Here are three of the many wonderful moments I shared with Bolivians who received low-interest loans through Kiva’s partners here in Bolivia. Thanks to all of you who loan through Kiva, you make a big difference in their lives.
My life as a Kiva Fellow was obviously different than my normal travel mostly due to the fact that I lived primarily in one city, had an apartment, went shopping for food, spent time in an office, and had time and energy to socialize at night.
Here are some pictures and captions that I hope give a sense of my daily life in Bolivia.
Home: More than just a place to hang my hat for a night or two…
Office: No cubicles, a 10-minute commute, a two-hour lunch break, and not a word in English…
Client Visits: Time spent with the best “users” ever… an awesome part of my job!
Work: Still lots of time in front of the computer but I could definitely leave it at the end of day…
Leisure Time and Food: Fun friends and new experiences and a vast new universe of flavors to explore…
I was in great need of a long weekend in Toro Toro which awaited me at the end of a curvaceous and bumpy six-hour ride from Cochabamba. The town, with its laid-back vibe, is the base for an adjacent national park that promised me a rewarding getaway with spectacular sights. It was my first escape from large Bolivian cities in two months and I was ready for a mini-holiday from my consuming Kiva duties.
There’s not much to Toro Toro town and that’s what makes it such a delight. It’s a traditional quechua-speaking village that hasn’t changed much from its Republican days except for a mild increase in tourism once 60-million-year-old dinosaur footprints were found in the area. And given that it sits in a place of striking natural beauty, it’s a small wonder people started coming here.
There are a handful of basic hostales spread about town that serve meals since there aren’t any restaurants. I was incredibly happy to stay with the warmest and welcoming hostess Lily at Hostal Las Hermanas, a lush paradise of blooming roses, bougainvillea, lime and pomegranate trees, hanging coyate squash (which is cooked and sweetened for tasty desserts), a host of potted flowers and a menagerie of kittens and parrots roaming the grounds.
While these Volkswagen beauties have not been produced anywhere for almost a decade, Bolivia continues its love affair with the classic Beetle (marketed here as the “Peta”). In all the major cities and towns, the streets abound with this unique and cherished automobile.
I’m not sure how much longer these cars with remain a characteristic feature of the streets of Latin America but I certainly love seeing (and hearing) the “people’s car” everywhere I go.
One Sunday every four months Cochabamba celebrates “Pedestrian Day,” a surreal phenomenon when all streets in the city are closed to motor traffic (except emergency vehicles) and residents take to the streets en masse. Side streets remain tranquil and quiet, with dogs sleeping on the pavement and the only sounds are children playing soccer on fresh asphalt fields.
Major thoroughfares are filled with dance groups, live music, children’s’ rides and of course a huge variety of food. Families and friends gather, grab bicycles and head to the fume-free streets for a day of healthy fun in this fair city.
The Día del Peatón holiday started in thirteen years ago in response to the choked streets of Cochabamba and to raise consciousness about fossil fuel pollution in this especially congested city.
From the start it was a huge success and something residents now look forward to and genuinely enjoy. Today an estimated 300,000 citizens, young and old, fill the city’s streets. A study this year determined that contamination levels are 80% lower on Día del Peatón, reason indeed to leave the house and breathe in some much cleaner air.
La Feria de la Alasita is a craft fair in Bolivia where miniature ritualistic items are sold to enthusiastic locals. Objects include tiny baby dolls, wads of small bills, petite bottles filled with healthy concoctions, cars, houses, even diminutive diplomas. With the help of the Tiwanakan deity Ekeko, god of abundance and prosperity, the Aymaran people of the Andean altiplano believe that possessing (or gifting) these figurines will become reality for holders.
While the crafts on display were fascinating, I especially enjoyed watching the whirlwind commotion at the fair.
One of the great joys of living in Cochabamba is the ease of access to its surrounding mountains which abound with great hiking trails. The lofty peaks of the olive-colored Tunari Range of the eastward-reaching Andes awakened my inner rambler and I headed to the hills on many weekends. Here are some highlights:
My first weekend in Cochabamba I rose early, grabbed some bananas and chocolate and my filled water bottle, and hoofed it from my apartment to the gate of the Parque Tunari. This is the closest and most accessible areas for hiking and soon I was rising high above Cochabamba. The city’s iconic Cristo de la Concordia with his monumental outstretched hands quickly faded to a mere spec far below. I was surrounded by the smell of eucalyptus and the spectacle of spring bloom.
I encountered very few people on the trail, just a couple families out for a picnic and one dedicated student, his nose diligently in his textbook at a particularly inspired lookout above Cochabamba. Eventually I reached an abandoned campground I and goofed around in the children’s playground:
I kept ascending and finally stopped high above the Cochabamba valley at around 3700 m (over 12,100 feet). I took in the beautiful vista s of the valley below and the towering Mount Tunari (the highest peak in the region at over 5000 m) covered in clouds to the west.
It was a satisfying hike from house to hilltop, I’ve never had this luxury before. All my previous hikes required some sort of transport from my home… this was fueled by just my own two feet.
Here’s a visual of my awesome paragliding adventure with the great guys at AndesXtremo.com in Bolivia. It was a thrilling tandem ride from over 10,000 feet above sea level in the Tunari Range of the eastern Andes and landing in the Cochabamba valley below.
I can’t recommend this highly enough, I will definitely do this again!
I took to the welcoming city of Cochabamba almost immediately. With friendly and unperturbed locals, an even-tempered climate (it is lower than La Paz, resting at a comfortable 2,825 m / 9,268 ft) and far less congestion with its tree-lined thoroughfares and ample gardens, I felt more at ease here.
Cochabamba, nicknamed the “Garden City” and the “City of Eternal Spring”, decidedly lives up to its reputation.
After the first couple of days I was already in the swing of things of this culturally active and socially progressive city.
Here’s a 3.5 minute video of our eight-hour journey through the Bolivian mountains from La Paz to Cochabamba. We saw all sorts of inclement weather, beautiful terrain and unfortunate accidents during the trip. Thankfully we arrived unscathed.