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A young arriero leads a mule across fresh snow in the Peruvian Andes. Photo by Benjamin Swift (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist), South America Semester.

Subway (Trufi) Surfing

I am currently writing this post in my notebook while in a Trufi (basically the car version of a New York City subway) on the the way to my final ISP cooking class before we leave to Sucre tonight. It is strange how in just under two weeks a place and culture that appears impossibly confusing can become comfortable navigable and insightful.

On Tuesday of last week, just our second day in Tiquipaya, I headed into town after lunch to find an Internet cafe. After sending some emails to family back home, I carefully recalled the instructors’ advice on how to get back to the program house for a speaker presentation at 3 pm: hop on a 106 Trufi headed for El Paso or Apote and get off just after Hotel Regina. The time was 2:10 as I hopped on a 106 trufi, feeling arrogantly proud of finding my way with ease so quickly.

Nevertheless, that pride was short lasting, to say the least. Within ten minutes the trufi started to take turns in directions that did not appear to be the way I had come to town. Perhaps my sense of direction was flip-flopped. I waited a bit longer. Finally the roads became so unfamiliar that I felt uneasy; the time was 2:30, only half an hour until the guest speaker presentation. Normally, a simple search on Apple Maps would have answered all my questions, but of course, I did not have a phone. Just me, my Spanish, and I.

I asked the driver if we were headed in the direction of Hotel Regina. I was relieved to hear that we were. But only after heading all the way to Cochabamba (the complete opposite direction). Seeing the look of dismay on my face, one of the other passengers asked where I was headed. I had ignorantly forgotten the name of the exact stop and neighborhood of the program house, so I struggled to explain my exact desires, using only the hotel as a reference point. Without even asking for help, two other passengers joined in on the conversation. Then four. Then five. And eventually, I was watching the entire trufi having an argument about whether or not I should get off and find another trufi or take the long route all the way to Cochabamba and back. It was reassuring and endearing to see such a sense of community in an urban environment. I was provided with entire crash course on proper trufi usage.

At last we had reached a point far enough away that it no longer made sense to get out. Everyone agreed that would only result in me getting more lost than I already was. So I stuck it out. The entire trip lasted about two and a half hours in the same trufi. A I arrived back at the house, I was embarrassed to walk in on the last five minutes of a lecture/discussion on past and current Bolivian politics. At least I had a funny story to tell my peers of a city adventure and welcoming people I met along the way. And, despite losing my way, I was happy to know I could cope with the unfamiliar environment, with some Spanish and local help of course. Such has been my way of learning. Trial and error. So here I am. On the 106 to Cochabamba (this time the right direction), after a week of cooking classes and discussions on Andean cosmovision and the importance of community and reciprocation. I’ll get of at the corner of Avenida America and Libertador and take the 270 the La Plazuela de Tarija. Finally, I’ll get off there and walk to blocks up to the house of my cooking instructor. There’s still a lot of adjustment and learning to be had, but I’ll take it as it comes. I guess you could just call me a Bolivian subway surfer.