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Off the beaten track

Just a drop Bolivia project

Hayes and Jarvis Blog Team October 30, 2013

Nueva Esperanza is a remote area with a critical water situation. Without adequate access to clean water and sanitation, the local community is threatened by illness and deaths. Two wells are being built to help the village's 260 people; nearly half of them children, who are likely to be the main victims of water-borne diseases such as dysentery and cholera.

See below for regular news and updates from the Just a Drop frontline, working on the Nueva Esperanza project in partnership with Hayes and Jarvis. 

Never far from wildlife - 23 August 2009

The horse team have been based in a small village on Lake Largo. Recently domestic animals began to disappear. First the head man or Corregidor's cat, mother of two playful kittens, disappeared, then valuable chicks went from the chicken house. The culprit turned out to be a large coati or racoon which attacked at night. The huge fanged predator was discovered by the Corregidor's five dogs who cornered the killer, but in a desperate and bitter fight were badly mauled. Desperately worried at losing three of his valuable dogs, the poor man carried them to the expedition camp. Major Alex Jess of the Royal Army Dental Corps and Dr Hazel Dobinson of Australia rushed to give aid whilst our honorary vet, Sarah Royal from Malmesbury, Wiltshire, prepared suitable horse dressings that could be placed on the wounds.

Applying all their medical knowledge the Dentist, Doctor, and Hon Vet fought to stop the bleeding and prevent infection from the flies seeking to enter the deep bites. Now the dogs are recovering with an unusual mixture of bandages and medicine. One dog is wearing a modified knee support on its head!

The orphaned kittens are being looked after by local children and the people are immensely grateful to our team. "We have given more medical aid to the dogs than to any one person on the expedition" said Alex Jess. Having watched the team in action, expedition engineer Peter Knight of Banstead, Surrey said "They were most professional. It gives one great confidence in being looked after by them if one has an accident!"

"It is a reminder that in this remote part of the Amazon basin we are never far from its wildlife" commented Col. JBS who has been trying to attract the rare dolphins for photographs and also chase a small colony of vampire bats out of his store hut's roof!

In Lake Rojo Aguado, close to Coquinal is a two-kilometre-long island known as Treasure Island. The name is said to originate from a belief that a glow can be seen emanating from the jungle at night. In the past we have come across rocks on the Rio Beni that have a strange thermo luminescence quality so it was decided to investigate. However Dan Vockins, our geologist, could not find any rock to examine on the jungle covered island. The party did discover a half starved dog, some pigs and a woolly monkey. They gave the dog food, but it declined to return to the mainland. The island is uninhabited but has a thatched hut used by fishermen. The mystery remains.

The third well being dug at Coquinal has now reached 40 metres. Drilling is proving easier and it takes 12 minutes to do a metre. The drill is entirely hand operated by the contractors with the village youths. Expedition members have also taken their turn on the ropes. Music from a portable hi-fi has got the team working in rhythm.

Wells one and two are being capped today. These are sponsored by Just a Drop and Hayes and Jarvis. Bush fires have been raging to the west and giving an eerie glow to the night sky and on 21st August the weather suddenly turned cool again. But now the temperature has shot up and the mosquitoes are back. The horse team have suffered from ticks that have buried into their skin and at night cockroaches are holding a steeplechase on the store hut floor.

Our rations are lasting well but we have had the last of the salami in our powdered egg omelettes today and Yolima has ordered a sheep to be cooked to welcome home the horse team on the 24th.

We start the long withdrawal to Santa Ana and on to Trinidad and Santa Cruz on 26/27th August.

We are most grateful to Spectra - Group and Satcom - Global for the ability to send these photographs and Sitreps back to the UK.


Viper! Viper! - 20 August 2009


As darkness fell on Sunday 16th August, a woman ran into our base camp at Coquinal crying “Vibora Vibora – a viper has bitten my husband”.

Within minutes 28-year-old Walter Daza Leano, whom is being trained to operate the ambulance boat, was carried into the village clinic with a swelling bite in his left calf. Dr Roy D’ Silva of Glasgow, our senior doctor, got to work at once whilst JBS sought the attacker. Fortunately Walter had managed to kill the 68-centimetre snake with a stick and by candlelight we thumbed through the reference books trying to identify it. Walter now had a dry throat, severe headache, and pains in his groin. We had serum, but being unable to identify the snake, antibiotics, pain killers, and anti-histamine were given to Walter whose condition stabilized. By now the villagers had assembled in the church and were praying for him. They said the snake was the dreaded Yoperojobobo, a viper that has caused several deaths in the area. Roy had identified venom in the patients’ blood and together with Yolima Cipagauta cared for him during the hot sticky night. Next morning Walters’s condition had not changed. A light plane was called by radio and arrived at dawn to convey Walter to Santa Ana hospital where he was given serum and is making a good recovery. The Corregidor of Coquinal Senor Snaider Daza thanked the expedition and said “the prompt action by Dr D’ Silva saved Walter’s life”.

