9 JULY 2012 Hard Work & Community Fun

Okay, so it has been a while since the last blog – apologies to our faithful readers who have been wondering where we have got to. Working in the community, (Comunidad Maria Auxiliadora), from 8.30am till 6.30pm, seven days a week left us a little bit stuck for time to ourselves, or indeed to write a blog.

It has been two months since our last update, and when we left off last time, we had been digging and pouring foundations with the help of the local bowler-hatted women, and were getting ready to start building with adobe blocks, once we could afford to buy them – a quick thank you to those of you who responded to our last plea for donations in our last blog!

There are quite a few photos to bring you all up to date, so sit back and relax and have a flick through…. Starting where we left off – adobe blocks bought, earth pile ready for mortar – let’s build with some mud!

Mud and adobe at the ready!

Chloe sets the ball rolling….

Gustavo mixing mud mortar while Chris gets those higher courses done

With some help from friends we’d met on the road, Daniel, Anders and Josefin, we quickly got off to a good start on the walling, Daniel being particularly keen to prove himself with a trowel and marathon sessions of adobe block-laying. Their stay however was short lived and before we knew it, we were back on our own, with the help of faithful Gustavo.

In these first few weeks we did have a few festivities to break up the work, including a Community Food Festival, a traditional dance evening, a Mother’s Day fete which also included traditional dancing performed by pupils from the school, then a visit to the water park and aquarium with our little ward Pablito, (aka Erick), depending on what mood he, or we were in.

Preparation for the Community Food Festival

Food festival – everyone gets stuck in!

Traditional dance evening – Ivan is the star of the show

Gustavo shows he can do more than just mix mud!

Trying to keep warm while watching the show

More traditional costume and dance at the Mother’s Day fete

Trip to the aquarium with Pablito

….. fish at the aquarium

Back to the building, adobe walls were steadily going up, and the old dilapidated roof came off ready for an impatient Chris to start erecting the new timber beams, with some help from Gustavo and Miguel. Only after much frustration and days and days of broken promises did Chris finally manage to get hold of a drill, enabling him to drill holes for the bolts, only to find there was no power supply from the house we were connecting up to. Hours later we managed to cobble together a ridiculously long cable with raw wires at the end that we could push into some open sockets in the local shop. Great!

To make up for the all-too-relaxed Bolivian attitude to most things, including trying to get a building built,  the Community decided it was time they organised a community work day to help us. Excellent – some help at last!  The highlight of the day being lunch, obviously.

Trying to position and bolt together the main front beam, with Gustavo & Miguel


Building up the adobe to meet the roof timbers

Community work day – lunch, the most important part of the day!

As if working all hours God sent to try and get the library built wasn’t enough, we got landed with a few extra things to worry about … Firstly, a little straggly kitten was found sat on our doorstep one afternoon which completely put paid to any work that day. Animal rights dictated that we must abandon work for the afternoon in order to bath said straggly kitten, twice, buy and apply flea powder, and feed it some milk with a syringe. The little boy kitten, initially called Thomas, turned out to be a little girl, so had her name henceforth changed to Perlusa.

Perlusa turned out to be quite a character, settling into home life quite comfortably after living on the street for her first few weeks. She even learnt that going outside to the toilet was much more preferable to having accidents inside, after realising a tile floor cannot be scrapped up to cover said little accidents.

Perlusa, after her first bath

Checking out the internet….

Having a little snooze with Daddy…!

As if having to look after a little kitten, as well as try to build a library, still wasn’t enough, a few other things landed on our plate, pulling us in every other direction than the one road we needed to be going down…. However, in the name of architecture we duly agreed to give a lecture about ‘Historic British architecture and it’s preservation’ at the Cochabamba Architects Society, another lecture on ‘The architectural profession in the UK’ for third year architecture students at the University, a television interview on a breakfast TV chat show about ‘Architectural heritage in the UK and our work in Comunidad Maria Auxiliadora’, plus, design and draw up a sketch scheme for a new assembly hall and offices in the Community itself for the committee of Comunidad Maria Auxiliadora – ”…to be ready for the meeting this evening…!”  What?! You’re joking – measure the site, design a scheme and draw it up all in the space of 4 hours…..?! That’s a yes then…  Was this in the small print…?

