Tag Archives: Jupapina

Bolivia, Week Eight and time to say goodbye

I thought about a few ways of writing this blog post, but in the end I’ve decided to do a separate review of my time in Bolivia and just stick with a chronological account of my last week here – starting with a special Sunday in La Paz. 

Sunday 4th September in La Paz was El Día del Peatón (The Day of the Pedestrian), which meant that no cars were allowed on the roads between 9am and 5pm – amazingly this applied to the whole city, including all the way out to Jupapina, 45 minutes from the centre. 

For us this meant that there was no Porvenir session, so Justa accompanied Lizzie, Lucy, Malte and I into the city (via the teleférico). She guided us through the empty streets towards the centre, pointing out lots of places that had shaped her life in La Paz – mostly focused on music. 

When we reached the city’s main street, El Prado, it was full of life. There were stalls selling all manner of things, which I suppose isn’t uncommon, but there was also music and impromptu football games, art classes, skate parks, trampolines and lots more. Four of us stepped into a football game with some teenagers and despite my and Justa’s best efforts to make it a close game, Malte ensured that we won with a couple of fierce finishes (“they need to learn how to lose”). 

Afterwards, Malte left us to go into El Alto, so I spent the rest of the day with the three girls. We decided to do the Red Cap Walking Tour and even Justa learned a thing or two. We had lunch at a fancy vegetarian place and then spent a pretty unsuccessful hour browsing the market. As 5pm approached we returned to El Prado and enjoyed the unique atmosphere of the day. 

Monday started with my penultimate Spanish lesson and then we spent the rest of the day preparing for the week ahead. I made some paper aeroplanes for the Children’s Centre and covered a balloon in papier-mache to make a head for the Albergue. We also went to the local florist to buy plants for a new garden at the Albergue. 

I had another Spanish lesson on Tuesday morning and this concluded my 20-hour package in Bolivia. My final ciao to Sergio was the first of the week’s goodbyes. 

Nikki and I gave an English class in the afternoon and we spent much of it preparing for Thursday, when the students would be conversing with some real English speakers (the other volunteers).  

At the Albergue we split the group of girls into two – half of them started outside in the garden and half made papier-mache heads in the classroom (they switched roles half way through). I stayed inside the whole time as the papier-mache expert (despite my familial horticultural support). 

In the evening we all went to the stunning home of Raul and Fabiola (parents of Maria Paz from Porvenir) for a pizza party. And it wasn’t just any pizza; it was homemade on their indoor BBQ and absolutely delicious. Raul even accommodated Lucy’s veganism! For dessert we had a sweet pizza, with toppings including peanut butter and chocolate!

During the night I found out that Bell is desperate to be mentioned in my blog, so this sentence is just for her. 

Oh yeah, Tuesday was also my birthday! At the end of the night I was treated to a chorus of Feliz Cumpleaños and presented with a Bolivian football shirt from the gang – thanks guys! 

The Mendozas also brought a cake with (lots of) candles and this was the result:

Wednesday was my last day at Centro Infantil and everyone there made it very special for me. In the middle of the morning, everyone gathered together and I was brought to the front. The Tías then led the children in a song while they all waved at me. It brought a tear to my eye (not the first time I’ve said that in this blog). Then Lionel was the first class representative to step forward, hand me a card and give me a big hug. His classmates followed and I was quickly overwhelmed by them climbing all over me! There was brief lull as they dispersed before children from the other four classes came forward and repeated the routine – card, hugs, climbing! I was really touched by the reactions of the children and the words of the Tías.

Our best laid plans for Wednesday afternoon at the Albergue changed when we learned that a Bolivian dance company would be performing for the children instead. We played football and volleyball for almost an hour while they got ready and then we were treated to the show. It was a bit surreal for the most part, although the Michael Jackson medley at the end was decent. 

I had a rare lie-in on Thursday morning, but I was up and at it by 9am ahead of my last English class. We set the children up in a kind of speed-dating format and asked them to find out things about each other and the guest volunteers. 

For the boys session at the Albergue, we spent the first hour outside in the garden. 

Then we went into the classroom and the boys papier-mache’d balloons, ready to paint them as heads next week. Before I left, I got some handmade leaving presents: a giraffe from the boys’ class and two tiny shoes from the girls (the blue one representing Bolivar and the yellow one for The Strongest, the two biggest football teams in La Paz). 

That night we went into San Miguel for dinner at the Taj Mahal restaurant. The food was excellent and I even treated myself to a beer. 