Most expedition members have been quite fit, although many have been afflicted with ticks picked up on the Pampa and in the jungle.

The horse team continue to operate around Lake Largo and Dan Vockins is examining an interesting rock site.

Medical and dental aid is being given out in villages all over the region and people are coming in by horse from distant estancias for help.

School books were presented to pupils in San Carlos by Andy Gray’s vehicle party. These were very much appreciated. The team also examined the Iruyanez river and found it to have risen to 1.5-metres-deep. JBS is now making plans for a potentially difficult return to Santa Ana on 28th August.

At Coquinal the first well is named the “Happy Pig” because local pigs like to mate there and then cool off in the deep red mud pool created by the drilling. The shaft went down 62 metres and is producing 180 litres per day. However it is hoped to raise the output with further cleaning.

The second well has found good water at 40 metres and is being capped today. Work on the third well will start on 21st August. The sponsors are Just a Drop and Hayes and Jarvis.

The horse team plan to complete their work on 24th August and return to Coquinal.

Elodie Sandford will name the ambulance boat she and her family have sponsored on 25th August.

Our rations have lasted well, although we are a little tired of the long life Salami. Pancakes and maple syrup is the favourite dish. We continue to eat local fish and Roy D’ Silva has curried a rather old chicken with Barts madras curry powder.


Water project commences - 13 August 2009


At last the vehicle convoy has reached us in Coquinal. Our three 4WD vehicles, plus the water contractors hired’s Unimog rolled into camp last night after an epic journey from Santa Ana. The crossing of the Rio Iruyanez was hindered by a large herd of cattle trying to cross at the same time, almost trampling on our drivers’ camp.

The cars had vital electrical parts covered or removed, then, with engines off they were dragged through the 1.2-metre-deep water by tractors, provided by the prefecture of Beni. The Unimog, being higher, got through without aid. At one point a tractor became firmly bogged in the mud and had to be extracted by another. Meanwhile the vehicles were stuck in the water.

The ambulance boat, "Elodie Sandford", being towed by one 4WD almost floated off its trailer. Amazingly all the vehicles were restarted and drove north until hitting deep mud on the trail. Again they were extracted and drove on.

Although the vehicles are two weeks late the water project can now begin and the vehicle based survey can start. Everyone is working hard to catch up.

The horse team are carrying out geological studies in the north and investigating sites around Lake Laguna Largo.

Peter Lee-Jones is on the west of Lake Rojo Aguado doing medical work and ground studies.

Up to 10 dolphins are regularly frequenting the shore near Coquinal. We continue to photograph them. Some are jet black but others grey with a pink underside. There are also pale ones almost white in colour.

In Coquinal expedition members have been giving lectures to the school on navigation, heath, medical matters, and other subjects. They are greatly appreciated.

After another cold front passed through the weather has got warmer again with temperatures reaching 30 degrees C. The atmosphere is extremely dry.


Help along the way - 10 August 2009


Dry weather has helped road conditions from Santa Ana to improve and our team of three 4WD vehicles, one of which is to tow in the ambulance boat, is ready to start driving to us once the Alcalde of Exaltacion confirms the pontoon ferry is in position on the Rio Irujanez.

The water contractors, who are to build the Just a Drop funded well at Coquinal and Hayes and Jarvis ones at Nueva Esperanza are also approaching Exaltacion with their vehicle mounted equipment.

Having no vehicles to support the expedition it has been difficult to maintain stock of rations. Local people only grow sufficient for themselves nevertheless they have been most generous with gifts of papayas, bananas, and even a few lettuces. We are also able to buy some eggs. The horse team are using tinned and dried food plus powdered egg. Their problem is that they can only carry limited amounts.

However on Lake Rojo Aguado fishing parties are proving successful and we have had several good piranha suppers.

Dolphins are now being seen regularly in groups of up to ten swimming close to the shore teasing photographers to get definitive pictures.

Our doctors and dentists continue treating patients in villages and hamlets throughout the almost featureless miles of savannah. This help is greatly appreciated. Wherever possible books have been given to village schools and reading glasses provided for older people.

Swamps and mud have slowed progress in a number of areas. The horse team encountered mud up to their ponies' bellies east of Coquinal and on a geological quest Andy Gray's patrol ran into deep swamp. Dorset midwife Grace Martin, who is not very tall, had to be extracted from smelly slime up to her armpits.

Bolivian Independence was celebrated on 6th August in Coquinal with patriotic parades by smartly dressed children. It was noticeable how most men and boys wore clean white shirts and blue ties. By comparison the expedition looks rather scruffy. No horses were available for the event as they are all out with our teams but a drive past of motorcycles replaced them, indeed the motorcycle, usually around 150cc with cross country tyres, is the new horse of the Pampa. The only problem is that it cannot run on grass!


