I would like to first thank anyone who is reading this and sent get-well-wishes and/or prayers on my behalf after my little adventure in the hospital last week. I truly appreciate them! Now I would like to apologize, firstly for getting so behind on my blogging, and secondly because this blog isn't going to tell the story my 2-night stay in a Bolivian hospital that I know you're all dying to read about! This is because just days before being hospitalized, I had the opportunity to experience the most EPIC traveling weekend imaginable. I should admit that it was a long weekend- Thursday marked the Aymaran New Year and was therefore a holiday in Bolivia so on the evening of Wednesday, June 20th myself and two other volunteers, Jessie and Shivani, headed by micro (one of many forms of Bolivian public transportation) for Cochabamba's bus terminal. What we did know was that our hopes were high for this promising weekend. What we didn't know was that it would far exceed our wildest expectations!
Since we visited SO many cool places and had tons of fun and unforgttable experiences along the way, I'm just going to hit the highlights so that this doesn't turn into a novel. So Wednesday night was basically just traveling by night bus, nothing too exciting. Upon our arrival in Copacabana Thursday morning, we had already taken two long bus rides and one ferry ride- though this was nothing compared to the amount of traveling we would do later in the weekend. After finding a hostal and having some lunch, we set out to explore all that Copacabana has to offer which, despite what some of the travel guides say, is quite a lot! We thoroughly enjoyed our day there, which included walking inside the stunningly ornate Cathedral in the center of town, spending a few quiet moments in the Capilla de Velas (Candle Chapel), walking along the docks down by the beach, paddle-boating and getting completely soaked (Shivani and Jessie at least, haha!) in Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, (we even got Donald Duck boat!), and finally hiking up the Calvario, or Stations of the Cross and being rewarded by some incredible views at the top. Needless to say, it was a full day!
On Friday, we took a full-day tour to the nearby Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) via another 2-hour ferry ride. By the way, when I say "ferry", don't think I'm talking about a mini cruise ship or anything like that. It's more along the lines of a fishing boat with lots of benches, though at least on the way back we got to sit on the upper level and soak up some sun and more pretty views of the lake! Once on the island, we followed a guide on a rather long and tiring hike (we blamed the altitude, because clearly with our meals of bread and cookies we were in great shape to be hiking!) over the southern end of Isla del Sol and got to see some Incan ruins, learn about some interesting ceremonies and beliefs of the natives who live on Isla del Sol, and take in even more breathtaking views. That is one thing that I will say about Copacabana/Isla del Sol- they are both simply beautiful!! The pictures hardly do it justice, but you should take a look at them just to get a taste of all we got to see.
After returning from Isla del Sol, we grabbed some dinner and retrieved our bags from the travel agency then boarded another bus headed for none other than Cuzco, Peru! We crossed the border without any issues and arrived at about 6am on Saturday morning. After purchasing our return tickets to Bolivia for that evening, we set off to make the very most of our 16 hours in Peru. Unfortunately, we discovered that we wouldn't be able to go to Macchu Picchu as originally hoped, but that just gave us more time to explore the city of Cuzco! It turns out we spent most of the first half of our day in, well, the "not-so-nice" part of the city so our first impressions weren't very good. However, after lunch I was able to get in touch with my friend Jasmine who is currently volunteering in Cuzco and the whole trip was soon made worthwhile when we found out that, yes, there is a STARBUCKS in Cuzco! After indulging ourselves contentedly, Jasmine and I had a happy reunion complete with squealing and lots of hugs and she quickly began to show us around the city. Thank goodness we met her, because she took us to the Cocoa Museum (coffee and chocolate all in one day? That's more than enough for me!) and a small artisan fair where we bought lots of souvenirs to remember our time in Peru by. Afterwards, we got to see her adorable house and meet her roommate and host family, then went out to a delicious dinner and finished off the night at a cute little café. In other words, another GREAT day!
Finally, we headed back to the bus terminal in Cuzco and took off on yet another night bus which eventually got us back to La Paz, Bolivia. More than a few hours of twiddling our thumbs in bus terminals and way too many bus rides later, we arrived in Cochabamba at approximately 5am on Monday morning- just in time to shower and head off to work! So after 5 days, 62 hours of traveling, 6 cities, 2 countries, and at least a million sights that would take your breath away, we were left with a weekend of memories that I will never forget!
