Bolivia: What Does the Fox Say?

Packing for two weeks in Llapallapani takes careful consideration. With four flights over a 30-hour timespan to reach La Paz (hell no, I’m not checking a bag), followed by a four to six hour drive with limited vehicle space, necessity supplements my usual motivation to pack light. My two bags—a small backpacking pack and a sport camera pack—carry:

  • 2 sets of sturdy work clothes for construction (one shirt is white. Mistake. I wear the dark shirt for two weeks straight to hide the dirt and grime)
  • 1 set of travel clothes to be kept clean for my return trip (whoever’s flying in 13A and 13C, you’re welcome in advance)
  • 1 set of clothes to change into in the evenings and for sleep
  • 1 pair of worn-in work boots (imprudent is s/he who trusts new boots not to cause blisters when the nearest boot store is a day’s round-trip travel away)
  • 1 pair of sandals for the evenings
  • 1 sleeping bag (the $20 compression stuff sack from REI is well worth the space freed up in my pack)
  • 1 sleeping pad
  • 1 water bladder with in-line Sawyer filter
  • DSLR camera body, two lenses, two batteries, two 32 GB memory cards, cleaning gear
  • GoPro and mounts
  • Passport, immunization records, crisp US bills for visa and money exchange, and other documentation necessities
  • Duct tape (tie dye), flashlights, and miscellaneous camping items
  • Protein bars
  • Toiletries (minimal. Bolivia is a good excuse to leave my daily routine behind)
  • Pens and my fox notebook (if the plans sets don’t show it, sometimes the book has answers)
The locals get it, keeping their feet free in sandals. Most of the male community members wear these sandals made from reused tires.

The locals got it, keeping their feet free in sandals. Most of the male community members wear these sandals made from reused tires.

Critical item? Water filter.

Second best? Sandals. Freedom is feet aired out after a 12-hour day in work boots.

My fox notebook provides solutions throughout our time in Llapallapani. I take my feverish notes from Mairi and the remaining Team 1 members during the one day we have them onsite (they catch a bus across the river at 1 am the next morning…maybe it was The Cruise of The Love).

Pork chop. /pôrk CHäp/ n. a device used to grip cable and hold it in place; shaped like a pork chop of the swine variety.

Pork chop. /pôrk CHäp/ n. a device used to grip cable and hold it in place; shaped like a pork chop of the swine variety.

Most of what I wrote down that first day did not make sense to me at the time. There’s how many different lengths of 5/16 inch wire rope? Never saddle a dead horse relates to construction? We have pork chops onsite? Why does the backstay we are to measure on the pull cables differ on each side?

“The Cruise of the Love”—one of the buses that stop on the road across the river from Llapallapani. The buses have different artwork and words along the exterior in hopes of enticing riders to choose their bus.

"The Cruise of the Love"—one of the buses that stop on the road across the river from Llapallapani. The buses have different artwork and words along the exterior in hopes of enticing riders to choose their bus.

“The Cruise of the Love”—one of the buses that stop on the road across the river from Llapallapani. The buses have different artwork and words along the exterior in hopes of enticing riders to choose their bus.

I call it Brain Dump Day. Just like the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself among native speakers, one of the best—or at least quickest—ways to learn to read plan sets and understand construction terminology and techniques is to have an entire community rely on you, your team, and your ability to make the drawings come to life.

Llapallapani has been prepping the site for its bridge since November 2014. Community members constructed the pedestals and ramps (all that concrete and no concrete truck or even a small, portable mixer drum). They’ve dedicated countless volunteer hours (many of them backbreaking) and significant resources to feed and house the B2P and corporate teams.

Mairi reviews the plan set with Team 2.

Mairi reviews the plan set with Team 2.

One of the first questions I asked when onboarding to this project was why my money was best spent personally traveling to the site rather than donating that money to the local community for the bridge. I was told that having our team onsite lent authenticity and authority to the project (whether that was well-placed is another discussion). We also provided a clear timeline and sense of urgency to stay on schedule—after all, our return flights were leaving regardless of the bridge’s state of construction.

Kenny (estimator, Kiewit), Jolene (engineer, Kiewit), Kirsten (planner, Parsons Brinckerhoff). My dark shirt and camera pack on full display.

Kenny (estimator, Kiewit), Jolene (engineer, Kiewit), Kirsten (planner, Parsons Brinckerhoff). My dark shirt and camera pack on full display.

So here we are, a team of engineers, an estimator, and a planner (any guesses to which one I am?) We have bridge experience. Project management experience. Even some experience with international travel and Spanish. But we soon learn that nearly every decision we make onsite is a combination of that experience and a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) dose of improvising.

Where are the 1/2 inch clips? Which wire rope is the handrail cable? How do we launch the suspenders? What spacing do we mark the pull cables? How do you say “caution” in Spanish?

*shrugs* What does the fox [notebook] say?

Note: More photos of the journey can be found here.

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