Last Day in Bolivia – Again

17 06 2009

Well, for the second time I have lived my last day in Bolivia.  It wasn’t so sentimental this time (if I must use that word), because I had already cut the ties to Sucre, and I haven’t had time to form new ones here. 

I got my bags all packed (again) this morning.  Oh, and there was the most beautiful “artesanal” walkway with the most delightful little shops, so I finished my gift shopping and shopping for myself again a couple of times and fit that in my luggage.  I think it fits better than it did when I left Sucre, though.  It just bothers me that there are some breakables. 

After that, I went looking for the street from which I was to take the bus to get to the zoo.  By the time I had shopped, and withdrew some money, and packed, and settled my account with the hostal, and arranged for them to so kindly keep my luggage till this evening, and wandered toward this street for some time, it was time to find a place to eat.  I spent less money today on food. 

I didn’t want to pass the zoo without seeing it on the micro.  So I asked the lady behind me after some time, and she pointed it out to me when it was time to get off.  I wouldn’t have missed it after all, but I didn’t know.  It had a lot of interesting things, but they had a construction project going on that blocked people from seeing about a fourth of it, it seemed to me.  Of course, the zoo at home is one of the best in the US, so it’s not quite fair to compare this one to that.  There were a lot of good features that I liked, and when you consider it only cost me about a dollar to get in, it was definitely worth the trouble.

Then I asked someone which bus to take back downtown, got off in a small mercado (market) and wandered through that a while … and I was so tired.  I came back to the central plaza and sat down for a while.  An older man (well, white-haired, but not necessarily past late 60s) sat down on the same bench after a while, and he was talking to a younger friend.  The friend eventually addressed me with, “¿La señora habla español?” (Does the señora speak Spanish?)  I have gained enough confidence, if nothing else, in the last month to answer “.”  He talked to me for a while, and then left me with the older friend, and I guess he must have talked to me for over an hour.  I know his whole life history … and it was interesting, too.  His accent was different, although he’s from Santa Cruz.  (He drops final s’s and s’s before consonants, for those of you who’ve studied Spanish linguistics.  That isn’t supposed to happen in Bolivia, I don’t think, but it does with a lot of the people in Santa Cruz.)  I so enjoyed getting to talk to him.  I hadn’t got to know anyone here at all, or to practice Spanish a lot.  Though this was mostly listening practice, with me just getting “the gist of it” in places. 

He asked me if I was sure of my flight tonight.  Then he said that if I couldn’t make the flight, he was going to be in the plaza after around 9:00, and I was to look for him if anything went wrong, because la amistad vale algo … friendship is worth something.  And we were friends, weren’t we, after an hour of talking?  He tried to talk me into saving up $10,000, moving to Bolivia where I would be well off with that, setting up – I think a hotel, saving money, falling in love with someone “productive,” and living happily ever after in Bolivia.  He was perfectly happy, he said, having saved up enough to run a turkey farm, and a little house, and talking to his friends every night in the plaza.  What more could he want from life, he wanted to know.  It seemed like half the people that went by knew him.  And when I left and crossed the square to eat something, I think I had made a lot of friends just by virtue of sitting there and nodding at the folks who greeted him during that hour.  There were several people who gave me a friendly greeting.

So don’t I need a couple of weeks more in Santa Cruz to take advantage of that?

Actually, I don’t want things to drag out any longer.  This has been a great opportunity that I’ve tried to take advantage of, but I am going from here to withdraw money, for the last time, to cover the departure tax, and then get a taxi to take me and my luggage  to the airport.  They told me to arrive at 8:00.  The flight leaves at 11:00.  (I’m an hour ahead of KS time here.)

I discovered ice cream helped my feeling bad last night.  Hey, what better solution can there be than that?  Maybe it’s the heat.  Some premonition made me look at KS weather today, and I’m definitely going back to Sucre.  It’s around 100º, I understand.  And I’m sitting here by the window in the internet café with a cool breeze blowing in.  Well, anyway.  I made sure to eat an ice cream treat a couple of times this afternoon.  😀 

I guess it’s time to get off of here.  Thanks for reading … Maybe we can do this again some time.  Or if anyone is interested in taking a vacation to Bolivia, I know someone who would be glad to go as an interpreter and not even charge anything.

¡Un abrazo! (A hug!)


