Tuesday, September 23, 2008

To be continued…

While at the airport’s waiting room, I think back of what I have been through the last days. Different people, different stories, different entrepreneurships: but the same dream of a better life and future for themselves and their families. I think about how because of that first loan, they got wings to become what they are today: empowered people, proud of themselves and willing to continue working hard until they achieve their dreams. At the same time, I also realize that without people and institutions believing in investment for development, this could have never been possible. There has been much achieved, but there is still much to do…

Monday, September 22, 2008

Awarding development without borders

It was still half an hour before the event started, but many representatives of our partners were already in the conference room. I recognized the people of CLAEH and Cooperativa Artigas, and met many others. The room was crowded because there were more attendees than expected. Nobody minded standing up during the whole ceremony. This demonstrated their recognition and appreciation to the regional office located in Montevideo, which this year celebrated 25 years of operation in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
Central Lanera Uruguaya (CLU) received the Oikocredit Award 2008 for their excellent track record in achieving economic and social improvements for small sheep wool producers – without borders. CLU’s 2000 members belong to 40 cooperatives located in not only the most remote areas of Uruguay, but also in Rio Negro, a province in the centre of Argentinian Patagonia. I learned that CLU developed the Centex brand - high quality Merino wool – which is well-known in the Merino wool trade sector. This brand is exported to Europe, Japan and the USA. Next time I buy a sweater, I will search for one produced with Merino wool of the Centex brand. Let’s hope they have it at the local store!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Go, go... Oikocredit!

The small cottages in Cerro del Toro are very cozy. Built in wood, they look pintoresque in spite of the grey and rainy day. I try to imagine this place in the summer with a lot of people and children playing by the swimming pool. In the large conference room, the Oikocredit delegation – three people from the Uruguayan office and two of us from Dutch office - were warmly welcomed. We sat at a large table, and were introduced to the players of… the Oikocredit wheelchair basketball team!

It was a nice surprise to see these young men wearing a white tee with our logo on. During lunch, it was uncertain if the basketball game will go on as it was still raining. But by the time we finished lunch, rain has stopped. The game can begin!

Some of them move using crutches, others need a wheelchair. We supported “our boys” along the line, and celebrated loudly every basket. The game was intense, and every point was disputed. The players demonstrated their high skills and outstanding physical condition: it demands much energy to play basketball and move with a wheelchair. At the end, the Oikocredit team lost, but it did not matter: everybody had a good time, and we witnessed again how investing in people can make the difference.

A new meaning of credit for development

The last visit to a project partner in Uruguay brought me to Cerro del Toro (Bull’s Hill) where Cooperativa Artigas has a recreational complex called “La Colonia” (the Colony). This 2 hectare complex has rooms, small cottages, a pool, and basketball court. Why should a microfinance institution have such a place? The answer is simple: to promote better life quality for their borrowers. Cooperativa Artigas mission does not limit to providing loans, but improving life standards of their borrowers and their families: people with low-income and people with disabilities.
This MFI has a special focus on integrating people with disabilities into society, opening credit lines for two Uruguayan institutions addressing this target group. This is very unique because in Uruguay, as in many developing countries in the world, there is a lack of facilities and programs for these people. In some countries, it goes to the extreme that they are discriminated by society and even by their families.
Like Oikocredit, Cooperativa Artigas invests in people. No wonder the relation between both organizations already dates from 2001, five years before Cooperativa Artigas officially became Oikocredit’s project partner. Credit goes beyond providing a loan, but believing in people and empowering them to continue believing in themselves and in their dreams. Only then does credit bring development and a better quality of life.

When dreams become true

After the ceremony we drove to one of the policlinics where Añece works as volunteer as part of there university education. This time, Sofía Seimur, another third year student, drove along.
Sofía’s dream was becoming a doctor. As she grew older she realized it would be almost impossible for a girl from San Carlos – a city located, 45 minutes by bus from Punta del Este – and from a low-income family to afford studying in Montevideo. But her fate changed. During the last high school year, her biology teacher informed the students that the municipality of Maldonado and CLAEH were offering a full grant to study medicine, which included education and transport. Sofía and three classmates applied, and Sofía got a grant.
From the first year of college, all students are sent to public health centres located in poor areas of Maldonado. For students coming from wealthy families, this is a confronting experience, which helps them to witness first hand what the social side of medicine should be. Students with a scholarship experience the satisfaction to give back to the community the benefit they have received.

