Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Copacabana I: Biggest Bolivian Red Cross Operative of the Year!

The Copacabana crew (left to right, back to front): Adriana C, Maria Elena, Martin, Andres, Elen (?), Victor, Cinthya, Freddy, Adri M, Luly, Luisa, Paola, Adolfo; (?), Isa, Risselli, Daniela, Moreyna, Ninoshka; Me, Mario, Abner, Alvaro, Milton; Clau, Chicho, Sofia, Natalia, Pepe.

The tradition of Easter Weekend here does not stop at an Easter egg hunt or attending Easter mass on Sunday night. A significant number of people, both of faith and not, go on a pilgrimage which takes them on foot from the city of La Paz all the way to Copacabana, on the borders of Lake Titicaca. There, a visit is paid to the Virgin of Copacabana, and a promise is made for the following year. The Red Cross has been involved in this activity for some 27 years, setting up various posts along the way (Penas, Huarina, Compi, Tiquina, Calaminas) and attending pilgrims for a few days before heading to Copacabana and having a ceremony of their own, the baptism of all new volunteers. The latter part of the tradition might be relatively new, but today it is an integral part of one of the most looked forward to events as far as a Bolivian Red Cross volunteer is concerned.

I won’t even go into all the pre-Copacabana work that had to be done, especially considering the responsibility and leadership was out to lunch and as a result a few people ended up running around like headless chickens to make miracles happen. Bottom line? We had drink donations, a brochure, enough material and food to cover everyone in every post for the whole four days, transport, and gas. Woohoo!

The trip from La Paz to the various posts was quite eventful, as a drunk driver crashed into our truck and it is only thanks to Chicho’s amazing reflexes that the damage was minimal (well, on our end – the car was totalled) and a miracle that both the driver and the woman with him (not sure if it was his wife, gf or sister – that detail got lost somewhere in irrelevance) were alive and relatively unhurt! This made Chicho the hero of the trip, though as far as I am concerned Pepe comes in close second as he was up 24h straight, driving through the night and well into Thursday to help compensate for the lack of transport caused by the truck being required as evidence by the police…

This year, yours truly was assigned to one of the two biggest posts, Tiquina. Located on the border of the Lake, it is the second-to-last post before the pilgrims make it to their final destination – and as it is the crossing-over point, it’s hard work. We arrived Thursday morning at dawn, and barely had time to set up camp before people were already asking for our help. Between Thursday morning and Friday afternoon, we attended approximately 380 cases, mostly blisters (fix-up: sew through the watery part of the blister with a needle and thread dipped in iodinized alcohol – it stings like hell but will work wonders in terms of rapid recovery) and muscular fatigue (fix-up: massage with liquid called friccion which is basically magic and includes all sorts of different meds such as aspirin, alcohol, and god knows what else). Photo above left is part of the Tiquina crew eating ice cream: Luisa, Alvaro, Cinthya, yours truly and Chicho. Missing are Paola and Pepe.

Friday afternoon everyone picked up camp and drove up to Tiquina, where everyone spent the night before going to pick up the Calaminas crew and heading to Copacabana for 36h of leisure time.

[More photos to come, right now Blogger isn't being cooperative, grrrrr.]


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