Category Archives: Latin America

The View from Capayque, Bolivia

#3 of several posts (starting here, with more to come) about the tiny Bolivian village of Capayque.  I traveled there with a Methodist mission team from Stillwater Oklahoma that was providing much-needed healthcare and setting up a medical clinic in the town.  

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Early morning view to the east from Capayque

Capayque, Bolivia is a small village in the Andes, sitting at about 11,500 feet above sea level, about two-thirds of the way up from the valley way below and the mountaintops looming above.  On the rare day when the place isn’t mostly in or above the clouds, you’ll be staring at a snow-peaked 22,000 foot mountain just to the east.  From Capayque, you can see a half-dozen other (even-smaller) communities on other ridges and across the valley.

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The air is very thin at 11,500, so it can be tough to get around — especially for lowlander Gringos unaccustomed to high altitudes.  The temperatures generally stay between 30 and 60 year-round, though it feels much warmer if the high-mountain sun breaks through.  More often than not, you can look down into the valley and see clouds below you.

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As described in a related post, day to day life here isn’t radically different than it probably was 1000 years ago on these same mountains.

Like most of the hillsides anywhere near Lake Titicaca, the surrounding mountains are striped with horizontal terraces – creating flatter step-like areas better for farming.  Many are in current use, but many (perhaps most) look like they were built long ago and haven’t been used in centuries.

The region around Lake Titicaca was part of the ancient empire of Tiwanaku.  The area has been populated and farmed for 3,000 years.  The Tiwanku empire reached its peak around the 8th Century A.D., when the city of Tiwanaku (on the flatter “altiplano” 50 miles south from Capayque) had an as many as 100,000 residents.*  Estimates of the population in the surrounding countryside are varied and controversial, but the startling scope and span of those ancient terraces hints at the existence huge populations – to build and cultivate the terraces themselves, and to create such great demand for food as to make it necessary to farm so much of the hill country.

The Tiwanaku society mostly disappeared around the 12th century — long before Europeans arrived.  It’s likely that whatever was left of it became part of the Inca civilization.

The shots below are from the road to/from Capayque.

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Life in Capayque, Bolivia

#2 in a series of posts about Capayque, Bolivia, and about theStillwater, Oklahoma Methodist mission group that provides healthcare to Capayque’s residents.

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 A dirt road passes through Capayque, Bolivia.  It’s passable most of the year – except in the rainy season when parts of it are often washed out.  A truck comes through town once a week to buy or deliver goods, and a bus comes through a few times a week.  Every Monday, the school teachers arrive from La Paz in a car; they sleep at the school, and on Friday they take the car back to the City.   Nobody in town owns a car, though I spotted two motorcycles (which may or may not have been operable).  Capayque’s only traffic jams are when small herds of sheep (or a handful of cows, or a llama, or a group of small pigs) clog the walking trails through town.

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There aren’t any stores in town.  There’s a surprisingly big school, an abandoned Catholic church building, a tiny Methodist church and the health clinics (the old one and new one).  Other than that, all the buildings are homes.  I asked a couple of local people if the animals had any sort of barn or stable to get in out of the weather, and they just laughed at that idea.

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Most of the houses are made of mud and stone, and consist of just one or two rooms.  Most floors are of dirt.  They don’t have bathrooms or running water.  In a climate where nighttime temperatures usually dip into the 30s year-round, homes are heated (if at all) with small fires burning in chimney-less rooms that seep smoke out doorways or gaps in the thatched roofs.  They’ve had electricity in the village for a decade or so, but few people seem to have any sort of electric fixtures or appliances other than just light bulbs.  There don’t seem to be any refrigerators.  Chickens wander in and out, and pigs and sheep roam yards and courtyards and usually sleep just a few feet away from their owners.

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There seems to be trash all over town — they don’t seem to have much of a grip on disposing of things that are not biodegradable.   There are tiny canals running through town with water from spring-fed streams.  Some run under the town outhouse (baño) and some are used for clothes washing and drinking, so I can only assume the locals keep track of which is which.

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The people survive largely on subsistence farming, so every bit of open space is a small farm/garden, usually growing corn or some form of potato-like vegetables.  People spend a surprising amount of time throwing rocks at stray pigs to get them out of the corn patches.

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That tiny guy (“Estaban”) is a town’s mayor (or something like that). These digs are probably the nicest house in town.

