Crater Lake is always beautiful !

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Taylor's Jerky Saves Lives

When I learned that I had been chosen to be on this PHH Bolivian medical team I was not as enthusiastic as Naomi was about eating the Bolivian food.  I have always been a picky eater (I'm sure my mom will want to chime in here),  sort of a meat and potatoes kind of guy.  I only like a few vegetables. I don't normally like my food too spicy and my choice of meats would be chicken, beef or pork  The latter being in the form of bacon. My preconceived ideas of Bolivian food was it would be more like Mexican food, boy was I wrong there.  In the weeks leading up to the big trip Naomi did her best to acclimate me to foods I had not tried before.  Being that I was still trying to sell her a good impression of myself  I tried every food group she forced, tossed in front of me.  The olives were way too salty, the quinoa she prepared before hand was pretty bland but quite edible.  Seems like everywhere we went together for weeks before the trip she was stuffing some new taste to me in my mouth.  Being somewhat of the survivor type I knew I was going to have to come up with a solid plan, just in case I really hated the Bolivian food and didn't want to starve completely to death. We had been told most people when they go on a humanitarian trip like this lost between 10 and 15 pounds which sounded pretty good to me but I didn't want to die either...

Charles Taylor
When I was growing up in Cave Junction there was the Taylor's Sausage Factory.  Back then the local schools still had money for field trips and we used to get to go to the Taylor's factory each year and see how the sausage was made.  The best part of the trip was we were each given one of their famous Pepper Sticks to gnaw on while walking back to school.  As I grew older and was on the Forest Service trail-crew I used to pack Taylor's Jerky with me because it was light weight and didn't need refrigeration for those long ten day camp outs.  Soon afterwards a new pizza joint sprung up in C.J. and it featured Taylor's meat products on all their delicious pizza's.  Mr. Taylor was always so generous to the Illinois Valley Volunteer Fire Department too.  Every year we would put on a big pancake breakfast in our community to help us raise money for some new piece of equipment or gear we needed in the fire department and he always donated the sausage for our important fund raiser.  I never will forget the time I asked Mr. Taylor if I could use his house for a fire department training.  He owned one of the only two story houses in the valley and I wanted to get the fire guys trained better on how to rescue someone from a ladder from a second story window just in case the situation ever arose.  He said sure be my guest, what time do you train?  We showed up in his driveway on Tuesday night, 7 o-clock sharp and lo and behold there his beautiful daughters stood in their night robes in their second story bedroom windows yelling for help.  The fire guys talked about that training for years afterwards.

In an instant I knew exactly what I needed to do to survive while in Bolivia.  Pack along with me five pounds of Taylor's Jerky (original style, the new kind of jerky is too sticky for packing in a backpack).  So with my stash vacuumed sealed and loaded in the bottom of my personal pack off I go.  Thank God I brought some along too.  After about the umpteenth llama bone sticking out of a bland quinoa soup bowl I had had enough. Also what they don't tell you in the cute Bolivian brochure is the potatoes they use in the soup have been stepped on by one of the Bolivian ladies in the attempt to preserve it.  Ahhh, they don't have shoes on when they complete this step of the preservation process either.   After awhile I found myself sneaking off around meal times.  Hidden in the side pocket of my tactical vest was delicious, flavorful Taylor's jerky. It wasn't long before the rest of the gang learned about my secret food stash and I had more friends then I knew what to do with.

Alicia inquires politely,
is that jerky I smell
in your swell tactical vest?
The moral to my simple story is if you ever find yourself driving through Cave Junction on the way to or from the Oregon Coast, stop in and see Mr. Taylor's son, Scott.  Tell Scott that Billy Blaze told you that you guys have some of the best tasting jerky from anywhere around.  Ask Scott for a sample and judge for yourself.  Make sure to thank him for saving my life... again, while I traveled through the Bolivian highlands like Butch Cassidy  and the Sundance Kid.

