Lecciones Aprendidas (Lessons Learned)
I remember when learning Spanish, one of the first things taught was how to say the Spanish alphabet. Isn’t the Spanish alphabet the same as English, I thought, this is not Russian. Totally disregarding the lecture, my ears perked up when the instructor gave the example of having to spell your name. All my life I’ve had to spell my name, first and last. You would think with a simple name like Kathy this would not be a problem but then, the K can be a C and the Y an I or IE and thus I’m usually left spelling my name.
So I listened to the lesson a little more intently:
K is “ka”
A is “ah”
T is “te”
H is… ha… no… is “hache”
Y is…. Say again… “e griega”
Over the years I’ve gotten the hang of this, although I still struggle to remember the H and Y. But mostly I had forgotten the whole alphabet thing figuring, I could always write out my name. This was until my most recent adventure of getting replacement prescription sunglasses here in Cochabamba.
Cochabamba at roughly 8000 feet has a brighter sun and amazing weather. After having been here for two months and having experienced only a single day of rain, and few clouds, my super-glue repair job on my old sunglasses was looking a little weak.
And thus one night, always have my strokes of brilliance in the middle of the night; I thought, well if a taxi ride is only $1 and a complete lunch, soup and desert included, only $2.20 it stands to reason that prescription sunglasses should be cheap as well. This was a theory, which at a minimum, needed to be tested. With “insurance” I pay $400 or more for my sunglasses in the US, I couldn’t lose by trying. And so the next morning at breakfast I approached my Bolivian “house mom” Julie about the idea of getting sunglasses. No problem she said. She was busy that evening, but the next night we could go out and see what we could find.
An odd phenomena for us from the US, but as many of you may have experienced overseas, all the vendors of a particular item will be grouped along a single block or couple of blocks; all the furniture stores in one area, all the office supply in another, and kitchen supply in yet another. It can make simply buying a frying pan a nightmare if you don’t know what part of town to look in.
I’ve never understood this grouping idea. How am I supposed to pick one store over the other? Julie showed me how. It’s called dogged persistence. We started at one end of the block and went into every store. I tried on frame after frame (which was another story in that I learned I do not have a Bolivian face – I had a difficult time finding a single frame in a store, where nearly every frame looked great on Julie).
And so there we were, up one street and down the next. Frame after frame; store after store. How much is this frame? How much is that one? Does it include the eye exam? Does it include the lenses? Oh too expensive! I was exhausted. I think Julie was energized.
And thinking we had visited every store in the area, the next morning on Saturday, there were still more. Finally as it would happen, we ended up in almost the first store we had started with. They were “muy caro” and Julie explained that having visited every optical store in Cochabamba that the price had to come down, and it had to include the eye exam and the lenses or we were ready to move on. I was ready to pay.
After many ohs and ahs, and retreats to the back room to discuss what could and couldn’t be done (I felt like I was buying a car) Julie and the sales lady struck a deal. I had hardly understood a thing, other than the fact that Julie would shoot me stern looks indicating that I was not to say a word and play total ignorance. I played my part well.
And that’s when it was time to go see the optometrist. Julie entered the dimmed optometrist’s room with me, just in case I didn’t understand a question. The doctor took my current glasses and measured them to get an idea of my prescription. After she handed them back to me, it was only then that I saw the eye chart across the room. But, it still hadn’t quite hit me that I was about to be asked to read the chart… in Spanish.
The doctor was fiddling with the little round lenses and putting them into an old-fashioned holder so it was like having large spectacles on my nose. There was no fancy machine with a giant arm swinging around having all the lenses magically inside. Balancing the spectacles on my nose, the doctor blocked my left eye, and asked “Please read the chart starting wherever you want.”
And that’s when it hit me; this was more than an eye exam. This was payback for not paying attention in 1st year, actually 1st week Spanish. Taking a deep breath, I thought, I can do this. But then the first letter was a G. G? G is not pronounced in Spanish. Why would the Spanish eye chart start with a letter no one pronounces? All I could think of was “jota” which strangely I knew was J, but not G.
Breaking the ice, I said “En español o inglés?” I was thinking perhaps I can say the letters in English Julie can translate them for me. Ugh. They both laugh and the doctor says “Lo que quieres” - whatever you want. I say G in English. Then I’m back to Spanish, after all I’m not going to be beaten by an eye chart. I struggle through the I’s that in Spanish are E’s and E’s that in Spanish are A’s only to be hit again with an used letter, X. There are only two or three words in the whole language that have X’s in them. I had no idea what X was in Spanish. Beaten, I reverted back to English.