Odds and Ends Again

16 06 2009

Tonight, for the first time in 4 1/2 weeks, I listened to a Southern Gospel song.  My iPod had run down for some reason, and I charged it a while, plugged in the headphones, and on came Kirk, Ivan, and Anthony (The Trio) singing “Glory Road” (on an old Homecoming) that I’d downloaded not long ago.  WOW, that was pretty!  That’s probably the first time in my life I’ve gone so long without SG, and it wasn’t intentional.  It wasn’t the music that seemed extravagant here, but the iPod.  Besides, I was scared to take it out of the house, and I’ve been too busy to sit around inside.  That’s always my quandary when I ponder surviving on a desert island.  I could make it, I’m sure, but how to do so without SG music?  Solar- or handcrank-powered iPod recharger?

I’m feeling rotten again this evening.  It probably has something to do with being tired, but I still think the change in altitude figures in there somewhere.  I wanna go back to Sucre. 

I went to Paradise today.  It is about 7 km outside of Santa Cruz.  $7 taxi ride to arrive, $10 admission, and a $10 meal.  Then I split the taxi ride going back with a lady from England or somewhere that they use that accident.  The place actually seems to target (wealthy) Bolivians and Latin American tourists.  The tour sign-up shows relatively few Americans.  They raise butterflies, and have a butterfly house, a gigantic walk-through “bird cage” with sloths close enough you could touch them if you were stupid, and a look-out point high above the forest.  The orchid display point was pretty and attractive, but this is fall, and 99% of the orchids bloom in spring.  A couple from Cochabamba was doing the guided portion at the same time I was, and since they wanted their picture taken here and there, they reciprocated by taking mine.  I appreciated that.

Then I ate in their restaurant, despite the fact that $10-11 is horribly extravagant for a meal here.  They brought out a plate of bread that made me repent of ever having said derogatory things about bread in Bolivia, and then a plate with two steaks on it that made me think that either I or the waitress had misunderstood, because it was supposed to be fish.  And surely know fish can produce a steak that large.  These were from the Amazon, and they were good.  Along with fresh lemonade … what more can you ask?

I even took a 10-15 minute horseback ride, and looked across the water at the island where the monkeys roam undisturbed.  They had a ton of artificial pools there, all gorgeous, and rent out cabins to folks who can afford them.  That was when I started feeling harta, fed up with the luxury that most people can’t afford.  I have to ponder why it feels worse here.  When we’re far away from the poverty, does that make it better?  Is that why the park is situated so far outside the city, because if there were only a wall between us and them we would be bothered?  And is that why none of us are bothered in the US?  Because I don’t know of anyone that seems to be bothered in the US enough to abstain.  Evidently that is far enough away that it is OK.

Well, anyway.  I am living without a clock here.  One more thing I love about Bolivia.  I don’t need a clock.  Now and then I see one in or outside a shop, or when I’m online like this, or if it’s important I ask someone.  My cell phone only works as a clock when it has service, and I bought a watch in Sucre, but I lost it.  I know that the sun rises around 6:30 and sets around 6:00 or 6:30.  And it just doesn’t have to get too awful much more exact than that.  After living on a tight, tight schedule for so long, this is such a relief.  Four and a half weeks of this.  Telling the Magariños that I need to be at the orphanage at 3:00, and Finita saying, “Oh, it’s the orphanage; it doesn’t matter there,” and it being true.  Getting to church just before it starts at 10:00 and no one being there … Asking the time eventually of someone passing at 10:15 … Beginning to wonder if it really is Sunday … Finally Patricia arrives and wonders what’s wrong … And finally the pastor arrives and we all go in and have church till almost 1:00, and walk home, and who cares?

I repacked this afternoon, and I think I have room to pack in a couple or three more items.  They have the most wonderful little nativities here year round.  They’re tiny and all glued together like an ornament, and they have brown skin, and the camels suspiciously resemble llamas.  I have to have one … I didn’t get one in Sucre.

I’m going to go get a snack and then go to bed.  Who cares if it’s only 6:30 now?


16 06 2009

Last night – and this morning – I’m not really feeling like making a post.  I’m doing so partly for your sakes, and mostly because I know that I’ll never have these impressions and feelings again, so I’m trying to write them down.  I don’t think I’m going to succeed very well, but I’ll try.

There are a lot of “different” things about Sucre.  I’ll mention some in random order.  Some of the stores have parking lots.  This would indicate to me that there are more people who own their cars here.  Santa Cruz is a much bigger city, and in the downtown area I’m hardly coming across any people in native, traditional dress.  In Sucre there are lots of them, Quechuas.  Even where Giovanni took me in La Paz, perhaps because we were near the market, there were lots of Aymara people.  There is a lot of poverty here all the same.  I was startled a block from the center last night to notice a man who had spread out a ragged denim jacket on a very low window sill, pillowed his head on his bag of belongings, and gone to sleep. 

