Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mainstream Studies on Natural Health Flawed

Recent headlines from an Oregon State University study asserted "Vitamin E trials 'fatally flawed" and the following story detailed how most studies on Vitamin E have been flawed to the point of being essentially worthless. Here are some excerpts:

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Generations of studies on vitamin E may be largely meaningless, scientists say, because new research has demonstrated that the levels of this micronutrient necessary to reduce oxidative stress are far higher than those that have been commonly used in clinical trials. The continuation of this news release can be found in the Eureka Alert publication.

In a new study and commentary in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, researchers concluded that the levels of vitamin E necessary to reduce oxidative stress are four to eight times higher than those used in almost all past clinical trials.

This could help explain the inconsistent results of many vitamin E trials for its value in preventing or treating cardiovascular disease, said Balz Frei, professor and director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, and co-author of the new commentary along with Jeffrey Blumberg, at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

'The methodology used in almost all past clinical trials of vitamin E has been fatally flawed,' said Frei, one of the world's leading experts on antioxidants and disease."

Such news comes as no surprise to natural health advocates, but the public announcement of the results is surprising because it spotlights a common failure of testing natural alternatives that has gone on for decades: namely, testing dosage amounts well below the therapeutic level,

Many believe that testing such low dosage amounts, along with other flaws such as testing inferior or incorrect forms of the item being studied, studying only an isolated vitamin, mineral or compound without the supporting compounds found in nature are the result of looking at the minimum RDA amounts recommended to maintain good health instead of the therapeutic amounts needed to address illness and disease - as well as the fact that only synthetic creations, altered natural compounds and uniquely isolated compounds are patentable.

There is no economic incentive for industry to fund expensive studies and trials of something they cannot patent, have a good chance of recovering their study and trial costs, and then going on to reap large profits that can run into the billions of dollars. On a darker side, there are many who suggest that such profits are behind a great number of flawed industry funded studies on vitamins, minerals, & botanicals - in other words, the studies are purposely designed to show poor results in order to ward off natural competition that might be safer, more effective and/or much less expensive.

The public and our doctors have been told over and over again that natural alternative such as vitamins, minerals and botanical compounds provided by nature are inferior to what man creates in our labs and such flawed studies are what are often pointed to for justification. If the studies are flawed, by design or not, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Such suspicions of the motives behind flawed studies are magnified when one looks at the apparent agenda of the FDA and those behind the push for adoption of a North American Union kind of agreement modeled after the European Union model, which limits access to only a select group of natural vitamins, minerals and supplements at dosage levels far below what is effective.

It is this author's opinion that we should never fail to keep in mind that the people behind these studies have a vested stake in a trillion dollar plus annual industry and a track record of taking no prisoners when it comes to competition. These are, after all, the same people who trotted doctors and scientists before congress for four decades to testify that vitamins had no benefit and were even harmful, before finally giving in to a mountain of evidence they could not hide. These are also the same people who assured us of the safety of Vioxx, Bextra, Allieve, Avandia, Gardasil, Fosamax, mercury vaccines, mercury amalgam fillings, and a long, long line of past and present drugs associated with dangerous side effects, including large numbers of deaths.

The same group of vested interest, despite over half a century of abject failure in the war on cancer, still maintain that cutting out, burning out and poisoning out symptoms is superior to addressing the underlying causes and natural prevention. And, when you get down to it, it was pretty much the same group that assured us for generations that cigarettes were harmless.

It was a welcome surprise to many to see a mainstream study point out the failures of how vitamins and other natural therapeutics have been tested. Too bad we don't see such information constantly paraded before the masses on television and in journals, popular magazines and newspapers instead of the barrage of "Ask Your Doctor" ads clearly designed to condition the viewers into entering the wonderful world of managed illness.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Study Tips for College and High School Students

