Rivers of Mud

Brian and Santiago helped move kids across the river (before flood stage)

The rain continued to pound the tent and the roaring of the river grew louder. Turning onto my side, my arm met with cool buoyancy as it rested on the floor of the tent. I felt my legs lift and my inflatable mattress begin to float at the ends. This was not a good sign. Fumbling for my headlamp, I leaned over to peer out the door and discovered my boots floating near the edge of the tent, attempting to escape on a river of mud that flowed directly into the tent. My pack lay mired in chocolate water to one side. Through the middle, the stream coursed directly under the tent and over the plastic ground cover, slowly eroding the rocky ground and carving out a channel under my sleeping bag. To my surprise, the water was not passing through the floor of the tent, and I gazed up at the roof, amazed that not a single drop was getting through.

I fished out my waterproof pants from the sodden pack and rescued my boots, then sat waiting for a lull in the torrential downpour to open the door and investigate. I half expected my tent to be the last one standing, alone on a quickly eroding island in a wide, muddy stream. Once outside, the picture looked much less grim. All tents were standing and none the worse for the wear. Three streams snaked through our camp, and only one had found its way directly into a tent. Hiking up the gentle slope to the irrigation channel, I half expected it to be overflowing, but the true source of the flood was a primitive road that a tractor had carved into the hillside, scraping away the vegetation and now serving as a riverbed that emptied into our camp. After several minutes of futile attempts to divert the course of the water away from the tents, I gave up and trudged through the mud to the edge of the cliffs overlooking the river valley. Ambient light from the nearby city was sufficient to illuminate the thundering river, now ten times larger and filling the valley floor from edge to edge. It would be impassible for the next 24 hours.

Jhoel spots for Cristian as he links up with Miguel and Gabriel

I sighed. At least the rain had held off long enough for a solid campfire for chorizos and marshmallows! Even I knew that this was the most important part of camp for the kids. Never mind the team challenge to cross the slackline “bridge” that met with success after a full 90 minutes. Never mind the partner trust exercises that led to fierce competition among teams (and maybe some trust and coordination). Getting through the “spider web” as a team in the pouring rain without letting the rain ponchos touch the web was interesting. But ball games and hikes and river exploration all faded in comparison with chorizos and marshmallows.

The next morning we called a strategic retreat to the BLC and spent the next 6 hours washing tents, packs, and sleeping bags, hanging them up to dry and repacking them. Everyone pitched in and made the task less daunting, and I am so thankful for the BLC’s extensive roofed drying lines. I was even able to harness the pequenos’ overwhelming need to touch (move, disorder, carry off) all of the dry gear and employ them in restuffing the pack covers into their pouches, which immediately turned into cushioned ball-and-chains for gladiatorial matches. We concluded the camp with a round of ball-tossing to take turns sharing the best part of camp for each kid, and a review of their goals. While retention was difficult, most remembered their goals: obey the leaders and don’t get on their nerves, play with everyone, and help everyone. Happy to report that most of these goals were met. One of my favorite moments was when Francisco wrapped a rope around a branch and then hung from it with his legs wrapped around the tree in order to hold it tight for the rest of the boys. His goal was to help everyone.

Sebastian and Alejandro navigate a crystal clear stream high above the city

Earlier this week we held a 3-day camp for the plomos dorm in the same spot, and I was blown away by their focus and determination in achieving their goals to never give up, to endure more while hiking, and to reach the alpine lake. It was a full 9-hour hike up and down from the lake, with about 4,000ft in elevation gain. Sebastian, David and Freddy were first time campers, and I am so impressed by their sheer willpower to get up the mountain. Sebastian and Freddy even chose to carry a partially-loaded pack to do some strength training for future camps! Edwin, Alejandro and Jhilmar started the fire the second night, and Alejandro carried branches several kilometers and across a river to make sure there was firewood. Grover and Brian taught them how to start a fire the first night, and did an excellent job leading the hike and games.

Alejandro didn’t quite make it up the mountain…

Josue was a little aloof during the games, and he explained himself later using the new Ulead image cards by holding up a picture of a tent: “I wanted to be in the tent.” We also had Santiago shadow the group as a first-time helper, and he definitely has some great leadership potential, showing care for the campers and good decision-making skills. One of my favorite moments came when Alejandro fashioned a fishing pole from a stick, a discarded tin can, and the string from the sausage links and spent the entire hour at the lake coaxing a tadpole into the can.

This weekend we will head to La Paz with some of the young men from the city to mountain bike down the famous Death Road and try out the biggest zipline system in Bolivia. The following weekend will feature our last camp of the season with the BLC pequenos. Stay tuned for pictures and stories!


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