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.

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Photographs – 11

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Cochabamba, Bolivia – Plaza Colon

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Paulina

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View from hike

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Kasha, Millie, and Vanessa

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Myself and Vanessa

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Camp Kewiña

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Paulina

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Zach

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Myself

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Zach

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Ryan

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Drive back to Cochabamba

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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