The visit to Salla was just a quick one so we could see the area where a lot of geological work had already been done. After two nights there, we returned to the paved highway, and went south. This took us further away from La Paz. At Konani, we again turned toward the Cordillera Real, this time on a paved road that took us to Puchuni. On the horizon are the snowcapped mountains of the Cordillera.
Puchuni is on the edge of a valley; it sits on the rim where the Altiplano drops off into a large valley full of gullies and badlands, and of course subsistence farms. The other student's field area is in this valley, so we needed to find a place to stay. After checking out a few of the estancias (tiny communities of subsistence farmers that I think have developed around old colonial ranches) in the area, we settled on Estancia Palluma. It's down in the valley, but still at an altitude of 3953m (Puchuni's altitude is 4143m).
One of the families there shared their space with us for cooking--I got to cook dinners on a portable gas stove in two-room mud-brick house by the
light of an oil candle, using water that had been hand-drawn from a well. This is how so many people on the Altiplano live, but I don't think many tourists get to see it. They farm by hand, using scythes to harvest the grains, pulling up the potatoes by hand, and using donkeys to carry the harvest away. Taxis and trucks don't come to Estancia Palluma, so to take their produce to sell at the market, they must take donkeys to the nearest Estancia vehicles will come to--about an hour's walk away. The herds are tended by the women and children, unless it is a school day (which is only a few times a week). The women and children are also the ones who must draw water for cooking and cleaning. The doctor and a nurse come in on a dirtbike to immunize the children and do check-ups. On our last day there, the family who let us use a room in their house was getting electricity in their home--very exciting for the four young boys living there.
We camped in the flats of a tiny river valley that must have had water in it once, but is bone
dry. The rainy season ended about a month ago, and already there is only a trickle left in the main rivers here. It is dry and dusty. Sometimes the wind picks up the dust and the dust devils tower over the horizon.
The people at Estancia Palluma have been so good to us. One morning I heard someone outside my tent--it was one of the elders with a bag of papas (potatoes) for us. The men of the Estancia asked to meet with us one night, to find out if we could help them get water, which they desperately need. Many of the surrounding Estancias have wells with pumps, but Palluma does not. I suspect they also need water for irrigation, because their fields are on the hills of the valley, and there is no water up there. We gathered at the flagpole of the school building (which is only used on the rare days when a teacher visits). The men were called to the meeting with a rams horn. Once sufficient time had passed, we went through the arched doorway of a big old barn that belonged to a colonial farmer who once lived here. The meeting was
held in the walled in farmyard at dusk. It continued into the darkness, and a few more men came by. Some came into the yard, some listened from the other side of the wall. Only one woman slipped in after dark.
The geology in the area is fascinating, especially since it is relatively unstudied. We spent a few days checking out the outcrops. On the first day here we noticed that there were a lot of volcanic rocks lying around on the ground, and a few days later we found the source--an amazing outcrop of a biotite-rich layer sandwiched between sedimentary deposits, all of it faulted. It is almost strange though, for an Alberta geoscientist, to be looking at Devonian clastics and Cretaceous carbonates.
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