Bolivian family vacation

Published: January 31st 2013
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Day 1 (Cochabamba-Montero)

The 26th of December my host family's big vacation started. My hostuncle kept saying he would pick us up at exactly 4am and we would leave latest quarter past... he forgot to mention he meant Bolivian time, so although I had my stuff ready at 3:45am, we didn't leave until around 6am. Also it was decided we would get breakfast at our first stop which was after a 4 hour car ride at 10am, so I didn't have anything to eat for 6 hours. Then I was put in one car with a part of the family I didn't even know, so you can imagine how fantastic my mood was sitting in a car tired, hungry and with 4 complete strangers. As it turned out later, however, those people were some of the coolest i have met in Bolivia, so I was happy to ride with them. At 10am I finally got breakfast and was ready to start my day and get to know the passengers of the car. They weren't really related to my hostfam, but the father used to work for my hostmother's husband when he was a boy and was treated by him like a son. They become so close that he would join all the important family events and in the end became part of the family. Same counted for his wife and children who were like cousins for the others.

Because of the crazy rainstorms we had along the way (well, it's rainy season, so it's not like it was unexpected) we ended up driving pretty much the entire day before arriving in Montero where we slept in a beautiful resort. The girls went into the pool and were joined by the boys after they had finished setting up the tent. After relaxing in the pool and playing some volleyball we got ready and then went to Santa Cruz to get some dinner. When we returned it was raining again and the boys who were supposed to sleep in the tent couldn't do so. We ended up sleeping with 22 people in one room with up to 5 people in one Queen-size bed and the rest spread around on inflatable mattresses. While everyone was changing into my pj's my hostuncle came in with some beers he had found in one of the cars and the majority of adults ended up having a beer in bed instead of brushing their teeth. of course I was offered some, too, but I refused. Enough is enough!

Day 2 (Montero-Santa Cruz-San Xavier- Concepción)

Again we had a certain time to be ready and again we were late. This time, however, I was prepared so I couldn't even get mad. Our first stop was the Hipermaxi (a supermarket) in Santa Cruz where everyone could buy snacks and the adults got everything (especially beer) for the grill in the evening. I was put in a different car today, because the kids wanted to switch around. The car I was in had some technical problems and had to stay in Santa Cruz to get fixed so we were 4 people less and the 5th person sitting in there, Mechi, also had to squeeze in with us, so we were 4 in the back row for the rest of the ride. As we drove more and more to the east the nature reminded me a lot of the flora in Rwanda which was absolutely lovely. Suddenly the kids started opening their windows to throw their trash out and I got angry with them. I said: "Bolivia is so beautiful, how can you just throw your trash in the nature?" Mechi: "We are not in Bolivia." Me: "What do you mean we are not in Bolivia? Where are we then?" Her: "I don't know, but it's called something different." The other kids: "Mechi, we are in Bolivia." Her: "No! Don Rene, where are we?" Rene: "San Xavier" Her: "See! Told you it's not Bolivia!" Everyone: "But San Xavier is IN Bolivia!" Then they laughed at her, but I didn't find it funny at all. I was shocked someone I lived with was so uneducated that she didn't even know Bolivia (which she is so proud of) is a country. I tried to explain to her the concept of continents, countries and cities, but I'm not sure if she got it...

In the evening we finally arrived in Concepción where my hostuncle Rene has a house. We unpacked our stuff and moved into our rooms while the men were getting everything ready for the grill. To end another day spent almost entirely in cars we had some nice meat with beer accompanied by music out of Ariel's pimped up car.

Day 3 (Concepción)

This day we were actually staying in one place and were allowed to sleep in. Of course I couldn't do so because if 5 out of 30 people decide to get up early, everyone will wake up. We had breakfast outside because it was so incredibly hot (at least 28ºC) and the guys played soccer against the locals. The girls spent their time playing with the parrot they had there. There was something very interesting about it: The parrot didn't let anyone touch him but Mechi, the little girl who runs the household back in Cochabamba. My hostaunt's explanation for it was that only honest and good-hearted people can touch him, because animals feel if someone is bad. I was only allowed to get close to him, but not touch, so I guess I'm a bad person.

In the afternoon we all went to a lake together to swim. It looked like Mazury, a part of Poland (exept for the palm trees) which ade me feel like I was back home. Then my hostuncle pulled me back into reality when he said "We can only go in a couple of meters, no deeper than our chest. There are piranhas in the deep..." After bathing for a while it started to rain and we had to go back to the house where we grilled again.

