Cochabamba Living

I apologize for the late blog posts, but due to the lack of wifi and computer use, I will only have a few posts throughout my time in Bolivia.

Spending my first three weeks in Bolivia has been wonderful.  The atmosphere in Cochabamba is very lively and gives a good vibe.  I have been paired up to live with both Trevor and Vanessa, along with five other German students who have been living in the house since August.  We live about a 30min walk from Sustainable Bolivia.  Sustainable Bolivia is a non-profit organization based in Cochabamba, who is partnered up with 36 different organizations in order to help improve human and financial resources in Bolivia.  It’s been great working with the Sustainable Bolivia team, and also on the Agrecos farm, just further north from where we are all living.

At the farm we have continued to restore the landscape to what it once was five years ago.  We have been creating new planting beds for different fruits and vegetables, repairing the adobe house on the farm, fixing water canals and cleaning animal pens.  Just this past Thursday and Friday, we began working with high school students.  Every Thursday and Friday we teach them new farming techniques and healthy/sustainable ways of eating.  Working on the farm has been very difficult because of the strong rays of the sun.  We work from Monday-Friday at 8am to 12pm.  We’re constantly outside trying to help out in any way possible.

After work at the farm is over, we get driven back on our bus and have lunch at our homes.  The next thing for us on our schedules ranges between Spanish classes (which are two hours on Mondays), Media Project time, or another Seminar.  Spanish classes are held at Sustainable Bolivia and have been quite helpful.  I and two other girls have signed up to have extra Spanish classes throughout the week.  With the exchange rate in our favor, classes aren’t very expensive compared to private lessons at home, which make them very worth it.  We now have set aside hours for our Media Projects which will be due in approximately one and half weeks, and we will be presenting them here in Bolivia and then later in Washington DC.  Seminars have maintain a general focus towards agriculture.  We have discussed how agriculture has become unsustainable, technology towards sustainable agriculture, and how agriculture effects culture.

During our time here, we have held another “Who Am I?” seminar.  This seminar mainly focused on the personal privilege that each of us do and do not have.  We performed an exercise where we all lined up in the street, shoulder to shoulder, and were asked questions.  Depending on our answer, we would either step forward or step back.  If you were to step forward, this meant that you were more privileged than those that didn’t move, but if you were to have stepped back, this meant that you were less privileged than those that didn’t move.  By the end of the exercise, we were all scattered up and down the street.  It was an emotional site for many of us to see the physicality of everyone’s privilege.

Our first weekend with our families was free, the second weekend we went out to a camp called, Camp Kewiña, and this past weekend was also free.  Next weekend we will all be traveling to Torotoro National Park, located along the eastern mountain ranges of the South American Andes.  There we will be going on a number of hikes, go caving, view archaeological dinosaur sites, waterfalls and canyons.  The next weekend we will be flying back to Washington DC.  There we will have meetings with the World Bank, Center for Global Development, Peace Corps, Natural Resource Defense Council, and some others.

Week in Peru

Cusco can not be more of a beautiful city.  It has been my favorite place so far on this entire trip.  The main plaza area is so open, big, and clean.  There are many local women that sit on street corners with baby llamas, hoping that tourists would stop, give them money and take photos.  Along with these local women, there are also younger kids that run around the city who pester tourists and ask them to buy candy or other trinkets.  Walking around the city was nice, we had lots of free time to ourselves for two days.

On Tuesday morning, we headed out to get ready to hike the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu.  We loaded up into two large vans and drove about three hours north of Cusco to the trailhead.  There, we met our porters who would be traveling, and our cooks.  Some of us had heavier packs and were able to pass them off to the porters to pack on to one of the ten horses/donkeys we had traveling with us.  A few hours after hiking up along the Andes mountain ridge, we stopped to have lunch.  By that point we had been hiking so much higher up in altitude, which resulted in us hiking through snow.  It was so awesome, but very cold.  Having lunch in a small tent with 17 people and super cold winds, wasn’t exactly ideal.  Quickly after lunch, and some assumptions of getting frost bite, we divided up into two groups.  We were divided up into two group because of weather precautions.  We needed to hike up to a point of over 15,000ft and if something bad were to happen with the weather, we could easily communicate through radio use and by being in smaller groups it would be safer.  Hiking up to the top was definitely one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done.  The difficulty in breathing was so intense, I didn’t think it would’ve affected me so much.  It got even harder because of the icy rain that started to fall.  I was mainly frustrated I didn’t have any rain pants with me, being that I probably would’ve been more comfortable and warm.  Once reaching the top, my group and I took a photo, and then started the easier, more manageable hike downhill.  A few hours later, the group met up again, and we we all started heading towards our first campsite for the night.  The walk there was so breathtaking, none if it looked real.  The entire time I was walking, I was tripping over my own two feet since I kept on turning around because I couldn’t fathom how beautiful it all was.  The ridge of the Andes mountains, along with the sunset and the rising of the full moon, was unlike anything anyone had ever imagined.  By the time we reached the campsite, it was pitch black out and freezing.  All anyone wanted to do at that point was go to bed.  We still needed to divide up into tents and have dinner.  All the tents were assigned to two people in each, but most tents had three people in them so that we could stay warmer.