This is a story for my friends who are Spanish teachers out there and need some extra justification when they see their students sleeping through the alphabet lesson. Yes, it could happen to you!
For those who are curious, it turns out G is simply “hey” and x is “equis”. Which I would have known if in times past, I had paid more attention and drunk a few more “dos equis” beers. And the sunglasses, without insurance, but including the eye exam, lenses, and Bolivian negotiation services, cost $125. My hypothesis substantiated.
Me sporting my new sunglasses at Tiwanaku outside of La Paz.
Compañeros de Viaje
We’ve all done it. Decided to go on trips with friends who were really only acquaintances. Or we’ve booked trips with friends that we thought we knew. And it seems, it’s a crapshoot if it works or not. The true test of travel companions are the trips that don’t actually work out as planned.
I was very excited to be going to Villa Tunari and Chapare this past weekend after friends/acquaintances were raving about the reviving qualities of the atmosphere. Anywhere else, those who you meet can stay as acquaintances for years. When traveling abroad, however, these new acquaintances are immediately moved to friend status simply through the shared experience of living/traveling overseas… or so it would seem. Five women, all of whom I’ve known for 3 weeks or less, my friends, were to be my travel partners on our weekend adventure.
The adventure was to head to Chapare for a relaxing two-day trip of sun and pampering. It is true Cochabamba is sunny all the time. Since getting here on July 17th it has been gloriously sunny with seldom a cloud in the sky. It can get cold in the evening requiring the three alpaca wool blankets on the bed. The blankets are required since no one has heat in their homes. Night times are typically in the 40’s, and the days seem to be 70+. So yes, Cochabamba is sunny and warm, and also extremely dry. I walk around will a bottle of hand lotion no more than a foot away at any time. I feel like a horror movie, scared if I don’t keep up with the lotion, a hand might break off in a cloud of dust and skin.
And so I was looking forward to sun, shaded by palm trees and other green flora found in the rain forest, a little humidity in the air, and a dip in a hot spring or two. All of this was promised to me along with a visit to an animal rehabilitation center with monkeys running loose. This from my friends who only two weeks before had been to Chapare with mouth-watering stories about the fish to be had… to be eaten, enough pollo y carne, pescado mi favorito. Surubi, Bolivian catfish, is found locally in the region, as is farmed trout. And so, we were set to meet Saturday at Plaza Sucre at 8am to catch a taxi to catch a trufi to take to Tunari.
After work on Friday evening I was walking home against a blustery wind, dust in my eyes, dodging paper and other blowing litter. This was a first. There were dark clouds collecting on the tops of the mountains surrounding the Cochabamba valley. There were strange clouds hanging over the valley floor formed by escaping the ones caught on the mountains. It finally felt like the winter it was purported as being in the southern hemisphere at this time of year. Going out Friday night, my friends and I confirmed the meeting plans for the next morning.
Sun, hot pools, cheap margaritas and grilled fish. I was already there as I was packing my camera backpack with a makeshift bathing suit of shorts and a camisole, a pair of capri’s, an extra shirt and of course sun screen.
The next morning as I was sipping on my freshly made jugo, my new house mom commented that it had rain. I jokingly said “No lo creo”, I didn’t believe it. Why would I? I’ve been here for exactly one month and it has never hinted at actually raining in Cochabamba. And so confidently, I headed out with my Teva’s on (socks also on – but ready to be removed at a moments notice), sunscreen pre-applied, excited about a new outing.
Meeting at Plaza Sucre it started spitting raindrops. Taking a taxi (a small Toyota wagon – 1 in front, 3 in back, and 2 scrunched in the rear all with backpacks) in ten minutes we were at the trufi stop. Still spitting rain with glimpses of sun, we felt lucky to quickly get a trufi, a minivan holding 8 including the driver. And so six of us women piled in the seats in back. And then the rain started. The further we got out of town the more steady it rained.
