Cochabamba!

Feb 1 (Day 8)

We got into Cochabamba safely. It’s a good thing, too, since we heard the next morning on the TV that there was a landslide in the night that blocked the highway between La Paz and Cochabamba. That would have meant waiting for hours and hours in a long line-up of buses and cars for excavation vehicle151s to come along and clear the debris. Whew!

The trip across the altiplano (high plain) was very interesting and the high road gave us some great views.

Crossing the altiplano

Cochabamba is Bolivia’s third largest city, seemingly more spread out than La Paz and about 1000 metres lower in elevation (2500 metres). It’s warmer here, and more lush in terms of vegetation, with many varieties of palm trees and cactuses, one of which looks like a giant pineapple. We were a bit surprised by this kind of vegetation, given the altitude, but then again, we are approximately the same distance from the equator as Hawaii or Tahiti.

tree or pineapple?The rain comes mostly at night, they say, and daytime temperatures tend to be in the mid-20s. They call it the Spring City. To the north of the city lies the Cochabamba mountain range, part of the Western Cordillera, whose peaks are snow-covered even in summer.  Muy bonito!

We are staying with a host family in a lovely middle-class neighbourhood of small, tiled-roof houses fronted by small but exuberant gardens of hibiscus, jacaranda and other flowering tropical plants. There are wide sidewalks, dozens of dogs in the streets, and small “tiendas” (stores) and/or sidewalk businesses (e.g., a cobbler) on every block. There is very little traffic so it’s very pleasant to get around on foot – not that we have very far to go. The language school is about two blocks away in one direction, the laundromat about two blocks in the other. The homestay includes three meals a day – what a treat not to have to cook, shop, or wash up! It gives us the time to read and blog. (Photo below shows the doorway into Amalia and Canso’s very small front yard)

homestay front doorOur hosts – Amalia and Canso ­– are wonderful (“muy amigable”). They have two grown children, aged 23 and 20, named Paula and Alvarro. Both live at home and attend university in town. Canso is a sociologist and teaches at the private Catholic university, though the family is among the approximately 5% of Bolivians who are not Catholic (they are Mennonite). This means that in less than 24 hours we have already discussed (or heard him speak about, without understanding it all) national politics, religion, the economics of education, the social divisiveness of the current government’s policies, and probably a few other sociological subjects that went over our heads!

Amalia has the back of the house set up to run a nursery school, though she is still in the process of getting licensed, which we understand can take a long time. She takes care of a few children informally during the day, one being 20 months old, another 2 1/2, and one about Felix’s age, though we’ve hardly seen him.  Amalia is a deeply caring person – a nurturer. When she found out today that we were having  the traveler’s you-know-what, she went out of her way to prepare gentle foods for us, including jello.  At dinner, there was also a large bottle of Coca-Cola on the table, which she said was good for tummy upsets. Ironically, it was the first time that Felix had ever had Coke.

From the kids’ point of view, one of the best things about this homestay is that the family has pets:  a dog named Jack, a mother cat who has no name, and three 3-month-old kittens named Millie, Molly and Mattias. Quinn and Felix have spent a lot of time with them, which keeps everyone happy.

Millie, Mattias & MollyQuinn & JackThe meals we’ve had here (not counting breakfast, which is basically just bread with jam and coffee – continental-style) have been much healthier than the food we found in La Paz. Lunches and dinners begin with a nourishing vegetable soup with quinoa and/or pasta, potatoes, carrots, and, often, chicken. People here eat a lot of chicken!  Sometimes the soup base is made from corn and tastes a little bit like creamed corn (which I used to love when I was a kid!) There is coca tea at every meal, but the processed kind (in tea bags). Felix likes it, but Quinn thinks it tastes like weak spinach water.

If you don’t like the food, there are always bananas – heaps of them. You can buy 25 for about a dollar, and they have much more flavor than those at home. There are several varieties widely available, including a very small one that Quinn found too sweet to eat, and a large one that is intended only for frying – muy delicioso!

Speaking of varieties, we were at the market and a seller was boasting to us about how good her potatoes were, saying that there were 300 different kinds of potatoes in Bolivia. I don’t doubt it, since the Andean region is the birthplace of potatoes (and peanuts, for that matter, though peanut butter is not widely available. For that we would have to either go to an American-style supermarket or go to Santa Cruz (where Bolivian Old-order Mennonites make it by hand).

Our first few days of Spanish lessons have gone really well, and the kids have been remarkably willing to go along with their teachers and work out their brains for four hours (including one 30 minute break). We’re thrilled with how keen they are and how studious they are being about their homework (see photo of Felix & Jennie doing homework in the courtyard of the homestay). It’s exhausting to put so much effort into learning a new language!  Quinn says he just wishes he hadn’t learned any French because the similarities are at times so great that they are way more confusing than helpful.

Doing Spanish homework

The language school has about eight very small rooms set up for individual instruction, surrounding a small courtyard featuring a large, pink-flowered hibiscus, frequented by hummingbirds.  There is also a large albino rabbit with red eyes who hops freely about the premises, occasionally retreating into a corner to sharpen its teeth by chewing on a bag of cement (reminiscent of Monty Python’s Holy Grail?!) The school typically receives students who are at the beginning of their travels in Bolivia or South America, so they take it upon themselves to ready us for the rest of our experience. This means, among other things, not providing any toilet paper in the loo, so as to train us to always carry our own…

This, among other experiences, has inspired us to start a list of Bolivia Rules, as well as a Harper’s-type Index, both of which we will eventually complete and post in this blog. For now, stay tuned for the next installment, coming very soon: El Cristo and the Soccer Game…

Old woman walking

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3 thoughts on “Cochabamba!

  1. Oh, I am so happy you are in a familia relax and learn and soak it up. It is so great to hear from you and see pictures!

    It is the first time that I see you and Felix exactly the same! The large fried bananas are so good (platanos) you are right on that! As for poor Quinn I guess to mix Espagnol, English & French is harder if you are English, I see that in Dave as well. Yet it is a bonus if you are French as it flow the same and it feels natural to Latino folks!

    Thank you for all these amazing written adventures; you are truly an amazing writer, did you know that?! I am serious save the stories you could be our little canadian family planet travel book!

    Looking forward for more stories

    Chantal and the boys

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