I’m standing on the edge of the world watching the clouds roll by, tinged orange and pink with the morning light. My knuckles are white, both with cold and with the effort of gripping the banister that separates this viewpoint from the sheer drop down to the city below. I woke up early on purpose to come here, jogging with a few friends to clear our heads and try to adjust to being 3,640 meters higher than sea level. My face is flushed and slick with sweat– my heart is racing, my chest heaves!– but it’s hard to care. It’s hard to focus on anything but the sprawling metropolis before me: the way these buildings seemed to be stacked on top of one another in a real-life Jenga; the way the cable cars (which are suspended above the neighborhoods by sturdy black cables) float languidly by; the way all cities can sound the same, somehow — no matter what country we’re in or language we’re speaking.
This is La Paz.
We came here three days ago after finishing our time in Tiquipaya on an overnight bus. It’s been a complete shift in experience from the routine and tranquility of our suburban homestays – La Paz is a towering, teetering city that is chock-full of history, people, culture, and activity. Here, we’ve officially (though not technically) marked the halfway point in our course, and begun to prepare for our next trek: a seven-day foray through Camino del Oro and Las Yungas, after which we will spend two more weeks in the Amazon. It’s been an interesting experience– processing a month’s worth of personal lessons and memories, and preparing for the next 3 weeks of complete isolation from the digital world, here in one of the busiest and most urban centers in Bolivia. More than once, I have found myself feeling as if I’m on pause, watching as the rest of the world around me moves at breakneck speed – separate, somehow. Apart.
At first, I was tempted to give into that feeling of being overwhelmed, trying to clear a space for myself in the middle of millions of other people. But being here has reminded me that I am not here on this course to keep myself on pause – in fact, that’s an impossible ask. No matter where I am in my life, or what decisions I’m trying to make about who I am or where I’m going, the world spins on. Life goes on – here in La Paz, back in Tiquipaya, and all the way back home – and right now, my goal is to see the midpoint of this course not as a stopping point, but as a starting point. I have space for both reflection and participation. I have room for both memories and the future. I am right here, right now.
“For now the world keeps turning and I keep breathing, in and out, in and out. I breathe in the life that is all around me, in this garden, in this city, in the fields beyond it, in the seas beyond them and the shores on the other side; life that reaches out towards the unreachable, unknowable space that is beyond all of us and the stars that burn there.” (Clare Furniss)