Day two in Bolivia.
In the very early hours of the morning I am woken by the whining of Bono. He rams his head against my door and cries. I open the door and he and Sharloo slide in past me. Bono smells things and Charloop climbs on my bed and falls asleep. Bolivia is as cold at night as that circle of hell that people go to if they eat too much (I may need a fact check on this one). Even wearing two pairs of socks I feel like my toes will fall off when I stand up. I consider showering but no one else is up. It’s not worth it. The dogs and I sleep in a pile.
When I wake up again it’s noon. I grab a sweater and walk to the kitchen. As soon as I get there the altitude hits me. It’s like hearing everything over a bad phonecall- Maira sounds very far away. I sit down and feel intensely and suddenly sick. Minutes later I puke what’s left of my soup into the toilet. I realize that I did exactly what my dad told me not to and drank the tap water when I was brushing my teeth last night.
When I recover Maira offers me breakfast. I have whole grain Cheerios with dehydrated milk that comes in a huge can. Maira has to show me how to use it. Just add water! Presto! It taste nothing like the milk we get at home, but it’s not bad. I like it, it’s interesting.
After breakfast Maira helps me get settled. It’s a boring process mostly consisting of me putting away my clothes and plugging in electronics. Highlights of the room: a Japanese sword, an empty bottle of liquor called After Shock, an electronic drum kit, a pencil case that looks like a sneaker. We walk up and down her street. In daylight La Paz is even more incredible. The spinal ridges from last night have huge slashes up and down the sides. The whole city is tan and coppery under the sharp blue sky. It’s much warmer outside than it is in the house.
Lunch is chicken, rice, and broccoli. Maira warns me not to eat too many vegetables. I take a nap with the dogs. They are warm and furry. I love dogs. After we watch a hilarious program on the bio channel called ESTADO PARANORMAL. It’s an American ghosthunter program dubbed over in Spanish. The voices of the children are adults with irritating high voices. There are ads for a program about Gene Simmons. Then there’s Phineas and Ferb in Spanish. It’s as good as the American version if not better. The Simpsons features the Space Needle. A period drama with subtitles. Pan Am. Maira says she and the family watch Once Upon A Time together on Tuesdays, and I’m welcome to join them tonight if I like.
Maira says, let’s go meet up with my brother and sister. We can all go out for dinner. I’m happy to do this. It turns out that there aren’t busses in La Paz, though there are “Mini Busses”. These are small vans crammed full of people and covered in flashing signs and lights that barrel through traffic and don’t seem to work on any system I can figure out. They just sort of drive around. Maira says we’re very lucky if we get one soon because they stop running. When?, I ask. Hmm. 5:30 or 6? But sometimes they just keep going. I am suddenly missing my faithful 2 bus, which runs like clockwork up and down past my house.
We wait across the street from Las Colinas, where I live now. Three street dogs run past us. A pink pig trots along as if he’s heading to work.
When we finally get a ride it is bumpy and hilarious. We pass thin cows tethered to stakes, chewing grass in crumbling construction sites and backyards.
Once we get there we wander around the streets for a while trying to meet up with her brother. He leads us back to his apartment where a bunch of Bolivian young adults sit around drinking a thick, foul tea that I really like. They speak so fast and laugh so much that I find myself answering their questions in Spanish without even thinking about it.
We all go out for dinner, and it’s pizza. I meet Maira’s aunt and uncle there. They speak slow, deliberate Spanish to me, which is quite a relief. The uncle whose name I have forgotten already says that later in the month they are going ‘adventuring’ in the jungle and that I am invited. I say yes, despite being scared out of my wits. We’ll see what happens with that. I get the feeling that plans are flexible in Bolivia.
A few things I’ve learned. No one in La Paz wears seatbelts. Ever. I try to wear mine, but it appears that they’re so underused you can’t really move them. They’re stuck behind seats, and when they’re not, the buckles are hidden away beneath cushions. Another thing. You cross the street whenever it looks like you probably won’t be hit. Traffic is like a river. It’s fast and confusing and you probably shouldn’t wear nice shoes if you’re going through it. Half-empty buildings can still be used for things. You kiss people on the cheeks when you meet them and when you say goodbye. It’s hard to understand very fast Spanish. And many, many other little cultural things it seems silly to write down, like Bolivian’s don’t put napkins on their laps and you say “chao” to everyone all the time and the native women wear these tall hats at bus stops.
I’m exhausted. More to come.
my name's augusta. i'm a 16 year old high school student from seattle. this july i'm spending a month in bolivia, working on my spanish and wearing thick socks.