Friday, May 8, 2009


Hey everyone, it's been some hectic days since I last posted a blog, and I never got a final post in before I got home. The last ten days in Bolivia were spent with friends and family, enjoying the last bits that I could spend around Santa Cruz. We had a big depedida or going away party for myself and Sarah which turned out absolutely fantastic. Even Ethan, who lives in Sucre, was there.

I spent my last day taking pictures of the city, and then the rest of the time with Sarah since it would be the last time I would be seeing her for a while. She was also traveling to Cochabamba that evening, and wouldn't be able to make it to the airport with me.

The night I was leaving was the night of the concert of Vicente Fernandez, a very famous Mexican singer who was on his final tour ever. My whole family were huge fans, so I said goodbye to Alan and Oliver before even leaving for the airport (they went to the concert right away). I then went over to the Peña house (Brodie's old host family) to say goodbye to everyone. Jessica and Veronica decided to meet me at the airport! Then I went with my host parents, my host mom and Chris stayed as late as they could without missing the concert, and then I was off with my dad. Jess and Vero showed up right before I left, and then everyone said their goodbyes. It wasn't as sad as I thought it would be... I guess since not everyone was there.

The flights were long and freezing, time spent in airports was boring and full of anticipation (although not as long as when I had come to Bolivia). But I finally got home to Kelowna... with one of my bags lost along the way. I met up with my parents, and then we figured out all the specifics about getting my bag back. From there, we went out for dinner and back to Penticton to meet Robin!

So here we are, at the end of my journey and itching to start a new one. Only a few more months here in Penticton, and then I will be taking that new step in my life.. moving out and going to University. I'm fully prepared for this step, emotionally, but still apprehensive as to how it all will turn out. Life is definitely throwing new things at you every day, and you just need to learn how to adapt and move on. Enjoy every opportunity that presents itself to you, and love everyone in your life for being who they are, and who they help you to become.

On that note, thank you to everyone who has helped get me to where I am. For supporting the exchange idea, and supporting me emotionally throughout the year. Thank you to Sarah for being the structure in my life when I was in Bolivia, I don't know what I would do if you hadn't come into my life. Thanks to Rotary for having this program, and presenting the opportunity to not only me, but to all youth across the globe. Thanks to my families, host and real. You really have helped me to learn so much about myself and the world around me. I love you all!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Month Eight

Hey everyone. I know I just posted an update the other week, but my mother has advised me that I should be updating a little more often, since I am officially in the TEN DAYS AND LESS timezone. (As an update to everyone, tomorrow is my eight month mark. I leave Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia on May 1st at 11pm. I'll be arriving in Kelowna International around 530pm on Saturday, May 2nd).

There's not a lot going on here in Santa Cruz, other than me making the best of my time here. I'm trying to go out with friends as much as possible. Apparently, this hasn't been too smart, since I've lost my phone TWICE in the past three days. Maybe I need to slow it down a bit hmm?

I have three despedidas, or going away parties to attend to and figure out. My family wants to have one this Friday, for Rotarians to attend. Then Brodie's host family, the family of Jessica (really good friend) wants to hold a churrasco (bbq) for me on Saturday. My classmates as well want to hold a party for me Saturday night. I am going to be crazy, trying to cram all this in.

And while I keep myself amazingly busy, I try not to think of the looming fact that I am actually going home in a week and a half. Good lord, that's a lot scarier putting that down in words. I don't want to think about it, because I don't want to be looking forward to go home. I am enjoying the time I have here, and it shant be ruined by thoughts of going home! I really am excited to go back home, to see my family and friends, and to finally get some nutritious food into me (I am DYING for a veggie burger). But seriously, I will miss it here. I might have had my ups and downs while being here, but in the long run, this was an AMAZING year and I will miss so many people and so many things. Yet, I shall not reminice yet.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Week 34

What they say is true; the closer and closer you get to the end of your exchange, the less you write. I am well into my last month here in Santa Cruz (in fact today, I'm at about two and a half weeks away) and the last thing I would like to be doing is sitting down to tap out all that I've been doing the past couple of weeks. To tell you the truth, nothing too exciting has been going on, just day-to-day activities, but I felt that I owed it to the people that actually check my blog from time to time... fill them in on my life, let you know that YES, I still am alive!

I last left you right after my birthday. For the most part, life has been quite normal since then, slightly uneventful. I've been going to the gym everyday, and taking my Spanish classes in the afternoon. I go out with friends on most days, and of course end up seeing Sarah every single day hahah. I mentioned in my previous blog that I was in touch with an orchestra here in Santa Cruz, yet I still haven't gotten in touch with them sooo we're waiting on that one.

In the past month or so, I've made a ton of new friends. I met most of them through Sarah, since she's been going to a new high school (while I bum around). They are an amazing group of friends, and are always up for doing something interesting. For example, a couple weeks ago I got a call at nine am on a Tuesday morning, telling me to get myself together and meet up with everyone asap. We started driving around, and ended up at this little lake outside of Santa Cruz called Capiguara. We hung out, pranced around taking photos, and everyone got thrown in the murky water. Then we drove out to this little pueblo called Porongo to see if there was anything interesting, but it was all empty dirt roads, so we snacked on some ice cream and peaced back to the city (where we later tried to break another friend out of school). It was one of the funnest days that I've had here. I'm so glad I've met these kids, because they've really made my exchange.

