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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Backpack Yak

By now there are probably hundreds of stories I could tell about my time here in Bolivia. From our group´s first card game in the Miami airport to my trufi ride only minutes ago, I have collected memory after memory, recording as many as I can in my journal. I could write pages here on everything I have experienced so far, but I think my backpack, specifically the things I have carried in my backpack, have a lot to say about the first five weeks of this adventure. So, here is a short list of some of the various things I have carried in my day pack so far this trip:

Chicken hearts– from a small meat stand outside the plaza of El Paso. I bought these with my host sister the first Saturday of my homestay, and carried them in a thin plastic bag all the way home. I´m still not sure if I ever ate one of these chicken hearts…maybe in a soup one day for lunch? If I did, it didn´t taste much different than anything I´d had before.

Cow tongue– from the same meat stand in El Paso. Unlike the chicken hearts, I am certain I ate cow tongue for dinner. It was surprisingly soft and flavorful. After I commented on the nice texture, my aunt told me that it can only be achieved after cooking the tongue for almost a whole day.

Chocolate chip cookies- after making chocolate chip cookies with Sophie on my birthday during the first week of my homestay, these cookies became a family favorite. I have since made chocolate chip cookies with my sister two times and we have another cookie baking date after lunch tomorrow.

Maple syrup– a gift for my family. Like the cookies, pancakes with maple syrup have also become a regular breakfast for the family. The first time we opened the small packet of syrup I brought from home, I compared the sweet liquid to honey. After tasting it, my host mom said it was ¨mejor que miel¨ (better than honey).

Rascacielos– my sister and I watched the new Dwayne Johnson movie while nervously eating palomita (popcorn)after palomita. We turned to each other with concern each time Will (Dwayne Johnson) lost his grip on whatever he happened to be holding at the moment, which was about every 30 seconds. If you haven´t seen the movie, Dwayne Johnson climbs a burning skyscraper to save his family that is trapped inside. Let’s just say we shared a lot of concerned glances and ate a lot of popcorn.

Palomitas de maíz and bananas– Last Sunday my sister and I went to Cochabamba to sell clothes at her mom´s stand. We brought leftover popcorn from our movie night and bananas as snacks. I have been told Cochabamba is the food capital of Bolivia, and it´s rare for our group to go to Cochabamba and not buy food. In fact, I don´t think I´ve ever been to Cochabamba and not eaten food of some sort, whether it be a slice of watermelon, a salteña, or helado de maracuya. For me, and for many others in our group, Cochabamba is often a place to try new foods or return to our favorite little restaurant Wist´upiku for a wistu de charque, so it struck me when my sister and I packed food for our trip. I realized that for my family, Cochabamba is not a place to buy food like it is for me and many others in my group, it is something else entirely. It’s where my mom goes to sell clothes, my aunt to sell car parts, and where my sister goes to school.

A piece of chocolate cake– I turned 18 during the first week of my homestay. For my birthday, my sister made me pizza (after I mentioned that my dad usually makes pizza on my birthday) and a chocolate cake (after I mentioned that chocolate is my favorite food). I was incredibly grateful for this taste of home in a foreign place, and even more grateful that I had such a thoughtful and welcoming host sister.

My sister and I have a lot in common. We are both only children. We are shy, quiet in class, and easily intimidated. At meals we talk about our shared love of baking, our favorite movies and songs, our taste in guys, and the advantages and disadvantages of being only children. I am certain that if we had gone to high school together we would have been friends. But over the past few weeks it´s been hard to ignore our differences. While our personalities and interests may be similar, our day to day lives are very different.

Every morning I wake up at 6 to the sound of brooms sweeping the walkway outside my room. About 10 minutes later, I hear my host mom shout my sister´s name, calling her to help with the morning chores. By 7, the cows have been milked, the guinea pigs, rabbits, baby sheep, chickens, and turkeys have been fed, and breakfast of bread and tea (and sometimes pancakes) is on the table. Every time I hear my host mom shout my sister´s name before the sun has even risen over the mountains, I am reminded of all the lazy mornings I have spent in bed, of all the times I have watched Netflix instead of cleaning my room, and of all the responsibilites I don’t have.

At dinner my sister and I talk about what we did during the day. While I watched a movie in Spanish class, she was cleaning the house. While I was learning to dance Tinku, she was making dinner. While I was at a trampoline park, she was washing her clothes, and while I was hiking Tunari she was studying for a big test.

So while my sister and I are both shy and only children and like the same music and love chocolate cake and pizza, the more I live with and talk to her the more I am reminded that there are some things, like travel, we will probably never share.

A thank you card for my family- there are less than two days left in our homestays and this morning I carried home a thank you card/invitation to our goodbye party