Pink dolphins in Lake Rojo Aguado - 5 August 2009

Horse team made very welcome at Maravilla. Now on six day visit to Camp Ana Maria and Yakchaja giving medical aid and delivering school books. Ground is swampy and difficult for horses in places. Their stores are carried on a wooden wheeled carreton, pulled by four bullocks. This carries 500 kilograms but although rather slow, is better than pack horses. Vehicle team still without vehicles have visited Nueva Esparanza by boat. Water engineer Peter Knight made a study of water sources finding them surprisingly clean. Geological surveys continue but no assistance has come from Sergeotecmin. Dan Vockins has taken a horse team to examine an interesting geological feature of concentric rings. A Surazo stuck Coquinal on 2nd August dropping temperatures again and bringing heavy rain showers. The road from Santa Ana is improving, now reported to be open from San Carlos to Coquinal. Alcalde of Exaltacion says he has pontoon and tractor ready on R. Irujauez. Now awaiting reports on the road from Exaltacion to San Carlos.

Dr Roy d'Silva busy at treating patients in Coquinal. Exciting discovery made on Lake Rojo Aguado. Whilst swimming Grace Martin, Lorika Strickland and Dominic Middleton-Frith were approached by two six-foot grey/pink dolphins that swam within a couple of yards of them for several minutes. This proves there is a community of these rare mammals exists isolated from the Amazon. “Now we are trying to photograph these lovely creatures" says JBS. Fishing parties are catching plenty of piranha on the lake. Villagers are bringing in fascinating archaeological artefacts to be photographed. These include pots and andesite axe heads, possibly up to 5,000-years-old. The area is littered with the remains of the Moxos people. Weather now hot and dry.


Flooding blocks movement - 31 July 2009


The extensive flooding caused by the recent "surazo" that swept in from Patagonia has blocked all movement by vehicles north of Santa Ana and therefore the expedition left its 4WD cars and flew in to Coquinal in light planes. Nine flights got the team plus a fair amount of stores to the remote village. The remainder of their stores and the ambulance boat will be brought in by the cars once the flood subsides. This is not expected before 10th August. Andy Gray took an advanced party to Coquinal and set up a base camp.

The local people have been most helpful and a horse mounted medical/dental team under Major Alex Jess, a British Army Dentist is now on its way to give medical aid to the village of Maravilla. Their stores are carried in a wooden wheeled carreton pulled by four bullocks, flying the Bolivian flag and the Union Jack.

Geologist Dan Vockins has taken a team out on foot to the hamlet of Piraquinel to give medical aid and assess their water problems.

The weather continues fine with cloudless sky and is growing hotter. The lakes are full of fish.


Expedition Struck by Extreme Weather - 28 July 2009

After the 550 kilometre drive in unseasonal drenching rain the team reached Trinidad only to find that all the roads north to Santa Ana were closed. The temperature sank to 7C. However after a days delay the expeditions convoy of 4WDs, the Koyak and a giant six wheel 10 tonner (The Yellow God) set out. Rivers were crossed by man-handled wooden pontoon ferries. Soon the track became a morass reminiscent of the Somme battlefields. Cars, trucks, and buses became stuck in the glutinous mud. The Koyak, especially designed for the Bolivian Army, soon proved too low and had to be pulled out by the 4WD Toyotas.

The Yellow God was invaluable, ploughing through the mud with its massive wheels. However due to an oil leak from the gear box it could only drive at 18 kilometres per hour, so the 4WDs went ahead. The Koyak suffered badly with a fracture in the chassis, which was repaired in a village, but finally the other side fractured and the headlights expired. Driving by a handheld spot lamp Dominic Middleton-Frith and Bolivian Serviceman Remi Russell did splendidly although they looked like mud statues. After crossing four more pontoons the convoy reached Santa Ana at 4am, almost 20 hours on the road. Beds at local hostels awaited, a few local people were awake in Santa Ana and had been drinking all day at the town's 300th anniversary celebrations.

The Koyak 1/2 tonne trailer being towed by the Yellow God collapsed and was abandoned. At the last river crossing a local winch man caught his finger in the cable and was given first aid by Andrew Gray and Simon Reames, but lost most of his finger. The Yellow God's driver eventually had to give up and exhausted they camped at the roadside before continuing on into Santa Ana on 26th July.

The celebrations were in full progress with cultural dancing by Indians and parades. VIPs had flown in from all over the country but many who attempted to come by road were stuck in the mud.

Meanwhile the Alcalde of Exaltacion, in whose area we are working reported the storm or Surazo, as it is known, had caused the rivers north of Santa Ana to burst their banks. Water had risen to flood levels making all progress north impossible. With no way of reaching Coquinal over land it has been decided to fly the team in using light aircraft. This will mean very limited baggage and a high cost to the project. The water well construction company are also unable to reach the site until the flood subsides. Just a Drop is sponsoring the wells. However it is hoped the flood will subside by 8th August when the expedition vehicles and the drilling equipment can reach Coquinal, bringing with them the ambulance boat kindly donated by Elodie Sandford and her family.