Sweating it out in Bolivian Amazonian highlands

Image copyright Saki Laverde Image caption Saki Laverde says the highlands of Bolivia are vulnerable to climate change

A Bolivian photographer’s passionate warning that climate change will lead to more extreme sunrises, sundowns and sunsets in his country is meeting with incredulity in the highlands.

Saki Laverde washes his clothes in a river only to find they are drenched in freezing blood.

He has woken to find the sun hitting him on his chest, terrified of the risk of skin cancer.

Now, Mr Laverde says he faces the biggest challenge of his life.

Image copyright Saki Laverde Image caption Laverde says he’s had to change his habits to cope with the heat

Dull, humid, hot. Soap and water seems to evaporate. From a simple order for ice creams, a basket of Colombian candies and a bucket of ice water, Laverde now ends up with plenty of spaghetti and milk.

He says his own stream has become polluted and stinking of sewage and excrement.

Image copyright Saki Laverde Image caption Laverde’s Bolivian village isn’t far from one of the Amazon’s most famous spots

Like many Bolivians, Mr Laverde lives in the south of the Amazon basin, which is in the path of climate change.

Bolivia is home to 49 of the 50 highest temperatures in the world, as measured by an index created by the US government.

The late afternoon south-easterly winds carry hot air aloft. The typical summer temperatures in the highlands hit more than 38C.

Mr Laverde has also become particularly sensitive to the light – the sun produces extreme ultraviolet radiation, causing sunburn and damage to cells.

His greatest fear is that his 20-year-old daughter will suffer the same fate as he did, in a few decades’ time.

Image copyright Saki Laverde Image caption Laverde says he’s met with scepticism from his neighbours

Every day, he huddles by a fire with his wife, Anouk, and his three daughters to keep cool.

Outside, he repeats the mantra that he repeats each morning: “Never hesitate to wash yourself; if the sun can’t hide the ocean, never be afraid of the sun.”

But locals agree with him.

“Bolivia is different,” says 67-year-old mechanic Nelie Salas, who moved to the area from Mestreux, a town close to La Paz, 15 years ago.

“This sun isn’t normal.”

But he doesn’t blame foreigners, he says.

Image copyright Saki Laverde Image caption Laverde says his water levels are reaching new heights

A furious man’s message

The Bolivian government and representatives of the country’s embassy in Washington are supporting Mr Laverde’s campaign.

The office manager in Mr Laverde’s Pacheco municipality, Giancarlo Bastani, also backs him.

“This is an issue that affects all of us,” he says.

“In the next months, we will start making regular checks on Saki. He’s a true citizen of the world, as well as being our son, our brother and our brother.

“This is a problem that affects us all.”

Image copyright Saki Laverde Image caption Mr Laverde’s car was found by local cops with a GPS tracker on the rear and a TV on the dashboard

In the meantime, Mr Laverde’s own car has been found in a ditch with a GPS tracker fitted on the rear.

Local police found another, with a television playing on the dashboard.

There’s one final paradox for Mr Laverde.

He got a D in outdoor photoshoot, but in another photoshoot he was given a 10 out of 10.

“This isn’t normal. This is the perfect example of how climate change is wreaking havoc on us, showing us the consequences that we’re going to face in the long run,” he says.

But he says he can’t make anything else of it.

“The world hasn’t changed,” he says.

“The sun is just shining, the rivers aren’t too dirty. So I’m going to use this as motivation to make my life work better.

“But how am I going to cope with this?”

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