jueves, 14 de septiembre de 2017

Borders Exploration Group environmental project
Isla de Luna, Bolivia -  July 14th – 18th 2017

In July this year Borders Exploration Group, a group of young people from the Scottish Borders, travelled to Isla de Luna on Lake Titicaca to take part in an environmental project with the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative. The aim was to raise awareness of the fragility of the environment of the lake and to give information to visitors about the island and its surroundings.  To do this we collected rubbish from around the island in order to create a sculpture, hand-built a sign to accompany this and assembled information banners which had previously planned in collaboration with Jaime at BAI. Following is our blog which explains in detail how it all went.

acaban to Isla de Luna – Coati Day 1 14 July 2017      
By Group D

We all woke up early to get breakfast, stock up on water and get the bags ready for the venture to Isla de la Luna (Coati). There were still a couple of things to buy for our project so Jane headed out to the shops in Copacabana with Jaime and Laetitia to get empty sacks, chicken wire and paint.
When the minibuses arrived we hastily moved all of the bags on to the top.

 A dedicated band of people stayed behind to wait for another taxi to make sure the whole group's water supply arrived safely to our destination. We were very laden!

On our travels we witnessed breath-taking scenery despite the bumpy ride due to the challenging terrain.

After following the coast a little way, past fish farms with restaurants on wooden legs, we drove up and over the hills. Finally we rounded a corner to be greeted by the sight of Luna Island in its entirety.
At Tejepa we were met by two launches. After some scurrying around to find life jackets we were transported across the short stretch of water to this stunning island.

It took a while to unload everything off the boats as along with our personal belongings we were bringing several large bags full of wet suits, buoyancy aids and masks for the community on Coati. These had been generously donated by different companies in the UK, James at www.foxlake.co.uk/ ; Mick at www.reefersandwreckers.com ; www.aqualung.com/uk ; longstanding  BEG member Jim McPherson and Leanne Gillie and is for the people on Coati to use -with the help BAI -  to give tourists visiting Luna a chance to swim in the lake and see the wildlife, particularly the endangered Fresh water Titicaca frog (Telmatobius coleus)in its natural habitat.

We were warmly welcomed by the local community who had prepared a traditional lunch for us. As well as trout from the lake, sweetcorn, fava beans (like a broad bean) and other tasty food we were offered quinoa and barley juice that none of us has tasted before.

Later, after we’d been introduced to our homestays and found where we were sleeping, we climbed the island peak of the island. With the island at 3800m a further 100m to the top was quite slow going but well worth the effort!

The top was a good place to discuss the aims and objectives of our first full day on the island. Jaime had split the island into four sections and standing at centre of the quadrant, he explained where we would start clearing the
litter from tomorrow.

The island is only small – total coastline 6 km –so it was decided that a morning was enough to clear the shoreline and in the afternoon we could attack the hill.

Afterwards, we hiked to the North West side of the island to watch the mesmerising sunset behind Isla del Sol before heading down to our accommodation to put on warm clothes before dinner.

Dinner was a delicious vegetable soup thickened with semolina and with chips added. After we were given flasks of hot water and different verbs to add - coco leaves rosemary, a citron one and another. All exhausted, we headed to bed soon after dinner but couldn't help gazing at the beautiful starry sky.

Isla de Luna – Coati Day 2 15 July 2017           
By John Little
It was a 7.45 start for breakfast at 8.00 in the school. It was rolls, butter, jam and banana to eat with a cup of coca mate (tea). The plan for the day was to clean litter from all around the shoreline.
The four groups set off in different directions to the furthest points east and west.  Our group, consisting of Dav, Mark, Emma, Caitlyn, Lucy, Jane B and had the north-east quadrant.

We spent the morning scouring the coast and easily filled three big bags of rubbish by 12 am.

Now on the north side, we had to climb up and over the hill past the Quencha / Inca ruins with our rubbish to get back to the community and lunch!

Lunch was a delicious soup and fresh fruit.
The ladies in the community had a rota system for cooking and each day different families prepared the food in their homes and then came to the school to cook it

After that we received a demonstration from the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative team -Jaime, Riccardo, Gabriel and Laetitia – showing us how they operate on a day-to-day basis including how they keep count of the population, size and weight of the Lake Titicaca water frogs.

Jaime and Gabriel, who were in the water in full wet suit gear, collected samples of frogs and brought them in plastic bags to the shore.

I got to hold a bag with the endangered Telmatobius coleus and see it up close. Having never seen one of these water frogs before, it was an amazing experience.