When I woke up on Friday, it finally dawned on me that I was leaving Up Close and Jupapina in a matter of hours (Saturday would be a 6am start in La Paz, so I decided to stay in a hostel in the city on Friday night).

I spent the morning hurriedly packing my things, before it was time to go to Porvenir. In some ways it was a standard session, but it was tinged with sadness. We made up for it with lots of pictures (on various phones, so more pictures may follow) and Facebook friend requests. 

In the evening, I made my way into the city by bus (another sign of how far I’d come – the opposite journey on arrival cost me 70Bs, but this time it was 2.60Bs). I dropped off my bags in the hostel and met up with Justa for my last night in La Paz. We stayed out late for dinner and a few drinks and it was a really nice way to end the week. 


Bolivia, Week Six

This week has been non-stop and there’s lots to say, so I’ll take it a day at a time.


My night bus from Uyuni arrived in La Paz at 5:30am; three mini-buses and 90 minutes later I was back home. That gave me a few crucial hours to plan my third English lesson.

During that time though, I met our two latest volunteers – 18 year old Lucy from Timperley and Nikki, a 23 year old veteran volunteer from Nebraska. The campsite was also hosting a group of volunteers from American non-profit Globetrotting for Good (I’ll call them GfG for short). They had arrived over the weekend and already started work in the local school, but more on them later.

I wasn’t quite as prepared for this English lesson as before, but fortunately Justa was able to assist, whilst Lucy and Nikki modelled some conversations for me during the lesson. The twelve students and I were also joined by Jasmine from GfG; she observed the class and then asked me to do an interview – my second in as many weeks!

We went straight to the Albergue after that and made bracelets with the girls. The session was a bit disjointed but went ok.

The evening was spent planning the following week’s activities and getting to know the new arrivals, but it was an early night all round.


Despite not being scheduled to go, I went to the morning session at the Children’s Centre because I’m running out of time to visit them (the other sessions clash with my English lessons). I was helping in Giovanna’s class and, outside of the normal mealtime struggle and not-so-normal weighing/measuring of the children (they do it once a month but I hadn’t seen it before), I had good fun playing with the group. Our “organised” activity involved the children guessing the animals from their outlines and then we all made the appropriate animal sounds – led by Constança, who is a natural animal impressionist!

We then went straight to the Albergue to set up the orientation game that Constança had devised. We hid four sets of coloured paper hearts around the outside area and gave each team a map to find them in order. They loved it! The teams were a mixture of ages and genders but they were all running around and searching high and low to help their team win. Of course we gave them all a prize (chocolate), but in this case they all deserved it. It was my volunteering highlight of the week and great to see Constança’s hard work pay off.

Even so, we still had 90 minutes of the session to go. As we hadn’t played football in a couple of weeks, we played an epic game of 11-a-side. The game was aided massively by the arrival of coloured bibs, which gave it some much needed structure, and obviously my team won (backed by a defence of me and five girls under 12).

In the evening we all gathered for a tea party in the Agora (the marquee in the campsite). After a couple of hours of eating and chatting, the formalities started – first of all for Constança’s despedida and then for the official thank you between Up Close Bolivia and Globetrotting for Good.

GfG is a hybrid between charity and volunteering. They identify worthwhile projects to support around the world, ascertain what the projects need (often by just asking them to name their dream wish list) and then set about trying to supply everything on the list.

A lot comes in the form of donations of second-hand goods; such as a laptop and projector from an American school for the English classes; or riding materials from Samuel Grey Horse (a Native American who is often seen roaming the streets of Austin, Texas on his horse!) Each of the volunteers also fundraise before the trip and this money goes towards things like two-years worth of WiFi in the Children’s Centre!

Whilst chatting to the GfG’ers, two of them said something that was of particular interest to me:

Firstly, Joseph, who is the co-founder of GfG and who has been all over the world in the last five years. He told me that, as an Up Close volunteer, I had “won the volunteering lottery” by being here – and he’s a man that knows. It’s not necessarily just because of the projects that we work on (as amazing as they are), but also combined with our living situation in the houses with the campsite, which he described as unique in his experience and possibly worldwide!

I also spoke to Lizie the dentist, who is volunteering here in Bolivia, but is actually from Cusco in Peru. When she heard I would be moving there in September, she offered to exchange details and suggested that we keep in touch, so I have a familiar face in the city and she can practise her English!


I had a Spanish lesson first thing, before I went to another English lesson. This one was very different because I was joined at the front of the classroom by Nikki: she’s an experienced English teacher (relatively), speaks fluent Spanish and is far more of a natural at taking centre stage. She also has a different approach to planning the lessons and is far happier just going with the flow and seeing where the lesson takes her. I think our first lesson as a duo went quite well, but I expect them to get better as we continue to work together.