If you are struggling in school, it might help you to change your approach to studying. I'm sure you know all of the usual recommendations: make a schedule, take a short break every 20 minutes or so, reduce distractions, read the chapter before class, organize your materials, etc. All of these are good ideas, but none of these address a basic problem of unsuccessful studying. It's possible that you are not really thinking about the material in a way that will help you remember it. I'm going to cover 2 study tips and techniques that can change the way you think about the material and that will therefore change how well you learn and the grade you receive.
The most important element of good studying?: be interested.
Okay that's easier said than done. What if you think the topic is boring? Well, if the material or the presentation doesn't naturally grab your attention, you must interject your own interests into the material.
The second most important part which will help with the first: You must ASK QUESTIONS. Ask questions until you become interested. Ask questions during lecture, while reading, while talking to people about the topic, while looking at flash cards. ASK QUESTIONS. When you are asking questions you are thinking about the material and making connections between things that help you remember the material.
Plus, if you're interested, you will be enjoying studying a lot more than if you are not.
Back to being interested... Use your own interests to generate interest in the material.
Do you like to watch movies? Compare elements of what you are studying to the plot, setting or characters of a movie.
* If you are studying biology, decide which part of the animal, plant or specific pathway or ecosystem would be your favorite movie star and why.
* Write your own script where the parts carry out their mission as if it was an adventure.
* Ask yourself questions about what is going on while you do this - delve deeper.
Do you like to do art? Make a collage, painting or drawing that represents what you are studying in some way.
Do you like to dance?
Make up movements that represent what you are studying. Involve other people to do the dance with you. You might even be able to get some extra credit if you share.
Do you like to travel?
Approach the topic as if you are studying international relations. Which thing, part or party you are studying would have trouble with the others and why?
Do you like music?
Write songs about your topic, or write new lyrics for your favorite songs that are about the topic you are studying. Try to make it funny or sexy, as you're more likely to remember it that way. Challenge your friends to write raps about different topics to share with each other. Another opportunity for extra credit?

Biology Bingo Cards

When we think about science subjects, we often think of them as being about learning laws, theories, and perhaps mathematical formulae. Thus when we think about studying a science subject involves, we can easily overlook that it also involves learning many facts and details. Like other science subjects, studying biology requires learning numerous facts - for starters, the names of animal phyla and plant divisions, the parts of cells, the names of various biological processes, and other specialist terminlogy associated with the subject.

Since knowing the core facts of the subject is essential precursor to a decent understanding of biology, good teachers are always on the look-out for ways to help their students learn these facts. Sometimes a certain amount of rote learning may be unavoidable, but enjoyable and educational classroom activities are often a better way for students to learn. In particular, educational games can be very effective as a learning tool - and one such game that is gaining more and more popularity in the classroom, is bingo.

Bingo, it turns out, is perfect for educational use. This is because almost everyone knows how to play the bingo, and even if they don't the game is so simple that they can quickly learn, plus the fact that bingo can be modified to teaching pretty much any subject, including biology, by using bingo cards printed with words or phrases related to the subject of biology, instead of numbers. Additionally, the game has the advantage that it does not require expensive specialist materials, which is quite significant when you consider the financial limitations that educators work under nowadays.

In order to play biology bingo, each student is given a bingo card, the teacher plays the part of the bingo caller, and then you play bingo. Of course, teachers have the option of modifying the game to better serve its educational purpose, perhaps by encouraging class dicussion after items are called out, or by asking students to describe the items that they have ticked off from their bingo cards.

Of course if you'd planning to play biology bingo in the classroom, you will need some bingo cards containing items related to biology. The simplest way for teachers to obtain them, is by the teacher printing them off using a standard Windows PC. This is very straightforward, even for computer novices, because you can either use ready-made bingo printables that are available online, or you can get easy-to-use and affordable bingo card creator software, which can print any sort of bingo cards that you might want.

How to Study Biology to Get an A-Plus

Biology is the study of life in its entirety. The growth of biology as a natural science is interesting from many points of view. One feature of this growth is changing emphasis. Initially it was description of life forms, identification, nomenclature, classification of all recorded life forms. In recent years, Physics and Chemistry have been applied to biology and the new science of Biochemistry and Biotechnology have become the dominant faces of Biology. Medicinal practice, green revolution and the advancement in biotechnology has made the presence of biology felt by the common man.

The key to success in Biology is hard work. It means management of time and energy. Biology is a vast subject which requires a great and clear-cut understanding of each topic. Trying to cram notes will never lead to success unless rigorous effort is made in comprehending them. Being a very vast subject, developing interest in it is very important for success. One must have a passion for nature, to understand how things have developed and marvel at the beauty of nature.