As you all know, Easter just passed us by. But I bet you didn't know that Passover has also been going on. If I haven't mentioned before, Sarah is Jewish. And knowing me, you know that I love to learn about religions (and it just so happens that she loves to teach people about judaism). I've been learning about all the Jewish holidays that pass us by this year, and last Wednesday evening was the start of Passover. We had a lot of fun trying to think of ways to celebrate this holiday together, but to tell you the truth, it's quite difficult since there aren't exactly "kosher aisles" in the supermarkets here. I also got to see all the activities going on here for Easter, since Bolivia is hiiighly Catholic. Everything was decorated with palm fronds on Palm Sunday, as well as had vendors everywhere selling random items of braided palm. The next part of the week of Easter is called Semana Santa, or Holy Week. This involves the events that happen from Thursday-Sunday, the last Supper through till the Resurection. In Santa Cruz, it's very common to travel during this week, usually going to either Samaipata or Concepción. I ended up going out to a friend's quinta, just to spend some time with friends away from the city.

As my time here dwindles, I come to appreciate and enjoy my time here more and more. I know that I need to make the best of life while I'm here and I feel that I really have the past couple of weeks. I only wish I had a bit more time to work on my relationships and language skills :D If there's anyone back home that wants to help me keep my spanish up to date, let me know please.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Week 31

I have officially completed my NINETEENTH birthday. How exciting is that? Apparently here in Bolivia, it's not. Because I'm spending it with either a) Bolivians, with the legal age of 18 or b) Americans, where as we know, they can't imagine this day for another two years.

It was definitely a successful birthday, going by smoothly and calmly. Sarah came over in the morning, skipping school to spend the day with me... And then we got together with two other girls that I've recently become friends with, Claire and Belen. We hung out for the day, I skipped my Spanish class. After going home and having a nap, I got my place ready for a BBQ that I was going to have in the evening. It was strange having a meat bbq, and everyone was asking why I had one when I was the vegetarian... but apparently a bbq, called a churraso here, is the Bolivian thing to do for birthdays. At the end of the night, I got the cake shoved in my face, in the apparent Bolivian tradition. It was a small but awesome gathering spent with good friends, and I'm glad that I got to spend it with them.

The past couple of weeks haven't gone by especially fast, yet these last two months here in Santa Cruz seem to be flying by. At the moment, I've got 38 days left here.. Which is fantastically scary. I don't know if I'm ready to be going home. I've been gone so long, and gotten so used to living in this house with strangers that once upon a time I hardly knew. I'm still so far away from being comfortable with my Spanish, and just starting to use it now. Obviously what happens happens for when I get back, but I still can't get rid of the nagging feeling that I will definitely miss this place.

I've started going to the gym in the morning. Just a quick wake-me-up that will hopefully loose a few pounds before I get back home.. The summer is fast approaching (at least in Canada) and we all know how painful that Rotary 10 really is hahah. I've also been taking Spanish classes, which are going great. I realize that I work so much better in a one-on-one situation, and am finally getting comfortable with my Spanish (heck, for the first time, I've started speaking to my brother Chris in Spanish haha).

I'm trying to work on my tan in my last days of living in the tropics. My host family took me to the Mariposario the other weekend, which is pretty much a big Butterfly World. It was a beautiful park (I have the photos posted on my photo site) and we got to laze in the sun all day. I've also been trying to get to a pool as often as I can, but there seems to be a ton of rain lately, especially in the mornings, when Chelan happens to be the least busy. I know that when I get home, I won't look white, especially compared to some of you... But I could definitely be a lot darker than I am, and I need to take advantage of living in South America!!

My dad has a friend that is the conducter of a Youth Symphonic Orchestra here in Santa Cruz. When he found out I played the flute, and had some free time, he got me to meet up with the guy to talk about me joining for a while. He was super nice, and when he heard I had 8 years of experience, wanted me to teach hah! I politely declined, but am definitely interested in playing with them. He said he'd lend me a flute and everything, since I failed to bring my baby along with me. I also got to see them perform the following night. Quite impressive, especially since I'm so used to a concert band (no string section whatsoever!). I'll keep you updated on this part of my life since I have yet to practice with them.

We've had a few holidays and birthdays over the past week or so. There was St. Patricks day, which I celebrated with a few exchange students at the Irish Pub (how idyllic, no?). It's not an especially celebrated holiday here, but we had our own little fiesta. Then came up el Día del Padre, otherwise known as Father's Day, here in Bolivia. They celebrate on March 19th because, being a predominantely Catholic country, it's celebrated on el día de San José (Joeph, Jesus' father). We also had my brother Christian's 24th birthday, which involved a lot of cake. It was fun because I invited a few of my friends, and we all ended up hanging out with his friends till three in the morning.

Everything here in Boliva seems to be going amazingly. Which shall lead to a sad ended when I leave, but at the same time, shall leave me wanting more. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this crazy city in Bolivia... and will one day return, hopefully to find everything the same as it was when I left. BUT until then, I shall continue to enjoy myself, and not think of the date that looms in the near future. LIVE IN THE PRESENT!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Week 28

Although it has been quite some time since my last blog post, I've been delaying it since I didn't have too much to talk about haha. I figured none of you wanted to read about my boring day-to-day life after the big trip to Peru :P But I guess I do owe a slight update, just to prove that I have NOT dropped off the face of the planet, or disappeared into the jungles of Bolivia.