From there I went straight to the Albergue, where we made plasticine animals. I think I’ve said before that there is a lot of talent in the children’s home and this was proven once again. I’m not sure these pictures do some of them justice, as some were particular small and intricate, but here are some of their creations:


Triceratops, elephant, rhinoceros, turtle, pig, penguin, cat, cat, dog


Plasticine yoda!


In the evening, we ticked off one of Constança’s last week wishes by going for pizza at Il Portico (my third visit so far). During the meal, Justa instigated a personality test/game, which revealed that I’d like to be an invisible kangaroo, a volcano or a football, but not a bat, a gun or a dodo.


The morning was supposed to be free, but I was still up early to try and sort out all the new materials GfG had brought. Despite unsuccessfully connecting the computer and projector, I decided to go with Lucy and Lizzie to see how GfG were getting on in Jupapina school. As expected, we saw the classroom they had renovated and the mural they had painted, but things quickly escalated from there!

As soon as the call went out, the entire school descended into the playground ahead of a present giving ceremony. There was some singing and then garlands of flowers/fruit were presented to the GfG five and Rolando and I was happy taking pictures. But then all of a sudden, I was roped into the festivities with Lucy and Lizzie. Before we knew it, we had flowers round our necks, we were in all the photos and then we all joined 12 schoolchildren in a traditional dance!

Lizzie, Lucy, Zebra and me

Back row: Jasmine, Lucy, Lizzie, me. Front row: Lizie, Elese, Sally and Joseph

The fun continued as they were also celebrating Elders’ day. Eight grandparents were interviewed, and they gave their name, age and number of grandchildren (I think 90 and 17 were the largest numbers). They were then presented with an assortment of daily essentials from the local shop, ranging from fizzy drinks to toilet roll.

We weren’t done yet though as dozens of tables of food appeared. So having popped to the school for a few minutes, we ended up sharing the limelight amid a crazy couple of hours (Joseph of GfG again described it as possibly the best “thank you” he has received!)

In the afternoon, we went to Porvenir and I had another exhausting session – I’m sure the children are getting more demanding!

Actually, I am starting to notice changes in some of them. Some are becoming more expressive and active, for example, whilst others are simply making friends and playing together more than before (when previously they may have stayed close to mum or dad; this may also indicate a change in the parents).


Today started like any other Saturday, with an early start at Porvenir, but I wasn’t to know yet that it would turn into a Day in the Life of Amy Souster! Amy is from Sheffield and works for the NHS, but she’s currently volunteering in Bolivia for nine months – predominantly at FUNPROBO (Fundación Prótesis para Bolivia), but also Porvenir (because she’s horse-mad).

The Porvenir session was another busy one for me, but we had a half-time break when the GfG team presented all the horse paraphernalia that had been donated – thank you Mr Grey Horse.

After the session I accepted Amy’s invite to visit FUNPROBO and see the place in action. It’s in Sopocachi, which is an hour away on public transport, but it was well worth the journey!

First of all I met a young amputee who was walking on his new prosthetic leg for the first time and then Amy showed me the workshop where most of the limbs are made by Florencio. In the office I saw some home-made prosthetic legs that patients had left behind – one was crudely crafted, in part, out of a drinks bottle and another from cardboard. I saw my first ever 3D printer, which is used to print hands, and was unexpectedly given the chance to help Amy and her partner John in putting one together!

John and I, deciphering the instructions for putting a prosthetic hand together

It really was a fascinating afternoon and this video is an excellent insight into the work they do at FUNPROBO. Worth watching.

It started to rain on my way home and by the time I arrived, an incredible electrical storm had begun. The night sky was regularly lit up for the next 45 minutes as the fork lightning danced across the sky – I spent half of that time outside in the rain because it seemed like there were storms in more than one direction and I couldn’t see it all. I didn’t get any of it on camera, but Alison (who works on the campsite with Helene – check out their blog here) managed to get these stills from a video:



On Sunday morning I was back at  Porvenir for our last session of the week. Everything was a bit wet from Saturday’s storm, but that didn’t deter the children. Amongst all the usual fun and games, an impromptu game of football broke out (as opposed from the usual passing circle). It got quite lively and my volunteer-bib was ripped after Mateo tried his superhero moves on me.

