At 6am on the still, spring morning of the 13th of October, in Adelaide, South Australia, a plane left Adelaide Airport bound for... oh god, hold up. Cut that over-emotive, grandiose drivel. Sorry guys, let’s start from the beginning.
The weekend of Easter, 2011 was in many ways a weekend just like any other. I’m no big fan of Easter or any religious holiday for that matter, other than for the opportunities they present for unadulterated partying. This year my family went away to our holiday house up the coast and I was left to bartend the nights and sleep the days away, just as Christ intended. That Monday though, as I sprawled across my bed; hungover and lonely with a tinge of self loathing, I decided to stop all the posturing and conjecture. I’d been talking and talking for months and months about the trip, the trip! The trip to Bolivia that I so earnestly wanted to embark on later in the year – but on this day I slapped myself in the face with the brutal truth that all my talk had been just that and if anything was ever going to come of this I had to shut up and move. A $495 deposit and some rushed online forms later and that was it.
I still half expected, in the back of my mind, for this whole thing to fall into my lap as things so often seem to do – I never really realised until the twilight of my departure that things don’t just ‘click into place’ in the real world. I’d set the wheels in motion myself on Easter Monday but I really had no idea what I had gotten myself into other than ‘a journalism internship in Bolivia with Projects Abroad.’ But after those six months of working two, and at times three jobs, (bartender in a strip club, admin assistant in an office, sub-contracting domestic cleaner) after drifting through the Winter of 2011 in a sort of semi-directed haze with only one, vaguely defined end in sight I finally got on that plane and bailed, I bailed hard. Sick of the talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk and convinced I was going out into the world to do something different. One question; what happens now?
The first thing I noticed about Cochabamba was the expanse of the place, as my plane flew over towards the airport at around 9pm I could see nothing but lights in every direction This is that my hometown doesn’t offer as it is bounded by hills on one side and sea to the other, forcing the urban sprawl out into a long, thin strip. The plane landed and as I spent half an hour speaking broken (Excuse me, no habla Espanol... WHERE. AM. I?) Spanish to airport staff I managed to make it safely to my host family’s house – 50 hours and 5 flights later.
The most striking difference – and I’m not saying it isn’t welcome – between Australian and Bolivian life is that over here YOU GO HOME FOR LUNCH! Picture my jaw being picked up off of the floor after I first heard that one; piece by Australian piece. The general feel of this city is – and I keep coming back to this one word like a crutch but for a very good reason – ‘lawless’. Maybe it’s the lack of overtly advertised road rules or the abundance of untouched graffiti, or maybe it’s the unruly chaos of the La Cancha markets but there is a much more spontaneous atmosphere to Cochabamba than any Australian cities I’ve visited – especially Adelaide. There is this kind of feeling that something unexpected is about to happen at any moment and I love it – case in point: My host family’s house is just around the corner from the stadium and they made a point of telling me that, whilst the local football team is, to put it nicely, rubbish, the fans over here have no trouble finding something to cheer about at games. The other night around sunset, I think it was a Wednesday, I kept hearing bangs and loud noises that were either gunshots or fireworks; this went on for about an hour or so. I’ve quickly grown accustomed to ridiculously inexplicable sounds at all times of the day over here - I imagine a magical world of goats, screaming women and land mines exists just outside our front gate – so this addition didn’t worry too much, nevertheless I went upstairs to ask my host brother what the bally-hoo was about. He replied with a calm, “oh that’s just the game” to which I responded, “on a Wednesday night? Well hell flecking yeah!”
Other subtleties like the cracked pavements, bumpy roads and the no-so-subtle blaring of car horns around the clock are just things that at colour to this city, they don’t seem to me to be indicative of real cultural disparities – Bolivia is a poor country but these people are making do and I think that’s what creates the unruly atmosphere I am revelling in. Speaking of... I just bought a bike off of a fellow traveller for 300 Bolivianos (about $40 AUD/USD) and I now intend to take a cruise through the backstreets and take photos of whatever goes down.