After getting back from Peru, on Friday the 13th I might add, I got sick. I was pretty much stuck in the house for a week nursing what I thought could be strep throat. But after going to the doctor, being prescribed antibiotics and then me getting better before taking the medication, I realized it had just been a mean sore throat. I must have a pretty weak immune system, because I got almost the exact same thing after returning from my trip to Brasil. My throat hates me travelling!

It was my six month mark two weeks ago, which I quietly celebrated by myself (being sick and all). Another thing slightly ruined by this bacteria was Carnaval. Normally, girls get invited to go out with the guys so that the girls end up not paying for anything during the four days (and the guys end up paying tons of money). I was sick leading right up to Carnaval, which meant I wasn't out enough to get invited by anyone.. and me being as cheap as I am, decided to NOT pay $50+.

I was a little let down that I didn't get to go out, but in the end it worked out because I stumbled across an application on the SFU website for a bunch of entrance scholarships! Holing myself back up in my room, I spent the next few days working on this application, emailing old teachers and writing essays, hoping that I can get something out of these six or seven different scholarships (ranging from $7000-$34 000).

Since then, I've signed up for Spanish classes again. I started on Monday, and am really excited about them. They're one on one, so I can work on everything I feel I need to work on. Hopefully by the time I leave, I will be at a level of Spanish that I am content with! I've also made some plans to take some cooking classes, but those haven't started yet. I'll learn how to make some local dishes so that I have something to show when I get home!

Other than that, I've been out with friends shopping, baking and doing the usual daily boring stuff. I almost got my necklace stolen from my neck, walking outside my house. The guy snuck up behind me and tried to rip it off me, but I grabbed it and it broke in my hand. I was sad that it broke, and kind of stunned that he just kind of casually walked off after not getting the prize. Welcome to my neighborhood, where I'm scared to leave the house.

I also have had two Bolivian friends come back from exchanges in the States and Germany. One is only back for a week (the other for good) but it's nice to get to see friends again before I leave for the end of my exchange.. Speaking of which, the date looms closer and closer. I think I am now at only two months left. So for the next little while I will be off trying to do all the things I wanted to do while in Bolivia!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Peru Trip

Well, I have officially been to the magical lands of Machu Picchu. As you know from the previous blog, Sarah and her host mom invited me to come with them for a trip to Peru. Her mom wanted to go to Lima, and of course Sarah and I knew there was no point in a trip to Peru without going to Machu, so we convinced her to take a little side trip as well. It was quite the difficult task convincing Rotary to give me permission since it was an out of country trip (even though I didn't have to go through all of this when I went to Brasil), but after a few very stressful days of back and fourth emailing, I got my permission and was off!

We started off in Santa Cruz at 5am. Our flight left at 8, and we had to be there bright and early. Flying into Lima, we had a few days to enjoy ourselves in the Peruvian capital city. We went to a couple museums, just about every church in the city and got to see a symphony in the main plaza. After all this exploring, I found out that it was a very big, busy, smoggy, dirty and huuuumid city. Sadly, I didn't enjoy a lot of my time there. Don't take me wrong, I am pretty grateful that I got to see the city and everything.. I enjoyed the first day or so of wandering around and getting to know the city. After a couple days, the pollution was getting to me and I just needed a change of scenery.

By Saturday, we decided we needed to figure out how we were getting to Cusco. The original plan was to fly if we could find a return flight for $100 or less. Just our luck, we found nothing. The next option was to take a bus to Cusco. It's a lot cheaper (about $30) but it's a 22hr bus ride across the country. By lunch time, we were on the bus... Which was surprisingly nice. Comfy, reclining seats, dinner and lunch, with movies playing the whole way there.

We arrived in Cusco at about 1230pm, and had met up with this woman (just by chance) who was going to help us around Cusco as well as organize our trip to Machu Picchu. We found out there was a tour of the ruins in and around Cusco at 2pm, so we were up and running within half an hour of arriving at the hostel. It was a four hour tour, but we got to see the ruins of Saqsaywaman, Tambomachay (the fountain of life), Puka Pukara and Q'Enqo. We also went to the Santo Domingo convent, which had an Incan temple on the inside (the irony of a catholic church built on top of it) but couldn't go inside, since it was Sunday and they were holding a service. It was an exhausting day that we finished off by going out for dinner to an Indian restaurant (with Indian owners) who had Bollywood music playing the whole time. It made me really miss India, especially after I got my cup of chai.

Got up bright and early for our bus to Ollantaytambo, the halfway point to Machu Picchu where we caught the train. The city below Machu Picchu is named Aguas Calientes, which we arrived in around lunch to be met with pouring rain. We wanted to catch the sunrise at Machu Picchu, so we were going to spend the night and then take the bus up to the site first thing in the morning. I ended up getting sick from the twisty turning road that the bus and train took, so we spent most of the first day sleeping anyways.