Taylor's Country Store
in Cave Junction

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Llama Fetish

I met Naomi about twenty two years ago during a EMT training class held at the Illinois Valley Fire Department. I was the stand in (or in this case, lay down) dummy for the the patient survey portion of the class.  I can unequivocally say I have never received as complete a secondary patient exam as I did from Naomi that evening in the thirty plus years in the fire service, all to the amusement and encouragement of our instructor Micheal Yanase.   Naomi heard some months back that I was interested in going on a humanitarian mission somewhere and invited me to check one out that she was joining through Project Helping Hands to Bolivia.  I applied to be on the Bolivian medical team and lo and behold they let me join the team.  Before I let Naomi post any stories on my blog she had to promise not to tell you I am not as tall, handsome or wise in real life as I am in the stories I write about myself...  Enjoy

written by Naomi, Emergency Room Charge Nurse

Have you ever wondered why there aren't Bolivian restaurants in America? Well, me neither, until recently. Having just returned from Bolivia I believe I can explain...

Llamas are in essence Bolivia's cattle. They graze in herds along the roads, sometimes in the roads, they're everywhere. They are also known to spit, kick and bite when challenged for food or maybe just because they feel like it. And they are eaten in just about every meal encountered.  I was excited to try llama meat. So, here we go, rising at O-dark-thirty (five in the morning) to scatter our group of 37 into 3 directions on various dubious vehicles to visit remote outposts.  (At this point I should refer the reader to Bill's recent post about trying to divide all of us into 3 vehicles, an entertaining look at ineptitude and poor organization skills in my opinion).

Naomi, Erika, Sherry, Natalie, Candace
Suffice to say, after loading, unloading and the RELOADING 3 vehicles we all set off into different directions to find the villages that are truly "at the end of the road". At least Bill had the nerve to shout "STOP" during the first attempt at loading the vehicles, thus preventing gear from being separated from it's owners.  Piling onto the top of pickup bed loads we set off and reached our destination of Palaya around breakfast (in Bolivian time).  If you wanted to be somewhere my 8, in Bolivian time it would be closer to 10 before you actually arrived.

Our small village had a beautifully built tile and brick clinic that was been built by Manos Y Manos.

We shortly learn that the toilet (thank you god)  had no water since the water truck didn't arrive until tomorrow.  As stuff began to pile up, and I do mean that, we finally hear that they are going to turn the remaining rationed water on for us to allow our clinic to proceed. OK, one thing accomplished, what next?

Oh yes, breakfast! They want to serve us a meal as thanks for coming. WONDERFUL. We sit down to a nice long table in the clinic and are served warm Quinoa with one cooked egg over it, 2 slices of carrot, a chunk of potato and a small chunk of llama bone with meat on it. OK, I think, not bad. Kinda unseasoned, but entirely edible. The piece I got was not quite as rough as the ones I saw others trying to eat.

Our next plate arrives-soup this time. Quinoa in a llama broth with 2 slices of carrot and a small chunk of potato. Hmm, ok, sort of repetitive, but I can handle it. This time my llama chunk is not edible. It might have gone over well with Bill's Lab, Stryker back home, but I can't eat it. I pass it to Brian Aeschelman, my paramedic team member who volunteers to eat all leftovers. (always bring someone like him along, it goes over great with the hosts). Here is a picture of him at the very table...
Last, but not least is the piece de resistance- a round piece of dough that has been deep fried. It is akin to Indian fry bread in the United States, but larger. Edible but no salt or sugar. This is the highlight I am told because it is made from a very small ball of dough that is hard to shape thin enough to create the big bubbles of crunchiness that are formed when done right. We leave lots of crumbs on the table hoping it is polite to do so.