Day two of the Salkantay hike was fairly better than the first.  This day, we hiked out early to reach the hot springs at Santa Teresa.  When we arrived, we were all attacked by mosquitoes and more sand fleas.  I was confident enough to not use bug spray, thinking that no bugs would bother me.  Before I knew it, I had the most amount of bites…about 40-50 bites on each leg.  All of us quickly changed and hopped into the hot springs, which weren’t really that hot, and then had dinner.  After dinner, Wilder, our guide, told us some ghost stories which freaked us all out before bed.

Day three was the easiest day and was all flat terrain.  The trail went along the Peru Rail, which was the train that many people take to Aguas Calientes, that would also lead you to the bus up to Machu Picchu.  The town of Aguas Calientes is at the foot of Machu Picchu and is located along a river.  This section of the trail went between the Andes and Amazon.  It was a cool experience hiking between the two different types of terrains.  This hike lasted around about three hours.  Once we reached Aguas Calientes, we checked in to our hostel that we would be staying with for the rest of the night.  For dinner we went out to an awesome restaurant, where we all tried a drink called, Chicha Morada.  Chicha is a sweet Peruvian drink made from purple corn, pineapple, cinnamon, clove and sugar.  Chicha has definitely become my new favorite drink.

On day four, we all woke up early to get ready to catch the bus for Machu Picchu.  Unfortunately, it was raining when we had woken up, which left the rest of the day quite cloudy.  The drive up took about 30min but, once we got there, we waited in line to enter the ruins.  There was a station where we were able to stamp our passports, which I thought was quite cool.  Walking around the city was pretty crazy.  I didn’t truly appreciate the architecture of it all until I saw it for myself.  I was very impressed on the location, the buildings, the underground aqueduct system, and the farming systems.  Wilder had given us a tour of the grounds and had given us loads of information.  He let us all split up and do whatever we wanted, as long as we met up on time at a local restaurant in Aguas Calientes for late lunch.  Vanessa, Paulina and I hiked up about, what it seemed like, a million steps.  We wanted to get the best view of the city and of Wayna Picchu.  It honestly sucked for a while because there were so many clouds keeping us from taking decent photos.  About an hour of just talking, people watching and taking photos for tourists, the clouds parted.  There was a mad dash to take photos.  Luckily we did so in a spot that was not to crowded and then left.

It was one of the greatest accomplishments I have ever done, hiking to Machu Picchu.  I couldn’t have been more proud of myself.  Fighting through the cold, the thin air and bites from small sand fleas, really paid off in the end.  It was quite an enchanting and sacred place to be in.  After years of desperately wanting to go, I had finally hiked to Machu Picchu, but still wasn’t as happy as I thought I would be.  Seeing the ruins and the mountains was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, but if my family was there too, to witness one of the seven wonders of the world with me, it would’ve made that moment so much better.  A lot of times I always think to myself how lucky I am to have hiked in certain areas, to have made friends with the people I’ve met, or become a member of a family with the people I’ve only lived with for a short period of time.  I cannot be more grateful, I just wish my family from home could see the mountains that I’ve seen, met the people that I have, or even built relationships with some of the same people that I’ve met.

That night we arrived back in Cusco.  We took the bus back down from Machu Picchu, had a buffet lunch, took the train to Ollantaytambo, and then drove from there back to Cusco.  The next day, Saturday, was Halloween.  I coincidentally had a friend who was also in Cusco at the same time I was.  Luckily I was able to meet up with him, and then spend the rest of my night with him after dinner.  The whole group bought small Halloween costumes.  They ranged between devils, witches and even dressing as each other.  Halloween was a very large celebration for Peruvians.  In the plaza, there seemed to have been about 1,000 people of more just walking around, listening to music and have a good time.  By the end of the night we were all very tired and had to wake for Bolivia the next morning, and be ready to leave by 5:00am.  Some of us were more tired than others, I for one did not sleep at all.