To do well at biology, both the quantity and quality of time spent on it are important. A substantial time commitment is required to understand the subject in its entirety. Many students are discouraged when they get unsatisfactory even after spending hours studying for tests,. This may happen when the studies done by them do not lead to comprehension but only cramming effort. The test requires one to integrate concepts from different lectures, and to apply these principles of biology covered in class to evaluate new situations during the test. High-quality work entails preparing for such questions. Preparing entails organizing the mass of new information in such a way that it helps you understand the way the concepts are related to each other

To be successful, a student must carry out lecture follow-up activity i.e. rewriting their lecture notes. This could be done by re-organizing the information studied during the session in a way that conforms to your mental "landscape." Better than rewriting your notes, it helps you to discern the patterns and relationships between concepts leaving no doubts.

The lecture follow-up activity would involve the following:

1. Make a list of the important concepts from the lecture.

2. Rank the concepts from most general to most specific.

3. Circle the concepts that are linked with a solid line.

4. Label the line with a linking phrase.

5. Work down the page, adding increasingly specific concepts and looking for cross-links, which should be drawn with dashed lines.

6. Do a second version for all the concepts with the goal to add formerly unnoticed cross-links and to organize the map so that it flows as logically and as clearly as possible.

Often students are not able to organize themselves in the correct manner and are not able to do well despite their best efforts. At this time, it is best to get expert help which can help the student put things in order.

To sum up all, the mantra to excel in biology is hard work and practice. The combination of these two can do wonders if done properly. The emphasis should always be on the deep understanding of the concepts. Further practice will enable development of right kind of approach required to answer questions during the exam. Amalgamation of a good understanding with a good approach to answer questions would lead to the path of - "SUCCESS".

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Goodbye, Bolivia.

Disclosure: I wrote this the day I returned to America and took five weeks to post it. So when I refer to last week, it actually means a month and a half ago. My bad. 

Well, I have touched back down in the states. My time in Bolivia is over. When I said my goodbyes at BiblioWorks I actually started to cry– I guess that goes to show how much I enjoyed my time in Bolivia working for BiblioWorks. 

Maritza and Matt– they work so hard to make BiblioWorks function
The office had a little going away party for me, so sweet!
The cake had a candle and everything.
The past two months were the fastest of my life. As I write this I literally cannot believe that it is over. I can clearly remember when I left for Bolivia, and to be honest I wasn't 100% ready to leave home after just getting back from the Philippines. I remember when I left America I thought, okay two months isn't that long, it will fly by. And that it did! Maybe it was a mistake leaving the U.S for Bolivia so shortly after my arrival from Southeast Asia. I mean, it was good that I left so quickly because it meant I avoided, well postponed, my culture shock. Since I was only home for a mere three weeks I felt like I was on vacation and therefore didn't face many of the problems, depression, and dissatisfaction that many people who study or live in a developing country feel upon returning to the U.S. But, on the flip side, I think my first two weeks I wasn't fully committed to Bolivia. My mind was on the Philippines, the fun events happening at Bowdoin, and how much I had cherished the time I spent back home visiting my friends and family. I thought it would be an easy transition– Southeast Asia to South America, but it wasn't. I think all the factors i listed above made my initial experience in Bolivia very different than what I had expected. Don't interpret this the wrong way and think I didn't enjoy Bolivia– the moment I arrived I knew that I was in an incredible country and I liked what I was doing, but it took time for me to realize that I love Bolivia. Overtime I became more and more passionate about the country and my role at BiblioWorks. When people asked me if I liked Bolivia I always said yes, but now I say, no I don't like it– I love it!

By far the biggest contributor to my increased enthusiasm was my work at Pampa Aceituno. The first month was frustrating with the number of strikes, holidays, and also I lacked the courage to go to Pampa Aceituno by myself. Lize only goes on Tuesday and Thursdays, so I only felt comfortable going on Tuesday and Thursdays. It's funny, I have absolutely no problem traveling or living by myself– I can be completely independent but when it came to working at Pampa Aceituno I was hesitant. Why? Because from the get-go I had been there with Lize, I had never had to venture on my own. I became accustomed to this, and going by myself seemed like it wouldn't be normal, I would be changing the system and pushing my comfort zone. I was nervous to be there by myself, what if I couldn't communicate my thoughts or understand. Lize doesn't speak English but if I didn't understand something I could later turn to her and ask her to explain it more slowly. I finally had that push I needed from Matt to go to Pampa Aceituno by myself. And of course, once I was on my way, there was absolutely no problem. If only I had gone into the library by myself the second week I was here, I would have realize that really it was all in my head. Additionally, after the first month there were fewer strikes and holidays as well.

