Monday, April 21, 2014

Salar de Uyuni

We had been trying to get ourselves out to the salt flats for at least 3 weeks, and with sickness and a road blockage, we had to reschedule numerous times. I also have to admit that it was a bit of a journey to get there and so there may have been some apprehension, but we went for it and I'm so glad we did.

We got up early on Friday morning and got on a bus to Oruro...a 4.5 hour trek across absolutely nothing. Seriously flat land at high altitudes. When we arrived at Oruro we caught a 7 hour train to Uyuni, arriving at 10:30pm. Thankfully, the train was comfortable and our hotel was right across the street from the train station. The only thing on our way that was really worth seeing was the lake full of wild pink flamingos.

The next morning we joined another group of tourists to begin our day-long tour of the Salar. We all loaded ourselves into a jeep and headed out. Our first stop was the train cemetery. We weren't given any explanation of this place at all, but it looked like entire trains were just left there to rust. It was pretty amazing.

We visited a small village that's entire livelihood is dependant on the Salar...whether through the tourism it brings or through processing and selling the salt. They literally live on the very edge of the Salar, and do absolutely everything manually...even down to sealing the bags of salt.

Houses made entirely out of salt.

I believe these hills have something to do with the processing of the salt. 
From there, we drove further and further into the became more desolate, and more insane with every kilometre that we went. It literally felt like we were on another planet...all you could see for miles was salt, which made distance and perception so distorted. It is the world's largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometres. They have also begun processing lithium next time you use a lithium battery, it just might come from Bolivia!

Flags of the world...the Dakar car race came through here this year.

Crazy formations that occur further into the salt flats. 
Our next stop was Incahuasi's a bizarre "island" that is covered in giant cacti (standing at 10-15 ft tall) and juts out of the salt flats like something that really doesn't belong there. We hiked to the top of the island for an incredible view of the never-ending Salar.

Our final destination was a blindingly pristine area of the flats where our driver took personal pleasure in arranging "perception" photos for us. It was hilarious and fun! There is little to no depth perception in the Salar and so you can create strange pictures.

The group we traveled in the jeep with.  

Duane and Amelia licking the salt.  

Our tour lasted the entire day and we got back to Uyuni exhausted...we slept for 2 hours in our hotel and climbed back on the train to head home. We "slept" on the train that night and caught a bus in the morning back to La Paz. Our trip was the equivalent of driving to Vancouver from Saskatoon for one day and driving back. Even though we felt like we were insane at times, we all felt like it was worth it! Amelia proves over and over again that she is a good some ways, a better traveler than Duane and I.

Hip Disarticulation

 Normally, the Center does not treat hip disarticulation patients, but with the foreign prosthetist here, we can do anything right?! Ha! As a team, we were happy to accept the challenge, especially after meeting this incredible patient and hearing his story. His is young, strong, and motivated and has shown excellent progress learning to walk with his prosthesis.
We have been continuously blessed by generous donations here at the Center. This time, it was a like-new Ottobock 7E7 hip joint including spare parts.

We've been fortunate to have a Physiotherapist from Switzerland join us for a short time. The timing has been perfect for her to spend many hours with our hip disarticulation patient.

Its been a fun challenge ONLY having thermoforming technology in this lab. Most prosthetic facilities at home will have both thermoforming and laminating technology available. I've found that really, once you know the tricks, you can do everything with plastic thermoforming. Do to the capacity of our oven, we had to form the plastic for this hip in 2 stages, with 2 pieces.

One of our volunteers fabricated an angled adapter for us from delrin. It's perfect. At home, it's frustrating when you don't have the right adapter; here, you just make it!

Sunday, April 20, 2014


With only a few days left I find myself trying to absorb everything I see…every smell, every sound, and every emotion…in attempt to lock La Paz in my memory. Pictures just won’t do this 6 month journey any justice. They can’t depict the loneliness we felt for the first few months, the cultural adaptations we have all had to make (namely Amelia), or the incredible gratitude we have toward the people who have opened up their lives to us.

It is these people who completely changed our experience of this place…and for reasons unbeknownst to us allowed us to be a small speck in the grand tapestry of their lives. And so as we begin to pack up six months of life abroad, we also begin to pack up our experiences and sift through our stories, the changes we’ve undergone, and the impressions that Bolivia has left on us…that people have left on us. Even as I write this I feel disheartened at the thought of having to say goodbye. The difference being when we left Canada we knew it was only for a period of time. Leaving here is much more permanent. We plan to come back but we can’t predict what the future will bring.

Duane and I have been spending many nights talking about the things we are looking forward to, and the things that we will miss...I have compiled a list of both.

What I Will Miss:
  • The ease of public transport here. You can catch a mini bus without having to wait for more than 15 minutes…there’s even one that goes directly passed my front door.
  • The absolute elation at finding things we take for granted at home (ie. Organic vegetables, delicious burgers, flavorful beer).
  • The stunning topography that never ceases to make me look a little longer. I’m often awe struck.
  • Speaking Spanish everyday. It has been fun learning and watching Duane and Amelia learn as well.
  • The fresh fruit. There is awesome fruit available all the time.
  • The markets. No matter how crazy they are they are always fun.

What I’m Excited For:
  • I can’t wait to actually be in a field. A huge field where I’m allowed to be, and that is not covered in dog poop. A friend and I got in trouble the other day for sitting on a small patch of grass to have a picnic. Dogs can wander freely, but not people. Nope. 
  • I’m excited to be in a house that is warm. I know many of you think we’re jerks for missing out on winter, but I guarantee that you were much warmer in your homes then we were. There were moments where I thought that I had never experienced the sensation of being THAT cold before. 
  • Duane and I counted all of the new businesses that have gone up since we left. I think we came up with 7. We want to try them all!
  • Food has to be one of the main things I can’t wait for…thick, Greek yogurt, farmer sausage, bacon, hormone free meat, hormone free eggs, healthy food options, non-UHT milk.
  • Looking forward to not being at altitude any longer.
  • I can’t even express how awesome it is to KNOW that a business will be open when it says it will be, and that you can check the hours on the internet. Also, it’s so exciting that restaurants will be open before 7pm.
  • Riding bikes. Seriously. I can’t wait!

So Saskatoon, we’ll see you soon! And it is with sadness that we say goodbye to all our friends here in La Paz. It has been a wild experience that I’m glad we’ve had. Chao.