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Bolivia revisited October 2013 by Mary Georgas

After a long anticipated wait and many years of promising my daughter that we will go to Bolivia, we eventually flew out on the 5th of October. We were so excited and beside ourselves. After a very long tiring trip we arrived very early before 6am at La Paz airport to be greeted by the ever-dedicated Jeanette, Freddy and his wife  Gloria. Altitude sickness and jet-lag had already set in for me so I was feeling terribly sick but Yiana was fine thankfully so I couldn’t really enjoy the drive into town but Yiana was so excited and was taking in the sights with great enthusiasm.

After both of us sleeping straight for 12 hours we got up to venture on out first outing that evening which was basically to familiarise ourselves and find a supermarket. It felt so surreal and we couldn’t believe we were there. The next morning I felt fine so we set off to explore the city and walked into town from our apartment in Sopacachi. It seemed much the same to me as it did 17 years ago but was still amazed at the contrasts of our lives and very different cities. Yiana was very overwhelmed by it all and kept taking photos non-stop.

La Paz is such a busy colourful city, which never stops so it took some time to get used to the streets and traffic and being cautious as drivers do not stop for anyone even at pedestrian crossings! Thank god for the zebra crossing characters that help and entertain pedestrians!   

We already knew this was going to be a trip we would never forget and I thought it would be special doing this together with Yiana before she set off doing her own things with friends or future partner.

Visiting Hogar de Fatima orphanage (where Yiana was from) for the first time was so overwhelming and emotional. As always it is so sad to see the children and so hard not to want to hold all of them and take them home. Yiana was visibly upset especially visiting the room with the 1 year olds and under.

Seeing the conditions and all the children reaching up waiting to be picked up and we didn’t know which one to grab first. Beautiful faces yet sad and wanting love and nurturing, these images are forever attached in our minds and hearts. The orphanage looked the same as it did 17 years ago except for a couple of newer small buildings erected and funded by ACC donations.

We returned a few more times to volunteer in the room with 1 year olds. It was so rewarding yet hard to leave them at the end of out shift. The staff would get upset that we picked them up and cuddled the babies and discouraged us of doing so. I can understand that because of lack of staff they cannot do the same but it was so difficult not picking them up, their beautiful little faces would light up and stretch their arms out when we came into their room.

Another time the 5, 6 and 7 year olds had a school presentation, which was fun and highlighted the fact that at least the children were getting some education. All these proud children showed us their work and achievements. We visited Carlos De Villegas orphanage that was pretty full too but better maintained and you could tell the children were better cared for.

The staff and sisters were very lovely and showed us around the whole home and we spent a few hours there and we were told they have a new system in place helping teenage girls get through college or university and accommodating them there at the home.

We did the touristy things too and caught the red double decker bus around La Paz and it did a route down to San Miguel and Lunar Valley. We also travelled to Isla de Sol at Copacababa and Lake Titicaca which was beautiful, did lots of walking and steep climbing with our own tour guide who was very knowledgeable and helpful.

Another time we visited Tiahuanaki ruins and towards the end of our stay we went on a 2 day tour of Corioco, in the south of Yungus, about 3 hours out of La Paz, which was an amazing, pretty, tropical village with lots of green mountains and cascades. It was about 28 degrees but when we left the next day to get back to La Paz it was raining so we had to use the Dangerous death road, Yiana said I looked so white and sick as I was so petrified the whole trip. I kept thinking we were going to go over the cliff. I don’t know how the thrill seeking bike riders do it, it’s so scary. Finally back on the bitumen road safe and alive, we saw the mountains covered with snow and thought how amazing, one day its so hot and sunny, the next we were looking at snow! The contrasts and ruggedness of Bolivia are spectacular we wanted to go see Salt Lakes of Uguni but were running out of time as it’s a 4 day trip so hopefully next time as we so want to go back again soon.   

Apart from Yiana getting food poisoning we were fine most of the time and always felt safe. We were never approached or felt threatened in any way.

This was a once in a lifetime trip but we are certain we will return again for a different adventure.