Day 4 (Concepción-San Xavier- San Ramon- Asuncion de Guarayos- Trinidad)

After a day break it was time to hit the road again. Once again the alarm went off at around 4am and we sat in cars before the sun came out. Suddenly my hostuncle stopped his car. This always meant there was something interesting on the side of the street and everyone had to get out. The highlight to our right were a bunch of black cows, so everyone got out to take pictures. Later on they all bought cheese on a farm from the cows milk and it tasted really good. Our first real stop was in San Xavier where we had breakfast (I call it breakfast because of the time we ate it, not because of the food. Something that consists of chicken and rice is lunch for me, but Bolivians like a heavy plate like that at 9.30am). After eating and taking a look at the missionary church in the main plaza, we continued our trip with our next stop being Asuncion de Guarayos. When we arrived at the main plaza there the first thing I noticed were the Christmas trees made out of old Sprite bottles. It was some recycling project, but it didnt look too pretty. The drivers used our break to take a nap while the rest walked around to explore the town for a while. What I noticed here (and in the lowlands in general) was that there were no taxis around. The public transport consisted of motorcycle who which would take one passenger only. Before going on our last part of the journey for the day, we had to get gas and since there was only one gas station around and apparentely everyone needed gas, we had to wait 2 (!) hours before all out cars had fuel. There was one line for cars and one for motorcycles, but at both there were at least 30 vehicles waiting. I noticed a bunch of white people (which was something very rare on my trip), but they didnt look like the average tourists. They reminded me a lot of the Amish people the way they dressed, but the men didnt wear beards and they had cars. Patty, the girls from my car, explained to me they were Mennonites.

(The Mennonites are a Protestant group based around the church communities of the Christian Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons(1496–1561) of Friesland (a part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation), who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders. The teachings of the Mennonites were founded on their belief in both the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, which they held to with great conviction despite persecution by the various Roman Catholic and Protestant states. Rather than fight, the majority survived by fleeing to neighboring states where ruling families were tolerant of their radical belief in believer's baptism. Over the years, Mennonites have become known as one of the historic peace churches because of their commitment to pacifism (opposition to war and violence). As of 2010, there are close to 60,000 conservative Russian Mennonites living in Bolivia. In addition to this there are a number of other Bolivians who have converted to Mennonitism. Mennonites living in Bolivia are among the most traditional and conservative amongst all the Russian Mennonites in South America.(from

In the evening we finally made it to Trinidad where after a shower and some English TV I went to bed quite quickly.

Day 5 ( Trinidad- San Ignacio de Moxos)

The next part of our trip would be the most adventurous, so it was decided that my hostmom and my hostaunt would go to Rurrenabaque where we wanted to spend New Years by plane with the "wawas" (it is a quechua word which means baby, in our case the two 3-year-olds). The rest had to go by car. At first we crossed the river Mamore on ferries that looked anything but safe! It seemed like someone had just put together some pieces of wood and was hoping it would float. They transported everything over that river: cars, horses, cows... When we reached the other side I saw what my family meant by saying this road would be an adventure. It was pure mud, at least 30cm deep and the men had to push out the cars that got stuck every few minutes. The crazy thing was that this wasnt the road adventurers would take to have an unforgettable experiance, this was the only road connecting Trinidad and San Ignacio de Moxos, so there were also buses and trucks there. My personal highlight was an ice cream man who was selling his goods while people were waiting on the stuck cars to get out of the mud. I have no idea where he came from as there was seriously nothing around and it is impossible he walked all the way from the next village and his ice cream stayed cold so long, because it was really hot. It is still a great mystery to me how he turned up there. In the end we needed some 6 hours to drive 70-80 km because of the road and all arrived covered in dirt at San Ignacio de Moxos.

While we were staying at the plaza waiting for my hostuncle to find us a hostel for the night I noticed there were a lot of motorcycles riding around the plaza. After standing there 15 minutes I realized the same people came by over and over, so they were just going in circles. I was told thats their kind of entertainment on a Sunday night, they ride in circles and chat with other people on motorcycles until they stop after some hours and hang out tät the plaza. Sounds like a blast to me! After everyone took a shower we went to get dinner and found the biggest bug I have seen in my life. It was as big as a beer can and we were all fascinated by it and took pictures. Again we went to bed early as the following day we had to get up early and reach Rurrenabaque, so we wouldnt have to spend New Years in the middle of nowhere.

Day 6 (San Ignacio de Moxos- Yucumo-Rurrenabaque)

Tody we were under time pressure. It was December 31st and we had to arrive in Rurrenabaque before midnight, so we wouldn´t have to spend New Years in the middle of nowhere. Although we left at 7am and the distance is only about 300km because of the awful road conditions we arrived in Rurre (as it is called in short) at 10pm. On the way my host uncle kept saying we wouldn't make it in time and had to spend New Yers on the side of the road somewhere between Yucuma and Rurre. All I could think of was "Shut up and drive" cause I really didn't want to begin 2013 in Bolivia's middle of nowhere.

When we finally we were given an hour to shower and relax before heading out to a New Years Eve party. We wnted to leave at around 11:45pm to arrive at the party before 12am, but my hostaunt took forever to get ready and we ended up counting down in the patio of the hotel. We exchanged hugs and New Years wishes and finally moved on to the party. There we were all just sitting on our chairs because we were sooo tired, but eventually motivated ourselves to drink some beer and dance. The nice thing about spending New Years in the outskirts of the Amazon is that it was incredibly warm, so I danced through the night in a light summer dress. At 5am my hostmom said it was time to go home and we left to get some sleep.