The other side of the coin: not everything is shiny and sparkling around Punta del Este

Punta del Este. Wow! I couldn’t believe I was going there. This beachside town, some 100 kms from Montevideo, is the place to be in the summer for the rich and famous from this part of the world. But… what are we going to do in such a place?
The rain and dark sky gave the right scenario to a hidden face of this city: the poverty belt around the summer mansions. Maldonado, a city next to Punta del Este, is the home of many people living in poverty after they emigrated, looking for job opportunities in any of both cities. We arrived to the Centro Latinoamericano de Estudios Humanos (CLAEH, Latin American Center of Human Studies) in Maldonado to attend a ceremony to place the first stone of the new building Oikocredit will support financing.
CLAEH made a statement by decentralizing medical education, not without resistance from other universities. They made this choice for three reasons: to decentralize medical education; to provide access to medical school for students with less resources and living outside Montevideo; and finally, to recover the social side of medicine: helping people without distinction. Oikocredit contributed to finance the implementation of this medicine career.
Some students granted scholarships attended the ceremony. Among them, Añece Smeding, a third year student, told me that before all medicine students had to study in Montevideo, the capital city. For Añece and her fellow students from outside Montevideo had little resources and it was not affordable due to the economic and social costs.
Añece showed me the large practice room. Next to it there is a cold area where corpses are kept. I did not dare go further than the entrance room. Añece’s enthusiasm revealed she was getting much more than medical education; she was able to share with others what she was achieving during the studies.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Microentrepreneurship and development in Uruguay: who really needs Oikocredit financing?

For the understanding of many living abroad, Uruguay is a country that is not easily linked with poverty or disadvantaged people. Seldom are examples from this land mentioned in the discussions regarding development efforts or poverty alleviation cases. This is far from true, I was told. There is a silent, but broad part of the population that lives under poverty conditions, especially small farmers. According to The World Factbook website, 27.4% of the Uruguayan households live below the poverty line. This brought a new angle to my stay in this country.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Baby garments for export

We had to wait some time outside a building before Flavio Saramani Laime appeared from around the corner. He apologized for being late as he was in the market dispatching some orders.
At the end of a corridor, there is a small apartment where the small garment factory is located. Wherever you look around, there are piles of baby clothes in pastel colours. He learned everything about the business from his father, who produced clothes for adults.
Flavio once studied business administration at the university, but he was not able to complete this education and only made it to the third year. His ability to look for market opportunities led him to a baby garment factory, after discovering a niche in the market. His feeling proved to be right: Flavio has been in the business for more than 18 years. During those years, he experienced growth and difficulties.
”In the most difficult moments, when I had much stock and could not sell my garments, I went to FIE and they understood me. They helped me by reprogramming my repayment schedule in a win-win situation. Thanks to refinancing my debt, my business was saved.”
While talking over a local soft drink, Flavio shared his dreams of exporting in the future. To achieve this, he needs to buy a shed and a storehouse where he could have a larger atelier with 50 employees and produce exports for Paraguay, Argentina and Mexico.
“One should not be conformist with what one has achieved,” says Flavio as he gives me his business card and we say good-bye.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

And the winner is… Awarding outstanding social performance

In spite of the little time left after the morning visits to FIE clients, I managed to dress up a bit to attend the award ceremony. My Bolivian colleagues were a bit nervous, wondering how many people would show up because of the difficult situation the country was going through – especially in the “Media Luna” region. To everybody’s surprise, there were even more attendees than expected. This high attendance showed me Oikocredit’s ability to summon people in the country. The event started with an institutional video of our local office. Because the event was during lunch, the brief speeches were interspersed with breaks. Many in the audience waited with some tension to hear the winners. With this award, Oikocredit wanted to show its recognition for the social impact of its project partners and their exceptional quality. Because of the particulars of the country, the award was given in two categories: microfinance and production. CRECER, the MFI with a strong focus on rural women living in remote places was the project partner awarded in the microfinance category. The award for a production project partners was given to El Ceibo, the organic, fair trade cocoa farmers' cooperative processing and marketing cacao. Both project partners received € 3,000 each for the financing of technical assistance projects. The award ceremony went very well. The time management of the event was perfect. Each member of the country office team did their best to make everybody – guests and staff from abroad – feel comfortable and supported. My compliments to all of them! At the end came a “sweet” surprise: an El Ceibo milk chocolate bar wrapped in Oikocredit’s blue paper. It is going to be hard not to eat it, and take it back to the office to share with my colleagues. I hope I will succeed...