We got up at 430am to walk to the bus station that morning. It was drizzling and we were praying that the weather didn't get any worse than this. We met three guys from Brazil, who lived not too far away from where we had visited in December. They all spoke perfect english, and ended up being in our tour group. We were very pressured for time though. The park opened at 6am and our tour was at 8am. Sarah wanted to hike to the top of Wayna Picchu, which is the mountain in the background of every classic shot of Machu but this takes a minimum of two hours and didn't open until 7am (which would make us miss the tour). Not to mention that they only let the first 400 people in climb it and we had to leave straight after our tour because Sarah's host mom wanted to go straight back to Lima.

What we decided to do was get Sarah to Wayna as soon as we could (she was one of the first 400, which filled up within the first hour of it being open) while I wandered around the park exploring and taking pictures. When it was time for the tour (I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to meet up with the group), I realized I had no clue how to get back to the entrance, which was the meeting point. I ran into this really nice quebecois who was also really lost, and we ended up figuring out where the entrance was (he had to pee). At that time, Sarah was running up the mountain, to get her photos and enjoy the view at the top, and then try to find the tour group (I would fill her in on the hour or so that she missed). The tour ended up starting late, and Sarah found us within 20 minutes of the tour. She ended up booking it up and down the mountain, almost passing out on the way. We got through the tour, and just as it was finishing, it started to pour. We had perfect timing.

The original plan we had with the tour guide was to leave Aguas Calientes at 6pm that day so we had time to explore Machu, and then relax and pack up when we got back. But Sarah's host mom decided (once we had bought all our tickets) that she didn't want to leave that late, because she didn't want to spend another night in Cusco... even though Sarah and I had felt like we'd barely spent 10minutes in Cusco. So coming straight from the mountain, Sarah and I ran in the rain to the train station to try and change the time of our tickets. We ended up having to buy more expensive tickets but were leaving within the next hour. Then it was back to running, packing and getting on the train. Arriving in Cusco, within minutes we were at a travel agency booking our bus tickets, which left within the hour.

Since Sarah's host mom had needed to leave that night, we ended up having to spend almost twice as much on the bus tickets.. but this bus was pretty nice. Leather seats, headphones with music and movies. We got back to Lima around 3pm the next day, which was a lot shorter of a ride than when we had gone to Cusco in the first place. We spent the next two days back in Lima as we had before, with Sarah's mom shopping and going to churches while Sarah and I just wandering around. Our flight was late Thursday night, getting into Santa Crux at 3am on Friday. I ended up just going to Sarah's house and then coming home the next day.

Even though this trip wasn't what I expected, having everything being as stressful as it could've possibly been (as well as particularly rushed) I am so grateful that I got another opportunity to see more of the beauty that South America holds. Sarah and I realized that we are the only exchange students that have left the country (more than once may I add) excluding the ones that have switched countries. We have been extremely lucky and this year has made me appreciate this continent immensely. I cannot wait to come here on my own to explore every crevice..

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Week 24

Back from my trip, back to normal life in Santa Cruz. A bit of adjustment time needed, to get used to the whole sitting around and doing nothing business. But I've gotten into the swing of things, and have my life back. Done a bit of pondering. I've realized that people take for granted the art of conversation, of argument. Not only do I now appreciate being able to fully understand every word of a language (even whats muttered under the breath), but also fully appreciate being able to retaliate with anything my little mind can come up with.. arguments even. You really cannot have a good argument unless you have a massive grasp on the language.

Now the past week and a half have flown by. We got back from the trip, and then there was the mental preparation for the upcoming referendum vote. Even had to go to a going away party for two students who were moving to Argentina before the vote. The day of the vote came and went. I remember discussing what the potential outcome was with a few cruceños; no possible outcome other than NO to the new constitution, they knew for a fact. Some of the not so biased opinions knew that there had to be a percentage that the SÍ vote could pass through. In the end, the sí won, and a lot of people from Santa Cruz were crushed. But nothing catastrophic happened.

Then Ethan was in Santa Cruz, to prepare his Brazilian visa (lucky bum, going to Brasil), which kept us busy for almost a week. Everyone got together almost every night to do something, like go out for dinner, or to a concert. I even saw the movie Benjamin Button, which was a pretty good movie. Some of the exchange students are preparing to go back to school (university and high school both start TOMORROW), so we checked out one of the universities. I myself have been chatting with my parents about my options (twice graduated and too old for high school, yet can't take uni courses in case of loss of scholarships).. We've figured that I'll take spanish classes, cooking classes and get a gym pass for the time being. My dad has a friend that is involved in an orchestra here, so I might get involved with that as well.

Then yesterday, my family decided to take a trip to Buena Vista, a little town about 100kms from Scz... for some down time. It was a three hour drive, and we stayed in a little cabaña with friends of the family. It was very chill, with not much to do but lounge in the hammack and read my book (The Satanic Verses, it's finally coming along!). I realized here (although I've had this realization before) that I am living in a tropical environment... It happens from time to time, either lounging by the pool in the swealtering heat and noticing the latin tunes and the palm trees, or reading a description about a tropical land and looking around to see everything described. We were right near a national park (parque Amboró), and I felt it with the green everywhere. I even got to see a tucan (THE most gorgeous bird to ever exist) and cocoa beans. Those made me think about the episode of The Magic Schoolbus, where they go to the rainforest. I am SO close to it all!