The past three weeks in Sucre I have been so busy! Last week I completed two grants for BiblioWorks. One was for a library in a completely new community and the other a proposal for a BiblioBus with a focus on health and wellness. On top of that I've been preparing for all my activities in Pampa Aceituno, visiting the library every other day, and upping my hours in Spanish class. I felt as though there weren't enough hours in the day! All of the sudden I was down to days left in Sucre and all I could think about was how in my first two weeks in Bolivia I didn't capitalize on all my opportunities and my situation. I would love to have 2 more weeks in Sucre!! Why can't I take those first two weeks and move them to the end? :)
One of my last days in Pampa Aceituno
My time in BiblioWorks, Pampa Aceituno, and Sucre has been unforgettable and has really got me thinking what I want to do once I graduate– The Peace Corps is now heavily on my mind, finding a permanent position at an organization like BiblioWorks, going to grad school for policy work so I can be more educated in how to make a difference, or maybe just teaching English as a second language. 

Bolivia is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented by neighboring countries. Because its poverty and developing state, larger and more developed nations like Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and even Peru refer to Bolivia as poor, dangerous and an unfriendly place to visit. I've met only kind people, have found myself in no dangerous situations, and yes, it is an impveorshed country but that in no way makes it a bad place. Bolivia is absolutely beautiful in every meaning of the word. I am so grateful to Bowdoin and the McKeen Center for giving me this opportunity to volunteer in such an inspiring organization with an important mission, and of course in an incredibly country. Entonces, hasta luego Bolivia. Voy a volver. 

The Amazon Jungle

Okay, so now that I have been back in the US for five weeks... it is time for me to wrap up my blog! My last weekend excursion was by far my best: I went to the Amazon Jungle! Ever since elementary school when we did a unit on the rainforest, I have always wanted to go to the Amazon, the jungle of all jungles. This is hard to believe but over half of Bolivia is Amazon basin, which is just simply amazing. I will never be able to get over the fact this this country is so diverse in its climate, geography, and terrain. Simply incredible.
Our airplane sat 18 people. Smallest and sketchiest
airplane I have ever been on!
This was the airport. There was no building.

The jungle tour I went on was called the Pampas tour, and it was based out of a boat. Basically we just floated down a river for three days. Awesome!! I was in a group with eight other people, all from different countries and then of course our tour guide, Jimmy. He was an interesting character. According to him, he grew up in the jungle, the youngest of 17 kids. His father, who is now 99, is the chief of a native tribe, which is located a 14 day walk from Rurrenabaque. His father thought Jimmy was different from his other children so he told him to go into Rurrenabaque (the bustling *read as there are three streets* town of the region) to do bigger and better things.

Getting to the junge was not very easy. It's not called the rainforest for nothing. Even though it is the dry season it rained all day Friday. The road was a mud pit. Although a dirt road, it is a main road and more than once we had to get out of the jeep and watch in awe and terror as double decker buses, huge trucks filled with cargo, and our jeeps tried to maneuver through the chewed up road. I can't believe the large, tall vehicles did't topple over. We arrived at the river and hopped aboard our boat, It was still raining and I think it is fair to say that although excited about being on a boat in the Amazon I was pretty miserable and cold after 2 hours. The river was really high meaning that the usual plethora of animals had dwindled down to a few stragglers. We saw a group of chattering monkeys and lots of birds attempting to dry out their wings. And we saw pink river dolphins. Yup, PINK dolphins. After two hours we got to our accommodations, a cluster of buildings all connected by a series of bridges suspending over the river. Of couse our beds were equipped with mosquito nets– a necessity even with my 98% deet (eek) that I finally "got" to use.

After dinner we went alligator searching. We got back into our tipsy turny boat in search of 1 plus feet long alligators. Crazy, I think so. How we found them: we shone our flashlights out into the bushes and until we saw the reflection of their eyes. Then, Jimmy would putter around, one of the alligators charged at us which I found extremely terrifying.
This guy hung out by our campsite all the time. Don't
fall in the water- otherwise Pepe will get you!

The next morning we went searching for anacondas. And believe it or not: we found one! When I say we, I mean Jimmy found one. The poison isn't lethal, Jimmy told us that if the anaconda bit us it would just really, really hurt, but we wouldn't die. His exact words. So I held the beast. All six feet of it. Now that I am writing this, I can't believe I did that.