I had eaten my second supper – the first was just something I’d figured out how to order in a snack shop, and I knew it wouldn’t last until morning.  Then after I’d used the internet a little while, I was tempted by a mint ice cream cone – less than 75 cents – in a fancy ice cream shop next to the plaza, and was going back to the hostal eating it.  Someone coming up the street noticed, doubled back, and asked for a coin.  I didn’t give him anything.  It was the first time I had seen an able-bodied person on his own two feet begging, and he wasn’t old at all.  But if those circumstances won’t make you feel guilty, I don’t know what would. 

Santa Cruz has shopping malls, an Osh Kosh store, and you run across American brands of candy on the street vendors’ stands.  It’s true that there are more light-skinned people here, I think. 

Late yesterday afternoon, after being here several hours, something about the atmosphere felt quite oppressive.  I think it is the change in altitude.  There also is a change in temperature; it’s probably running around 80º, but I felt kind of miserable, whatever the case.  It went away after supper.  It’s also kind of humid here.  Not humid compared to home, but my glass sweat a little bit in the café last night when I was eating pollo a la plancha (basically grilled chicken breast) and drinking a big glass of lemonade.  I didn’t realize it was so dry in Sucre, but it feels sticky humid here in the evening to me now.  They say there are mosquitoes here, but I haven’t met them.  It’s probably more of a summer thing.

I spent one night in Santa Cruz when I got here, but I was scared I would get lost if I stepped out of the glass doors of the hotel.  I was scared for a day or two in Sucre, too, but the fact is when you’re staying near the downtown area of a city here – near the plaza which is called the “heart” of the town – you just can’t get lost.  It’s like “all roads lead to Rome.”  And here people are friendly enough you wouldn’t mind asking for directions.  But that would so take the fun out of it.  I went out this morning to buy some more camera memory.  I just pretty much walk, maybe around a block, and there isn’t anything, so I head off in a new direction, and probably circle a block, and so on.  That’s why it took me forever to find a place to eat yesterday afternoon, besides the fact that places close when there isn’t much business.  I’m guessing they take the siesta pretty seriously here.  And I left the hostal at 8:30 this morning and nothing was open. 

Anyway, I finally stopped in at a place that sold print cartridges and asked about camera memory.  The lady there actually volunteered the information that I could find it a couple of blocks away.  I found a store that gave me a fair price on it, I believe.  Culture shock again – They wanted to give me a receipt for my money!  They even had a computer, but they made the receipt out by hand.  They asked me to sit down, and as I was waiting I commented, “In Sucre they don’t give receipts.”  The lady laughed at that, and started asking where I was from, how long I was there, and the ever-constant question, “Did you like Bolivia?”  It’s one I’m able to answer honestly.  They tried really hard to get me to go down to the Centro Boliviano Americano and get hired to teach English in Bolivia several months out of the year. 

Today, if I ever finish with the preliminaries, I mean to go out to Biocentro Guembé and spend the day there. It looks fascinating, although I have a feeling that this isn’t the best time of year to go.  But I don’t have many options.  And if I’m ever going to make it out there, I had better get off of the computer.

As mentioned above, this post is as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s.  So I hope you’re not bored by it, and I won’t send out a general email announcing it.

What Can I Say?

15 06 2009

So the last change of plans was last week, right?

Not in Latin America. I noticed yesterday in Sucre that there actually was enough air movement that I, a Kansan, was ready for the first time to admit that there occasionally is wind in Sucre, Bolivia. At times and in places, anyway. I didn’t really think any more about it than that till I had been standing in line for half an hour or so at the airport, said line not moving perceptibly, when they announced that my flight for Santa Cruz was cancelled due to a tail wind.

That meant, obviously, that I was not going to make my Santa Cruz-Miami flight. Or the Miami-TX flight, or the TX-KS flight. Which means that I am not writing this from my living room as I expected to be.

Which doesn’t mean that I’m depressed at all. I wanted another two weeks in Sucre, but if I have to settle for 2 1/2 days in Santa Cruz, I guess I can handle it. I was pretty stressed out through mid-afternoon today, simply because I didn’t know what was going on or how it would turn out. The airport put me up, with several others, in a really nice hostal in Sucre. It was great. I had fresh pineapple juice with my breakfast this morning … if that’s not enough to make you feel that all’s right with the world, I don’t know what would.