Tunari is any where from a 3-4 hour drive depending on traffic, road condition, and driver daredevil quotient. At about 1½ hours into the drive we stopped along the road for a bathroom break. The driver waving somewhere ahead indicated there were public bathrooms. As soon as he slid open the side door of the van I knew we were in trouble. Hit by driving rain, sliding in roadside mud, and getting indiscriminant finger pointing towards non-existent bathrooms, I left and returned to the van unsatisfied. By the time we piled back in the van, wet and shivering, we were talking about a possible plan B for the weekend. Plan B - get to Tunari, have a nice lunch, evaluate the weather conditions, and if necessary return back to Cochabamba.
Luckily our driver was not a daredevil, however having to go from pavement to gravel, avoiding rocks, and passing semis/lorries on the road, made for a long ride. As the road headed into the cloud forest, it quickly became apparent that a nice lunch would be the only outing of the day.
At 12:30, sitting down to lunch, in one of the many open-air restaurants (as they all are), we each made a trip to the bathroom to put on all the layers of sunny-warm weather clothes we had brought. I had a tank top, covered by a t-shirt, covered by two tissue thin tops under my raincoat. My socks clinging to my feet were doing their best to keep me warm in my Tevas. No, replied the waiter at the restaurant, they did not serve any hot drinks. Lemonade was ordered. But, quickly hot plates of Surubi and various beef dishes came. And for a moment we forgot our cold and enjoyed a nice lunch.
Standing up from lunch, I was quickly reminded of my damp state, my feet hurting with each step from the cold. But, we all in good humor, made our way back through the mud to the trufi stop. Standing our ground in the chaos, thanks to our 5’9” gringa towering over the Bolivians she was able to politely snatch the spiral-bound notebook, which got your name on a list to be called, which allowed you to get on another list and to pay, which finally got you assigned to a trufi.
And so after a 3½ hour drive and 1½ lunch, we piled back into the back two seats of another trufi and head back to Cochabamba. Riding back, while we all drifted in and out of naps and shared snippets of each other’s life stories, I was thinking what a great group of travel companions. The trip was more wearisome than it was fun. There were some beautiful vistas through the rain and clouds. We all laughed at our predicament and at our luck of traveling on the one day it was truly winter in Cochabamba. We bonded and I laughed at the luck of meeting such a great group of friends.
On Saturday we took a trufi taxi to the small town of Tarata. The attraction was that it was supposed to be colonial in architecture, which it was. The adobe buildings had cute balconies, a pretty central plaza with appropriate statue, and a large church at one end. There were strange balls on the power lines which were perhaps birds nests. Market day isn’t until Sunday and so being there the day before, the town was quiet. I suppose it’s like that most days; quiet.
For me, and perhaps many of us, it was just nice to get a way from the hustle of Cochabamba. I’ve been in Bolivia now for almost four weeks and it was my first time out of town, just to relax. I didn’t feel like taking my large 35mm digital camera and instead went with my small Flip video camera. Feeling inspired I took some video out the window of the trufi as we sped along trying to capture the action along the road heading out of Cochabamba. It was a nice idea but I have to work on execution. I took some video of the peaceful town and a pretty little convent, where I was lucky to experience my cleanest bathroom in Bolivia. After all, it just makes sense, “cleanliness is next to godliness”. (I am trying to upload the video but at the reduced size of 29MB tumblr is telling me 57mins on my internet pipe… hmmm)
But in feeling inspired again, I was thinking how is it that I’ve been in Cochabamba for almost four weeks and haven’t been inspired? Yes, it true I’ve been getting settled in; getting settled at home and at work, busy figuring out food stores versus markets versus street vendors. I’ve been busy prepping for and attending 2-hour private Spanish classes every Mon/Weds/Fri. And last week, I was busy attending a weeklong seminar at the local UMSS, Universidad Mayor de San Simon, regarding energy regulation. It went from 6:30-9:30pm+. Yes, I’ve been busy!
But, it’s not all chores. Last weekend we had a going away party, a despedida, for one of the volunteers. We started at a restaurant, moved to a bar and ended at a disco until four in the morning. On July 4th those of us from the United States (you can’t say Americans here because we are all of the Americas, North and South), threw a BBQ. We made fresh hamburgers (no pre-pressed/pre-cut), guacamole and of course had hot dogs as well. We had sparklers and real fireworks, which are outlawed certainly in Oregon and likely in most states. And last night, as most weekends, several of us tried a new restaurant. We’ve been going through Sustainable Bolivia’s recommended restaurant list. Two weekends ago I had a huge filet mignon for 56 Bs (8USD) and last night I had steak medallions (2 tasty mini steaks), baked potato, salad and a beer for 42 Bs (6US). Both times I brought home leftovers for another meal.