very dead unborn llama fetuses
No spices, very little salt (even though they obviously live next to a 520 square mile salt flat) and no seasonings offered on the table. I was thinking it would be SPICY, being that it's down in South America, but Noooo. There were no hot sauce bottles, no shakers, no adornments offered. hmmmm.
Then just when you think you can handle llama again, you happen to be walking the street stalls in town and run into the "Bruja" (witch) stalls. Here is what you see. Yes, those are dead things hanging up for sale, very dead and in fact mummified llama fetuses. They are good luck totems, to be bought and buried at the foundation of your building. UUUUUGGGGHHHH.
Now I really am going to have a hard time eating tough llama meat.  After having eaten at several establishments in Bolivia, I can say that the trend is mild, bland and lots of quinoa, rice and llama. I hear that llama steak is good, but as it was, we were with the peasants and were not fed the choice cuts. Good luck finding it it in the US. And don't even look for a Bolivian restaurant because there aren't any.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Driving 70 mph into a Postcard

The worst and best time I had while traveling through Bolivia literally happened within fifteen minutes of each other...  The day began as so many others had, early on a crisp morning under a bright blue Bolivian sky.  I scrounged up some hot water for Naomi's morning ritual tea.  We had broken our larger medical team of 37  into three smaller groups.  Our plan was simple enough,  load three smaller vehicles with all our gear, split up and head in different directions, traveling much deeper into the Andes highlands to those villages that have been forgotten by the Bolivian government.

Hummmm quick math problem: 37 people divided by 3 vehicles, plus one extra driver for each truck equals 13 1/3 persons per vehicle, plus a hundred pounds of gear for each person or 1300 pounds of gear per rig?  An impossible feat I tell you.  Nope, I found out it was possible but very crowded and uncomfortable for everyone and dangerous for Francis standing on the bent back bumper of the AMBULANCIA while holding onto the spare tire eating Bolivian dust.

Soon Naomi speeds off in one direction and I stuffed in the back of the Ambulancia speeds off fast in another direction.  Myself being safely wedged in the back patient compartment, Naomi hanging on for dear life on top of their load.

The first 45 minutes of our advertised 3 hour journey was not too bad except for the tremendously bumpy wash-boarded road. Soon a couple of the ladies began to feel like they were going to throw up and my legs were beginning to get wet from some foreign substance.  I wasn't sure if I had peed myself because I could no longer feel my legs from being crammed so tightly. Or had one of the extra gas cans we were carrying inside with us sprung a leak.  We tried to get our drivers attention to pull over but there is not one of those cute little portals between the patient compartment and the drivers cab like all the ambulances back in America.  Our mute pleas to "please stop" soon became banging on the drivers cab begging him to "STOP" before one of the girls spewed.

 Rolling out of the back of the our Ambulancia I was relieved to find out I hadn't peed myself and it was not gasoline that had soaked my lower pants leg.  One of the extra water jugs had been squashed under our weight and had leaked on me.  As I tried to massage blood back into my lower extremities.  Far off in the distance I noticed a dust cloud coming towards us fast and within a minute or two a beat-up old 4x4 pickup screeches to a halt on our rural dusty road next to our motley crew.  Not wanting to get packed back in the back of our sardine can again I asked one of our translators to ask the pickup driver if he was headed to the same village we were? He was and agreed to take some of us in his rig and I complied immediately along with Audrey jumping in the pick-up bed while a couple of the other guys loaded in the front cab. Standing up holding onto the roll-bar Audrey and I both screamed like little girls (only problem, she was a girl and I wasn't ) as we headed down the dirt road hard and fast. We began to wonder if when we would warn each other about another impending bump in the road and we would scream "BUMP" if in Spanish that meant go faster?

As our new driver reached speeds of seventy miles per hour Audrey and I really began to wonder if we were being kidnapped as the rest of our Ambulancia crew driving behind us fought to keep up with us.  We forgot about every safety measure we both had been taught.  Wear your seat belt, don't stand up in the back of a fast moving pickup, don't scream with your mouth open, you might choke on a bug...  as we drove deep into a Bolivian postcard that was unfolding fast before us.