Arriving back in Santa Cruz, I am back in the city... awat from the gorgeousness and lushness of Bolivian nature. I now realize it's February and Superbowl time woooo hoooo :\ I now have preparations to make, because Sarah and I are off to PERÚ next week.. MACHU PICCHU, HERE I COME!!!!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bolivia trip pt. 2

As I left off beforehand, we were leaving Sucre to fly to La Paz. We flew in first thing in the morning in El Alto, the outskirts of La Paz. My first impression was that it reminded me a lot of Quito; all the graffiti, the architechture, the homeless. As we drove through El Alto, we stopped for a good aerial view of La Paz, since it's situated in a snug little valley in the mountains. It is a maaaaassive city (even though it has less inhabitants than scz) that spread out all over the place.

When we got to the hotel, our guide Shirley mentioned that we were going to a restaurant that was "100% natural". Looking across the street, we realized that this was a pretty vegetarian restaurant. Sarah and I couldn't believe our eyes, since we'd been struggling pretty hard to get some nutrition into ourselves over the trip. Not to mention that Rotary hadn't really made too much of an effort before this to accomodate the vegetarians. But lo and behold, we feasted on VEGGIE BURGERS, the first since Samaipata, my second in Bolivia... and boy what a treat :) Afterwards, we went to this building that was about 6 museums in 1 (everything from miniatures to war paintings) before we went to La Calle de las Brujas, the witches' street, where all the touristical shopping is done in La Paz. For dinner, we even convincd Shirley to take us to an Indian food restaurant, which was pushing my opinion of food in La Paz towards heavanly.

First thing in the morning, we packed our bags and took off for the drive to Lago Titicaca. It was a three hour drive to the lake, then a 30min ferry ride, and then another two hour bus ride to Copacabana. After the carsickness was over, we all realized where we were. The lake was absolutely beautiful! After a lunch of trout, we hopped on another boat to take us to La Isla del Sol, the sun island (which also has its counterpart, the moon island). It is here in Incan legend, on their respective islands, that the sun and moon gods were born. We took a tour of the few ruins on the island and then hiked to the village, where we would be spending the night.

Shirley had forwarned us that our hostel wasn't as... nice as we'd had before. More modest, with a nice view she said. As we approached our hotel, we realized she's bluffed a little. It was a gorgeous hostel with a view from every room. Definitely the nicest of the trip. Afterwards, we had freetime to explore the island. A few of us decided to hike up to the top of the mountain to catch some shots of the setting sun. I forgot to mention that it was Sarah's 19th birthday, the night we spent on lake Titicaca. We ran into some little girls, who with some convincing, let us borrow their llama for the evening, and we gave it to Sarah. Everyone absolutely loved it! Shirley then pulled me aside, and told me plans to surprise Sarah (my involvement of course involved the distraction of Sarah). I'm not too good at this, but with the help of Dalton, we wandered her around the island for a good hour and then surprised her with a nice dinner and cake!

The next day we started our long hike back to what we thought was the boat launch, but instead was to la fuente del Inca, the fountain, also known as the fountain of life (as I type this, I remember watching the movie the Fountain, and am SO stoked that I went there). We got to bathe in the clean yet freezing water and everyone took a sip for its healing powers. We then walked down to beach, and realized that this was our last chance to get to swim in lago Titicaca. Everyone stripped down to their underwear (Dalton got naked) in front of all the tourists, and then jumped off the pier. It was so cold that my chest started closing up, and I could barely get out of the water. But I had swam in the lake! My one goal I had set long before I had plans to come to lago Titicaca.

We then took our freezing asses back to the beach, scrounged for towels and then took the many hours of bussing back to La Paz. We had more freetime, for shopping and such.. but I had started to feel kind of sick, so I didn't go all out. For dinner we went out to a Thai/Japanese/Indian food restaurant, with further improved my opinion of the food and then back to the hotel for the night. I woke up in the morning sick as a dog. I felt naucious, and every muscle in my body ached. But we were heading to Cochabamba so it was off to the airport we go.

Arriving at the airport, we found out our flight was delayed for three hours, so we decided to just hang around. I realized that my sickness wasn't going away. In fact, it started to get worse, and I was getting a fever. After waiting three hours (me feeling like I was dying) we found out the flight was delayed even more. Shirley, the guide, got all up in the airlines faces and ended up getting them to pay for our dinner. After dinner, I decided that I was on the verge of dying (even my eyelids were burning up) so I took a nap on the floor. I woke up to find out that we had dropped the idea of going to Cochabamba (since we were only going to go for the day, and had spent that day in the airport) and were going to just take a flight to Tarija at 10pm. Then that flight was delayed. I ended up taking some Tylenol to bring my fever down, but still felt like crap. In the end, with a lot of fighting and drama, we got on a flight to Tarija at 3am. It had to have been the single most exhausting day of my life.

Arriving at 4am, we crashed into our beds with only four hours to sleep. Waking up nice and early, we went out for traditional food, which was definitely not breakfast food (but smelled pretty good, nice and spicey). Then we checked out a winery and did some wine tasting, where you could buy a bottle for 20 Bs... evening out to about $3.50 Then we checked out a huge water dam, which freaked me out since there weren't any guard rails, welcome to Bolivia! Tarija all in all wasn't too great, since we were only there for a few hours. But I could tell that it was a gorgeous city. The architechture reminded me slightly of Santa Cruz, in that it was newer than the other cities we'd visited.. but it was a lot cleaner, and prettier overall. It's definitely somewhere I want to go back to, to fully visit the city.

