Day One - Friday 10th of May
Arrived mid morning and received an enthusiastic welcome from all the Beiler family. Straight away are given the opportunity to head into the jungle with 15 year old Nelson boar hunting with his single barrel 12 gauge. Having brought limited clothing we change into some dirty stuff, find a pair of gumboots that fit with out too many holes and walk into the jungle eating fresh tangerines from the orchard. We don't see anything accept maybe one fresh track but Nelson has lots of questions about New Zealand and seems to enjoy showing us how to get water out of a bamboo shoot. We return empty handed and find mum Sarah and dad Joe digging over a large over-grown vege patch in the hot sun. Will and I move in and after a few instructions we are left to sweat it out and finish off the job, our only distraction is four year old Daniel who asks questions about everything. Soon we hear Sarah bellowing her "yo'all come get some lunch!" and we are presented with soup, pasta salad, banana cake and even fresh juice. That afternoon Will and Nelson shovel the horse drawn cart full with about a ton of cow manure for the vege patch while I help in the kitchen doing dishes from Sarah's endless baking and pot fresh flower cuttings in between. Later we take a cold shower, are shown our room in a cosy chalet and then have dinner. We learn there will be a prayer before every meal in either English or Spanish. That evening Nelson proudly shows us books about the Mennonite and Amish religions and we educate ourselves for a while in the dim kerosene light before bed.
We get up at 6:30am planning to help with the twice daily hand milking of their 8 cows, but end up doing our dirty washing left over from our jungle trip. We use the water wheel powered washing machine and find it works a treat, but takes a while to fill as the hose has enough pressure for only one tap in the house to be on at a time. We then rinse our clothes in the river, hand wring them and hang them on the line to dry. No clothes dryer out here!
After the lunch dishes are done we are encouraged to read and relax. I read about the traditional dress of the Amish in a book called 'Why they dress this way'. Just as everyone has left and we begin to feel that we should be doing more work the Hocksettler family of six (plus one on the way) arrive. In a crazy coincidence they are also driving a Dodge Durango. They have recently come to Bolivia looking to start a new life and follow a similar but more liberal religion to the Beilers. Its fascinating hearing Pennsylvanian Dutch spoken for the first time and as the afternoon turns into evening the family agree to stay for dinner, then the night. We help with the evening meal and as always the dishes. Will and I really enjoy talking to the Hocksettler's and we swap stories into the night about our driving and travel adventures in Bolivia.
Day Three - Sunday 12th May
After sweeping all the floors in the house it's pancakes and fruit salad for breakfast with all 13 of us. Will and I feel we had better do some work so we start by adding a few more wheel barrows of manure to the vege patch and dig it over once more, saying goodbye to the Hocksettlers in between. Will then clears the old tomatoes with a machete while I rake them away. Later with a heavy wooden ladder I climb to the top of a wobbly frame over the vege patch to remove old bean vines. Daniel is with us for the entirety demanding we peel his tangerines amongst other things; lucky he's so cute. Meanwhile Joe and Nelson use a single furrow plough to workover a nearby field with their skinny pack horses. Back at the house George puts fresh cheese in the cheese press, then gets the cows in for evening milking. Will and I try to help with the milking but being the first time either of us has hand milked a cow we are rather slow and awkward. I think we are more entertainment to Nelson and George than anything else, we finish one cow between us in the time they do the other seven! That night we answer questions about NZ as Nelson has been reading up in his old 'Christian perspective' encyclopaedias, the usual one comes up… "are there really more sheep than people?". Daniel falls asleep in the lounge hammock and feeling pretty exhausted I soon creep into bed too.
At dawn we are put straight to work clearing out an old narrow herb garden near the house, by 9 o'clock we are starving and thirsty. Though we are soon rewarded with delicious Dutch pancakes for breakfast. This consists of a huge egg based pancake toped with peaches, syrup, sugar and nuts. It's so good it's soon gone, so we fill up on toasted fresh whole meal bread toped with home made butter. After breakfast Will and I decide we would like to make some fresh juice so we collect a bucket of tangerines, another of grapefruit and a few lemons for Sarah's soon to be made lemon pies. After a demonstration from George on using the hand juicer we get to work juicing the abundant ripe fruit. Daniel climbs onto the bench to 'help' but instead creates a huge mess by standing all in the pips and juice. We tell him to get off but he tells us for the hundredth time that we are "terrible bad", we are used to hearing this now and think he sounds hilarious with his surprising southern american accent.
After lunch it's back to the pineapple patch luckily we are now working in the shade. Will manages a short pause from the back breaking work after Sarah instructs him to lay some ant bait for the leaf cutter ants which had been wreaking havoc. We continue all afternoon and Sarah heads the 45mins into town on the back of a motorbike taxi. She doesn't return until 11pm so we have a quiet dinner with the boys of lunch left overs. Nelson washes grubby Daniel on the porch in a soapy tub and we head off to bed, he hates the cold water so its quite a show!
