A hectic few days! Arriving in Bolivia

Originally we were supposed to have about a week in La Paz for orientation and to get acclimatized to the altitude before heading to Sucre.  But plans change, and after a crazy 2 days of travel, we had to spend most of the next week travelling as well!  It was definitely a whirlwind but I think we handled it pretty well.  Although I’m normally a very organized person who plans everything to the last detail – Steve and I are both pretty good at going with the flow when necessary….

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Views of La Paz and El Alto on the way to the airport.

The day after we arrived in La Paz, we had training.  We got up, had breakfast in the hotel, and were picked up by the same taxi driver as the day before.  He took us 10 min down the road to the Cuso Office.  We were introduced to everyone, which was really nice because we’d already been emailing for months, and it was great to put a face to a name.  We grabbed some coca tea (for the altitude) and sat down to a full day of training.

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Left: Newspaper article from La Paz – showing the unlikely snow that re-routed our plane to Santa Cruz. Right: A poster in the Cuso office – a lot of their work here focuses on genders and different ideas of masculinity.

Normally training lasts about 3 days and includes lots of breaks, city tours, and such – but they had kindly offered to give us a private session so that we could do it in English instead.  This was much appreciated, since my Spanish isn’t great and Steve hadn’t taken a single lesson (only read through a few phrase books).  It was a long day, but we got through all the important forms, finance stuff, safety risks in Bolivia, health issues, gender issues, etc. with all of the various members of the staff.  We even went out for a nice lunch and were able to get Bolivian SIM cards and photos that Cuso could use to secure us a visa.

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Views from the plane between La Paz and Sucre – very mountainous.

That night we had free time to explore if we wanted, but instead we ordered room service and repacked our bags.  We turned on the heater and went to bed early – we were totally exhausted.  Originally we were hoping to only open our carry-ons, but there was so many things we needed in the various bags that we ended up having to repack anyway.  We had breakfast at the hotel and lugged all our bags back down 3 flights of stairs, then waited for the taxi.

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Finally arrived in Sucre.  Did you know it’s in a desert, with many different types of cacti in the surrounding hills?

The next morning, the same taxi driver picked us up and drove us to the airport in El Alto (about 45 minutes away).  Since once of our bags ripped a lot (we had taped it in Canada, but they cut open the tape at security in Santa Cruz) we got that one wrapped.  We also had to pay for the extra weight, but thankfully it was only $1 per kg, so it ended up being around $60 for 60kg of extra baggage (because it was a local flight we were only allowed 1x20kg bag each). We met up with Hannah and got all checked in. She wasn’t sitting with us, but we all got on the plane. There was a small snack and we arrived in Sucre less than an hour later.

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The landscape surrounding Sucre.

Once at the new Sucre airport, we collected our bags and hopped in a taxi for the 40 minute drive to Sucre, and our temporary place. We unloaded all the bags, and Claudia (our new landlady) gave us a tour of the house.  We brought all our bags upstairs, and then went for lunch with Hanna (from the Cuso office in La Paz), Boris (my coworker from Venezuela/Cuba who had arrived 3 days before), and Leo (another Cuso volunteer who has been here for 6 months and hooked us up with the place at Claudia’s).  We had a nice lunch and then Steve went back to our apartment to chill.  Hanna, Boris, and I went to the Escuela Taller (my workplace) to meet with my boss and sign the contracts.  Then I went home to chill and unpack.

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Our room! Love the big windows and sloped ceiling.

Friday night, Leo offered to show us around the city, which was really nice of him.  We met in the main plaza around 7, and he showed us the central market.  We stopped in to a sort-of cafeteria area with many different stalls and got some hot, corn drinks (it’s called api morado – and you can have it mixed with water or milk), and baked goods.  Then we explored some nearby shops, and walked around most of the main city. We stopped in Parque Bolivar for awhile, to watch the different groups practice their dances for the upcoming festival in September – it was really cool to hear all the marching bands.  Then we all went home, and agreed to meet up later for drinks.

A preview of some of the music/dancing we experience on a weekly basis in Sucre.

We were going to the Irish.  To be honest, when we first arrived, we weren’t sure if “the Irish” was like a nickname for our house, since it seemed that they might have big parties there (due to the set up of the common area), but it turned out “the Irish” is a nickname for an actual Irish bar called O’Finnigan’s – where Claudia works, and it’s only about 2 blocks from our house.  Leo took us over, and we met a bunch of his friends who were from all over the world and spoke a mix of Spanish, English, French, and probably other languages.  It was great to meet some other people, and I was super happy that they had cocktails (though I would regret this later).

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First arriving in Sucre. This plaza is right in front of my office/school and it’s about a 15 minute walk from my house – pretty good commute I think 🙂

I had a mai-tai with everyone else, and then it was so delicious that I ordered a second.  Little did I know that this drink had about 5-6 shots in it, but just tastes like juice.  I don’t remember much after that, but at least I decided to go home before I did anything embarrassing, and I had a good time with my new friends.  Steve was nice enough to take me home and help me get ready for bed before I passed out.  Not exactly how I planned to spend the first night in my new city!

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We spent most of Saturday in the room, in the dark….

On Saturday we were hungover (embarrassing!), plus a bit jet-lagged and dealing with altitude – so we literally slept all day.  We didn’t go anywhere or do anything, we just stayed in bed, ate a bit, read a bit, and started sorting our bags for our trip the next day.  We didn’t leave the house all day, and that was exactly what we needed!

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Left: Most taxis in Bolivia have some sort of damage to them (usually a cracked window or dented bumper), and no seatbelts! Right: Two flighst were boarding at the same time, and we actually had to cross paths with the passengers from the other destination to reach our plane – confusing!

On Sunday we just slept in and chilled some more.  I had to negotiate with Leo for what time to leave the city, since he wanted to do laundry before our flight.  I told him to pick me up at our house, since it was on the way to the airport. Eventually he agreed to an earlier time, but only if I met him at his house (which is also where Boris lives).  Of course, they weren’t ready, and there was a festival nearby so all the streets were closed.

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Views from the plane between Sucre and Cochabamba.

Eventually a taxi driver he called showed up and we all piled in.  I think he felt a bit bad when we drove right by our house, but oh well.  We made it to the airport on time and checked in together. We then had to go to the payment desk to pay some sort or airport tax that’s not included in the ticket price (for some reason).  Then we waited for our flight by the gate, while I got some water for the flight. The others were super thirsty but refused to pay airport prices.

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Left: First view of Cochabamba from the plane. Right: More cacti around Sucre.

One of my colleagues is a bit afraid of flying, but he was in a row with me and Steve and he did a great job of not freaking out. It was kind of cool to be in the front row, because we could see the flight attendant closing the giant door of the plane.  The flight was only about an hour, but we still got a snack, and it was really cool to see the views of the mountains and the desert below us.  Because Bolivia is already so high above sea level, the planes actually don’t fly that high above the ground (compared to normal) and you can see the landscape for the entire flight.  The clouds you see are even at about the same height as the mountains, not way above the earth and below the plane as you would expect.  When we arrived, it was also cool to be in the front row.  After we landed, they pushed a tall staircase up against the plane.  Then a guy climbed the staircase and knocked on the door of the airplane (just like a house). Only then did the stewardess open the latch and let everyone off the plane.

Check out my next blog (coming soon) to learn about what we did in Cochabamba.

Read the rest of this story in my previous few blog posts:

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About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
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