Greetings from La Paz!
We have just returned to Bolivia’s 12,000 foot capital after two nights in Santiago de Okola, a community along the shore of Lake Titicaca. We played soccer on the community soccer pitch and learned about the various types of vegetables and grains grown in the community. We also visited a woman who wove traditional fabric out of llama and sheep wool. She taught us the basic techniques of weaving and Jessie noted that some ponchos worn by people in the Andes are woven so tightly that water can not get through! Quinoa, beans, peas, and many varieties of potatoes are grown in Santiago de Okola. They also raise sheep, chickens, and cows. Daily meals seem to consist of LOTS of potatoes, quinoa, eggs, and sometimes rice and meat. On our full day in the community, we enjoyed a traditional Andean potluck called an “aptapi”. Each family brought a dish to share, most of which were potatoes, quinoa, or chicken. The fried quinoa chips with fesh cheese and the potato fritata were my favorites.
Sarah and I stayed together with a family of three: a father, mother, and young daughter. The daughter, Marisol, was 9 years old and had a bike and two Barbies. One of her Barbies was a little blond-haired girl with a scooter, just like a doll my sister and I had when we were young. Our host dad, Don Juan, was a farmer in the community as well as a respected leader. He grew quinoa, cabbages, peas, and beans. Our family also owned a large flock of sheep and a very fluffy dog named Abidabo (I think). Our host mom was a phenomenal cook, especially of vegetable stew, and always had a kind smile on her face.
One highlight of our homestay in Santiago de Okola was our last dinner with our host family. Usually the host families left us to eat alone, but on that hight, Don Juan ate dinner with Sarah and me. We started talking (in Spanish!) about how the weather is in the US and in China. Then we talked about the crops we grow in the US, our imports and exports, and even politics! He told us about the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, and I talked about why I dislike Trump. Then Sarah told him about Xi Jingping! We also talked about our families and our school. All in all, it was an hour and a half of conversation in Spanish. It really felt like a humongous breakthrough!
Another highlight was the traditional koa ceremony we were able to witness on our last night in the community. A koa is an Andean spiritual event that gives gifts to the Pacha Mama (sort of like Mother Earth) and asks her forgiveness for the aweful things humans have done to her. We made offerings of coca leaves, houses and animals made of sugar, and wine. We spent time reflecting on the times we have polluted or otherwise harmed our planet, throwing the Pacha Mama out of balance. Finally, we burned our offerings to ask for forgiveness. It was amazing to see our host families practicing their traditional spiritual practices and very inspiring as well. It was also wonderful to meet a true Andean shaman, who performed the ceremony in Aymara.
Before our stay at Santiago de Okola, we spent 3 nights and 4 days on a trek that started at 16,000 feet and descended to about 4,500 feet. <In total, the hike was about 30 miles mostly downhill. However, we were hiking over slippery rocks and rickety wooden bridges, so it was not without its challenges. Our two longest days also boasted steep climbs, one of which was cleverly called “El Diablo”. On the first day, we hiked along an ancient Inca road still paved with stones and rested in ancient stone ruins. During our first night, we stayed in a tiny rural village (the school had 15 kids!) and played soccer with some local children. We also played hacky sack with our guide, Don Pascual, his wife, Dona Josephina, and our four porters.
The trek started in the high mountains, among bare rocks and snow, and ended in a lush, humid jungle. It was fascinating to see the landscape change rapidly as we hiked along. The first night, we slept in wool long underwear, hats, and down jackets inside our sleeping bags. By the last night, however, we were sleeping in t-shirts and our underwear! We saw herds of llamas along, and often on, the road. We also ran into wild horses, mules, and donkeys. Our last two campsites also housed adorable kittens! The first campsite was home to a brown tortishell cat and her two babies, who we named Pickle and Cucumber. The next campsite was home to a white kitten already named Elsa by the owner of the site. All three kittens were definitely hightlights of the trek!
Dona Josephina was an excellent cook and made fabulous chicken soup two nights of the trek. We also had pasta with an amazing bacon, onion, pepper, and tomato sauce. Needless to say, Josephina’s talent was well recognized and praised! On the trek, we learned more about the way of life in rural Bolivian villages where all the supplies have to be carried in on the backs of the inhabitants. For some people, our trek is a means of living. It was an eye-opening and thought-provoking experiance!
We will be heading to Cochabamba tomorrow on a 8 hour bus ride (augh!). Once in Cocha, we will spend two nights in a hostal before embarking on another homestay experiance. After the success of our first stay, I couldn’t be more excited. I also can’t wait to be a little bit warmer when I shower!
Much love to Skye, Mom, and Dad! I miss and love you guys! Skye- have fun in Paris and don’t forget sunscreen; I already have a bit of a burn on my cheeks (nothing big) and you don’t remember how annoying it is until you have it! Mom- if Skye doesn’t see this, please send it to her XOXO Dad- love you muchly! You would love Bolivia!