Day Five - Tuesday 14th May
The morning is absolute chaos with the petit Sarah rushing around like someone half her age because I am taking her, Daniel and George into town in the Dodge. Sarah plans to sell a heap of baking and run some errands, usually this would require Joe to take her in the horse drawn cart, but since we are here she's taking advantage of it. In the morning I help Sarah make lemon pies and absolutely amazing vanilla coconut ice cream, I cant stop eating it even before it has frozen. As well as yogurt, cunape's and banana cake, we also took the cheese from the press and cut it into 1kg portions. Mean while Will and Nelson have been out cutting bananas in the several acre overgrown banana patch. They return in time for lunch and we get to taste some of Sarah's lovely fresh baking. The outside wood fired oven has been going non stop all morning!
We wake up to news that a young colt (horse) had been attacked during the night. After some debate it's agreed that most likely a Jaguar is responsible. The poor colt and its mother spend the rest of the week near the house and in the afternoon the vet is called to administer some antibiotics. Will and I don't do much today as it is raining fairly heavy. We offer to help Nelson de husk rice but end up hanging out in his room followed by a long lunch with some extended hymms and bible stories. In the afternoon Sarah goes into town again telling us we are on dinner duty. Will continues working on his spoon down at the workshop and Nelson heads into the jungle looking for a special plant Sarah wants to keep bats out of the house. Several hours later he comes back with no plants but instead an oversized guinea pig he killed with his machete after the dogs had bailed it up. I want to help get the dairy cows in on horse back but they are already so close it's hardly worth the effort. However George insists we go, I can't believe a 9 year old is taking me bare back horse riding but he has a way with the animals and a passion for using my iPhone in return I later learn.
Day Seven - Thursday 16th May
We wake up early, down a quick breakfast of leftovers and the whole Beiler family and us jump into the Dodge for the ride to town, lucky it seats three in the front. They are getting the chicken manure as a trade so first up we shovel rice husks into 60 odd large sacks and load them onto an ancient flatbed international truck, boy it's hot. The truck gets a flat battery so we jump it, then follow it to the chicken farm. Here we unload the bags and then direct the old truck that has no brakes towards a bank using logs for safety. We then sweat more than we ever have in our lives in the steaming fermenting chicken manure and load up the truck. The method is simply manual, fill a tub with manure while another carries it up the bank before back breakingly hoisting it onto the truck and another (me) empties it, no diggers here! Sarah promises a cold drink, but by the time it arrives via mototaxi the work is done. We arrive back at the Beiler's before the truck and Mervin is there looking for help to bring in his cattle, we quickly saddle up the horses (with only a blanket) but just at the same time the truck arrives and the muster must wait. Here the busy day turns even more chaotic… The truck gets stuck going up the hill into the paddock and then simultaneously runs out of fuel, in a great stroke of planning the spare fuel is under the manure. The boys dig it out but in the end the Dodge tows the truck into the paddock. By this stage everyone is pretty hungry so Sarah russell's up lunch but its the Hoochi guinea pig from yesterday so I stick to my greens. We then sweat it out again shovelling out the manure, the chaos continues though as halfway through Mervin's horse becomes untied and viciously kicks my helpless horse who is still tied. Sarah is screaming at the top of her lungs for God to help and everyone is running around like crazy. Eventually the horses are settled but mine is pretty sore so won't be going mustering. Will having ridden a lot more offers to walk so I can ride his horse. So we set off and soon Nelson, Mervin and Eric are driving the heard home, leaving us behind to watch a calf that got away. The calf bolts for the nearest bit of cover loosing us straight away, we get chased by a large horned bull and in-between discover my horse is rather incompetent. As the heavens open and it starts to poor down we give up and head back for the house.
At this stage we have more than paid for our board so it turns into a day to relax. We fire up the water wheel do our washing and brush out the Dodge in preparation for tomorrows departure. Will turns his slab of Amazonian wood into 8 long rectangles with the water wheel table saw. One day they will make a chopping board he tells me. Nelson also asks me for a hand and we jump on the horse drawn buggy and head out to the banana patch to collect the banana bunches Will and him chopped the other day. We fill the buggy to the brim and deliver them to the pack shed feeding a few to the horses on the way. The rest of the afternoon is spent reading our books and being entertained by the ever energetic Daniel.
While packing our stuff we learn that Sarah is so grateful for our help that she's baked a huge assortment of goodies for us. Our supplies for the road included cunapes, oat cookies, plain cookies, bread, butter, 3kg of cheese and even fresh popcorn! She also gives us some fuel for the Dodge, a very special prized old Amish cook book for Will and her own hat for me that I had admired. We say our farewells and sneak out before everybody arrives for the Sabbath church service.
Rochelle & Will