Day 7 (Rurrenabaque)

After sleeping in we decided the day would be used to relax from all the days spend in the car. We went t a pool which was on top of a hill, so we could see the whole village while swimming. We hung out there the entire day and went back after sunset. It was definetely the hottest 1st of January I ever experienced and it was a bit weird to sit in an outside pool on new Years, because the temperature was unbearable...

Day 8 (Rurrenabaque (Pampas))

We decided we wanted to do a Pampas tour where you sit in a boat going down a river. The tour guide told us we would see dolphins, crocodiles, monkeys, turtles and many different bird. He did not lie! Unfortunately the weather wasn't too good, but having all the wild animals just waiting for you to come by and take pictures was incredible and the weather didn't matter any more. After the first few minutes we got to see the crocodiles and the many birds, later on followed the monkeys. The guide got out some bananas and we were allowed to feet them. Later on we were allowed to jump in the water to swim with the dolphins. I had forgotten my swimsuit, so I concentrated on trying to take a picture of reappearing pink dolphins. It was amazing and everyone who gets to Rurrenabaque should not miss on doing a Pampas tour!!

When we got back to the hotel we went straight to bed as the next day was again one we would spend in the car...

Day 9 (Rurrenabaque- Caranavi)

We left in the early morning once again and spend the entire day on the road. When we reached the Yungas we had a beautiful view and I made my hostuncle stop the car to take some pictures. The journey was rather unspectacular until I looked to the left at some point and noticed we were only about 1 meter away from the sheer. It was getting dark and the road was the most dangerous I have ever been to! If you want to get an impression search for "Yungas road" on! I decided to try to sleep so I wouldn't notice when I die. Fortunately we had very good drivers and all arrived safely in Caranavi that night. We went to bed at 1am and had to get up at 3am, as the road we had to take would be closed later on...

Day 10 (Caranavi- Coroico- La Paz)

We left at 3am and had to go on some of the most dangerous passages of our journey. When we finally made it to Coroico where the tourists who do the "Death Road" end up, we decided to take a break for at least 3 hours, so the drivers could catch up on their sleep. We got breakfast at the market and walked around the little town. I even discovered a German bakery and decided to go there with Patty. Because usually they don't have half of the things that are on the menu, I asked: "Do you have the marzipan cake?" The waiter seemed offended and said: "If it says so on the menu, we'll have it!" So I ordered the cake. We also asked about some other things and his answer was always: "If the menu says so, we'll have it!" He walked away and I said to Patty: "I bet he'll come back and say they don't have one of the things we ordered." And what do you know! Two minutes later the waiter returned deeply embarrassed and said to me: "I'm incredibly sorry, but we don't have marzipan cake. Would you like to order something different?" Just when I thought I got a bit of Germany and they actually had the things you could order, Bolivia got back to me...

On the road between Coroico and La Paz our car broke down again and I had to go in Rene's car again. Mechi was also in that car and the height disease really got to her, so she was puking like every 30 minutes...awesome! When we finally arrived in La Paz, it was decided that my hostuncle and hostaunt from Spain would go back to Cochabamba by plane as they had a family emergeny there, so we went to the airport in El Alto. Once they left I became the new co-pilot for my hostuncle Rene and my job was to keep him awake. We had some interesting conversations and he told me a lot about the family.

In the evening we went to a restaurant, but they didn't have food at the time (ooooh Bolivia..). They had, however, a huge baking sheet with some leftovers, so we ate that while waiting for the actual food to arrive. We played a game and the loser always had to do something the others had decided upon. That way Andre had to sing a song, Jaem had to dance Gangnam Style and I had to sing something in German (I decided on "Peter Fox- Alles Neu"). When we finished eating we still had quite a bit to go to the place where we would sleep. Rene wanted to go there as they had big basins in the rooms which filled with warm water, so it would be the last big attraction on our trip. On the way I was getting tired and wanted to sleep a little, but oh no! I was co-pilot, so whenever I would close my eyes Rene started talking to me to keep me and himself awake. When we finally arrived at the place I was more than happy to finally sleep.

Day 11 (La Paz- Oruro- Cochabamba)

The last day of our journey the plan was to just go back to Cochabamba as the trip was already longer than planned. But then someone got the idea of stopping in Oruro, too. There we ate lunch (a sheep head!), visited Ariel's dad and took a break at the plaza. Oruro really isn't that spectacular, the city looks really ugly with many buildings in the city centre being unfinished.

On the road I again tried to take naps, but whenever Rene noticed I was getting into a sleeping positions he would start a conversation again about the most random things, so I ended up being awake all day. When we finally finally arrived in Cochabamba I was tired, but Patty, Dani, Sergio and I had decided to go out that night, because I would be travelling again shortly after and couldn't go out with them the following weekend. I took a shower and got ready. Then Sergio picked me up at 12am to go to the club where we met Patty and Dani. We were dancing until 4am, because Dani wanted to stay until the end, but at 4 he agreed to leave. When I got to bed I slept like a rock and got up at 2pm the following morning. My hostmom's comment ws "You must've been wasted last night to sleep that long!" The truth was I only had one drink and was soooo tired after this whole trip that I just had to sleep!

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