And so yesterday, visiting Tarata I was feeling inspired again. That sense of discovery, wanting to know more then just what I was seeing on the surface, of opening my eyes to see the world and using the rigor of photography/video to structure the curiosity. Over the last few weeks, instead of feeling invigorated and open, I’ve felt drained and closed. I’ve been wondering if perhaps, I’m too old for this. Am I too old to be in a shared housing situation where old is being 32 years of age and I’m in my 40’s? Am I too old to be learning a new language? It’s taken my 40 odd years to finally feel comfortable in my own language. Am I too old to be changing careers again trying to compete in the hot green energy industry with kids graduating with university degrees in industries that didn’t exist when I was in school? Or maybe, I’ve just gotten too comfortable?
One thing I’ve learned through all my years, is that persistence and dedication pays off. Some people make it look easy. It seems like they arrive on the scene with it all figured out. They go from learning something new to being at an advanced stage in 6 months. Recently before leaving the states, I heard a report on NPR talking about genius and many of those we might place in the genius category are really obsessive. Obsessive is my word. If I remember the report correctly, the research showed in fact, practice does make perfect; obsessive practice. And some of us (uhm uhm) may not be practicing as much as we like to believe.
Last week, when I attended the energy seminar given entirely in Spanish, I was struggling to understand much of the spoken lecture. I decided rather than beating myself up about not understanding, it would be better to read the slides and record words I didn’t know. I now have a two-page list of new vocabulary words. And as I was bemoaning the fact that I was still at such a level of inadequacy, a fellow volunteer from Spain told me how he went to France to study at the university and for two months sat in class from 8 to 5 not understanding a word.
Yes! This is why I’m here. This is work. This is living overseas not traveling overseas. I’ve realized, this time my inspiration won’t be the constant gratification of the next site on the tour. This time my inspiration is in the incremental progress I’m making. Such as when, we went to the archeological museum here in Cochabamba and I could understand most of the signage. Now when I can understand my fruit vendor and make change to the last centavo with out thinking about it. And soon when I can start moving words on my vocabulary list from the words I don’t know side, to the words I do know. This is my inspiration; one-small step at a time.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t get inspiration from around town, from the environment in which I’m living and the people I’m meeting. I’ve written about some of this before when I was in Peru. I continue to wonder about the almost caste like system between the vendors on the streets, the vendors in the markets, and the purchasing public. I’m amazed by the outward appearance of chaos exemplified by what I’m convinced is gridlock in the streets until somehow the cars and the town starts moving again. And again those small wonders. Just today I noticed a fruit tree I hadn’t seen before hidden behind a wall. Climbing right next to it was an even taller 15+ foot cactus with various bulbous growths. I’m hopefully they might flower. Wouldn’t that be beautiful? There are small inspirations everywhere. Sometimes it’s just that you have to remember to look for them.
Mi Primera Semana en Bolivia Como un Voluntaria - Parte II, en campo
My First Week in Bolivia as a Volunteer – Part II, in the countryside
I left you in Part I-Day 1 at the point at which I had just agreed on my second day as a volunteer to head out into the countryside to see a solar panel installation. Part II-Day 2 has three basic themes: food, fire and electricity, not necessarily in the order.
The day roughly went like this:
7:05 Along with one of the other American volunteers, I walked to our NGO, where we met two employees. It was a quiet walk, there are significantly fewer taxis to dodge at 8:05.
7:30 On the dot we were picked up and drove to do an exchange of a small SUV for a one.
8:00 We headed south out of town and it was the first time I saw the sprawl that is Cochabamba. It really brought home the reason for high density living, a concept that my city of Portland, Oregon preaches. Cochabamba has mostly two and three story homes. Newer buildings are being built with 7-10 stories. And there is a small section of high rises in what I think is the business hotel district. I haven’t made it there yet. Cochabamba is a city of roughly 1.5 million people; statistics vary from 1.2 to over 2 million. Thus if you don’t build up you build out and that is what they’ve done only restricted on the sides by the Tunari and San Sebastian hills and the Alalay lagoon to the South. Cochabamba is at 8392 ft. and while I’m doing the stats; it’s average temperature in the winter is 61°F and in the summer 78°F. It’s picture perfect other than the fact that it’s so dry, at least now in the winter. It sounds like the rainy season causes other issues.