It was Constança’s last day and her  final request was to go to Pollos Copacabana, the Bolivian favourite for fried chicken. Interestingly, you won’t find McDonald’s after they closed all their restaurants! So Lizzie and I accompanied her and we shared a large bucket of chicken. I was actually quite satisfied. After that it was a quiet evening as we said farewell to our Portuguese friend. Tchau!

Bolivia, Week Five

After four completed weeks, I’d hit the half way point and was settling into a routine – nine sessions a week over three projects – but all that was about to change.

New arrivals

First off, we welcomed two more volunteers to make a total of five. Malte joined us from Hamburg and Lizzie (from Sale!) returned to work with UpClose after spending several months here in 2012.

Telegraph article

Monday is normally my day off, but after a weekend of procrastinating I still had an English lesson to plan. But even that had to take a back seat after I received this email from Kaya (the volunteering organisation who arranged my trip).

I quite enjoyed answering the Telegraph’s questions – finally writing down what I’d told dozens of people over the last few months. A few days later, I learned that they ran the piece in the online edition (here), but I’ve also posted my full response on my blog (here).

Teaching English

Aside from my unexpected cameo in the national press, the English classes dominated my week. Although Justa assured me that nowhere near 50 students would show up, I wasn’t so sure (hope for the best, plan for the worst as Jack Reacher would say). But, as ever, Justa was right and we only had seven. The lesson was mainly for me to gauge the students’ level to plan future lessons and I found that all of them were beginners or even complete newcomers.

Teaching on Tuesday/Thursday means I won’t be at the Children’s Centre on those days, restricting my attendance to just Wednesday morning. This week, however, it was agreed I could miss that session as well, so that I could plan not just my next English lesson, but my next series of lessons. I was fairly happy with my progress until I found out I’d be flying solo for the next two – it was time to start scripting instructions!

Thankfully my preparation for Thursday’s class paid off. I had 11 students this time and it went well, even when I introduced a game of 21’s (the non-drinking version).


We made flags to celebrate El Día de la Bandera and did origami in the classroom sessions, but this week’s highlight came on Wednesday. We played a game that I first played a few years ago at a Higgi family get-together. I don’t know if it has a name, but the children took it in turns (randomly, based on the roll of a dice) to dress up in a huge jumper, scarf, hat and gloves and then use a knife and fork to cut pieces from a bar of chocolate against the clock. It probably sounds a bit daft, but the children really enjoyed it!

After that we exploded more volcanoes – I think we broke our previous record and got the eruption about 12 feet in the air!

Good food!

On Wednesday evening, Laura, Constança and I had the pleasure of accepting a dinner invitation at the house of one of the Porvenir families. Their daughter has provided me with some of my favourite moments of my trip (eg the sack race from week two) and the parents are incredibly nice people. To our delight, we also discovered that they’re pretty handy in the kitchen and I enjoyed the best meal I’ve had in a long time (I had fourths). We had a very enjoyable night – thanks again Raul and Fabiola!

Thursday was party night in Jupapina, but it was also tinged with sadness as it was Laura’s despedida. Everyone contributed some food apart from me (beer, wine, coke and lemonade instead) and we had a nice little feast. The guest of honour finished it off in style with a delicious chocolate cake.

And that nearly brings the blog up to date. After a relatively uneventful Friday session at Porvenir, I packed a bag and went into La Paz to catch the overnight bus that I’ve typed all this on. My next blog will hopefully have lots of pictures from the Salt Flats!

Bolivia, Week Four

My fourth week started with a Monday morning Spanish lesson and it seems as though I tricked Sergio in our first lesson, because he came back armed with books and music that were far too advanced for me!

Volcanoes in the Albergue

The big day finally arrived; after two weeks of making, fixing, painting and decorating volcanoes, it was time for them to erupt. I was nervous that it wouldn’t work or impress the children as we hadn’t done that much testing, but I needn’t have worried. The first collective “woooow” as the vinegar and bicarb soda mixture spewed upwards was a joy to my ears.

They were still just as attentive after an hour, but unfortunately we were running out of ingredients. I made sure the last one was the most explosive and the children scattered as it sprayed all around. More volcanoes next week!

At this point I’d like to add a photo or video, but the Albergue has very strict and very sensible rules to protect the children’s privacy, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they were very excited. Here’s one of a volcano though: 

In the two classroom sessions, we made musical instruments, such as maracas (decorated toilet rolls with rice inside), tambourines/panderetas (plates with bells) and guitars (half a bottle with elastic bands). Very creative. 