Check back again in a few days- more catch-up blogs coming soon! :)
This blog is going to be bit different from the norm, because I really wanted to share with you all some lessons that God taught me around 5:30 this morning. I promise another update will come very soon, because it is long overdue and there is MUCH to tell! But first, please take the time to read this because it is much more important. :) The following is taken straight from the journal entry I wrote this morning:
There's always a reason. For everything. Because every last second of our lives, and all that happens in them, is part of His plan. This realization was confirmed to me many times over just in the last 15 minutes that I've been laying here trying to go back to sleep with a funny feeling in my tummy. Because 20 minutes ago, I was inwardly complaining to the hospital staff who so dutifully attended to me the past couple of nights for getting my body in the habit of waking up at odd times to pee or have my temperature and BP checked. Then when Susy came in to check on me and I realized that I'd awakened her too, I was even more frustrated. So I reached out to God- just a little, just for a second- to ask Him to help me be more conscious of the fact that I am living with a family that is not my own in a house where I swear sound travels faster than light and I am, quite simply, a loud person. In other words- Daddy, please help me to shut up. And then a funny/really amazing/so-God thing happened. When I reached out to Him for something as small as helping me not be an obnoxious house-guest to my wonderful host family, He decided to respond in a much bigger way and begin answering some questions that I’ve been wrestling with for quite some time. And I could hear His answers- absorb them, process them- because for once, I was simply being still.
So it was part of His plan all along for me to wake up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning in Bolivia because I had to pee. Because He knew that He needed my full, undivided attention. And my God knows me so well (Psalm 139:1), He knew that deep-down I truly desired to hear His answers this morning. He also knew that, because it’s not in my nature to spend significant amounts of time laying in bed idly neither doing nor thinking anything in particular, He would have to command sleep to elude me in order to bring me to a place where I could hear, absorb, and process His answers. God is SO amazing!
So why on earth did I just lay restless in my bed for 15 minutes after waking up to pee at 5:30am on a Saturday morning in Bolivia? The main reason is because I have been asking God for a long time now how I can serve Him and live in the center of His will for my life when I am seemingly “stuck” in such a normal and comfortable but busy, time-consuming, and penniless life. Okay, penniless is a bit extreme. But I am a broke college student. Anyway, this question became especially urgent after reading Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis and realizing that God wants to DO something with my life. He has a grand plan of which I can be a part if I will only say “yes” to Him. The problem is that I know God is not calling me to drop everything, move to a third-world country, adopt 14 kids, and begin caring for whole villages. Not yet, at least. So if He doesn’t want me to “quit my life,” then what changes does He want me to make? How does He want to use my normal, everyday life as a part of His world- and really life-changing plan?
This morning, He began to answer that question for me. And I say began because I know that God is a big God with big plans and that as I continue to seek Him, He will continue to unfold this great tapestry that is His plan until I find myself exactly where I am supposed to be- right in the middle.
In my journal, I went on to write down some of the things that God really put on my heart this morning- one of which was to share these little early morning lessons with you. I pray that somehow God used these words to teach you something, just as He is continually teaching me. Thanks for reading!
Well, today marks my one-month anniversary of arriving in Bolivia and I have to say that I can't believe time is passing so quickly! I finally got around to decorating my room with pictures and my signature Bible verse notecards, so it feels a lot more home-y now. My decór also includes a large, hand-made calendar so that I have a daily visual reminder of how quickly my time in Bolivia is flying by; creating this calendar was one of the best things I could have done for myself because it made me all the more motivated to make the most of every precious moment I spend here. And that is exactly what I did this weekend! In my travel journal on Sunday I wrote, "Today was another simply wonderful day; this whole weekend really was just thoroughly enjoyable. I've really felt like I am living here, being an active and eager participant in my own life, which just so happens to be amazing!" Those two sentences really do sum up how I'm feeling right now and let me tell you, it's a fantastic feeling.
So what exactly did I do this weekend? Well, it was supposed to be "restful and relaxing" after the adventure-filled three days I spent in Salar de Uyuni last weekend so I decided not to go traveling and just spend some time enjoying all that Cochabamba has to offer. And enjoy I did!