A patch work of  Quinoa  fields flowing into the base of
the snow capped Andes Mountains
This was truly the most spectacular E-ticket ride I have ever taken in my life.  The only thing I regret about it was not having Naomi screaming beside me, experiencing it with me.  I am trying to talk her into posting some of her own stories about her Bolivian trip.  So to my readers, lets give the shy lady some encouragement to write them down and share with us.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Am I a Descendant of the Bolivian God Ekeko?

 Ekeko is the Tiwanakan god
of abundance and prosperity.
Working alongside real doctors and nurses in the rural clinics soon my meager E.M.T. skills became apparent.  My medical talents have been honed for years dealing with the horrific car crashes in Southern Oregon, where the Jaws of Life are brought into play and patient stabilization is key to a successful rescue.  If I wanted to play on this new Bolivian medical team I was going to have to undertake another role I have played many times before during car accidents.   Patient triage became my forte.  Clearly 80% of the patients we treated were greeted at the door by the tall (in comparison to the Bolivian people) handsome gringo named Blaze.  I would motion with my hand for them to come, sit here, as my Spanish speaking translators would write down their names, chief complaints, age and some other pertinent information. The data sheets were handed to me for a quick viewing and I would direct the Bolivian countrymen to a waiting area for the next available doctor, nurse or dentist.  I sort of became a traffic cop of humanity, regulating even flow into the clinic, moving them along to the next open doctors station and then back outside into the dusty streets of Bolivia, all the while shoeing  the stray mangy dogs away who would try and break into the inner sanctum of our clinics.  A loud SHHHH SHHHH and a clap from my hands would work on scaring the dogs away most the time.  It kept the peasants on their toes too wondering exactly who was this crazy gringo dressed in a tactical vest with all it's cool gadgets hanging from it.

As you can see from the pictures
 the girls dug the tactical vest
After the peasants saw me with my loaded vest on rumors began to   swirl in the small remote villages that I may be actually a direct descendant of the Bolivian God Ekeko. I think the only reason my vest became so admired by the Bolivian children was because of the special treats it held in it's many pockets for them.  The red silicon bracelets I shot like rubber bands into the crisp Bolivian sky outside the clinics doors for them to chase down.  My teammates too liked the vest but only because of the relief it gave them from the taste of llama.  I always carried a package of Taylor's dried jerky in my side pocket and they all soon partook in the flavorful taste from back home, but more on the Bolivian food later.

The translated chief complaint from the older lady read starkly "My lower back and knees hurt after I work all day in the quinoa fields".  Age 92.  I wish I knew how to say "No Shit" in Spanish.  Clearly 25% of the patients we saw suffered from years and years of hard back breaking work, toiling in the stony fields eking out a meager living in the Bolivian Highlands.  Not even a real doctor could fix this harsh lifestyle, let alone a lowly EMT like myself...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Airplane Door Opens... and then it Hits You

A normal oxygen level would be 96% not 73%
Our plane touches down gently on the bumpy tar mat just before sunrise and with the seat belt sign still illuminated it taxi's slowly to a small airport terminal. We lurch to a stop and the airplanes main door is opened and then it hits you.  It feels like someone is setting on your chest, you try and breath faster and deeper to try and take in more oxygen.  "Welcome to La Paz Bolivia" the kind stewardess with a thick accent announces over the intercom, "elevation 13,500 feet".  Simpy walking from the plane up the slight grade to the baggage claim area becomes difficult.  Your mind feels cloudy, your balance is slightly off.  I wonder if this awkward feeling is from the 12 plus hours of flying or is this higher elevation kicking my ass while I try and look semi normal in front of the armed military scanning your every move in the terminal. Some team members are receiving a sniff or two of oxygen from the O2 bottle our medical team had brought along.  No self respecting fireman would take a blast from the O2 bottle so neither did I as I tried to focus and just get through the Bolivian Customs shake down line without losing any of my gear. The young military uniformed lady in Customs let Naomi and I pass through with all our gear, other team members were not so lucky because Bolivian Customs have a rigid quota they need to meet... of bags they need to confiscate.