We hopped on a flight back to the horrible airport of La Paz, where we had another three hour layover, and then left for Santa Cruz at 930pm. As we got closer and closer to the city, I realized how excited I was to be back home. I even used that word when I was talking to my real parents. I now feel like scz is my home. As we landed, I realized (amongst the cheering) that there were quite a few other exchange students that felt the same way. It was also quite the change of spirits compared to the first time any of us had flown into Santa Cruz, as scared little exchangers on the first leg of our journey. I now realize how far I've grown the past five months... I'm starting to adjust, and feel comfortable, fully at home. Who knows what I will do with the rest of my four months!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bolivia trip pt. 1

I have now traveled around Bolivia with Rotary, and have quite the tales to tell. This is only the first half of the past ten days that I have been traveling. As I left off, I was in Sucre on the 10th with my family. They had to catch their flight back to Santa Cruz, so my new found uncle Freddy and I drove them to the airport. We saw them off (along with my duffle bag of chocolate presents), and then hung around the airport till all the exchange students arrived about 20 minutes later. We decided to meet up in the hostel, and I went to grab all my things from the hotel in preparation for my trip.

In Sucre, we didn't exactly do anything exciting since I had already seen every possible tourist attraction within 15kms of the city. We walked all the way up to the Recoleta lookout point at the top of the city, and then ventured into the museum/convent for a tour (I sat outside with Ethan, since we'd both seen it before). We also went to La Casa de la Libertad (explains Bolivia's path to liberty), which almost no one seemed interested in.. at least I had an excuse! We were allowed freetime in the evening, and even went out until 2am (even though no one goes to the ONE club until after 130am).

The next morning, we were off to Tarabuco, a pueblito outside of Sucre (about 1.5 hr drive). There isn't a lot there, but they are famous for their indigenous artwork (mostly their textiles). We wandered around, bought a bunch of touristy things, had lunch and drove back to Sucre. We also were joined by two new exchange students, Eva from Germany (living in Sucre) and Danielle from California (living in Oruro). Ethan, the other exchange student from Sucre couldn't come because his club was making him pay all $900 USD for the trip, which pretty much makes the decision for anyone. You could travel by yourself for a lot cheaper. There are also four exchange students in Cochabamba, but they had their own trip at a different time than ours.

We spent most of the evening on a bus to Potosí, which claims to be the highest city in the world, then waited HOURS before we got to eat. I was starving and ordered pasta, even against the warnings of how the altitude and a heavy meal would make me sick. I was actually fine, although I DID take my altitude sickness pills. In the morning we went into the silver mines (where at the moment, they are mining zinc). I've always known that I was claustrophobic (in spaces where I can't turn around), but I must've psyched myself out because the whole trip was spent trying to prevent myself from hyperventilating. We also got to test some dynamite when we got outside with our guides' supervision.

Afterwards, we went to a convent, Santa Theresa, a convent from the 1600s for rich families to send their daughters. Apparently it was law to send your second-born child either into the clergy or to become a nun. This specific convent was very high class, where the girls were sent at age 15 with a dowry of 2000 dollars of the time, to stay for the rest of their life. They were commited to a life of silence, and to never see the outside world. They had two maids that lived with them their whole life, cleaning for them and even burrying them when they died. The whole tour was amazingly interesting, and the convent was beautifully conserved. We then drove the whole night to Uyuni, arriving at our hostel in the middle of the night (about a 6-8 hr drive).

Waking up bright and early, we drove out to the salar de Uyuni, otherwise known as the salt flats. When you get out there it is absolutely unreal. I can't even explain what it was like. Only the pictures can give you a a small idea of what it was like to be out there. After quite a drive out there, we stopped at an island that appeared to float on the horizon, called la isla del pescado (island of fish). Covered in cacti, it was quite the sight after only seeing blindingly white salt. We had an amazingly huge lunch (which consisted of llama meat for the non-vegs). Then we drove back, getting to ride on the top of the car for a while... burning the faces off half of the exchangers. Afterwards, we drove to a train cemetary to check out the rusten engines and back to Uyuni to take the bus back to Potosí.

As like before, the bus was supposed to be a 6-8 hour ride. It ended up being a 12 hour bus ride. The windows didn't open, there were a good four or five cholitas sleeping in the aisles which made it impossible to navigate in the bus. We stopped multiple times, for hours at a time. First to fix the bus, and then to wait out the rain which makes the road almost impossible to drive on. We arrived around four in the morning, absolutely uncomfortable and grumpy that we had to wake up early the next morning.

Five hours later, we were up (without breakfast, since we decided to sleep in) and out in Potosí to see the first place where they started to make silver money, la Casa de la Moneda. It was an interesting tour, and they showed us everything from the first train bringing in the silver, to the machines that were turned by horsepower to flatten the silver to make coins. Afterwards we went out to see some of the little artisan shops around town... and then it started to rain. It started so suddenly, and heavily. Then it started to hail. Not softly either. It was so painful that we were running down the streets. Some of us got separated from the rest of the group, couldn't find our way back to the hotel and opted for a taxi to take us through the flooding streets.