Lecture at the Architects Society in Cochabamba

Morning TV chat show…..!

….. LIVE ON TV!!

Sketch scheme for assembly hall, offices and workshops in Comunidad Maria Auxiliadora

Second floor of new assembly hall, inc workshops

Section showing levels of site & new sketch proposals

Between kittens and TV interviews, we did manage to get some building work done as well. The architectural students visited for a day and we taught them how to mix mud and plaster the walls, using earth (clay), sand, straw and water. Of course, only after a good old lecture on traditional materials, thermal performance of mud and generally bigging up more healthy buildings, as well as the fact that these materials are much more affordable and easily obtainable locally.  [Technical note  no.1 for sad architects: First/scratch coat of render: earth (clay), sharp  sand, chopped straw, to a ratio of 2:2:handful.]

On the work front, we also had some help from our friendly community builder, and a stray chicken that left us a few eggs to help us on our way. Before we knew it, the roof was going on and test panels for the top coat of plaster had begun. [Technical note no.2  for sad architects: top coat of plaster: earth (clay), finely sieved sand, lime (hydrated) to a ratio of 4:2:1 ]

Students’ working party

Grober, our friendly builder, helping out

Mesh and grass to start off the roof covering….

Plaster on top of the grass…

then wrinkly tin to finish off!

Friendly chicken nesting in our grass….

Bottle windows…. never again!

Mmmm…. mud

Test panel for top coat of render

With two weeks to go before our official opening, which had been scheduled to tie in with the monthly Community Asemblea meeting, things started to get a bit fraught. The floor slabs still hadn’t been laid, the low wall to the front hadn’t been finished, the plaster wasn’t complete, we didn’t have any door or window frames, never mind the actually doors themselves, painting hadn’t started and the chicken wouldn’t leave her roost.

We called for backup, and thankfully this time our plea was answered. Grober, our friendly builder, worked solidly for the last couple of weeks to help us finish, working on into the night. Another community work day was organised towards the end, so we had the team blitzing the place with limewash before settling down to another good hearty lunch. Paint dyes were mixed and within hours, the inside looked like it was almost finished, and the outside only looked like it needed another few coats of limewash to disguise the patchiness…. We’ll let the community deal with that….!

One week to go…!

Preparing for the concrete slab

Laying the outside slab

Brick thresholds … nice!

Working on into the night…..

Another community work day – let’s limewash!

…. and now let’s break for lunch!

Mixing paint dyes….

The big day arrived – Sunday morning, Community Asemblea. We were called up to accept and give thanks and be clapped at, before rushing off to frantically finish fixing the ceiling covering, signage and generally cleaning up ready for the bookshelves and books to be brought down…. All before the  community descended for the ‘official opening’.

Last minute cleaning up

Bookshelves at the ready…..

Our little helper, inscribing the names of donors

By 5pm, people started to arrive and we tried to stay calm. A quick scrub of the bottles while the book shelves were being stacked was all that was left, then we snook off to quickly change and were back as good as new within record time, ready to face the limelight! Speeches, cutting of the ribbon, gifts, drinks and dancing all ensued, bringing the community together in one big party, well on into the night…

People start gathering for the ‘official opening’ of the Biblioteca

Children searching through the bookshelves…

Speeches – where Chris is telling Chloe he couldn’t have done it without her…. hem hem…

Confetti and wreaths

Cutting the ribbon!

Smashing the vase on the threshold (vase filled with alcohol – what a waste!)

Festivities carry on into the night

Traditional, and non-traditional, paired dancing

Pretty bottles!

