Student Reflections: David May - Unduavi

Thursday November 30th

Back from Coroico and into the bustling city of La Paz. There's nothing like the smell of diesel fuel in the morning. This stay in La Paz we are staying in a three star hotel the Hostel Montes. It is a much nicer place in comparison to the dark and gothic Hotel Vienna.

Rain showers last night in the city made for snow capped mountains on our drive to La Cumbre and exploring the puna and sub-paramo forests near Unduavi. We get hassled near the checkpoint for not having permission to commute from La Paz to Unduavi. Finally, we make it pass the checkpoint to check out the sub-paramo forests.

While looking at the various sub-paramo flora we found some funky looking orchids and Anya spotted Viola lehmannii. We gathered enough Violets for a population study and Harvey is so enamored that he falls down the mountain in his sweet violet bliss. He was truly in rare form. We chowed on the bus before heading down to the Rio Unduavi to do some algae sampling.

The Rio Unduavi is amazing. It more or less drains the entire surrounding area. It's watershed is fed from surrounding glaciers and cliffs making for a raging river at high times and it is completely choked with boulders the size of small autos. It made my heart pound just thinking about the whitewater adventures that abound there. We found four macro algae, and I even managed to stump Morgan for awhile on one particular type. That is, until we found some more of it. I came rather close to falling in at one point.

It felt good to get out of the foggy and dreary weather enveloping Unduavi. We jetted off to La Paz, hot showers, cheap food, and a budget shoppers paradise.

Friday December 1st

We commuted to Unduavi again, but this time we investigated the algae of the Pongo River, a tributary of the Unduavi. Where we were samling we ran into an old man who was raising trout in potholes on the sides of the river. He thought we were going to steal his trout, until we explained to him what we were doing. We looked at some moist puna plants while Anya was busy falling in the river (see photo).

Later we searched a mountainside for Viola pygmaea. We finally found the tiny little devil up high. We performed some quadrat sampling while the stream team sampled some small stream down in the valley below. We high tailed it out of there as soon as the sampling was over with. A steady fog had been rolling in all day long, making it cold and rather miserable. Visibility was nonexistent, making it sort of surreal and mysterious.

Saturday December 2nd

We wake up, chow on some toast and coffee-the traditional nutrient deprived breakfast of the Bolivianos. We load the bus and Stephan Beck, the Director of the University Herbarium is joining us on our trip to La Cumbre/Unduavi today. Stephan is originally from Germany, however he has been living in Bolivia since 1978-and has managed to ID more plants than anyone has ever though possible in one lifetime. The man is a wealth of knowledge, and really in touch with his surroundings. Traffic is a bear in the morning, and we stop several times along the route. We stop on the outskirts of town to buy water and snacks for lunch. Stopping at the road-side stands, the Aymaran women see the gringos coming and they start grabbing plates of food and talking really fast. It's actually quite humorous. We load up and stop at several elevations along the way.

Stephan shows us how the changes in elevation make the plant life vary drastically between points. He scurries around like a mountain goat prying out puna plants with his trusty ice axe. To most, the mountaineering axe looked more like something out of the movie "Braveheart." Mental note-It wouldn't be a bad idea to travel with an ice axe when in the third world, no one would dream of hassling you. Stephan hikes very fast and efficiently through the terrain and pokes fun at some of us for being softies and not being able to hack it. It seems as if every minute we are stopping to look at something new, and of course, like everything else that we saw on this day Stephan practically new them all down to the species level. I've never met anyone who knew their surrounding flora quite like he did. I kept found myself asking if this guy was for real. It was utterly amazing. Later we hike up a mountainside searching for Viola bridgesii, but we only turn up Viola pygmaea. The mountain we are scavenging used to have an old tungsten mine near the summit. At one point the entire mountain was used for potato cultivation to feed the miners. Unduavi is filled with sparse vegetation, houses built of rocks, as well as walls for livestock and what not. The houses here typify the hardy qualities of the people, and like the pincushion plants their perseverance in such a harsh environment. We find a small patch of Polylepis nestled back in the nook of a high valley. We get up rather high on this hike, and up in the high valley see our first cows in all of Bolivia. It was rather puzzling to hike up all of that way and stumble across a handful of cows.

We drive back and everyone is exhausted from the hike at altitude. I thought that today was the best day so far, because we got off of the roads and actually got to hike around and get up high to see some views-or at least when the clouds cleared temporarily. It rained a lot today, and many were not ready for the hiking. Bed sounded really good to most.

I wake up in the hotel room to find Bryan flipping through stations on the television. The constant soccer re-runs, Jerry Springer wanna-be's, and Bolivian televangelists, you know your typical U.S. television counter parts in rapid Spanish. Pretty normal& weird, very weird?

Sunday December 3rd

Last day in Unduavi. We stop to do a study on Viola pygamaea, at a sight that Stephan showed us the day before. We run some quadrat sampling and get our groove on with that. It is a bright sunny day. The inevitable sunburn is coming. It seems like no matter how much sun block you put on, at altitude-your gonna crisp no matter what. Later we head down near the rock houses in the large valley near the Unduavi. Abandon rock houses and fences abound. A fog rolls in, the temperature drops, and we start to freeze. The fog gives everything a surreal feeling, being deep in the valley and all. Everyone is miserable after two quadrat sets and we high tail it out of there. We stop at the dam on the way back, when we are sort of out of the mountains. We sample some nasty streams where people are washing their laundry in, and head back to La Paz. No violets. Later that night we drink coffee at a Alexander's a yuppie establishment similar to a Starbuck's Coffee. Underdressed and expensive for Bolivia standards, but worth it because the Frappacino's and brownies are to die for. Plus, Harvey has us all convinced that Chocolate really is a food group.

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