After our exploratory trip to Villa Hermosa, we returned two weeks later with a volunteer team from Brazos Pointe Fellowship Church in Lake Jackson, Texas. We drove the drilling supplies in ahead of time (16 hours overland) and then flew the volunteer drilling team directly to San Lorenzo in two small planes. It was interesting to see the landscape from the air. Most of the Beni is not forested but rather, open wet grasslands. It looks soft and tranquil from the air, like a carpet of manicured grass, but on the ground it is almost impossible to move across. In the wet season it is full of water and in the dry season it is swampy muddy bog. Only the river corridors are forested. People live in villages on the highest points of ground near the rivers. These high spots become islands during the wet season. So while it seems there is an endless amount of space in this part of Bolivia, only tiny pockets of land are truly habitable.
From San Lorenzo de Moxos it was an eight hour canoe ride upriver to Villa Hermosa. The river was full of crocodiles, fresh water dolphins, and thousands of birds, making the trip anything but dull. The community has eight families and a small elementary school for the children. The Yuracare are hunters, fishermen, and farmers. While they earn almost no money from their farming activities, they subsist pretty well from hunting and fishing in the forest. They do not, however, have access to clean water or medical care when they get sick. During the last rainy season their village flooded and they lost all of their planted crops. They even spent several weeks sitting on top of furniture inside their flooded homes or in trees waiting for the water to recede. They have never had a water well, but instead drink water directly from the dirty brown river or from the swamp that surrounds their community. When our team arrived they greeted us on the river shore and helped us carry our camping gear and drilling equipment along the one kilometer trail up to the village. It took Agua Yaku and the Brazos Pointe team only two days to dig a 100 foot deep well and install a hand pump. The water came out cool and clear. The families immediately began filling every container they could with the fresh clean water. The kids splashed and played in the water while the women washed clothes. After the well was completed we even had time to go fishing for piranha.
One of the best outcomes from the trip were the contacts we made with other communities in the area. After seeing the clean water in Villa Hermosa, people from other communities in the area wanted clean water too. The first week in July Carlos and Fernando, Agua Yaku staff, made their way back to San Lorenzo and then upriver to Villa Hermosa. From there, they hiked eight hours overland to two other communities called Nueva Natividad and Santa Rosa. These communities are on a river that has dried up during the dry season and the only way in is by foot or horseback. Village members carried the drilling equipment on their shoulders (including 100 lb sacks of bentonite-drilling clay) for the full eight hour hike. While Carlos and Fernando were drilling the wells a cold front passed through Bolivia (it is our winter) and the temperature dropped into the 30s for over a week—unusually cold for Bolivia. This extreme cold snap actually killed most of the fish in these tropical rivers. The rivers became a carpet of dead floating rotting fish. We saw news reports that many children were becoming sick after drinking water from the rivers with the rotting fish. It will take several years for the population of fish in these rivers to recover. While we cannot do anything too quickly to resolve the problems, we will continue to drill as many wells as we can so that people in these rural communities will have access to clean well water year round. Carlos returned to San Lorenzo two weeks ago to drill more wells. Pray for Carlos and for a local missionary, Natividad, who has been working in this area for decades. We want to bring clean water and share the gospel message with everyone that we can.