Once I'm outside the plane terminal this overloaded rig pulls in next to our bus,  unveils it's load and wants to begin unloading it onto our already overcrowded bus.   It hits me... Bill your not in America anymore let alone anywhere near Kansas.  All safety and common sense rules are thrown out the window for the rest of our trip. So with everybody huffing and puffing we begin one of many  loading's and unloading's of our supplies from the bus.  These people in Bolivia really need to learn the concept of wooden pallets, shrink wrap and motorized forklifts.  I have no idea how many pounds of gear we eventually moved over the coarse of the next two weeks but it was substantial. We carried thousands of pounds of gear up steep flights of stairs, across bridges, through ankle deep salt water, into small medical clinics in the middle of nowhere and then back to the bus for the next leg in our journey.  Setting sentinels often so our gear would not grow legs and run off on us. I don't think we actually had anything stolen from us except from the Bolivian Customs Department.

Naomi decided it was far too dangerous for us to sleep on the floor inside City Hall because it was freshly mopped with kerosene each day.  Zipping our sleeping bag up could have caused a spark igniting the flammable vapors so we moved to an outdoor corner of the court yard under a shade tree, next to an old friend, a red tractor. The process of making up the medical bags for each clinic began in earnest under my watchful eye.

Restroom facilities in Bolivia are ahhhhh... nasty to say the least.  Remember too I work at a waste water treatment plant.  Think of the worst smelling, vile, Forest Service bathroom you have ever needed to use in America.  99% of the restrooms in Bolivia are worse.  Besides the drunk guys peeing on the floor and walls.  Toilets that will not flush toilet paper, so it builds up in the open trash can next to the toilet. It was very interesting when we first got there and Ken and I had to clean them so the ladies could relieve themselves.  I knew my waste water skills would come in handy for this trip.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bolivia Adventure? Accomplished!

It has been nearly a week since I returned from my Bolivian adventure. It has taken me some effort assimilating to the normalcy of my real job back at the sewer plant, catching up on the local news from around my home town while I was gone and simply trying to return to my American way of life.  I hope you will provide me this one blog entry to ramble a bit before I dive into the adventures I found myself entangled in while traveling through the highlands of the Bolivian Uyuni Salt Flats.  I have many things I do not understand about the affluent country I was fortunate enough to be born in.  I am hoping by writing down some of my own thoughts and feelings it will help me understand them more and you will be able to understand more about me...

I am not proud of our United States anymore as I have gotten older.  The U.S. being a supposed leader in the free world that does not have it's own financial house in order.  The United States is $15,000,000,000,000 in debt.  There is nobody who reads my blog that thinks this indebtedness is the right thing for our proud country but we don't put our foot down and tell our leaders to "ALTO", stop. A large majority of us no longer even vote because we have become complacent.  We don't feel like our vote counts.  The guy or gal we vote into public office turns out to be no better or smarter then the one we just voted out and so on.

I am no more proud of my own home state, Oregon.  After the timber revenues were lost from the extreme environmental ruse and over logging of our forests our state leaders still beg the Federal government for the O.N.C. subsidies once used to fund our local communities public entities.  Oregon legislators please "learn to live within the budget and programs we Oregonians can afford".  Much like we do with our own budgets at home. I am sorry many of the special programs we now pay for will have to fall by the wayside.  Families will have to take care of their own kin because overly expensive governmental lead programs can no longer be afforded by the local taxpayers.

bus shelter.JPGWhat hurts me the most to say is I am no longer proud of my own local community, Grants Pass.  The city that gainfully employees me.  Just before I left for Bolivia the city council decided it was the right thing to build covered bus stop waiting areas that cost $85,000 each to build, this was scaled down from the $106,000 ones they wanted to build. Understand that this is a bus service provided by taxpayer dollars that does not break even in it's yearly operation by the tolls it's riders pay, but let's add insult to injury and pay an additional $85,000 for a simple bus shelter that most likely would not keep you dry if a mild wind was blowing.  Furthermore it was decided that these shelters needed some artistic flare so $15,000 was awarded to a company out of Portland not even using the talents of our more then able local artisans.  In fact any motivated third grade class could have come up with the chosen art work if promised a pizza and ice cream party for the winning art work competition.

