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Energy Trails: lighting a path in Bolivia A writer’s perspective


T By Anna Politano


he journey began at the Oklahoma City airport. I hugged my husband and children tightly. Although


I would be gone for only a few days, the reality of being thousands of miles away and with limited access to communication felt a little uneasy. Still, the excitement and anticipation of what was to come captivated my thoughts. The airplane I boarded in Oklahoma City was one of fi ve airplanes in route to Bolivia. On February 1, 2016, I landed in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, with my team members who represented NRECA International, Missouri’s electric cooperatives and


the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, Oklahoma Living’s pub- lisher. Our fi nal destination was Riberalta, a charming city in the heart of Bolivia’s Amazon Basin.


I imagined we would arrive at a small airport, equipped with basic infra- structure and services. For a city of 90,000 people, I assumed this was a re- alistic thought. I was wrong. We landed in an open fi eld and were directed to a building structure that was still incomplete. We waited under scorching heat as we observed a couple of wagons approaching the airplane to retrieve our luggage. This was our fi rst time in Riberalta, and we were taking in the sights and sounds of the city. It had been raining and the terrain was muddy. We tried to navigate around the mud as we approached the wagons that had been fi lled with passengers’ luggage. Once we had our belongings, our team leader, Fernando Mercado with NRECA International, recruited a car to


a complete stranger, but in Riberalta, we did just that. One thing we all had a good grasp on: we had to go with the flow. We hopped on a motorcycle with a Bolivian and it was quite a fun ride. We arrived at our destination and, at that point, it was all that mattered.


The purpose of this trip was to assess the area for an electrifi -


cation project. Through the leadership of NRECA International, Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives and Missouri’s electric cooperatives are joining forces to bring power to two villages in the outskirts of Riberalta. The project will span an area of 16 kilometers (nearly 10 miles), and 250 poles will be in- stalled to electrify the villages of Dos de Junio and El Torito. At the end of the project, approximately 361 families will have electricity for the fi rst time. Suffi ce it to say, it will be transformational.


A team of volunteer linemen, engineers and licensed electricians from


Oklahoma and Missouri co-ops will take on this project in late summer. They will be assisted by linemen from the local electric cooperative, Cooperativa Electrica Riberalta (CER). This electric cooperative of 25,000 consumer-members will generate, transmit and distribute the power to these two villages.


take the luggage. Then he said, “You all pick a ride.” He pointed to a sea of motorcycle taxis and their drivers who were parked at the airport front. In Riberalta, the main mode of transpor- tation is motorcycles. Several locals own motorcycles and use them as a way to earn extra cash in the form of taxi “cabs.” It’s not a norm in the U.S. to hop on the back of a motorcycle with a complete stranger but in Riberalta, we did just that. One thing we all had a good


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