Honk If You Are Bolivian!

I almost got hit by a car the other day. It is becuase the people here drive like they are the only ones on the road. It is funny sometimes, the complete lack of rules or maybe just disregard of the rules, but sometimes there are some close calls. They just honk when they are about to hit you, so at least before you get hit, you are sure of what is about to happen.

Here is the thing. At most of the intersections, they dont have stop lights or signs. Basically, whoever gets there first and squeezes their way out into the intersection first, has the right of way. Where there are lights, they are just suggestions. If it is red, but you dont think that other cars are coming, go ahead and go (maybe to make yourself feel better, you should honk). If other cars ARE coming and they are about to hit you, just honk, you will be fine.

This is all well and good, but if you are a pedestrian it is a little hard sometimes to figure out what the cars are going to do. You cant just go if your light is green... So that is what I was doing. The traffic was stopped. There actually WAS a light, which was RED. The green way was stalled becuase they were all backed up through the intersection, so I had a green light basically. So I went. And some dude with a red light decided to try to creep through the stalled intersection and make his way across...and he almost hit me.

But I survived. I just laugh when I see the way they drive. It is comical. Oh, and PS, the car at the top is a Volkswagon Brasilia...this is the most common car in the city of Cochabamba...


Hoy Es Un Dia Normal

Well, we are now in Cochabamba and have been here for about a week. We are settling into our routine...Here it is, for your reading enjoyment.

-8:00 get up
-Have breakfast, watch my favorite show on Discovery Kids (in Spanish, its about what I can understand), Charlie y Lola
-Walk to class (about 20 minutes, mostly downtown, with a few plazas thrown in)
-10:00 - 12:00 Tutor in Spanish. We mostly just talk girl talk, in Spanish...I mean, what else am I paying her for? I am getting the best gossip in Cochabamba!!
-Walk home
-1:00 - 2:00 Lunch with the family (we are staying with a family in the down town area. They have other family come over all the time for lunch, so we always have a full table for lunch)
-2:00 - 2:30 Bus ride to work (volunteering) goes from down town to the subburbs, where the orphanage is
2:30 - 6:30 Help the kids with their tarea (homework), help them with their work (they each have a daily chore) and if there is time, play with them. The kids are from 3 yrs - 17 years. 30 kids live in the orphanage full time and another...maybe 30-40 come for an after school program around 3. It is busy, busy, busy...and my arms are tired from all the spinning around and carrying we do! But it is a great time.
-Bus back home
-7:00 Dinner with the family
-At 8 Julietta´s novela (soap opera) comes on and if you want to watch it with her (and another at 9) you can...It is actually good becuase they speak really slowly, so it is easier to understand the Spanish this way...but they are SOOOO cheesy!!!
-After dinner activities (there is a festival/holiday right now for one of the virgins, so there is a mini carnaval with food and fireworks and music every night)

And that, my friends, is our normal day!!!


16 Tons And What Do You Get?

Today, we are in Potosi, the highest city in the world. It sits at roughly 4100 M (about 13,500 ft) which is only 1000 feet less than Mt. Whitney, the continental US´ highest mountain. We arrived last night and decided to walk to the center of town to get some dinner. The hill we walked up was not too steep and the entire walk was about a mile, but I was so out of breath just trying to accomplish the short walk. I also had a little bit of a headache, which is one of the syptoms of altitude sickness. However, the cure for that is a tea made of coca leaves, which actually helped! After dinner we went to bed early, becuase we had scheduled a trip into the mines for early the next morning.

The mine tour was very interesting. We got to see how the minerals are mined, processed and what the finished product is. In the Potosi mines, they are all collective, which means that each miner works for himself. Actually, groups of miners work together as a team; they each have their own area of the mine. There are approximately 15,000 people working in the mines, the youngest is about 8 (which is illegal, the age limit is 18) and the oldest is about 68 (which is rare, many die after 10 or more years from black lung).

We were down inside for about 2 hours, breathing dust and stuck in small hot spaces. It was horrible. I cant believe so many people spend 8-10 hours a day in that (6 days a week)!! I really have a new respect for the miners. After the tour, we went outside and we got to set off dynamite. It was pretty cool. With a wick of about a foot, you have about 4 minutes before the dynamite goes off.

Now we are back in the town, walking around, waiting for our overnight bus which will take us to Cochabamba, which is where we are going to do a month of volunteering.

Bouncy, Bouncy

After crossing the border from Argentina back into Bolivia, we took the bus to Tupiza, which is supposed to be a kind of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid kind of place. After getting in late and getting over charged for a room, we kind of had a bad attitude towards the place, but the next day we booked a horse riding tour and our attitude changed.

I have only ridden a horse maybe a half a dozen times, so I am no expert, so when our guide, a 14 year old named Michael (NOT Miguel, what is that all about) asked if I had any experience I said, un poco (a little). Well, a little spans a big gap. Chris and I have gone riding a couple of times and he is much more advanced than me, so he told me how to (try to) sit when the horse is walking, jogging and running (I dont know the correct horse terms but you get what I mean) and I have JUST mastered the walking (go me!) and started to work on the jogging.

The ride was nice. It went through canyons of colored rocks, cacti and crazy thorny bushes. However, we got onto a straight away and Michael decided to get the horses to a run! I had absolutely NO IDEA what I was doing. I just tried to sit like I did during the jog and it did work, but wow, we were cruising!!! It was great!! I was so scared but so excited at the same time! I loved it although the whole time I thought I was going to fall off.

When we stopped, I realized I had a blister on my butt! I have never had that before, I can say that for certain! And now, today, two days ago, my ass is still so sore, I can barely sit in a seat. It is pretty funny really. All I can say is, I love riding horses, but I have a lot to learn.


I Am SO High!!

We just came back from a wonderful time in the salt flats of Bolivia. We started in the town of Uyuni, which is kind of a dirty little city and is mostly used as a base for the salt flat tours. Uyuni was FREEZING!!! We only stayed one night there and then took off the next morning for our tour of the salt flats.
The salt flats were amazing!! I am not sure of the whole story, becuase our guide spoke all in Spanish, but from what I understood, they are about 12,000 square km and used to be under the Pacific Ocean until the plates shifted and they got pushed up. They sit at about 4000 M (13,200 ft) above sea level and are only interrupted by a couple of islands which are covered with coral, proving that they used to be under water. How cool is that?
Our first day was spent making silly pictures, which I will post later on, and going to see how the salt is harvested and processed. We also visited a town where the buildings are all made of salt. We went to the island, which has a lot of coral on it, as well as being covered with thousand year old cacti. Pretty cool. That night we slept in a local village, where the temperature was...-6 degrees celcius (about 20 degrees F). It was cold! The next day we went and toured the colorful lakes and mountains of the antiplano. The next day we got up at 4 to go see the geysers, which are at 5000 M (16500 ft)!!! It was freezing and hard to breathe! Our next stop was at a thermal springs where the water was warm, but not warm enough for me to get into it!!
After exploring the salt flats, we headed back down (to ONLY 2500 M) to San Pedro de Atacama, which is in Chile and sits right in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world. We met a couple of nice folks from the UK and Australia and hung out with them there. We also all traveled to Salta, Argentina together, where we celebrated Chris and my birthdays (we had not had a chance to celebrate them together before), our 6 month travel anniversary AND 4th of July as well as Matt and Sally's 6 week travel anniversary...It was a lot of fun. We splurged and got a room at the Sheraton, where we decorated the room with balloons and bought hats and noise makers and drank Argentine wine (mmmm) and had a grand time!
Now we are back in Bolivia (high again, 3000 M) and are planning some horseback riding and hiking.