Student Reflections: Amanda Habel - Sorata

The rainy morning and a broken promise for transportation delayed our departure into the tangle of mountains. Instead of a truck waiting to meet and greet us in the damp street, we were redirected back into the Hotel Residencial to await some wheels while we busied ourselves playing with chemicals. ('Playing with chemicals' sounds more glamorous than it was, only soil analysis. No pipe bombs to help the revolution of the thirsty Ayamaras we so recently left in La Paz.) Really, it was the tinker-toy version of organic chemistry. Take our soil from the brown paper bag with little mouse sized scoops, put it in tubes, add chemicals, shake and repeat…and repeat…and repeat. The conclusion- tiny little plants grow in tiny little increments from tiny little fertilizer reservoirs. Mountains are greedy it seems, all the nutrients under lock and key in rocks yet to be crumbled. The easy solution, botanical cannibalism, goes ignored in these lofty climbs. It's evidence of resourceful growth in this landscape. So where are the parasites, the epiphytes? Right where we left them I'm sure, unobserved as we scour the ground and compete against each other for ice cream and violets. The rain has finally stopped; one foot out the door and the show must go on. But poor group planning leaves a few hungry bellies as lunch is skipped for at least two others and myself to get ready for the delayed field work ahead. I lost hope for moving as fast as the slowest person, another broken promise. Time is money and people aren't worth much in our economic infrastructure. But finally we get going. The rainy season gave our trip down to the San Cristobal River, another interesting twist. More grinding teeth covered by grinning faces. We found our water but the precious subjects we seek, algae, are hidden by the storm of brown that churns between two banks. Even the spindly legs that support this aquatic body, the shallow tributary streams, are clouded by mud. We move more slowly and collect data disjointed from linear conclusions. High readings here for conductivity and pH could be from some geographical factor or different bedrock or proximity of houses next to streams hence input of pollutants or rain having a greater erosional effect combined with the distance it travels to get to our feet, we don't know. And we came to find answers.

I've never not been the strong one. But today was, once again, another trial of limitations and skewed expectations. Our hike up the mountain was created and woven by an experienced trekker. A trekker who I came to find out was the same man I'd seen out riding his four-wheeler up to mid-town from his hotel/outpost (only a short walk). Not to be trusted, that man with pointy teeth and stabbing blue eyes, a trekker who didnt trek. His mouth always gaped an inch or so. If ever there was a person you knew was cruel, it was he. He ate whatever he looked at, cut you up with those eyes and gnashed you between those teeth. (Gossip: had he flown from Germany to escape the fall of Nazi power, abandon ship?) Our trek was "easy, mostly horizontal and you can come back tomorrow to get a harder trek if you like…and you'll need a guide." I was eager to see the trail and get out into the forest like the one beautiful time we did at Chuspipata, real hiking on overgrown paths and dense relatively undisturbed growth to weave ourselves into. We all had imagined winding trails and the dangers of getting lost heightening the excitement of finally reaching the top of Chulimani, the urge to conquer. Stark reality set in when after five minutes of hiking (straight up) out of town, one of us had to turn back. And I myself in my weakened, still-healing body was having trouble keeping pace (from a bad case of Montezuma's revenge, as we called it. -I now know why small third world children with bad water die from it.). At the edge of town we get onto a wide dirt road (no need for a guide). for hours we hike on this road, literally hours, we hike uphill. The fiber of determination strung tight and plucked again and again to play a song of willpower with raw fingertips. After three hours I start crashing. Everyone looks like hell, sweaty and exhausted. We're no longer a group but a broken line spread over half a mile, few words are spoken to conserve breath in the thin air. At the end of it, when it finally came, I had turned back and Harvey had gotten his Viola bangii, all were in need of rest.

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