Sun-burnt and Smiling: Thoughts from Bolivia, Week One

Hello all,

This past week I have been getting integrated into the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia.

As a disclaimer, I have never traveled outside of the United States before; nor have I had any experience speaking Spanish outside of the graduation requirements for high school (where I was more focused my hair than memorizing conjugations or participles). So why would I want to travel to a country where English is not the spoken language and where Ben & Jerry’s won’t be around to console a tough day? An equal mix of young stupidity, passion, adventure, and research.

I have developed a passion for growing the mentality that access to clean electricity is a human right (just like access to clean water). Adventure plays a daily role in forcing me out of my comfort zone. For example, I never would have expected to play a game of charades looking for something as simple as a backpack in a public store. I learned that you will get offered lots of coats until you mention, “para libros,” (meaning for books). Man, I really wished I had paid more attention in my high school Spanish class. Lastly, research in effectively generating electricity for the indigenous rural population of Bolivia while optimizing cost, sustainability, and successful integration brought me to where I am now.

I will continue to tell the story of my journey on a weekly basis, featuring all the dim-witted mistakes of a first-time traveler and the invaluable insights and breakthroughs in my research in collaboration with local NGO, Energética.

As far as my background is concerned, I completed my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at UD and am currently studying my Master’s in Renewable and Clean Energy. I am a research assistant at the Hanley Sustainability Institute. My passion has been focused responsible energy generation at a macro scale (city level; national; global) and the ethical responsibility we have to ensure global access to clean energy. After my first full day of work, I have been assigned three projects:

  1. Partnering with the University of San Simon, I will aid in the national initiative to electrify rural Bolivia. This will consist of a full life cycle analysis on solar energy for these communities.
  2. Solar Mobility: Because Cochabamba is geographically located in the center of Bolivia, it acts as a central hub for transportation of large trucks moving through the country. This paired with the fact that it is a valley city makes it susceptible to egregious pollution problems. I will help out in this national solar car competition as a way to get the country off of polluting, carbon-based gasoline.
  3. As renewable energy increases in the nation, the Bolivian government needs a list of rules and regulations to safely install grid-tied renewables without bringing down the electricity grid.

I am staying with a local family as a way to fully immerse myself in the culture and to enjoy traditional Bolivian meals. There are plenty more stories to come so stay tuned. I want to end with a final thought from Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself ... To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountains which sustain life, not the top.”

Join my climb as I take on my biggest mountain yet on my great, Bolivian adventure.

- Chris Wagner, '17

Next Post

Sun-burnt and Smiling: Thoughts from Bolivia, Week Two

Where has this week's adventure led grad student Chris Wagner? Find out about his trip to Torotoro.

Read More