Thinking on Christmas all-year round

A narrow corridor between two buildings takes you to Ricardo Murillos’s atelier. Ricardo owns a small factory of Christmas statues for the domestic market. It was 1990 when he became a FIE client. After inheriting the family business - started by his father 60 years ago – Ricardo went by chance to a FIE office: because it was close to his home. Since then, he has remained as a loyal and one of the oldest clients. “I do not lend from anybody else but FIE. They treat me well and lend me money according to my possibilities and business particulars. In my case, I only earn money at the end of the year when I sell my Christmas sculptures in the domestic market. We only repay the loan when we have profits, which is at the end of the year. No bank would ever have agreed to those conditions, which could have endangered my business.” From his end-of-year income, he pays the school fees of his two children. They like helping in the atelier during holidays. In December, after selling his sculptures, Ricardo follows courses on new mould techniques, painting and others because “everything evolves”. We walked around the atelier and admired the “Holy Family” sculptures in different sizes and positions. They were still waiting to be hand-painted. It is a labor-intensive work that Ricardo shares with his wife and four employees. Ricardo does not have a shop, but he delivers his products to libreria Don Bosco – where people buy them as souvenir - and to fairs. He also has fixed clients that supply his sculptures to the domestic market. “I would like to sale my sculptures to Argentina, Cobija, Santa Cruz, and Chile.” This Christmas I will think of Ricardo every time I look at the Christmas sculptures adorning shops and homes.

We found Yaqueline! A quest with a happy-end

It was 2004 when my colleague first met Yaqueline Callisaya. Then, she was a small vegetable vendor in the crowded Rodríguez market of La Paz. She had a “terrenito” (piece of ground) in Villa Adela, a suburb of La Paz, and many plans for the future. Yaqueline has been a FIE client for almost eight years. Thanks to FIE she began a vegetable stall in the market and when banks did not believe in her, FIE did. “Since the beginning they never denied me a loan, which helped me develop my business“. As we arrived to the Cancha Belén area of the market, we walked as quickly as we could to the place where she was seen as last. And there she was! She looked much the same as on the pictures taken four years ago. It was the same stall in a corner close to the street – but there were more than a few vegetables. Her friendly face and smile are even more beautiful in real life. While attending customers, Yaqueline told me that she used her last loan (10,000 Bolivianos) to become a tomato wholesaler, which means additional income to the family. As I took out the pictures taken in 2004 to show them to Yaqueline, the neibouring vendors became so excited that everybody surrounding the stall wanted to know what was going on. “Look, this is La Yaqueline. She has not changed anything!” “Can I also look at the pictures?”“Are these real pictures?” Yaqueline proudly told us that she was able to complete her house using a housing loan. But her life has not been a bed of roses for the past years. Two years ago, her husband, a minibus chauffer, had an accident. Yaqueline was so desperate that she couldn’t work due to stress but she was lucky to receive immediate support from the MFI.“The loan officers are very nice people. They help me in just a week time.” With this loan, the car was fixed, and Yaqueline could go back to work. Her face becomes very serious as she says that without both incomes, they would have not been able to make ends meet. Yaqueline still has many dreams. Besides sending her children to school, she wants to buy a stall when the new Rodríguez market is ready (construction will start by the end of 2008). Her ultimate dream is to open a mini market at her place to work closer to the children. Yaqueline has no doubts that FIE will support her to fulfil her dreams. “FIE has confidence in us, without any suspicions. Such loans bring good luck.” We take the last pictures and we kiss her goodbye. Before getting into the car, I took a last glance to the stall, where Yaqueline has gone back to business as usual…with a big smile. “See you in four years,” I was thinking. Who knows I will be back?

And they lived happily ever after… striving for sustainable relations with the borrowers

Today, we will visit some MFI clients in La Paz. FIE FPP (Fondo Financiero Privado para el Fomento a las Iniciativas Económicas SA). FIE is currently one of the leading MFIs in Bolivia. Founded as a non-profit institution in 1985, FIE was formalized as a private financial fund in March 1998, when it became FIE FPP. Its relation with Oikocredit dates from 1996, even before it became a private financial fund. As long-standing project partner, I have heard much about this MFI since I start working for Oikocredit.