We then drove all the way back to Sucre, to pack up our things and hop on a flight to La Paz, the second half of the journey!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Week 20

This past week, I've been on vacation with my family in Sucre! It is such a beautiful city, amazing architecture, clean... I swear I was destined for an exchange in this city. It's the city of four names, one of them being the White city because all the buildings downtown are painted white. We've done possibly every touristy thing in this town, but it's quite interesting! OMG I'm learning on my exchange ;)

It was hectic trying to get here, because of the weather. It took us over four delayed and cancelled flights, over two days to get here. Apparently, since there are a ton of mountains here, it's difficult to land in Sucre. To add onto that, there was pretty crappy weather in Sucre, which makes it pretty much impossible to land here. But by Sunday afternoon, we got here! I started to realize that I was getting to finally see Bolivia for real. A lot of farming, rural area with brick housing, and the amount of indiginous folk. Walking out of the airport, to 13° weather (brrrrrr) the first thing I noticed were the amount of beggars here. A bunch of kids came up asking ¿regaleme plata? which means, give me money.

This city, since it's one of the capitals of Bolivia, is hugly touristy. There are a lot of tourist agencies (one of which we took a tour around the city with). There are also a TON of gringos here. A lot of the signs in stores are written in English, Spanish, French and German. Very multilingual here. Also, since there are a lot of tourists, there are a ton of vegetarian options for me here.

Since it's such a tourist town, that's what my family has been doing over the past week. I swear that I have hit up every museum, monument and sightseeing thing that there is to see in Sucre. I've seen the dinosaur tracks (it's a giant mountain of what looks like shale, and dinosaur footprints walking up it), went to indigenous art museums, lookout points. I've been on the roofs of two buildings, one being a church and the other being el colegio Don Bosco (the same school as my brothers' in Santa Cruz). I never thought that I would be so intrigued by museum tours, but they've all been really interesting.. And in spanish as well!!

I went to a castle the other day as well, which was really interesting. It was the strangest style though, mixing english, french, oriental, arabic, byzentine plus other styles of architechture, so it ended up looking slightly like a big eclectic looking castle. Part of the castle used to be painted using animal blood, and is now a natural history museum filled with stuffed animals... how ironic?

I've also been to the first, and largest cemetary in Bolivia. It was crazy huge, full of mausoleums and crypts. Lots of presidents and famous liberators had been burried there over a hundred years ago. I had an interesting conversation with my family while we were at the cemetary. My host dad asked me what they usually do when someone dies, if they cremate them (he actually used the word incinerate) which I said that more people have been doing that lately than burrials. My brother then kind of piped in, asking what "incineration" was.. And my dad said when they burn people. He was so weirded out by the concept, and I was very surprised to hear that NO ONE does that here.. I mean, my brother had never even heard of the process before. Then my father asked what they do, ceremonially, when someone dies. I tried to explain a funeral (in my lack of spanish vocabulary).. which he then proceded to explain about how they hold a 24 hr wake etc, the normal catholic procedure. It was interesting, some culteral exchange!

The hard thing about being in Sucre is their accent. Being in Scz, you get used to their lazy way of speaking, dropping the S's at the end of most of their words. Arriving here, I had a bit of a difficulty understanding what the Sureños were saying. Ethan, an exchange student living in Sucre, said the exact same thing about my family and their camba accents.

Been going out a lot, to eat and drink and stuff. I am spending so much money! But Ethan says to justify it by saying I'm on vacation, which I guess I can do. The other night, we were in the cafe, up these really steep stairs.. And for the people that know how clumsy I am, I should've realized that this was a bad idea. I was climbing down them, saying "Dude, I am totally going to biff it down these stairs.." and I fell... flat on my ass, down half the flight of stairs. It didn't help that my sandals had no grip whatsoever on them... I was just sitting there at the bottom of the stairs and everyone in the cafe was staring at me. I looked up at Ethan, and he was crying he was laughing so hard. Now I have a HUGE bruise on my butt, and it hurts to sit down hahaha.

But most importantly, being here with my family has been the best experience of all. I'm not only forced to be speaking completely in spanish, but also learning a ton about my parents and two brothers that came on the trip (Christian couldn't come because he had to work). I've learned that my dad has a very strange sense of humor.. and a horrible sense of direction. My host mom also has a bad sense of direction (they've started calling me their guide, because I can find my way back to the hotel). She is the easiest to talk to, out of my whole family and I think it's because she understands my spanish the best. I've also learned that she loves flowers, and planty type things. I found out that I get along really well with Alan, and that he's a super sweet kid. Oliver has the strangest eating habits out of anyone I've met. He wants to be a big buff soccer player, yet refuses to eat ANY form of fruits or vegetables. He drinks some special power drink every morning, and thinks this is the road to success haha. One day he will learn.

Tomorrow I am meeting up with the rest of the exchange students, and starting on my trip around Bolivia (payed for by Rotary). It's a 10 day trip, around the main cities in Bolivia and I will let you know how it goes when I get back to Santa Cruz on the 19th!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Week 19

Feliz año nuevo a todos!! This is technically my holiday blog post (even though the holidays are over)! Don't be surprised if this is my only post for the month of January either... I've got quite the busy month planned ahead, traveling on two different trips (one to Sucre with my family, and the Rotary organized Bolivia trip). But I'll leave those details for my next blog post... this one is alllll about the Christmas season in Boliiivia!

