must put up with. So for me it’s okay.

However, for some others it’s not that great. Some other expats who have family and pregnant wives have expressed concern that the company is making the entire family stay, not evacuating the families that have no business purpose to stay. This I must agree with. And evacuation is something that is still possible now (only by air, rail and road transport is blocked as mentioned above), but even that may not be possible later as airports get ‘taken over’ or fuel shortages prevent planes from refueling. Already American Airlines has stopped flights to Bolivia.

So what’s every day life like? Not much different. A few interesting things happened at work today. Some of the more important people were given radios to be able to communicate in case things got worse still and phones stopped working. But otherwise things are normal. There was a company dinner planned tonight. I went swimming at 8:00 pm. I went to a friend’s barbecue at 9:00, had good food and beer, a normal day. At 12:00 midnight we were told that the city had been, or is about to be, “militarized”, or have military deployed, and so we all went home right away. But there was no military on the roads that I could see.

So every day life is okay. The place I live is a fairly safe neighborhood (the only down side being that several important political figures live there, with a potential for trouble from people looking for them). But otherwise I am going to work tomorrow, there is a try-out for the Brazilian BG Energy Challenge on Saturday. Life is as normal.

So that’s about it for the current update, should anything major break I will do my best to write about it and let you know.

Hiking in Samaipata, Bolivia

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

For my first real trip out and about in Bolivia, another BG new grad and myself went on a two day hike in a town a couple hours away from where we live. The area is higher in elevation and provides a slightly cooler climate, which was a good break from the heat and humidity we usually have in Santa Cruz. It’s also more mountainous and jungle-like than the city.

No trail most of the way, our guide had to cut a trail through the jungle.

The hike was through some very dense forest, and our guide Erwin had to use his machete often to cut a (very narrow and small) path for all of us. It was some tough hiking though, and being tall did not help me, at some points I had to go on all fours (with my backpack on) to get through the dense greenery! There was so much pathless jungle to navigate through that by the end of the hike our guide could not raise his machete hand to even point things out to us!

Campfire at Night

We had a nice campfire on the night we spent in the jungle, and met some other Italian hikers there who were doing a similar route, though we never actually saw them while hiking! Other highlights included looking at Puma and Jaguar tracks on the ground, though we never spotted the animals themselves! (Click on any of the pictures to go to the gallery and see more).

A nice view of the hills we climbed

All in all it was a nice trip, all the more so because it was my first getaway in Bolivia after all the time I spent working in the field. It was also a bit of training for me as I plan on climbing some mountains in Bolivia’s Andes, which I will be doing in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for some pictures and stories from that!

What is happening in Bolivia?

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Hey everyone, long time since I posted. Somehow just haven’t found the time or the topic to write since I’ve come to Bolivia. What I have been meaning to do is let people know what Bolivia is like as a county. There’s a lot of things going on right now here, and I wanted to write about some of them, but didn’t really know how.

Anyways, I found someone else’s blog entry that explained the current situation so well, I had to pass it along. So if you have any interest in Bolivia or South America in general, give it a read.

Before you do, some background (so that you better understand what you read):

– Santa Cruz is the rich province in the east; all the government is in the west.
– Most people from Santa Cruz dislike people in the west in general (similar to Canada’s western alienation, Scotland’s dislike for being ruled from London, etc., but more severe and slightly racial), and the president specifically.
– The majority of the people in Bolivia are native Americans (aka Indians; Bolivia and Peru are two countries in America that didn’t completely wipe out their indigenous populations with settlers); most of the rich people here are what they call “whites” (what I would call people of Latino descent, Hispanics). The indigenous have a distinctly darker skin tone, and are usually poorer. The current President, Evo Morales, is of indigenous origin.
– The currency here is Bs (short for Boliviano’s). 1 B = 15 cents.
– MAS is the current governments political party name.
– When you get to the line in Spanish, use Google Translate or Altavista Babelfish to find out what they are saying (viewer discretion advised if you use Google).

Alright, here is the link!