On Saturday morning, I met Rose (another Projects Abroad volunteer from Wisconsin) at Plaza Bolivar in Quillacollo, which is basically a suburb of Cochabamba that takes about 30 minutes to reach via taxi. We picked up some lunch to-go and then hopped on a trufí headed for Parque Pairumani, which is a nearby public park that I'd read about in a travel guide. Upon arriving at the park, we spent the first 45 minutes walking along the completely wrong trail which took us past what can best be described as a chicken city. We never actually saw the chickens because they were cooped up in a dark building a little ways off of the path but boy, did we hear them! It sounded as though there were hundreds squished into those four walls, but I guess we'll never really know. When we finally started heading in the right direction, we still had not found the actual trail so we got a nice little workout in as we tripped and clambered over rocks and protruding tree roots straight up a small mountain. Eventually, we reached a large clearing near the top where there were several miradors (basically, places with a really good view) from which we could overlook the smoggy city of Cochabamba and, directly below us, a large canyon. Rose and I agreed that this view was well-worth the hike and simply stood there for a while drinking in the breathtaking beauty and fresh mountain air around us. We then proceeded to discover an inconspicous looking path that led us through a small tunnel, then narrowed and clung to the mountain face (to avoid tumbling down to rocky canyon below) before finally arriving at the top of a small waterfall. Despite being slightly terrifying, it was absolutely gorgeous and we sat down to enjoy our lunches surrounded by sheer beauty. This was actually the only part of the day that was not enjoyable for me, because as I bit into my chicken salteña that had been purchased from a fairly legit-looking stand on the street I quickly spit out something that just didn't taste quite right. Upon further examination, Rose and I arrived at the conclusion that this "something" looked like a beak, or possibly a claw (there's a picture on Facebook if you would like to offer up your own hypothesis). Needless to say, I was done with my salteñas after that. After lunch we headed back down the mountain- on the trail this time- and made our way back to Cochabamba where I feasted on my host-family's leftovers from lunch which were, thankfully, beak-less.
My Saturday afternoon was spent in Plaza Principal with a large group of other gringos that I'd heard about from a girl I met while traveling in Salar de Uyuni. I had been praying earlier in the week for more opportunities to serve the people of Cochabamba, particularly the children, and He answered my prayer in a big way by allowing me to spend a couple of hours helping to bathe, clothe, and play with some of the city's homeless children and infants. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect afternoon. To make it even sweeter, God answered another one of my prayers by sending a girl named Emily to tell me about the international church that she attends every Sunday right here in Cochabamba! So at 10am on Sunday morning, I attended Cochabamba International Church for a service in which we worshipped in a combination of English and Spanish and then a message was delivered in Spanish with headsets available so that anyone who wished to hear the message in Spanish could do so in the very same room. I absolutely loved the service and knew the moment that we started singing Mighty to Save (which I already knew in both English and Spanish) that this was exactly where God wanted me to be. Finally, I went out to dinner with the other Projects Abroad volunteers to celebrate Lyke's birthday and we had a wonderful time, as always! All in all, it was a fantastic weekend and I can't wait to see what God has in store for me this week!
Well, this second blog is coming a few days later than planned for a couple of reasons. One of which being that after returning from a long weekend visiting Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world, I got sick from the extreme change in altitude and climate. That combined with sheer exhaustion after returning to Cochabamba at 8am from a jam-packed three-day tour of Uyuni and the area surrounding it (it took two cramped buses in a row leaving at 9pm and a taxi ride to get me safely back!). Despite being generally miserable and leaving me so weak I could barely stand, I did manage to get a fairly interesting story from it. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't do drugs or anything close to them. However...one of the most effective Bolivian remedies for altitude sickness is coca leaves, which are the main ingredient used to make your average, everyday cocaine. So when I was bed-bound on Monday, my sweet host-mom, Susana, prepared a hot brew of maté de coca which is a type of tea made from, you guessed it, coca leaves. Now here's my disclaimer- chewing coca leaves or drinking tea made from coca leaves is NOT the equivalent of doing cocaine. I promise! It only gives you a slight buzz similar to that of caffeine but, even so, I'll admit that I was a bit skeptical. It did help me feel better though, so I guess I'm obligated to forgive our tour guide from this weekend, Alejandro, for making the Jeep smell like weed every hour or so as he chewed his coca leaves contentedly.