Then they got me on the next flight to Santa Cruz at 11:20 this morning. It would have been 11:20, that is, if we hadn’t set so long in the airport before takeoff. After I got here, I asked the customer service folks, and they were kind enough to tell me where American Airlines had an office. Another passenger had given me a hint in Sucre that I should get a letter certifying that my flight had been canceled (or anyway that they bumped half the passengers), and the taxi driver eventually found the office without charging me excessively.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, the folks here kindly took care of changing the flight – I almost got one to Rio, but that didn’t work – and recommended a hostal to me. They let me leave my luggage at their office while I walked a couple blocks, made the arrangements there, and came back and got a taxi for my luggage. That was the part that bothered me; I didn’t feel like I could afford very well to get hit for $30-$50 per night. This place only costs about $10.50. It is decent enough, just bare bones rooms and shared bathroom. It is pretty outside the rooms, with foliage plants all through the patio areas.

I will be flying out (Lord willing) on Wednesday night and arriving Thursday just after noon, only three days later than planned.  I got a map of Santa Cruz from the hostal – It was actually free! – and started walking around.  I haven’t even consulted the map excessively; in the last 4 weeks I have developed a capacity for orienting myself in Bolivian cities, I think.  I looked up Lonely Planet, and found a Museum of Natural History, a zoo, and another sort of wildlife thing outside of town.  I think I can fill three days pretty easily.

When I got here, I felt like I had left Bolivia.  I was sitting in that office, with loud traffic outside.  Across the street was a department store with a sign in English about “Sale – up to 30%.”  I really missed Sucre.  But after getting out a little, I can say I am definitely still in Bolivia.  Just stuck outside on my own, finding my own things to do. 

Marcelo explained to us a while back that the comparative friendliness of Bolivian cities is due to the diiferent climates.  He wasn’t joking a bit, either.  He said that in Sucre, it gets pretty chilly, and the people are pretty closed.  In La Paz it’s really cold, and people there are clear unfriendly, generally speaking, not even wanting to look at you on the street.  In Santa Cruz, it’s very warm, and the people are open and friendly.

Pardon my former skepticism.  I still can’t quite attribute it to the climate – it get’s colder in KS than La Paz – but I was shocked this afternoon as I walked down the street when a lady smiled at me and greeted me with, “Buenas tardes.”  I don’t think I even responded in time.  The people here are mostly friendly.  The folks in café’s are patient if you walk in and have no idea what they sell or what you want.  No one has seemed impatient with me yet.  In Sucre, once people have seen you 2-3 times and think they know you, or if there is a business relationship or mutual friend, they are quite friendly.  But I haven’t found them to be so as a general rule.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I miss the people and places in Sucre, and the sleepy, small-town atmosphere.  But I think I will enjoy myself here.  I have seen Sucre and its surroundings.  Last weekend I got to see little bits of La Paz.  Now I get to meet a third face of Bolivia, and I don’t have a problem with that at all.

If you’re wondering, I do still plan to be back in time for my reception Saturday. 😆  Just pray that nothing else happens.  It was windy here when we came in, and nobody cared; I would guess that there is just a lot more wind here.  I actually felt right at home as soon as I got off the plane, and I need hairspray more than I have in the last month.

So here I am with nothing to do but be a tourist.  I will try to hang onto my money … they do have a lot of crafts here that they didn’t have in Sucre … and I hope to see you soon (those of you that I know in person).