As we wait for a taxi to go to the market, FIE’s loan officer told me something I could never imagined regarding this MFI. Every August, FIE asks a yatiri – a Bolivian shaman – to make a ritual offer to the Pachamama – an Andean Mother Earth deity – to bring good luck and success to its clients in the coming year, as well as protection against anything bad. With this yearly rite, FIE FFP materializes its approach and confidence towards its clients as key economic agents for the country’s broader development as well as its respect for local traditions. Their long standing relationships with their clients are based not only on providing them a loan, but also through standing by them in difficult situations.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The little house in the organic plantation: cacao is a family affair

Our last visit is to the cacao plantation of the late Arturo Masias, one of the cooperative’s founders. As eldest son, Basilio Masias took charge of the farm on behalf of his siblings after his father passed away. Reina Condori, Basilio’s wife, and their four children greeted us. The youngest one is carried on Reina’s back and is only a few months old. She explained to us that the whole family is involved during the harvest. Even the eldest children of their relatives come to help after school. While Basilio climbs up the trees to pick up the cacao beans, she cuts them in two. Reina gave a brief demonstration. I was impressed by her ability to cut cacao fruits using such a huge and impressive knife. While walking around the plantation, where the last cacao fruits were hanging and I tried to imagine how the plantation would have looked before the harvest season, with the many yellow cacao beans hanging everywhere. Around the cacao plants, they grow organic bananas that are used to provide some shadow to the cacao and for family consumption. With pride, Reina told us that they were able to build a better house thanks to the premium they received from their cacao. After taking the last pictures, we left them as Reina must prepare lunch for the family and put the baby to sleep. We were invited for lunch back at El Ceibo quarters. It was nice to see some of the farmers again that we met the day before and say good-bye before taking the long road back to La Paz.

From microentrepreneurs to village banking managers

Throughout the world, many village banks are successfully managed by women, and CRECER is no exception. At the moment, this village banking group has 15 members. They already are in their 46th loan cycle, with a total loan amount of 81,000 Bolivianos (9,321.49 Euro). Every 15 days the group meets and receives some education and training on banking and financial issues. The women speak Aymara and Spanish and call each other “sisters”. The village bank “Lago celeste A” is managed by: - Miriam Machaca is the president, she sells handicrafts - Teodora Condori is the vocal, she is a fisherwoman - Esperanza Chambil is the treasurer, she sews clothes and sells handicrafts - Magdalena Chambi is the secretary, she sells handicrafts, and is the youngest of the group - Gregoria Choque is responsible for education/training issues When we arrived, there was a clear barrier between “us” and “them”. Fortunately, Alberto managed to break it down through a play using Aymaran words. We laughed a lot, and from that moment, the bridge between our worlds was built. While they were making repayments, I sat in between them for a brief chat. Strikingly, any time I asked about their future plans, they respond unanimously “We want to continue growing with CRECER”. Gregoria supports Alberto during the trainings. Because she is not busy with repayments, we had a brief conversation. Gregoria is a fisherwoman and fish wholesaler in Tiquina town, on the shore of the Titicaca Lake. Since 15 years ago, she wakes up very early in the morning to sell fish in the local market. With her small boat, she is able to catch four to five large cans of fish – mainly ispi and carachi, which are common in the lake. Before joining the group, 11 years ago, her catch was not sufficient to provide for the family. Nowadays, Gregoria get more income thanks to the village bank “I use the loans to buy more nets, so I catch more fish and sell more. I have fixed customers”. Next to this, every six months she receives a small amount as profit that she uses for buying a quintal (46kgs) of rice or shoes for her children. She uses the additional income to pay for the school of her four children. CRECER support has been crucial in difficult moments. “CRECER also provides us a special loan when my children or I am sick, so I can continue working”. Gregoria’s husband works crossing cars and buses from one shore of the lake to the other. Due to the political and social situation in Bolivia, Gregoria’s husband only crosses two cars or buses a day. There is no bridge between the shores of Lake Titicaca because the population was against building one. At first sight, it is difficult to understand such a decision. Would it be a sign of respect to the lake because it is believed to be an important shrine of feminine energies on Earth in Aymaran cosmology? I wonder if I will ever find out…