Later that day we went fishing for dinner. The
The one that bit me.
fish: piranhas. I didn't catch any, but Jimmy decided that I was going to help gut the fish. The first fish I picked up was still alive and bit me. Typical. So I went to the Amazon and got bit by a piranhas. I think that is pretty cool. Later that night we played volleyball and watched the sun set before going back to camp and cooking our fish.
time for some volleyball!

Catch of the day. Jimmy caught 12 of the 16.

you can't see the dolphins, but they are there!
Our final day was what I had been looking forward to, and really the main reason why I went to the jungle: to swim with the pink river dolphins. I was the first one to take the leap of faith out of our boat into the very muddy river water. The same water where we have been fishing for piranhas, and spotting alligators. Yup, crazy. But the dolphins came and swam around us. Some people were able to hold onto their fins and get pulled around. It was amazing.

Later that day it was back to Rurrenabaque. The next day I flew back to La Paz, got a hotel, and spent about two hours trying to consolidate all my stuff into my backpack. It didn't work.

And now for more photos:
poor birdy trying to dry his wings out

a very big bird!

Jimmy searching for anacondas.
beautiful birds!
mud, mud, mud

Oh yeah, this happened. Here I am wrestling
the anaconda.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

El Jardin

Since I arrived in Sucre my plan was to start a school/library garden in Pampa Aceituno. I see a garden as a way for students to learn how to raise vegetables, study plant biology, understand the importance of a healthy diet, and as a plus, all the vegetables they grow will directly benefit the school. The mothers who cook for the entire student body will use the vegetables from the school garden. Consequently, a garden would not only strengthen the academics, but the school environment as well.

It is only fitting that my last week was when we finally got the garden underway, but that's Bolivia– things don't normally go according to plan or on schedule. I didn't actually get to plant seeds, but I did purchase them (onions, parsley, spinach, celery, and two more that I am drawing a blank on) for the school and I helped prepare the garden plot. The seeds should be in the ground this coming week. The fifth and sixth graders were the students responsible for the initial progress of the garden, instead of their physical education class, they prepared the soil. There were lots of rocks, trash, and other icky stuff in the area that we were converting into the garden. So although the students' physical education class was replaced with gardening– it was still a workout. The girls collected soil in huge grain sacks and lugged them up the hill to the school while the boys dug with shovels and picks. I hope that once a week during physical education class each grade will actual be working in the garden so gardening is almost a class. In addition to the students work, the garden has turned into a bit of a community project– families have been bringing bags of sheep manure and other nutrient rich compost to augment the soil before we put the seeds in the ground.
The boys working up a sweat getting the soil ready for the seeds.
Even though I don't get to see the actual fruits of our labor (pun intended) I am glad that I helped start such a sustainable project in Pampa Aceituno. I hope the garden flourishes and the students, teachers, and parents continue to tend to it for years to come. When I said my goodbyes at Pampa Aceituno the principal and physical education (gardening?) teacher promised to send me photos of the garden.
Director Jorge– the principal!

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Sucre happens to be home to dinosaur footprints. On Saturday I went and checked them out. Here is the wall with over 5,000 tracks.
Pretty amazing to think dinosaurs walked right there. Even though there are so many footprints there have been no complete skeletons found in Bolivia. Paleontologists believe it is because the dinosaurs only walked across Bolivia in order to get to Argentina, they never stuck around. Purely, migration. Sucre is super proud of their dino tracks– they have lots of large plastic dinosaurs scattered across the city. Some of them double as telephone booths.

Me gusta leer porque....

Last Friday morning (yeah I am really far behind with my blogging) I returned to the library by myself for the first time. I didn't need to be at the school until 9:30 so I didn't arrive at the usual 7:45ish to catch the early morning truck that usually drives up towards Pampa Aceituno. Well, when I did arrive at the bottom of the access road, there were no cars or trucks. So I walked up. Although it was a long and dusty hike, it seemed fitting, I should have to walk up the hill to school to make my Bolivian experience complete. While walking up all I could think about was someone saying, "When I was your age we had to walk an hour uphill to school everyday." Great, now I can tell that to my grandkids, minus the everyday. 