Driving south of out of town, it strikes me how really dry the area is. It seems to be more than dry. We’re going against traffic out of town. The way in is bummer to bummer. The dry breeze is in my hair, my sunglasses are on, sun block as well, and I’m headed to places unknown.
Before coming to Bolivia I was told by a good friend that he never saw a paved road while in the country. I assumed this was somewhat of an exaggeration and was pleased to find us zipping along an asphalt paved highway. As we left Cochabamba we paid our toll enabling us to use the paved road leading south out into the countryside. We would hit other tolls some less formal and more questionable.
9:00 Before long we headed into a small town. It was a maze of adobe walled, single car width streets. There was no signage for right of way or for which way. As far as I could tell, from the back of the truck, possession was everything. If a car happened to be on the street, in whatever direction, it claimed the block. Every street looked like the same seemingly unmarked cobblestone street, and so after a couple of pauses and one small detour, we parked the truck and arrived at an open-air market, itself just waking up, for desayuno (breakfast). My first challenge of the day.
The juice lady. This wasn’t the lady you see on many street corners in central Cochabamba, and in many South American countries, standing ready to freshly squeeze oranges or mandarins into individual plastic cups (45¢). This was the lady with the 5 gallon bucket with a milky transparent liquid and four large somewhat gourd-like hard shells. That’s four shells for everyone who came before us and for everyone who would come afterwards. OK, Now what… The Bolivian’s were already downing their drinks while I weakly smiled accepted my shell, meanwhile contemplating the consequences. Would I at least be able to make it through the day before some unfriendly bug could knock me off my feet? Pleasantly, the morning pick-me-up was ever so sweet, slightly warm and surprisingly refreshing. Later I learned from my Spanish teacher (who identifies everything for me later), the drink is called Linaza (according to google translator this is linseed) and the shells are called Tutuma (no specific translation, simple nut).
Done, quickly we crossed the yard to get what I thought was lunch for the day, 20 empanadas. I have to say I’ve been disappointed with the empanadas here versus Argentina. Here it’s queso and picante. Queso, cheese filled and picante, a queso empanada with something to make it a bit spicy. Luckily, being lactose intolerant, filled is too grand of a word. There is a cheese coating on the inside, which is a small enough amount for me to handle. I do miss the pollo, verdura, and carne empanadas of Buenos Aires. But Bolivia is actually known for it’s Salteñas, which I have yet to try. Someone described them to me as mini pot-pies. Perhaps I just need to try the local favorite.
9:30 We’re back in the truck and the asphalt paved road at some point had changed to very tightly constructed, flat cobblestone. As we head out of town I’m amazed as the road continues to be cobblestone. It must have been hand set. The road was smooth, flat and flowed with the curves and grade changes all in a very tight weave of stone. An engineering feat and beautiful; the best of both worlds.
Now the real driving begins. As we head out of our adobe walled pueblo, we drive up and down, around and over. No tunnels but a few dry creek beds with no bridges. Everything is a reddish brown. There are a few cows in the fields, small one or two room adobe huts with thatched roofs. On the road people are in traditional dress driving cows or sheep, and dogs lie in wait to chase the truck trying to nip the tires. We drive passing through several small towns when suddenly it appears that we are looking for a specific place and I’m thinking this is it. This is where our escuelita (small school) is. I’m a little surprised because it’s in the middle of a good sized pueblo. But no it turns out, we’re here for lunch.
I mentioned one of the themes for today’s blog was food. My administrative NGO, which set up my volunteer position noted to always be sure to have food and water. You might get stopped by a road block, have a flat tire or have some other unforeseen delay, and be without for awhile. And so the night before I diligently packed two of my power bars (one to share), and two small packs of M&Ms (perhaps one to share). Yet four hours into our trip we hadn’t yet arrived at our destination, but it was time for lunch.
12:30 Lunch. As I mentioned I’m lactose intolerant and so I get very nervous when I see anything creamy in texture or color. Again in the local market, we decided to stop at one of the soup tables. Asking what the local favorite was, I was presented with mani soup. Now, I know, it’s simply peanut soup and that mashed peanuts is likely what gives it, it’s creamy color. At that time however, I was adding up my ingested transgressions. My companions reassured me that the soup did not contain any form of dairy. I put a couple of extra tissues in my pocket for a panic bathroom stop.
