Category Archives: South America

Medical mission to Bolivia, revived

Hey folks, I mentioned in my last post that I recently exchanged photos with my friend Yong, who was a part of my spring break trip to Bolivia. He had some most excellent photos in his collection that I just have to share.

We spent a lot of time at the Hogar de Ninos, the home for boys, in Montero. Everyone, from the boys, to the other volunteers from the community, were super nice.

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The boys really liked to high five all of us!

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We got to ride in the van a few times.IMG_0068 IMG_0069

Then we went to the main hospital.

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We met the interns, many of whom were from Brazil and were spending a year here completing their internship. These guys had a bit of downtime to read. I think we interrupted their reading, but they didn’t seem to mind too much.

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We walked back to the hotel one day and went to the Square in Montero.IMG_0089 IMG_0096

A dentist’s office at the Red Cross.IMG_0103 IMG_0104 IMG_0105

On the roof of the Red Cross.IMG_0113 IMG_0114

In the hospital again.IMG_0117 IMG_0119 IMG_0120

An emergent C-section — baby had to be delivered as the mother was eclamptic and seizing.IMG_0124 IMG_0550 IMG_0551

We also spent a few afternoons in the community, doing free blood pressure and diabetes screenings. IMG_0554 IMG_0555 IMG_0557 IMG_0566 IMG_0569 IMG_0570 IMG_0575 IMG_0578 IMG_0582 IMG_0583 IMG_0597 IMG_0607 IMG_0608 IMG_0609 IMG_0611 IMG_0612 IMG_0614 IMG_0616 IMG_0617 IMG_0626 IMG_0629 IMG_0630 IMG_0641 IMG_0642 IMG_0652 IMG_0665

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There are a lot of really beautiful places in the world.

There's a lot of really beautiful places in the world.

Yong took this photo a few km outside of Uyuni, Bolivia. We exchanged photos recently and this one was just incredible.
March 2013.

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7 things I wish I knew about Bolivia before I went

Wish someone had told me these before I went. Just sayin’.

7. If you’re in the lowlands (aka not the Salar), there are mosquitos and other bugs that will bite you. Bring your bugspray.

6. If you decide to visit the Salar de Uyuni, dress in layers. It gets really cold at night when you’re at an elevation of 11,000 feet above sea level but around noon the sun will be shining down on you and you will be warm!

5. Bring boots or flip flops to the Salar. (or shoes you’re willing to destroy). When you’re at the salt lake, you’ll want to walk around. If you walk around barefoot, your feet will hurt. Salt is very pointy.

4. They eat llama and crocodile there. I personally will never eat llama, but if you’re into exotic meats, Bolivia’s a great place to try some. If you’re like me and prefer to see your llamas alive, there are tons of them!! You can take lots of photos. 🙂

3. Bolivians are very particular about using cash. First off, you might be able to use credit cards in large cities such as La Paz or Santa Cruz. But if you’re trying to buy a bus ticket or pay for food at a restaurant in Montero, make sure you have cash. Very few places in the country accept credit cards.

2. There is a travel tax added onto buses and planes. When we flew from Santa Cruz to Sucre (domestic) we were charged an “airport tax” of 15 Bolivianos (~2 USD). Coming back, we were charged 11 Bolivianos. I guess the Sucre airport had a lower tax since it was a tiny airport with only 2 gates…! To leave the country, you have to pay a tax of 25 USD. Yup. That’s tacked onto the taxes you’ve already paid to your airline. Don’t forget to keep this amount of money…to be paid, in cash. 

1. This is probably the most important thing I learned. Along the same lines as 2, if you want to exchange your American dollars, MAKE SURE YOUR BILLS ARE PERFECT. They DO NOT accept worn bills, bills with even miniscule rips or tears. They say that it “devalues” the foreign currency. This is something my group was a bit stressed out about as we did not know how picky the money exchanger folks would be. So if you’re planning to bring $100’s, $50’s, or even $20’s into the country, make sure they are beautiful, pristine. Think brand new bills.

So there you go! You’re more then ready to go explore!

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Sucre, Bolivia’s Constitutional Capital

Bolivia is a very special country in that it has 2 capitals. One is La Paz, the seat of the government in Bolivia, and the other is the constitutional capital, Sucre, where Bolivia declared independence from Peru back in the early 1800’s. On our way back from the Salar de Uyuni, we passed through Sucre for the day. Sucre proudly proclaims itself to be the most beautiful city in Bolivia (true!) and also dubs itself “La Ciudad Blanca” — the white city. And indeed, the city is beautiful and white.

Here we are at the Chuquisaca Governorship in the main square of Sucre.

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Then we went towards the Mercado Central — Central Market, but along the way we noticed these pristine white buildings. Sucre was truly a white city.
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Aha! DSC00904Here we are at the market!

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We finally headed to the Parque Bolivar, a park which is next to the Bolivian Supreme Court!DSC00924 DSC00933 DSC00948 DSC00949Have you ever been to Bolivia?