Photographs – 10

Bittersweet

This past week was very sad for many of us. It was our last few days teaching at the schools, going to Spanish class, having Education seminars and spending time with our families.

On Tuesday night we were invited to have dinner at Paulina and Grace’s house. They live on the same side of the mountain as everyone else, but just further uphill and from the town. It was a very nice meal, especially being that we were all together. Wednesday night, Josie and Tori’s family hosted a small party at their family restaurant. We had the whole back room to ourselves. We were all surprised to see an early birthday cake for Josie as well. It was a very kind gesture, but funny too since the candle was a question mark, not knowing what age she was turning. And to continue the tradition, her head was pushed into the cake after she blew out the candles.

Thursday was our last day of Spanish class. We were all invited to learn to cook at a local chef’s home. He lived further away from most of us, but had a beautiful house. There we made tortillas, some salsa, a hot pumpkin/milk drink, boil some sweet purple potatoes and roast some corn. It all tasted very good, and afterwards all of us played frisbee in his yard. In his yard there were also two young calves and two dogs running around.

Friday was the last day of teaching, and for some it was very hard to say goodbye. Those teaching in the high schools developed a close relationship with their students because of the similarities in age. The others who taught in the primary schools also had hard times saying goodbye, but Josie, Zach and I couldn’t have found it easier to leave. All three of us have had so much difficulty in the past 4 weeks, whether is was breaking up fights, teaching unsupervised classes, helping disabled kids find their classes, or getting oppressed by a teacher. We know that we had all done our best trying to get through to the children. Many of the kids were upset to see us leave, so they attacked us with hugs.

That night there was a farewell dinner, which hosted all friends and family. This was all being held at someone’s property who hosted parties. Brooks and I started walking to the party when we turn around to see our dad in his very old, banged up, red pickup truck. It was one of the tiniest trucks I’ve ever seen, but he picked us up. When we arrived, Brooks and I both made a grand entrance, hopping out of the back and the front seat. Both of us waved hello to everyone like we were famous. We had a wonderful view of San José de Minas and were able to watch the sunset. At this event, we all received keychains, diplomas, and roses. After dinner, all of the families got up and started dancing. We all had the best time ever enjoying our last night and spending it together. After we left, most of us finished packing and went to bed early.

Saturday morning, I woke up at around 4:30-4:45am to watch the sunrise the last time I was in San José de Minas. The original plan was to go to Paulina and Grace’s house because of their view, but since Brooks couldn’t wake up, I went up to the roof and watched from there. It was very peaceful and interesting to hear all of the roosters cock-a-doodle-doing and stray dogs barking. After taking a few photos and listening to the early morning noises, I went back downstairs to finish some last minute packing. Around 7:15am, the whole family had breakfast. We took a few photos, then Brooks and I received a gift from the family. A wooden plaque with a picture and family name engraved on it. They all also asked for our home addresses and Facebook profiles so that we could keep in touch. Leaving the house to walk to the town square, I gave Maria a hug goodbye and we both started tearing up. Even though she wasn’t a family member, she sure felt like one. She fed Brooks and I all meals of the day, and have been the best meals I’ve had throughout this entire trip.

Everyone needed to meet in the town square at around 8:20am to leave with our private bus for Quito, at around 8:30am. The minute Brooks and I arrived at the town square, there were already so many families there getting ready to say goodbye. Brooks and I thought we were lucky to have said goodbye at the house. Our host parents couldn’t walk us because they needed to work. When I saw other people in the program crying and getting very emotional, it made me realize how lucky I was to have been with such an amazing family. I saw Vanessa and Annie saying goodbye to their host family and crying hysterically. I had also gotten to know their mother very well so I said goodbye to her and to their siblings. While hugging their mother, Anderson, their little brother, grabbed hold of my leg to say goodbye. Anderson is a second grader who I thought at the primary school. He and I had become very close, since we had spent our recess times together. When I looked down to give him an actual hug goodbye, he was crying. I was so heartbroken to see him so distraught and upset that we were leaving. This also made me start to cry because it showed me how much we had touched the students just by being there and spending time with them. And before I knew it, I turned around and saw Victor driving up in his old, rickety, red pickup truck. He ran out of his truck just to give Brooks and I some water bottles for the road. I bursted into tears and gave him the biggest hug ever. Though he would be quiet most times, he has been so considerate this entire trip and I couldn’t be more grateful. When we all packed up on the bus to leave, everyone was crying on the bus and no one was talking.