La Paz

13 06 2009

Well, I am at the bus terminal an hour early without anywhere to go, and this one is sophisticated enough to offer internet, so I thought I would give it a shot.
Thursday was the last day of classes, and it was sad for me. I did get a picture of us three students with both of our professors, and that didn’t negate the fact that I had to say goodbye. We were going to go up to La Recoleta for our final class from 4:30 to 6:30. This is halfway up the hill on one end of Sucre, so we were going to sit in the café and watch the sunset with a view of the whole city. Only Thursday was Corpus Christi and the café was closed. So we zipped up our jackets and sat in the walkway to one side and looked out through beautiful white arches scrawled all over with “Te amo, ….” (“I love you, ….”) We had fun. We were doing grammar exercises, but every five minutes we had to jump up and try for new pictures of the sunset. And I had to leave at 6:00 to get the bus.
I left Sucre about 7:30 and arrived at the terminal in La Paz a little less than 12 hours later. I had the cell phone number of my guide, Giovanni Villanueva, and I was to call him and let him know I had arrived. He was there waiting for me, and as I was the only white girl standing around in front of the terminal looking lost (I suppose), he found me pretty easily.
At 8:00 we got on a bus to Copacabana. Giovanni is another guide that really knows his stuff. About the first thing he did was to suggest a change in plans. By staying in the Isle of the Sun, he said, we would barely be able to make it back to La Paz today in time for my bus to Sucre, and if I missed that (if there were any irregularities in the traffic, for instance), I would miss my flight to Santa Cruz … not a pleasant idea.
Besides, he thought it was not quite right for me to come all the way to La Paz and leave without knowing anymore about it than the bus terminal. I had thought just the same thing. So I was quite agreeable when he proposed staying on a similar hotel on the shore in Copacabana instead of the island, and pulling out early this morning, returning to La Paz, taking another bus to Tiahuanacu, and doing a brief tour of downtown La Paz before leaving this evening. I really didn’t know how he could fit that much into two days, but like I said, he knows his stuff. And I hadn’t even dreamed of getting to see Tiahuanacu while here.
I would try to tell you about it, but I want to take a little more time to do it, and once I get home I can upload pictures. Right now I am exhausted. I just don’t feel it. We were eating lunch in Tiahuanacu, and a woman tour guide at another table exclaimed that my face was sad, and asked me if I was OK. She was so nice, and apologized for it a few minutes later. Giovanni explained that I was tired, and what all we were doing in these two days. She exlaimed, “¿Por qué son tan locos?” (“Why are you so crazy?) But I just had to take this last opportunity and not waste my time these last few days.
Giovanni told me my eyes were red, and I said I was probably tired. He said I wasn’t “probably” tired, I was tired. The fact is that I am just too hyped up even to sleep enough when I can. I barely feel tired. I don’t know if I will crash before I get home or not, but I doubt it.
I did sleep enough last night. The night before, in the bus, I barely slept, but everything went perfectly smoothly. It is a really nice line, and they are reserving seats where I don’t even have a seatmate; there’s just one seat on my side of the aisle. There is a footrest sort of thing that folds down from the seat in front, and each seat reclines almost entirely. They also provide blankets, but I was still freezing cold. The bus was supposed to have heat and didn’t, and we were climbing to this altitude in La Paz – I think areas were even frosted. Everybody else was sleeping, I think. I probably will be able to sleep better tonight, now that I know the ropes a little. I just dozed off and on the first time. Tonight we will be headed back to Sucre, so it should get warmer instead of colder. I also am going to buy a fleece throw here in the terminal, I think. Who knows, maybe the heat will even work in this one?
Well, this loca (crazy one) is going to go look up that fleece throw and be sure of being plenty early for the bus. As if the bus would ever leave early………

Q & A

9 06 2009

I got this email from a great-aunt … so here are some quick answers.

For what purpose is your trip there – – to become more familiar with the Spanish language from that native culture,
or do you plan to teach Spanish is one of those S. American locations ? 
Wow, what a great question!  I wish I knew the answer! 😉 Just kidding.  My purpose here, the best I can see and interpret, is to practice and polish my Spanish language skills.  I really don’t plan to teach Spanish in a classroom setting.  Coming from a homeschooling background, that is just antipathetic to me.  I’ve taken a couple of classes on teaching Spanish, and enjoyed the practicums, but I can’t quite buy into it yet. 
I really can’t say that I know what my purpose here is right now.  I just know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God has led me here, and that He does have some purpose.  The local people want to see me be a missionary in Bolivia.  Personally, I found my heart drawn to trying to help some of the little children who are suffering.  But I am just waiting, watching, and praying about what the real purpose is in all this.  I can’t see the next step right now; I was just talking to Gumy about this on the telephone. 
Looks like your trips have covered a pretty good section of Southern Bolivia.
Is Titicaca Lake in Bolivia or Peru ?
The answer to that question is “Yes.”  Lake Titicaca crosses the border between the two countries.  I don’t believe that I will be crossing the border, though.  I really don’t feel like I have seen much of Bolivia at all.  Just little bits of the parts here in the mountains, and even the La Paz area is a lot like that, as I understand.  Bolivia has as much geographical diversity as about anywhere in the world; they tell you that you need a year to really get to know Bolivia.
Do you have the liberty to go across the border into Brazil without a permit?
No, I would have had to get a visa to go into Brazil.  And since the US has started charging for tourist visas from South American countries, a lot of them have the policy of “reciprocity” and are charging us in return.  It would have cost me another $140, I think, to go into Brazil.  And if you think about it, with the earning power in these countries being so much less than in the US, it wouldn’t have hit me nearly as hard as if someone from here wants to visit the US.  They tell us that it is nearly impossible for someone from Bolivia to get even a tourist visa there.  Our professor Marcelo has studied in Italy, but has little hope of visiting the US. 
Thanks for the questions!

Open to Suggestions

9 06 2009

I think I should have time to make another post or two before I leave Thursday night. I’m kind of drawing a blank at the moment – not because of a lack of material, but too much!
So if there is anything you wanted to hear about that I haven’t touched on, or if I mentioned something and then didn’t expand it further, let me know and I’ll try to write something about that.
Otherwise, I’ll try to find time tonight or tomorrow to write about something more “random.”