New sign

During the final week before the opening, we did take the opportunity to sneak off into the City and do some sightseeing. Cochabamba is a gritty city, with tatty but lively buildings, full of hustle and bustle. The north part of the centre is new and flashy. The south side of the centre is where the markets are, including the Cancha – one of the largest markets in South America. Further south, into the Zona Sur suberb is where the guidebooks say not to go because it is dangerous. The south is where Comunidad Maria Auxiliadora is, and where we lived, so we had to throw caution to the wind and just get on with it. Needless to say, the ‘dangerous south’ is where the indigenous people live, in relative poverty compared to the affluent ‘fair skinned’ and gringos of the north.

Living in the Community and travelling back and forth to the centre, we felt entirely comfortable. Visiting the north of the city on occasion to go out for a meal, or see the sights made us feel much more uncomfortable. The people are all fair skinned, the lifestyle is like that of any other city in the world. We were surrounded by wealthy Bolivians and western tourists who gave little heed to the occasional indigenous street seller, car-washer or shoe shiner shuffling about the shiny streets. Having lived with indigenous people for two months, it was being in this highly racist environment of the north that made us feel uncomfortable, and not the trip back down into the south cramped-in in an over-crowded Trufi (mini bus), watching the hustle and bustle of the markets and the women and men trying to make a living. We feel privileged we got to see this side, this contrast, rather than just staying in a city and being a tourist.

Church on Plaza Colon in ‘the north’

Cochabamba Cathedral

Nave of the Cathedral

Crossing inside the Cathedral

Church of Santa Domingo

Llama and sheep foetus for sacrificing – Cancha market

We also managed a day trip out with our surrogate family, Maria Eugenia and Erick, out to Lago Angostura and then up to the statue of Christ , (Cristo de la Concordia),  who overlooks the city of Cochabamba from atop San Pedro hill. Apparently Cristo de la Concordia is the largest statue of Christ in the world, (if the crown on top of Christ the King’s head in Poland is not counted!), standing at 34m high, plus a 6m pedestal…. Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro stands at a mere 30m, plus a 9m pedestal! Take that Rio!

Day trip out

Lago Angostura, on a boat

Chloe with surrogate family

Best pals!

Cristo de la Concordia

At Cristo de la Concordia with Maria Eugenia and Erick

So the library building is finished, sightseeing done, official opening done and dusted… the only thing we were then waiting for was the new suspension part for Chris’s bike. Surely we could have sorted that in the 9 weeks? I hear you say…

If BMW in Cochabamba hadn’t been so completely and utterly useless, only telling us in our 6th week that they couldn’t get the part that we had ordered and already paid for, then yes, we could have got it sorted sooner. But BMW didn’t take into consideration that we weren’t planning on living in Cochabamba permanently, they clearly didn’t see an issue with waiting for several weeks before finding out whether the part was available in the first place, nor is customer satisfaction on their list of priorities. So three weeks before we were due to leave the community and race for the border before our visa ran out, we were faced with the knowledge that the part we had already paid for several weeks previously, was not here and was not coming. Thank you Mr BMW Cochabamba.

Several fraught conversations later to our contacts in the UK, a new part had been ordered from a factory in Sweden and would be in the UK the next day. From the UK, it would then take about five days to reach Bolivia. Excellent!

Two days before we were due to leave the community: the part is still stuck in customs in Bolivia where it has been sitting for over a week. Frantic and angry phone calls were made, abuse hurled and bribes offered.

One day before we were due to leave: the part is out of customs but missed the morning flight to Cochabamba. Promised by 2pm. Then misses midday flight … HOW?!  Promised by 5pm.  Part finally arrives at 6pm, the day before we are due to leave. Chris then spends the next few hours on into the night fitting the part, ready for riding away early the next morning.

Lessons learnt – when dealing in business, don’t believe everything a Bolivian tells you. They only tell you what they think you want to hear, which is not necessarily the truth!

New shiny suspension

New shiny suspension fitted on bike!