After this it was back to work clearing the remainder of the shoreline and then moving up onto the hillside. Some groups had finished the waterfront already but we still had a small section to do so Jane B and me headed back over to the north side. 

We filled a bag in no time -not giving much thought to the weight –and then headed straight up between the terraces hoping to meet the rest of our group at the top. It was a struggle, particularly as we were at 3,800 metres and not yet used to the altitude. However, by the end of the day we had a huge mound of rubbish and it was a satisfying result seeing how much difference we had made.

A few of us couldn’t resist going back up the hill for another sunset and we were accompanied by ‘Policía’, one of the little dogs on the island that appeared and followed us  regularly to different parts of the island.

For tea we had a tasty thick broth, and then enjoyed the evening with our group and some of the community around a huge campfire. The stars were fantastic, there were so many and they were so visible in the clear sky so it was great just to lie back and stare up at them next to the warmth from the fire.

Isla de Luna – Coati                                       Day 3              16 July 2017      

By Jane, Zoe, Mairi & Lauren

For those of us who wanted to see the sun rise from the top of the hill it was a 5.45am start but this was well rewarded when the sun finally peaked out between the 6000+  metre peaks of  Ilampu and Janco Uma -   well worth the wait!

A quick descent and then it was breakfast time and all together to divvy up the jobs for the day; sculpture building or banner preparation and assembling all being done on the North side of the island where the Inca ruins were and the jetties for the boats coming on day trips from the mainland.

Unfortunately, one of our group - Lucy -had tripped and injured her ankle the day before so it was decided she would need to go to the mainland for an x-ray along with leaders David, Pam and Davin our expedition doctor. A couple of other ill people were ill too so our numbers were a bit depleted as we walked up and over the hill. However, the enthusiasm was still high even when everyone realised they needed to carry the rubbish back over with us for the sculpture! 

Everyone chose whether they wanted to work on the sculpture or banners 

The sculpture and sign  (First morning)

On the first morning we planned and designed our sculpture with huge enthusiasm and some amazing ideas. However we soon realised our original idea of producing an abstract frog was out with our capabilities. Not deterred, the team then decided to construct a more simple shape; a rectangle.

We selected a good location for the sculpture to sit where it would be seen from all three jetties but before we could put it in place, we needed to level out the ground.

Next we produced a chicken wire frame, tied together with string and then further secured it with wire hooks.

The sculpture  also needed a sign. Jaime and
Joseph sourced some wooden planks that were lying about on the shore and began removing nails from them to reuse.

 Eilidh joined in and together they found three reasonable planks and posts to go at the ends but as they began trying to nailing the posts to the planks they realised that it was not going to work too well.

The banners (first morning)

Those of us who were in the team for making the banners were tasked with putting together four large frames to display some information banners at the tourist arrival point on Isla de la Luna. These banners had been created prior to arriving in Bolivia by a group of the Borders Exploration Group volunteers and Bolivian Amphibian Initiative who used their creative and technology skills to research and display the relevant information. They displayed information about different aspects of the island, such as the culture, flora and fauna, wildlife (including the endangered Lake Titicacan frog) and about the local environment.

 Our first major task was to strip a selection of logs that had been given to the project by the local community on the island. This involved using any tools we could get our hands on (pen knives, mini axes and even plain stones!) to take away the rough bark that covered the log. This turned out to be quite a lengthy task, and incredibly frustrating at times when only tiny sections of the bark peeled off bit by bit.

It wasn’t until a local showed us a very efficient way of removing large sections all at once (whacking a stone into the bark until it all came loose- quite simple really!) that we made any real progress. The next task was to sort the logs into thicker and thinner logs and from here we could measure the logs to the required lengths and mark them to be cut when the right tools were to be delivered to the site that afternoon.

Lunch came to us today to save the time we would lose walking up and over the hill. Around midday the first ladies arrived by boat and soon after we were sitting eating in an idyllic spot which looked over the lake and towards the Cordillera Real mountain range.

Once again it was tasty food – soup followed by potatoes with a traditional peanut sauce and salad. Then we were back to work !

The sculpture and sign (afternoon)
For the sculpture we’d reached the point where the  bags of rubbish we had collected the previous day could be tipped into the frame and the top could be sealed up.

  With the sign, Eilidh and Joseph had come up with  a great idea to use natural forces to support the planks. That decided, the afternoon was taken up with hole digging to secure the posts. As with the banners, this was a hot and tiring task but by late afternoon the sign was in place ready for painting the following day.