The Aymara world: the challenges of adapting microfinance practices to a bi-cultural environment

It is almost noon when we arrived at Tiquina. In a large room next to a church, the village bank group “Lago Celeste A” (Skyblue lake A) is about to start their session. They are monitored by the Batallas area branch of CRECER, which comprises a total of 185 village banks. With more than 15 years of existence, it is the oldest group from this area covering Tiquna and Copacabana, including the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). CRECER (in English: GROW) is a microfinance institution that believes that education in financial matters should go together with providing loans. This contributes to the success of their entrepreneurships. It also helps them develop fidelity with their clients. Such trainings involve using pictures as many of the women are illiterate. Also different participatory techniques are included. In addition, trainings are given in Aymara, a language spoken around the Lake Titicaca area in Bolivia and Peru. After briefly introducing us, Alberto Rodríguez – CRECER loan officer – started the training. This time it was on savings: why savings are important and what kind of savings exist (formal, semiformal and informal). They also received information about a health center they can visit for a general medical check. (Most of the women of village bank groups do not attend health centers for various reasons, from cultural to lack of resources.)

Back on the road: to Lake Titicaca branch to Crecer

The road from La Paz to Tiquina, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, takes about two hours depending on the traffic. In a way, it shows the contrasts that you also find in the area itself. Getting out of La Paz and passing through El Alto one can see how the Western lifestyle gives room to an Aymaran world. Their world has been able to keep some traditions in spite of the long colonial period, as well as adapt others to shape itself to what it has currently become: an Aymara culture living in a bi-cultural world.
Located at 3,812 m (12,500 ft) above sea level on the border of Peru and Bolivia, the Lake Titicaca –known as Mamacota (Mother Lake) in native Aymara – has had a special role in the Aymara cosmology since ancient times. It is no surprise, then, that CRECER, our MFI project partner, started its operations in this area through village banks. Village banks usually are composed by groups of 12 to 15 clients that meet on a regular basis. 95% of CRECER clients are women, and 60% of them live in rural areas.

The cocoa experimental centre: technical assistance meets organics meets young farmers’ dreams

It is a very sunny morning when we arrived to El Ceibo experimental center. Sergio Ichuta gives us a friendly greeting at the entrance. At 28 years old, he is deputy director of the agroforestry department. El Ceibo provides training and job opportunities for its members. This is welcomed by the farmers, not only because of the personal development, but also because they can give something back to the cooperative. It struck me how important it is to work for El Ceibo and share with other cooperative members in return for all the benefits they receive. But the farmers do not feel it as an obligation; they do it with pleasure because they see a direct benefit for themselves and their families.
We followed Sergio around the center where the cooperative tries growing different cacao varieties and use different techniques. For the first time in my life, I tasted the cacao fruit. It is greasy and its tastes is quite sour, but nice. A bit far away, I found Marta Sipe and Lidio Vaquiata doing seed grafting, a labor intensive job. Marta and Lidio are relatives of El Ceibo members. Dispite their different ages and stories, they share the same dream: to buy a cacao plantation plot. With the training and experience they gain working for El Ceibo and their savings they are confident that their dream will soon come true.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Standing by the farmers: Inocencio’s story

Outside the gathering facility, I met 44 year old Inocencio Figueroa Herrera. He lives in San Antonio town, and is the president of Cooperativa Sejana. His two hectares of organic cacao farm provides for his family. He grows organic citrus, oranges, mandarines and bananas.
Don Inocencio has worked very hard to get where he is now. He left his hometown in Oruro’s western area, looking for a better life in Alto Beni. In 1973, he bought his first piece of ground. As an immigrant from an Andean area, he grew potatoes, quinoa, cañahua and raised some sheep/ovines, but this did not generated sufficient income to provide his wife and eight children. His personal journey took him to Northern Chile as worker, where he discovered he liked agriculture, especially irrigation activities. So he came back to Alto Beni to produce cacao. In the beginning, it was very difficult as he had little knowledge about the different varieties, yield, and quality of cacao. Six years ago, he became a member of the Sejana cooperative. Before that, he accepted any price a wholesaler would offer for his cacao, which was not enough to make ends meet. Through El Ceibo, he received training to convert his plot into an organic farm. This process took him three years.
Without much problem, Don Inocencio climbed to the top of a large in-house facility shows me how to roar the cacao. “Thanks to El Ceibo I’ve learned good techniques to grow organic cacao. Moreover, I have developed myself. I receive a fair price for my cacao and many benefits to have a better life. El Ceibo provides guarantees as well as loans in difficult times.”
The cooperative provides emergency health loans and jobs for members. Don Inocencio would like to equip his cacao plot with new tools, a cacao drier with rails, and a small pick-up truck for transporting. He is grateful for the warm welcome from other members. “I do not feel isolated anymore.”