I am thankful for my family, the few friends I have and people I have never met who helped me accomplish this medical mission to Bolivia.  Of the mission itself by far the most arduous part of it was just getting too and from Bolivia, passing through the airports in both Bolivia and the U.S.  Entering Bolivia costs you $165 U.S. dollars to get in the country so you can help their less fortunate under the watchful eye of the armed military.  Like the U.S., Bolivia has many corruptions like confiscating some of our medical gear we were transporting in too help their countrymen.  Not stolen because anything was illegal in the bags but simply because a young military man is in charge of confiscating bags, so he does periodically.  We lost four medical bags to this common practice, 200 pounds of gear.  Most likely sold later on the black market to help subsidize their low incomes.    

If you think that the overzealous security in the U.S. airports has made us any safer from terrorists after 911, your nuts.  911 occurred in my opinion because men in America have become pussies.  A few crazy guys on a big airplane welding box cutters order everyone to stay seated while they crashed the plane into the Twin Towers.  Your telling me their are no men left among us anymore who would have wrapped their coat around their own arm, put their shoe over their own hand, unbuckled themselves from the safety of their own seat, stood up and went and kicked these guys asses. Thank you  Todd Beamer for uttering those now famous words "You ready? Okay!", Lets roll! while trying  to regain control of their own plane before it smashed into the Pennsylvania countryside rather then into the side of the Washington Capital building.  Now because of 911 we are herded through our airports like cattle headed to slaughter by another inept government ran organization called TSA.

I hope we will someday find the courage to turn this once productive proud nation of ours around before it too fades into oblivion like so many ancient civilizations like the Roman Empire and the Incas have gone before us.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Billy Blaze goes to Bolivia

The final countdown begins as the last few days slowly slip by before I head out for the Bolivian adventure.   My mood is a mixture of anxiousness and grateful nervousness.  Excited to get on with the big adventure, exploring a South American country I never dreamed I would ever visit when I was a younger man growing up.  Grateful that I have a good job and fine hobbies that affords me time to take off to help those less fortunate then ourselves.  Grateful to all my blog watchers, Facebook readers and family who helped with some cash and supplies for the Bolivian children whom I will try and make an impression in their lives in regards to drinking and using clean water.  Over the years I have asked people for many many donations in regards to the fire department or Search and Rescue but never for myself personally.  I was amazed at the people  I didn't even know who came out of the woodwork and sent donations of crayons to my door step.

The nervousness comes from not knowing what they may try and feed me while I'm down there.  I do have a solid backup plan though.  I have five pounds of Taylor's jerky hidden in the bottom of my personal pack to help sustain me if they try and feed me Yak testicles or something as bizarre.

I wanted to send a special thank you to my Dr. Kathy for hooking me up with the medicine I would need if I end up passing a another kidney stone south of the equator.  They are hard enough the squeeze one out knowing you have medical backup here in the states but down where we're going to be on our own.  She also gave me some drugs for altitude sickness since we will be landing at 13,500 ft and going higher from there. Apparently they are some off shoot of Viagra.  She said I would feel like I was nineteen again?

I have packed my medical gear bag three times already and weighed it, we are only allowed 50 pounds of medical / teaching supplies, then tore it apart again to change the contents distribution.  My mom sent me some cash that I used to buy 500 red silicon wrist bands for the children.  They simply state "I washed my hands today" in Spanish of coarse.  I am looking forward to teaching the kids about drinking water safety much like I do here in the local grade schools.  It will be interesting to see if I can get my message across to the Bolivian children using a Spanish speaking interrupter.

Thanks again everybody for helping me make this humanitarian mission come true.  I'm sure I will have many stories and pictures to share with you when I arrive back home at the end of March.  Thanks too for my brother Larry for watching after my dog Stryker while I'm out exploring one of the remote corners of the world.