Hmm...what else is new? Well, I suppose I should say bit more about my trip to Uyuni since it was FANTASTIC! Oh, and I almost forgot- it ended up being quite the memorable trip before I'd even left Cochabamba, because not only was it my first weekend trip since arriving in Bolivia and thus my first time ever traveling in South America, it also ended up being the first time I've ever traveled by myself! Yep, that's right- I embarked on this journey all on my own (though luckily I made some friends along the way). And let's be honest here, I was absolutely TERRIFIED. As in I was on the verge of tears sitting all by my lonesome on the trufí that took me to bus terminal. I wouldn't be surprised to find out I was unconcsciously humming Donkey's song from the first Shrek movie- "I'm all aloooone. There's no one here besiiiide meee!" But seriously though, I was praying fervently and even frantically the entire time I was en-route to Uyuni. And I'm ever-so-grateful that God answered my prayers and calmed my anxious heart with the verses Joshua 1:9 and Isaiah 58:11 (I especially like The Msg version of this one.), along with providing plenty of kind and helpful people along the way. When I stepped off the train in Uyuni at 2:30am, I simply walked into the first hostel I spotted which, per another wonderful blessing from the good Lord, provided heated rooms and hot, running water for a shower in the morning, not to mention free breakfast!
The same method happened to work the next morning when I set out to find a tour company that would take me on a comprehensive Salar de Uyuni tour for a reasonable price of 600 Bs. In other words, I got a snagged one of six spots in a Jeep that would take me on a 3-day, 2-night tour of the largest flats in the world and other nearby natural wonders for about $85, including all meals and accomodations (this meant staying in a hotel made entirely of SALT on the first night!). Outrageously low prices for everything- just one of many reasons why I LOVE Bolivia! Needless to say, this was one of the best and most breathtakingly beautiful weekends of my entire life! Pictures are up on Facebook- all 233 of them- so you should definitely check them out. Some of the highlights of the trip included the train cemetery just outside of the town of Uyuni, the famous Salar de Uyuni salt flats, Isla de Pescado (a cactus-filled island in the heart of the flats), the colored lagoons- wild flamingos included in spite of the frigid weather, seeing an active volcano (from a distance), and finally the much-anticipated hot springs served as a marvelous way to top off a wonderful trip.
Anywho, this entry sure has gotten rather long, and I certainly don't want to bore you, so I'll go ahead and sign off. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed hearing a bit about my Bolivian adventures!
P.S.- I'll include one picture in case you don't get a chance to make it over to Facebook. :)
Hi there! I have officially been in Cochabamba, Bolivia for two whole weeks now and it is mind-blowing to think that my time here is already 1/5 of the way gone! I must apologize, especially to those of you who have no other way of knowing that I'm even alive, for just now starting to blog 2 weeks into this adventure. But I can assure you that I am alive and well and loving my life here! In fact, I believe it's a good sign that I haven't had time to sit down a write a blog because that means I'm just too busy actually experiencing this fascinating country and making memories that are worth writing about.
However, I would like to take this opportunity to briefly list just a few of the many, many highlights of my trip so far. I promise that I will elaborate on all of these later, as many of them require a backstory to truly understand the experience, but I'm running late for work at CEOLI (the school/center for children with special needs where I work alongside the Bolivian physiotherapists) so I simply don't have time! Also, I am leaving directly from work today to spend a long weekend traveling with 2 other Projects Abroad volunteers to Salar de Uyuni, which happen to be the largest salt flats in the whole world! I'm pretty pumped and am certain that when I return on Sunday I will have even more stories to share! And, of course, pictures! Which, by the way, I have over 200 posted on my Facebook page already so if you haven't seen those yet then you should definitely check them out. :)
Now for those highlights I promised! I hit the ground running on my second night here by going out to dinner with my host-mom, Susana, along with the other Projects Abroad volunteers with their host-moms, to celebrate El Día de la Madre (Mother's Day)! This was just the first of many, many Día de la Madre celebrations that I attended during that first week. I also had my first experiences with riding the various forms of Bolivian public transportation including the micro, the trufí, and the radio taxi. I have one word to describe Bolivian driving- INSANITY. It was terrifying the first few times, but I am happy to say that I am completely used to it now! Some of my other exciting adventures included starting work at CEOLI, paragliding (!!!!) in the mountains, finishing all 3 books of The Hunger Games series, getting sick (which was not at all exciting), visiting an orphanage to help teach one of the children who is in a wheelchair how to walk, doing hydrotherapy in the newly-installed pool at CEOLI, witnessing a robbery first-hand (terrifying.), hammocking, exploring the city, visiting the statue of Cristo de la Concordia, and even meeting the diplomats from five different countries by pure chance! Whew, did that list overwhelm you? Well, it certainly overwhelmed me, but in the best and most thrilling way possible. And that's all just the tip of the iceberg! So as you can tell, I've been having the time of my life here and staying plenty busy. I can't wait to continue to update you on mi experencia Boliviana! :)
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