Meetings at El Ceibo headquarters: Oikocredit from the farmer’s perspective

Sapecho is a small town in the Bolivian Amazon that hosts El Ceibo’s central offices, gathering facility and experimental center. El Ceibo is a second-tier cooperative or organic, fair trade cacao farmers from Suyungas, Coranavi and Laricaja provinces in Alto Beni. We were welcomed by a committee of representatives who share with us the story of the cooperative. It was founded in 1977 representing 11 cooperatives. After 31 years, El Ceibo has 49 affiliated cooperatives and 1400 members, benefiting more than 6000 people. Not only do El Ceibo produce organic cacao, they also manage the whole production chain: commercializing chocolate products for the domestic market as well as cacao-based products for the international fair trade markets in Europe and Japan. Oikocredit’s relationship with El Ceibo began in 1987. The same year when they began to pay a fair price for their products (they would get a certification in 1997, although they had fair trade practices long before). This first loan was used for working capital. Oikocredit’s financial support for more than 20 years is acknowledged by El Ceibo members. “For us, Oikocredit is an institution that has helped us to commercialize. In Bolivia, banks do not have any confidence in cooperatives. Oikocredit has a special relation with coops. Oikocredit is a partner for the development of the cooperatives in Bolivia,” says Saturnino Mamani.

A journey to the Bolivian Amazon – Who are the real farmers behind the successful cooperative El Ceibo?

Virginia, from our regional office in Uruguay will join me in this trip. None of us have visited El Ceibo before, so we had many expectations. We left the hotel very early for a two day trip to Sapecho, in the Alto Beni area. Getting there and coming back would be a challenge. To make sure our photos turned out well, Antonio Suárez, a local photographer, was engaged as part of the team. He deserves all the credit for the beautiful pictures he took in Bolivia that feature in this blog. Felipe Sandoval, El Ceibo’s financial manager, will accompany us too. As Felipe is the son of a cooperative member, El Ceibo supported his studies at university and later offered him a job at the cooperative offices in El Alto. In a country as Bolivia where unemployment is rife, a well-paid job after finalizing his studies is a one in a million opportunity. When he told me about how El Ceibo supports the development of its members and their families, it was obvious that he was very grateful for everything the cooperative has done for him.
The shortage of gasoline in the capital city obligated us to go from gas station to gas station to fill up the tank. Two hours later than planned, we left La Paz for our eight hour journey to Sapecho. The first views of the Andes, with llamas and alpacas crossing the road are impressive. It feels as of you could touch the sky by raising your hand. As one starts descending, the landscape changes and the empty mountains become greener and greener while trees become higher. This beautiful view takes your attention off the very dangerous road ahead, which makes me experience first-hand the difficulty El Ceibo farmers have when taking their cacao to their chocolate factory in El Alto.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just arrived in Bolivia!

It takes more than 14 hours flying to arrive to Bolivia. El Alto International Airport is located in at 4150 meters (13,615 feet) above sea level. At first moment, it is difficult to take it easy to avoid any effects of the soroche, the altitude sickness. It’s cold and misty as the car drives down to La Paz city. The disturbances in the country seem not to have reached the capital city, which still sleeps in this very early Sunday morning. After some sleep I will prepare for the visit to cacao producers in Sapecho in the Bolivian Amazon tomorrow.

Just arrived in Bolivia!

It takes more than 14 hours flying to arrive to Bolivia. El Alto International Airport is located in at 4150 meters (13,615 feet) above sea level. At first moment, it is difficult to take it easy to avoid any effects of the soroche, the altitude sickness. It’s cold and misty as the car drives down to La Paz city. The disturbances in the country seem not to have reached the capital city, which still sleeps in this very early Sunday morning. After some sleep I will prepare for the visit to cacao producers in Sapecho in the Bolivian Amazon tomorrow.