Around 10:30am we arrived in Quito and had the day to ourselves. Most of us went to the mall to buy some last minute things for Peru. That night we went out to dinner to Crepes & Waffles to celebrate Josie’s 19th birthday. We also created a scavenger hunt that was made up of fun facts of everyone in the group, and so she ran around guessing who those belonged to. Everyone rewarded her with gifts. Later we spent the night talking with each other on the roof.

Today, we got up this morning around 4:30am to leave for the airport. While on the bus, I saw the sun rise again for the last time in Ecuador and all I could think to myself was how unbelievable everything has been. I still pinch myself everyday to remind myself that I’m in South America. It’s all been a dream come true.

Our flights this morning were to Lima and then Cusco. Flying over the Andes Mountains was such a crazy view. When landing in the small Cusco airport, the pilot had to land quickly for some reason, perhaps based on the aerodynamics and altitude. It was quite scary, but we all arrived safely and no one lost any baggage. When walking down the staircase out of the plane, I couldn’t have felt more winded. A whole bunch of us felt so weak, let alone having to later carry my 75L backpack up a whole set of stairs in order to get to the hostel. After catching our breath, a few of us girls went out to eat lunch. Seeing Cusco was so different from San José de Minas. Here, it’s very beautiful and I can’t wait to see how our hike to Machu Picchu goes.

Photographs – 9

Baños de Agua Santa

Our exciting weekend began by having to wake up around 4am, packing up the old Chevy Blazer, and then starting the 5-6hr drive to Baños de Agua Santa.  Of course, because it was so early, Brooks, Kelly and I all fell asleep.  At one point during the drive, I woke up to the sound of “Hotel California,” by the Eagles, on the radio, while the sun was starting to rise.  The sky lit up light pink and gold, and I had to wake Brooks up so that he could see it too.  The rest of the drive consisted of either going through a town or driving along farmlands and seeing hundreds of cows.

Once we arrived in Baños, 5hr later, we had breakfast at a local restaurant and then headed over to our hostel afterwards.  Brooks and I were lucky enough to not only have our stay paid for by David and Kelly, but also get our own rooms.  Brooks and I were both on the top floor and had a great view of the town.  After we got situated in our separate rooms, we all met up downstairs, headed out into the town of Baños and began our excursions.

First stop was at one of the many waterfalls, where we rode in a “tarabitas,” or a cable car.  This tarabitas took us over the river and to the other side of the waterfall.  There, we walked across a cable bridge that went over the width of the waterfall.  About 20min later, we made it back to the other side of the river and hopped in the car to go to the next stop.  The roads in Baños are all cobblestone, hug the sides of the mountains, and are narrow two way roads.  The mountains are coated with bright green trees and cascading waterfalls, some even falling onto the roads.

Our second stop lead to a “canopy” stop.  There we were able to zip-line down a steep cable overlooking a river and few small waterfalls.  Here, the zip-lining was set up differently, unlike when we were in Mindo.  Our harnesses were placed on us backwards, so instead of sitting up straight, we had our stomachs facing down and our backs hooked into the cable.  On top of that, our legs were also strapped in, giving us no movement in our body, other than our arms.  There were two cables set up side by side, so Brooks and I were able to go together.  The minute he and I were let go, he flew passed me and soared down the cable super fast.  I, on the other hand, wasn’t heavy enough to go as fast as he did, which led me to stop 3/4 of the way down.  One of the workers had to hike down and hop across a river in order to help me.  He had to throw me a rope to grab onto, so that he could pull me back to the end.  It was very scary, I kept thinking I would fall down and crush my face against the rocks in the river beneath me.

After going canopying, we were driving alongside the mountain and saw some locals on the side of the road that were doing bungee jumping.  Brooks and I wanted to go bungee jumping very badly, so we stopped on the side of the road and did it with Kelly.  David was too afraid to do it, so he watched us from another bridge across from us and took pictures.  Brooks went first, then Kelly, and then I went last.  The most difficult thing about it, was probably having to be able to climb up onto the ledge and stand up straight.  I was worried I would slip and somehow hurt myself with the bungee cord while falling.  Luckily I made it up perfectly, and jumped without any problems at all.  It was by far one of the craziest things I have ever done.  Even once I climbed back up to the side of the road, my legs and arms were shaking.