The soup was tasty. Our companions at the picnic table were two campesinos who had already worked a hard day, dusty, hungry with drawn but friendly faces. And after buying a kilo of mandarins we were in the truck again.
13:00 Still on cobblestone, we went up, along single lane cliff side curves honking to be sure no one was coming in the other direction, and then all the sudden on a wide spot in the road a “descanso technical” was called. It took me a moment to understand but as the men piled out, I set the grounds rules. Men towards the front, women, that would be me, towards the back. I’ve had to pee on command before. I’ve had to pull up along scrub brush before. But all of this was twenty years ago. But here I am with my pants down next to the tallest piece of vegetation, measuring at most 4 inches in height and trying to relax so as to pee. When it occurs to me that the world is a small place. Descanso technical sounds a lot like the euphemism used in corporate America, when in one is in one meeting after another and finally someone calls Bio Break. I relax and I was thankful I had stuffed a tissues in my pant’s pocket.
Of course for me the entire trip was of site-seeing interest. This was my first time in rural Bolivia. And little did I expect an official viewing point on what was now a dirt road. But sure enough there was a small wooden structure with a metal roof for shade from the sun. Your gaze was directed across the valley from which we had just come to a very old bridge crossing a high narrow gorge. Story has it Simon Bolivar, El Liberator, crossed this bridge on his way to winning independence from Spain in the 1820’s.
Onwards and always seemingly upwards we continued to cross numerous dried river beds. We passed corn and potato fields. We almost ran into two bulls when they didn’t honk back as we came round a tight turn. We stopped and asked for directions. We crossed one major river that was running at 1/3 of its capacity. And in a blink of an eye after four-wheeling and traveling no more than 20 mph for the last hour, we were there.
14:30 “There” doesn’t really have a name. There is no town, but there’s a very nice small school named: Uchama Alta, in the municipality of Mizque (Mizque was where we had lunch - 156km from Cochabamba per Googlemaps). And sure enough there was a single solar panel installed roughly 7 years ago to power lights, and then the larger system around back which is what we were there to check. It was a new installation. The larger system was comprised of a 6 panel array with a small wind turbine. The system supports 6 school lights, 5 computers, a printer, a telephone and router for the internet later, a refrigerator and perhaps more. For those interested, I don’t know the wattage on the panels, but on the circuit drawing of the control panel seemed to add up to a total possible 1000W load.
The installation overall looked constructed to specification. We did however find that 3 of the 5 computers would not boot up properly, although successfully networked. It was unclear what the booting issue was, but a configuration issue certainly didn’t help in that the OS assumes access to the internet. A small group of campesinos or comuninarios gathered as well as the instructor for the school. They were run through the basic troubleshooting steps, maintenance, and contact information should they have problems. It was a mix of instruction in Spanish and the local language of Quechan found up and down the Andes. Seemingly the children only spoke Quechuan and/or they did’t understand my Spanish when I asked if I could take their picture. They were very shy, but when I did take their picture and showed them, they were thrilled to see themselves.
Roughly 3 hours later, things were wrapping up when one of the comuninarios brought over a 2 gallon bucket. I was thinking as part of the maintenance something needed cleaning, but then I noticed the tutuma in his hand (the little girl has one in her hand in the picture). It was time to share some jugo de maiz (not the fermented chicha). And so while the shell was passed around and I decided to stop worrying and enjoy the experience. I also prayed that my Peruvian childhood would provide me some form of immunity. And yes, it again, was a very refreshing and pleasant drink after a long day.
17:30 We were off yet again. No stopping for dinner this time. The empanadas were passed around along with the mandarins. One more pee stop, one more stop for gasoline (stopped on the way) and a stop for soda pop. Otherwise it was solid driving all the way home.
Apologizes as this blog is well over my targeted length, but I couldn’t stop without including the last theme of the day, fire. Not electrical fire thank goodness, but the old fashion man-made kind. Every June 23rd, the same day of this particular adventure, is the day of Festival de San Juan. In the southern hemisphere this is near the shortest day of the year and is by declaration in Bolivia the coldest day of the year. In celebration bonfires are lit and families gather to share music, games and to ward off the cold. This has actually been outlawed in recent years due to the left over smog in the various city valleys, but not many seemed to pay attention out in the country. There were huge bonfires on the hills in varying shapes. The road back to Cochabamba was lit by small fires, families, fireworks and sparklers. I felt like everyone was celebrating and lighting my return home as I enjoyed the end of a long day. 22:00