Why I went to Bolivia

As many of you know, I am currently a medical student in the USA. This year, for the first time in I-can’t-even-remember-how-many-years, I had a 2 week long spring break. That’s right folks, two whole luxurious weeks. I found out that there was the opportunity to go on a medical mission trip to Montero, Bolivia, and before I could snap my fingers, I had decided to go.

The mission we were part of was the Highlands Bolivia Mission, run by a Dr. John Baumrucker of Highlands, NC, USA. He and his wife have gone to Bolivia every year for the past 16 years. They’ve worked with hospitals, built a foster home, and are generally good souls who want to help out.

The first day we were in Bolivia we were introduced to the 16 boys who live in the Hogar de Ninos – Home for Boys. These boys range in age from around 5-16 and they are some of the sweetest children I’ve ever met.

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We also volunteered in some of Montero’s hospitals and clinic. Here are some shots of the Children’s Hospital. In the photo below, I’m in the NICU-equivalent.
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The X-ray room.DSC00512

We also had the opportunity to visit some local schools as part of an education initiative to teach young children about TB.

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The children couldn’t get enough of us. Or our cameras.DSC00517 DSC00518 DSC00521

It was awesome! The kids were so much fun and wanted to know what country I was from. The final image, below, is of Carla, me, and a medical intern, Dr. Rosa Maria. The kids loved her presentations on TB!DSC00523

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2 days in Salar de Uyuni — Bolivia’s famous salt flats


This year, I went to Bolivia for spring break. We were there for 10 days. The majority of my trip was to volunteer with the Highlands Bolivia Mission as a medical student, but I was able to take a few days to travel to Bolivia’s most renowned landmark: the Salar de Uyuni. Situated at approximately 12,000 ft above sea level and spanning over 4,000 square miles, the Salar is easily one of the most unique places I have ever visited.

It took us a full day of travel to get to the Salar. We took a plane from Santa Cruz (where we were based) to Sucre, one of Bolivia’s 2 capitals (more on that in a future post). From there, we took a 3 hour cab ride to Potosi, the self proclaimed highest city in the world. Finally, we boarded a bus around 8 pm which got us to Uyuni at 12:30 am. After spending the night in the dinkiest (read: grossest) hostel ever, we headed out to see this.

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It was amazing. Salt as far as the eye can see.

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30% of Bolivia’s salt is from the Salar de Uyuni. The other 70% is from another, less famous Bolivian salt flat.

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We had to take a big truck out there.

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The wheels aren’t covered with ice. Instead, they’re covered with a layer of salt.

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There was even a museum with statues and creatures made out of salt.

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We even stopped by a train cemetery.

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This is NOT life!

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While I love sarcasm, I’m not sure an experienced mechanic would have been able to help these abandoned trains…DSC00576DSC00572

When you’re in a magical place, perspective is a beautiful thing.

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I’m the strongest woman alive!

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We fought off a number of dinosaurs.

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I think we did pretty well for ourselves.

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The salar is quite international. Do you see your country’s flag?

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Then we went to the salt lake. Do I look like I’m walking on water?

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I attempted some salt flat yoga. It was hard. My feet hurt from all the pointy salt.

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We shared a truck with some hilarious Japanese tourists.

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It took about 15 tries to get this photo. But we were so happy.

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Then the day was over. We had booked rooms in the Palacio de Sal. A salt palace hotel. It was expensive, but worth every penny as the entire hotel was made of salt. Salt beds, salt tables, salt chairs, you get the point. It was luxurious. A once in a lifetime opportunity.

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The roof of our room was made of salt cubes.

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We watched the sunset from the hotel’s deck.

DSC00761DSC00754On the second day of the tour we wanted to see some wildlife. In particular, I wanted to see the flamingos! Every November, Salar de Uyuni is the breeding ground for three species of pink South American flamingos.

We only saw one. And he flew away from us.

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Sigh. Next time, maybe.

We did get to see many llamas, alpacas, and sheep though! This lady was herding a whole bunch of them.
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They were so adorable.

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We also visited some caves and saw human and animal remains.

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I made a friend. Mr. Cactus, who is approximately my height of 1.60meters, is ~160 years old. Every centimeter high is a year of life for him.DSC00799This was a huge abandoned dwelling.

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While we were up on the hill, we were able to see far into the distance. The picture below is one of my favorites. You see the blue sky on the top, but then there’s a sheet of white. That white is the salt. The brown stuff is the desert leading up to the salt flats.DSC00805Here it is again, the sheet of white. Amazing, isn’t it?

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We stopped by some hot springs where people were enjoying the pool or washing their clothes.
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Finally, we went to Pulacayo, an old silver mining town. This is the location of the first railroad to ever reach Bolivia.

DSC00845Nowadays, Pulacayo is a ghost town, abandoned. Nobody mines there anymore. 
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So what do you think? Will you be off to Salar de Uyuni any time soon?

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