Wednesday morning, 4th of July, we loaded the bikes and prepared to make our leave of the community. We trudged our way down to the biblioteca one last time and said all our teary goodbyes to all our new friends and the families who have taken us in as their own. Someone produced a cake out of thin air with our names on it – awwww! – so we all gorged ourselves on a creamy-cakey breakfast while posing for photos with each and every person who had showed up to see us off, from the lady who owned the little shop, and her mother, to our best friends Gustavo and Ivan. It was very emotional, filled with sad goodbyes and entreaties to return to the community soon….

Then off we rode, leaving behind what had been our home for over two months, ready to face new challenges! The first of which was to get to La Paz, a purported 8 hours away, before nightfall.

Breakfast cake!

‘Cutting the cake’ and more confetti!

All our new Bolivian friends

We’re off…!

Eight hours later, we found ourselves careering down the steep cobbled streets into the loud and busy centre of La Paz as night fall fell.

Cochabamba to La Paz

Looking down onto the city of La Paz as evening falls

Trying to find our way through the busy streets at night… argh!

THANK YOU to everyone who helped make our time in Comunidad Maria Auxiliadora happen, and who generously gave donations to help fund the project. Thank you to those people who we know can little afford to give money away, but who still managed to donate a few pounds, and to those of you who are able to afford more and gave generously. We could not have completed this project without the help of every last one of you.  So thank you.

You all helped turn this:

The beginning….

…. In to this:

The End….

And for those who did donate….


Paid a fortune for new suspension                                 Chloe 0 v 1 Chris

Heated arguments with Bolivians held in Spanish            Chloe 0 v 4 Chris

Stopped for speeding & paid extortionate fine               Chloe 0 v 1 Chris

Consecutive days of work without a day off                   Chloe 21 v 21 Chris

Days almost quit out of sheer exhaustion                       Chloe 5 v 3 Chris

Dances danced on opening night                                   Chloe 12 v 5 Chris

This entry was posted in Chile. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to 9 JULY 2012 Hard Work & Community Fun

  1. Kate thomas says:

    What a briliant achievement! Amazing!! It looks great, and I’m sure will be well used and looked after for many years to come. x

  2. Anna Yeung says:

    Well done on the completion of the library! You’ve both achieved so much 🙂
    Looking forward to more stories on the way! 🙂 take care! Xx

  3. Due to popular demand, we are now please to inform you all that Chris has indeed has his hair cut, at last! But now looks a bit like a Marine after I went at it with the scissors from the penknife. Also, Perlusa unfortunately had to stay and live with Maria Eugenia & Erick, so is hopefully surviving the fun and games of a rough 11 year old…. we miss her already! Just couldn’t find any goggles to fit her for the motorbike…! Love the comments guys! 🙂 Chloe (& Chris) x

  4. hi chris and chloe so proud of you both and love reading your blog makes me laugh and cry kitten is soooo cute love to you both

  5. Helen Okane says:

    You two are amazing!!!! And the kitten is soooooo cute, what happened to her??? Love to you both x x x

  6. Lucy Stewart says:

    FANTASTIC! The library looks brilliant, and well done for sticking at it and never giving up! It really is something to be proud of, and it looks like you will have a wonderful set of memories of the people there too. Some lovely photos too….when are you going back to build the community hall…?!

  7. Evans Tomassini says:

    That is so awesome. Seeing all the names of the donors really made my day and I hope I can do something like that when I do my world moto trip! It’s very inspiring. If you plan on staying in the Seattle area on the way to Vancouver and you need a place to bunk let me know.

  8. Dave says:


    If I see you throwing alcohol away like that again I’ll be straight on a plane to have a few stern words. And you told me if I sent money, you’d use it for a haircut. Now I see it went towards a library????? Never believe anything a Bolivian tells you eh? Never believe anything a Chris tells you……………..

  9. Kevin Maher says:

    Amazing! So proud of you both. I know the library was the big thing of this update, but the rest was jam packed full of (not so) little triumphs and absolute selflessness.
    Sweet pictures too.
    What happened to Perlusa by the way? Is she riding in the metal mule? 😀 😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s