It’s easy to think of this as “poverty,” but that doesn’t really capture the reality of the situation.  More than “poor”, their life is primitive.  Except for the kids’ and men’s clothing that have somehow found their way to the villages front the rest of the world, their way of life isn’t much changed or advanced from what it must have been a few hundred years ago.  They’re probably as content as people were in the same hillside settlements in the 1400s.  The distinction may not matter much, but it’s not so much just a matter of bringing them out of poverty as it is bringing them into the 21st century.  

Welcome to Capayque, Bolivia!

When I signed up to join (and photograph) an Oklahoma group that was providing healthcare in a tiny village high in the Bolivian Andes, I was not expecting the elaborate welcome we got in Capayque.

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A local Capayque girl arrives at our welcome ceremony with a handmade flower wreath.

Last week I joined a group traveling to Capayque, Bolivia – a very primitive, isolated community in the mountains of northwestern Bolivia, about 15 miles (as the condor flies) from Lake Titicaca and a rough five-hour trip from La Paz.  The group’s mission was to provide much-needed medical care to Capayque’s residents and to set up a medical clinic in the community.

This will be the first of several posts about my trip to Capayque.  Much more later about the town, its people, the Stillwater Oklahoma Methodist church group, and the activities of the week.

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Ray Kinnunen of Stillwater gets a ceremonial welcome in Capayque

Things got interesting immediately when we arrived in Capayque.  We were met by the entire school and much of the town – as well as the local bishop and several other local officials – for a welcoming ceremony.

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As the pictures reflect, we got handmade wreaths of flowers (which grow, mostly wild, in the area), and were presented with traditional Bolivian panchos, scarves and hats.  We were told that the red panchos we received were symbols of community leaders (the “head panchos,” you might say).  The ceremonies concluded with a dance down the hillside to the new medical clinic this Methodist mission group has been building for the past two years.

After the bishop inaugurated the new clinic with a few sprinkles of water, we were treated to a ceremonial community meal – with local foods spread out on blankets for everyone to share (Corn, potatoes, and a potato-like plant called “oka” were the primary menu items).

 

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Click here for more images from our Capayque welcome, even including one of me in my nifty red pancho.

It was a fun kickoff to a interesting and productive week.  Much more to come.

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My aunt, Carolyn Williams — an R.N. and a 16-year veteran of the Bolivian medical mission team — was welcomed back to Capayque with a prestigious red pancho.

Guatemalan Graveyards

  Guatemalan graveyards seem a lot more festive than ours.

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The graveyards in Guatemala were distinctive.  Colorful and conspicuous, they were full of above-ground mausoleums decorated with pastel and bright-colored plastic, crepe paper, and plastic flowers.  Obviously it’s part of their culture to decorate graves in a festive way.

The prevailing religion in Guatemala is Catholic — imported to the region 500 years ago by the Spanish — but in the Northern “Peten” region there were a lot of Assembly of God (“… de Dios”) churches.  And one local (my guide, Henry) insisted that lots of people of Mayan ancestry practice some form of Mayan religion — usually mixed in with Catholic practices.

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Guatemala: Sleeping in the Jungle?

Technically, I did sleep in the jungle.  Admittedly, I was in a couple of pretty nice ‘bungalow’ hotels.

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Tikal Inn, Tikal National Park

The Tikal Inn (above) was a fun, convenient place to stay  and to start other excursions – it’s literally inside Tikal National Park.  It looks good in just the right light.  But the electricity, hot water, and internet typically only worked intermittently – maybe 8 hours a day in total. 

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Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel – Flores, Guatemala

The place with the cabins sticking out onto the star-lit lake was (unexpectedly) super-swanky.  My nephew was with me – he was thrilled that he had a full-size Jacuzzi on his screened porch overhanging (and overlooking) the lake.  I was thrilled that it was so dark and remote you could see roughly a zillion stars.  When I woke UP in the jungle, it was usually pretty foggy.

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At both places, you could hear howler monkeys all night long.  I got pictures of a couple in the daylight (including this ‘baby’).

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Oh!  Camera friends:  The starry-night pictures of the cabin on the lake were at f4, 30 seconds, and ISO 3200 (or at least they should have been).  The D800E on a tripod (with both ISO noise reduction and Long-exposure noise reduction working – somehow), 16-35mm lens.  I just got lucky that the dim lights around the cabins were a decent balance for the stars (I didn’t light them at all, as I had to with the Tikal temples a few nights later).  The poolside shot was just ISO 400, about 2 seconds, f5, 16mm — there was enough light there to use the meter, so it was easy.