The banners (afternoon)
After lunch Jaime arrived with a saw so we took it in turns to saw the excess length off the logs. We then spent the rest of the afternoon split into two teams, one digging holes in the chosen sites for the banners to be displayed and the other watching two of the locals alongside Ricardo and Gabriel (volunteers from the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative) putting together the first frame by first of all; very carefully making measurements to ensure the frame was completely linear which was a very intricate task as the smallest knock to any of the logs meant having to go back to the beginning.

This team then took it in turns to create grooves in the logs (one on each end for the posts to slot together). This, at first, appeared to be a very easy and fun task as it involved swinging heavy tools and hitting the log with lots of force, but it ended up being incredibly physically exhausting and difficult as one volunteer quickly found out when one slight hit too hard resulted in the entire log splitting down the middle.

Once four of the logs had their grooves, Gabriel and Ricardo took a couple members of this team aside and showed them how to slot the four posts together, hammer nails in to each corner of the rectangle and use strong wire to ensure these were very securely attached. This was quite a hard task as the wire was very strong and needed quite a few hands on deck to make sure it was tight enough.

The team digging the holes for the banners also had a very physically exhausting job as they had to measure the exact distance between the holes for the poles to stand and use a shovel and a pickaxe to dig down through the dry and hard ground.

At 5pm we had done all we could for the day. Tired but content with our efforts, we headed back; some round the shoreline and some over the hill.

There were a few of us who couldn’t resist stopping to watch another awesome sunset but by dinnertime we were all in the school room ready for food. The day had been pretty exhausting so everyone headed back to their homes soon after dinner.

Isla de Luna – Coati Day 4           17 July 2017 

Our last full day and with the promise of a visit to the ruins in the afternoon, we wanted to be all finished by mid-afternoon but there was still a lot to be done. After several days walking up and over the hill some people were feeling a bit weary but once we reached the north side everyone got quickly stuck into the remaining tasks.

The sculpture and sign

For the sculpture we realised that we could be more creative than a rectangle and that something more relevant would make a better impact. We liked Laetitia’s suggestion of a tree so with the remaining chicken wire we set to work making branches. 

We wrapped some of the many large plastic bottles we’d collected in chicken wire and attached them to the rectangle to produce a palm tree/ pineapple sculpture. 

Chloe and Emma now had the Spanish translation of the message for the sign – which we had discussed and voted on before we had even arrived on the island. So now several people set to writing the letters neatly in pencil and then painting them carefully on.  Despite having a couple of paint brushes fingers appeared to be the preferred method resulting in quite a lot of blue and white fingers!  

The holes team discovered that when the first frame was finished and lifted to the first site for erection, the two holes were too close together.
The second team discovered they had to hammer the nails very carefully from the right angle or it would result in a wonky nail which proved nearly impossible to remove. Despite these minor setbacks, by the afternoon all the frames had been put together and lifted into their positions.

The banners
The next day both teams got straight back to work – one on digging the holes and the other putting the frames together. Both teams faced some challenges.

 The holes team discovered that when the first frame was finished and lifted to the first site for erection, the two holes were too close together.

The second team discovered they had to hammer the nails very carefully from the right angle or it would result in a wonky nail which proved nearly impossible to remove. Despite these minor setbacks, by the afternoon all the frames had been put together and lifted into their positions. 

We then all had to pull together some of the taller members of the group to help us tie the banners on to the frames so that they sat in the centre which took lots of to-ing and fro-ing, but once they were done was extremely satisfying to see all the hard work had pulled off.  

To top it all off, a lovely tourist guide even stopped to praise us and let us know how impressed she was with the information and the banners and our host Alvaro Mamani seemed pretty pleased too!

When we had stopped for lunch it seemed unlikely that we would get everything finished in time but everyone pulled together and it all was completed by 3pm.

So, once we’d taken photos and cleared up and returned all the tools we posed for a group photo in front of the final banner before heading in to look at the Inca ruins we had been walking past each day.

Once our last delicious dinner was all eaten, we had a farewell evening with Alvaro Mamani, head of tourism on the island;  Jaime, Laetitia, Gabriel and Riccardo, from  BAI,  the ladies of the community and of course all the Borders Exploration Group team.

The projects had helped us appreciate the beautiful Lake, the fragile environment in which it is set as well as really encouraging us to work together as a team.  Best of all, everyone was pleased with all that had been achieved. So there were lots of thanks from all parties, along with some slightly battered traditional Scottish snacks and a little taste of whiskey!

Early the following morning we would be setting off early into the mountains of the Cordillera Real so no one was late heading to bed. But the beautiful night sky was already full of stars and I couldn’t resist lingering outside looking for shooting stars – and I saw one!
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