The activity I did on Friday was for the sixth and seventh graders. Since the Pampa Aceituno library is so new, the walls are really bare– one of my goals was to make the library more aesthetically pleasing. So, I bought poster board, crepe paper, cut out big letters, and printed out images of open books for students to write on. Their job was simple enough: they had to complete the sentence, "Me gusta leer porque..." (I like to read because) When students had answered the question, I had them poise with a book while I snapped their photo, which I then printed out to pair with their response. Taking a photo of them wasn't really necessary, but it was my incentive for them to complete their project. You have to realize, most of these students have never had a photo of themselves, and having their picture taken is a rare opportunity. The poster is now hanging on the wall of the library– the kids were so excited to see their photos on display, and I was so excited to read some of their answers as to why they like to read. Here are a few of my favorite responses:

The finished product and the kids checking
it out!
A mi me gusta leer porque me enseña a hacer muchas cosas de buena. Me gusta leer porque hay cuentos para aprender que cosas hay de risa que cosas de mala. Y también por que me gusta saber de los paîs de mi Bolivia.
(I like to read because it teaches me good things. I like to read because there are stories to learn, funny things, and there are bad things. And also, I like to read because I like to learn more of my country, Bolivia.)

El libro es mi mejor amigo del mundo.
(The book is my best friend in the world.)

Porque aprendo muchas cosas y me gusta leer el libro ciencias naturales porque hay muchos animales.
(Because I learn many things and I like to read natural science books because there are lots of animals.)

Cuando mas lees, mas aprendes y enseñar a nuestros hermanos.
(When you read more, you learn more, and we teach more to our siblings.)
The best part was, when the students finished the activity they
started picking up books and free reading. It was so nice to see
the library being used!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Last week I finally completed my "Juan y los frijoles magicos" activity, what, three weeks after I started it! Blockades and holidays– blah I have had enough of you! This activity was with the second, third, and fourth graders– there are about thirty-five of them total. A refresher since I first introduced this project weeks ago: I printed off Jack and the Magic Beanstalk (in Spanish obviously) and every student received a page to illustrate. As an incentive to make the end result high quality I told the students the best illustration will win a prize– a notebook, stickers, and pencils. I wanted to make the prize something that they can use in school. The students edition of Juan y los frijoles magicos looks great– I had it bound and covered so it is in an actual book form and now a proud piece of the Pampa Aceituno library.

Besides the strikes and myriad holidays, another challenge with my work in Pampa Aceituno is working around the teacher's schedule; in order to get kids into the library we have to take them from their classroom. It is a tricky situation but hopefully in future months, years or some indefinite amount of time,  library will be an actual class where the students would learn research techniques, work on research projects, produce book reports, and simply learn to love to read. Having library as a class would be the ideal situation as it would make it so much easier for BiblioWorks to accomplish
The students on their quest for nutrient rich soil
what they set out to do– improve literacy rates so children can take advantage of more life opportunities. On Tuesday morning I was able to borrow the third and fourth graders for an hour to read their edition of Juan y los frijoles magicos and plant some of their own magic beans for a fun interactive project. The first job was filling the containers (recycled water bottles) with soil. The kids all ran down the hill in search for some decent dirt, which believe it or not is easier said than done. The whole region of Chuquisaca, especially Pampa Aceituno, is very dry and arid, so our containers have lots of twigs and other debris in them, but it is still dirt, regardless of the dirt the beans are magic so they'll grow in anything... right?

When the students returned to the library with dirty hands and dirt streaked faces, I sat them in a circle so we could read the story together aloud. Sitting cross legged in an open space is common in classrooms back home, but the students were confused when I instructed them to make a circle–  I honestly think it was the first time they had been organized in this communal and open way– maybe sharing or working together isn't a common teaching method in Bolivia. The students passed around the book, each one reading aloud the page they illustrated. Some students read clearly, confidently, and were spot on with pronunciation, while others stumbled over many words. They all could read, which is an accomplishment in itself, but they have a long way to go until they become proficient and self-assured readers– but luckily for them the library is the perfect place to gain these skills.

After the story, each student planted their own magic beans. This is my introductory piece into gardening, the plan from the getgo has been to have the younger students work with container gardening and the older students in a real garden (which great news: is finally underway!!). The containers are sitting in the library and classroom now, and students have been instructed to water them everyday. Lets hope these beans actually sprout. Wouldn't that be terrible, if my magic beans didn't grow. Yikes– everyone send positive vibes towards the seeds in Pampa Aceituno.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cloud Forest

My second day in Samaipata I went on a trek with a French couple and a German. We went into Amboro National Park to the Cloud Forest. Of course, the day that we went was only the second or third clear day of the year so the Cloud Forest wasn't too cloudy. Although we didn't get to see all the beautiful mist that usually surrounds the trees we did get an amazing panoramic view. A fair trade.