Our last stop before lunch was to a waterfall called, “Pailon del Diablo.”  To get to this waterfall, there was a hike downhill that took about 15-20min to get to.  There we went up a staircase and got up alongside the waterfall.  Thankfully, Brooks and I had our rain jackets on, but Kelly and David got super soaked.  We then walked around to a cable bridge that was in front of the waterfall, and after a few minutes we headed back up.  The hike up seemed to be three times as long as the hike down, it was super tiring and very humid.

Soon after getting all sweaty and smelly, we drove back into town and went out to eat lunch.  After lunch, David gave us 2hr to relax and free time to do whatever we wanted.  During those two hours, I walked around town alone and was browsing through different stores.  I don’t exactly know what I was looking for, but I really enjoyed being able to take free time to be by myself.  I eventually found a café and ordered a cappuccino and a cup of stracciatella ice cream.  I sat outside the café, while listening to the local radio blast from inside and just people watched.  I saw tons of tourists walking through town, along with some locals selling fruit or making taffy, as one of the stores did across the street.  About an hour and a half into my alone time, I took my time to walk back to the hostel and couldn’t have felt more at ease.  I had no worries and was so happy to be in a beautiful town, surrounded by gorgeous green mountains and waterfalls.  Once I got back to my room, I found a channel on the TV that was only playing music videos and laid in my bed those last 30min before heading back downstairs for adventure number four.

We took the Blazer about 30min up the mountain to a place called, “La Casa del Arbol,” where the swing to the end of the world is located.  The drive up was on another cobblestone path, passing by different farms and a couple dozen cows.  During this time, the sun was just about to set, so once we did reach the top we were able to see that happen.  The four of us waited our turn for the swing, took photos, and climbed up into the treehouse.  From the top of this mountain, we got a great view of Tungurahua Volcano, which had actually spewed lava and volcanic ash just the week before.  We all enjoyed the view for a little while before we left for dinner.

Dinner was decided earlier on in the day, after I shared how much I was in the mood for pizza.  We went to a recommended restaurant and it couldn’t have been any better.  After pizza, I treated everyone to dessert at the same café I went to earlier.  Once we stuffed our bellies even more, we walked back to the hostel, for another hour long break and some time to digest our food.  David, Brooks and I met downstairs for the last time that night and headed out for some Karaoke.  We were all pretty stoked to sing, but once we walked inside, Brooks and I immediately decided we didn’t want to sing.  I guess we both felt like we would get a bit embarrassed.  It was funny though, because inside the Karaoke bar were multiple booths filled with drunk people in there mid 30s to mid 40s.  Once we saw that, we couldn’t help but laugh and seize the moment to belt out our favorite songs.  After we each sang one song, we then left and walked the two blocks back to the hostel.

The next morning, breakfast was being held at 8am for those staying in the hostel.  I woke up and showered, just in time to be down and ready for breakfast.  Turns out I was the only one in the group ready at that time.  Thankfully I knew enough Spanish to ask the woman at the front desk where breakfast was.  She walked me outside, across the plaza, and down a side street to a tiny restaurant where I got free breakfast.  At that time it was a bit misty out, but was nice to spend some more alone time.  I ate a small roll of bread with a side of butter, blackberry jelly, some scrambled eggs, blackberry juice and some hot milk with coffee.  On my walk back in the rain, I ran into Brooks, David and Kelly, and just told them I’ll meet them again once they finish breakfast.  When they finished, Brooks knocked on my door, and said I should start packing up and be ready in the next 20min.

About 20min later, we were on the road again.  David told us how we practically did everything you could do in Baños in just one day, so we headed back home to Minas early.  Before you knew it, we all passed out in the car once again.  A few hours later, we stopped in a town neighboring Quito for some lunch.  While eating lunch, a street car race started going on in the center of town.  Every few moments, you would just see a race car or police on motorcycles speed down the street passed the restaurant.  Right after we finished, we ran across the street to start the last hour of the trip.  While driving the last hour to San José de Minas, all the windows were rolled down, the radio was blasting, we were all eating mandarins and were taking turns spitting the seeds out the window.  Even David was peeling and eating mandarins while driving, and all while going down a steep and narrow road.  This road was very similar to the one to and from Otavalo, but instead was a two way road, so lots of caution was needed to be taken after every turn.

After that last stressful hour of being in the car driving back, we made it back to San José de Minas safely.  Brooks and I dropped off our things and then headed over the the PL’s house.  We hung out for a bit and got notified that there won’t be any seminar tomorrow because a large portion of the group is heading to Quito to go to the doctor.  So now I practically have my entire day free tomorrow after teaching.  And as of right now Vanessa and I have planned to meet up after lunch. 🙂