After getting home from Brazil, I realized that we were really close to Christmas and I had not exactly prepared for it. I had no gifts for anyone, and I had just come down with an intense cold (for a while, I thought I had strep throat).. which doesn't exactly make shopping too enjoyable. I ended up hauling myself out of bed on the 23rd (everyone celebrates on the 24th here) and got all my shopping done in one quick trip to the supermarket! Now, don't think that I cheaped out on gifts, I had some other things that I had picked up in Brazil to throw in! I ended up buying coffee mugs, tea bags and a bunch of chocolates to make... gift baskets I guess you could say (filling the mugs with the goodies) for the crazy tea drinkers in my family. I also got together with Sarah and we made a bunch of Christmas cookies. We made shortbread, banana bread and tried to make gingerbread (but that failed miserably). I don't think I've ever gone a Christmas season without making the shortbread with my mom, so it was a slight comfort having them around.

I know that every Rotarian and/or rebound exchange student says that the holidays are one of the hardest times for an exchange student to get through, but I really didn't feel it at all! I think Brazil really took my mind off things, especially because I came home in a more than positive mood about my exchange. Christmas was over so fast that I didn't even have time to think about it! I also had things like Brodie's fast-approaching departure date and New Years Eve to put my mind on other things.

December 24th, Christmas Eve. The night where everything happens here. We didn't really do that much.. I sat around the house, slowly prettying myself up (which mostly just includes showering hahah). We ate dinner at midnight (you could hear firecrackers going off around the city) at home, with only direct family members (mom, dad, Oliver, Alan and Christian). The meal didn't have a lot that reminded me of a Christmas dinner, other than a turkey (although it might've been chicken for all I know). There wasn't too much for me to eat, being vegetarian, but I survived. After dinner, we went and sat around the tree (I thought at first that we didn't have one, but I found it, hiding around a corner) to open our gifts. I had a major headache from staying up so late and not eating much, so I opted to go straightaway to bed while the rest of the family went to my grandma's house to wish her a Merry Christmas. I stayed home on the 25th, expecting it to be a family day... but apparently that was it, no more Christmas and back to your everyday lives!

These were Brodie's last days here (if you don't know who Brodie is, she is 1/2 of my best friends in Bolivia. She was the one that helped me out on my first day of school since she'd been here since January) so we were trying to make the best out of the little time we saw her. We had a get together at the Cine Center, very last minute.. but a TON of people showed up; all the exchange students, most of our classmates, and a whole slew of kids from the trip in Brazil (there were even a few that we didn't know by name)! It was a great sendoff for Brodie, knowing that she was really loved and appreciated over her year here. That night a few of us went to Brodie's to just hang out and spend her last night together. I slept over, and then we were off to the airport in the morning. Her flight was at noon, so we got up around 8 to start getting ready (and be at the airport two hours early). She called the airport around nine to confirm her flight, and found out that there were no flights at noon, and that her flight actually left at 1030. So we screamed to the airport with her car packed full with family (Sarah and I are considered family haha) and just made it in time. It was a really sad event, and I will miss her so much over the rest of my exchange.

Right after Brodie left, we had a get together with all the kids from our bus to Brazil. It was so much fun getting to see everyone again, even though there was a big hole in the gringa threesome. Everyone spent the afternoon hanging out, swimming in the pool, quite a relaxing day. Sarah and I made plans with a few of the girls, classmates of mine, to go out together for New Years.

I was going to a party in Las Lomas de Arena which are the sand dunes about an hour out of town for New Years. It was an all white party, where everyone dresses in white. I have to add that New Years is quite a formal event here, where everyone dresses up in dresses etc. It's quite the change from the North American ideas of NYE. I stressed a bunch for two days trying to find a dress, but finally found one a mere few hours before it was time to go to the party (yeaaah I'm still really last minute). We took a bus to the event, which was a big nono.. We left sometime after nine, but we kept getting stuck in the sand on the way there... and didn't end up arriving to the party until 1145!! We almost missed midnight! But we made it there in time, had the time of our lives and then drove out to the dunes to watch the sun rise. I dragged myself home at 7am, covered in sand to pass out in my bed for the rest of the day.

I'm now planning my two trips (I leave tomorrow morning for Sucre) and trying to get more details about the Rotary trip. No one has told us anything yet, we haven't even been phoned to inform us oficially that we are going on the trip (and we leave in a WEEK). The Rotary here seems so unorganized! We get home just in time for the referendum, which is on the 25th. A lot of kids are getting moved right around this time... so I guess we'll see what happens. I'm actually starting to get worried, because I don't want to go home. I had a huge realization after Brodie went back home that I wasn't ready at all to go back, if I had to. I'm just praying that everything stays calm and life can stay as is here in Santa Cruz. I am so thankful that I have a level headed Rotary club back home that isn't making any rash decisions, and letting me have control over my situation here. I mean, how can a club back in North America know what the situation is here if they're so far? So many exchange students are being forced out against their will. They don't want to leave here! No one feels like anything will happen here anyways.. But I will keep you updated on my life and the political situation, when I get back from traveling in Bolivia!!