It has now been nine days since we first arrived in Tiquipaya following our five-day trek through el Parque Nacional de Toro Toro, and as a whole we have settled in quite nicely to our daily routines. For me, this means waking up just before seven to have breakfast with my homestay father, Don David, then walking to the Dragons program house, about 20 minutes away – the highlight of said walk being the picturesque Andes mountains framing the view from all sides. Monday through Fridays we have Spanish class from 9 to 11:30, then return home to our host families for lunch (quinoa – a dish native to Bolivia – has been a staple in my meals thus far), followed by a wonderful hour or so siesta, something I very much would love to bring back to the States with me.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we each travel to our respective independent student projects (mine being guitar) for a two-hour lesson. Learning how to use Bolivia’s public transit system (trufi´s, which are essentially large vans that go back and forth on a designated route throughout the city all day) on our way to ISP´s has been very cool and makes one feel less like a tourist and more of a citizen of Tiquipaya and Cochabamba, the neighboring city of approximately 700,000 people. Personally, I take the 106 trufi to the corner of Libertadores y América, then hop on the 260, which gets me within a two minute walk from my teacher Mauricio´s house. All in all the journey takes about an hour, and slightly longer if I´m hungry and roam the streets for a snack for my ride home (the amount of unbelievable food that is so readily accessible on the streets at all times blows my mind). Some of my favorite dishes so far include salteñas (a pocket of very hot chicken and vegetables that oozes juice-like liquid, forcing one to part eat and part drink this delicacy), rellenos de papas (balls of potato filled with a delicious mix of meat and veggies and a slice of hard-boiled egg, which my Spanish group made for our contribution to our cultural Fridays), and my current addictions, sugar-covered peanuts and dried plantain chips.
As well as scouring for food, I am also quick to notice things like the advertisements for the various salons and barbers in the city, all which show the various haircut styles using predominantly white people, particularly actors and actresses from the United States (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Anne Hathaway to name a few). Despite being able to count the number of fellow gringos I have seen thus far in Bolivia on one hand, businesses advertise using white people, a rather unsettling concept to me. To go along with this, there are stores that sell solely clothes from the United States; my last name being Hollister, the brand Hollister stands out to me more than anything, and I can honestly say I´ve seen more people wearing Hollister stuff in our nine days in Bolivia than in an entire year in the US. Brands from the US seem to be what is most stylish, especially for young people, as well as sports teams from the US (being a diehard Red Sox fan, seeing so many Yankee hats upsets me greatly). It just feels awkward and uncomfortable to me that aspects of ¨white culture¨are celebrated in this way and are shown as examples when I have found Bolivian culture to be far richer than that of the culture I am used to at home.
Upon returning to Tiquipaya after ISP´s, I have dinner with my family – almost always including rice, potatoes, and some home-grown veggies – and try to help with the process of cleaning and organizing the vegetables grown on their small farm in their backyard which will eventually be sold in the market in Cochabamba by my host mother, Virginia. Both my host parents native language is Quechua, the most widely-spoken surviving Indian language, so I have been trying to learn a few phrases in Quechua on top of improving my Spanish. Thus far, I have mastered ¨imallaya¨ (how are you) and ¨Samuel suti¨ (my name is Samuel). My host family finds it hysterical when I try and speak it, but I think they also appreciate the effort very much.
It is hard to believe we are only nine days into our homestays; it feels like we´ve been here for months now with how many amazing experiences that have been fit into our time thus far in Tiquipaya. I am very excited for the things to come, namely learning a song from Carnival, Bolivia’s biggest and most widely-celebrated holiday, on the guitar (my homestay Mom has promised to provide the vocals if I learn it well enough). Thanks for reading! ¡Buen dia!