The Cloud Forest is home to the helechos gigantes– the giant ferns. These are prehistoric flora that grow only one centimeter per year. Their slow growth rate is due to their age– they were around before the dinosaurs so didn't have to grow quickly because no animals were eating them. When the dinosaurs did show up some plants adapted by growing quickly– but the giant ferns adapted by secreting poison. So the dinosaurs didn't dare eat them and in present day neither do any other animals. Some of the ferns are about seven meters tall, which makes them thousands of years old! When they do die and fall over, the head of the fern starts to grow again– so in a sense they never die.  Besides the giant ferns, the flora in the Cloud Forest was quite amazing. I felt like I was on the movie set for Jurassic Park because everything was just so big and green– I have never been in a forest like this before. There are pumas, bears, jaguars, and tree snakes that are up to two meters long in Amboro National Park– but I didn't see any of these animals (un)fortunately.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Samaipata & El Fuerte

Saimapata's views were great– a nice change of pace
from dry, dusty, red Sucre!
Eeeee– this weekend I went on my last weekend trip based from Sucre! I only have two more weekends in Bolivia– where did the time go!?!

I have a talent for choosing the sketchiest bus companies. I honestly don't know how I do it– but I never end up on a tourist bus. And I don't always necessarily buy the cheapest ticket, I just believe the vendors when they tell me the bus is nice. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Friday night I had a loooong bus ride to Samaipata, like 12 hours long. And the bus was well, it was riding the struggle bus. I am surprised it didn't break down. Twelve hours on a wheezing bus. But I wish it was longer since I arrived in Samaipata at 4:30 in the morning. And when I say I arrived, I mean my bus, which was actually a bus to Santa Cruz stopped on the side of the road, let me, and only me, off, and then took off again, leaving me stranded on the side of a Bolivian road (supposedly a highway– but don't picture an eight lane road. It was a highway because it was paved) at 4:30 in the morning. Luckily, there were streetlights and I saw two people with rolling suitcases about a block away. So, I took my chances and followed them instead of waiting under a streetlight until the sun came up. It was a good move on my part as they were two tourists looking for a hostel. One of them had been to Samaipata before so he knew where the main square was. From there, I was able to find my hostel that I had booked ahead of time because I was scared I would get to Samaipata early- as in 6. NOT 4:30. I am lucky that everything went smoothly upon my arrival in Samaipata– that could have been the start to a very bad situation.

Later that morning, I had another stroke of luck by basically being adopted by a Bolivian family and accompanying them to El Fuerte– a pre-Inca ruin. Contrary to what one may think because the
El Fuerte
Spanish translation, El Fuerte is not a fort. The Spaniards assumed it has been used for defense, and they are the ones who named it. El Fuerte actually was first inhabited in 2000 BC long before the Spaniards ever set foot in South America. In 1470 the Incas arrived and took over El Fuerte. The central focus of El Fuerte is Roca Esculpida– a huge continuos piece of sandstone 60 meters in width and 220 meters in length. The rock is covered with intricate carvings of pumas, jaguars, and serpents. There are seats, tables, troughs, niches, etc. carved into the rock as well. I found the most interesting feature to be two long parallel lines down the middle of the rock. No one knows exactly what they were used for and there are many different theories, one of the most interesting being that they were a landing strip for ancient aircraft. Unfortunately, most of the carvings have faded away over the years so except for the niches and parallel lines it is really difficult to distinguish anything.
El Fuerte
In addition to Roca Esculpida there are the foundations of Inca buildings and an amazing view of the Andes meeting with the lowlands. It was fun to be with the Bolivian family as well, they were very friendly and gregarious. At the conclusion of our El Fuerte walk one of the woman bought me a necklace– so now I will always have a reminder of that wonderful morning at El Fuerte. Later that day I went to an interesting archaeological museum (no photos allowed). Archaeologists are finding a number of new sites and artifacts at an alarmingly fast pace– Samaipata is just teeming with history! The rest of the day I sat in the sun and read and enjoyed the warm weather, I was 1000 meters lower than Sucre so it was pretty balmy.