Children’s Centre

I was in the “babies’ room” for the first time (I think their toddling skills should allow them to bear the name). Every day is a learning experience for me, especially with a different age group. There are lots of toys and balls to keep them entertained, but some of them only want what another child has, which means that I spent most of my time getting in between scrapping toddlers. Lifting them in the air seems to be a guaranteed winner at the nursery, but again, if you do it for one…

The next day I was with the pre-infant class, who 2-3 years old. They can do most things themselves, but often choose not to. The tía in the class is new and left me with eight children for about ten minutes – when she came back they were climbing all over me, each trying to get me to read the book they had chosen.

For our morning activity (with two classes on Tues/Wed), we made tambourines and sang songs (los pollitos dicen) – right up my street.

For Thursday I was in the kitchen and helped prepare lasagne (washing up is helping, right?) It was easily the best meal at the nursery so far and I was disappointed not to get seconds. On the same day, Constança started at the zoo and she “painted piñatas for a spider monkey’s birthday” – such a great sentence.

Teaching English

We had our weekly planning meeting on Friday morning and the headline for me was that I would be teaching English twice a week. On one hand, I was happy to be able to put my CELTA training into action, but it was still daunting. Partly because I didn’t know what to expect, but also because of the preparation involved, which is very different than for less academic and more playful sessions. Justa put me at ease by telling me about previous classes and saying that she would be present for the first lesson. That went out of the window when she found out later the same day that more than 50 students had signed up!


We spent the afternoon at Porvenir and had a typically quiet Friday session. One of the children, Zaira, likes to play with the soft balls, particularly the ones that she sees the other children playing with. When I reached out for her to pass me a ball, she simply sat down in my outstretched hand, much to Constança’s amusement!

Saturday’s session at Porvenir was probably the most tiring yet. The most energetic children were there early and kept me busy, before everyone joined in with some organised games and some yoga.

The next day I was at Porvenir on my own as Laura and Constança had gone to Lake Titicaca. I really enjoy spending time at Porvenir, but after this session I was really tired. A really lovely thing happened when a parent invited the three volunteers for dinner at their home (knowing that Laura would soon be leaving).

The afternoons were supposed to be for planning my first English lesson, but I mostly spent them in bed or watching the Olympics. We all went out to the local pizza place on Saturday night and I got to know the new work-aways, Helene and Alison from Scotland.

Bolivia Extra 2

I thought I’d give a little run down of the people I’ve met so far!

Me and my fellow volunteers, Bill, Ani, Laura and Constança

Laura – another volunteer from Manchester, who has been great at taking the lead with her superior Spanish and creativity. She arrived three weeks before me and leaves next week.

Constança – volunteer from Portugal, arrived last Tuesday and leaves at the end of the month.

Justa – our volunteer coordinator from La Paz. She makes everything tick and does it all with a smile.

The Mendoza family – Rolando and Emma started Up Close, plus their children David and Bell.

Colibri Camping – Danny and Marcelo are the permanent employees, who are supplemented by the work-aways (seems strange that I’ve not heard of this before, but seems a good way to travel).

Children’s Centre – Maribel (the principal), Maxima (the cook), Claudia (the kitchen assistant), five Tías, plus 40-50 children aged 1-4.

Albergue – About 25 girls and a dozen boys aged 3-18 (it changes from day to day). And Lady the dog.

Porvenir – Humberto (owner of the horses and founder of the foundation), Amy (physiotherapist from England who also works with prosthetics) and 18 children plus parents/grandparents/siblings etc.

Locals – Doña Sabina (aka Fanta Lady) who runs the local shop, Rolando (the chess playing Chilean).

Spanish teachers – Rachel & Sergio (Sergio replaced Rachel after she got another job). 

Already left 🙁

Dane & Megan – Australian couple that worked-away on the campsite and left on Monday. Involved in most of the non-volunteering stuff I did in my first three weeks.

Ani & Bill – volunteers that were here during my third week.

Lindsay and Peyton – volunteers that left shortly after I arrived.

Ani, Constança, Laura, Rolando, Justa, me, Megan, Bill, Bell, Amy’s partner John, Dane

Bolivia, Week Three

This week was all about coming and goings… and the zoo!

This week started with the arrival of some more volunteers, which means I’m no longer the new guy.

Australian couple, Ani and Bill, joined us on Monday – they’re backpacking for a few months and decided to offer their services for a week after seeing an Up Close advert in their hostel in La Paz. I think it’s an amazing way to break up a long trip and experience something other than the typical tourist spots.

The next day, Constança arrived from Coimbra in Portugal (via Madrid and Miami), but it wasn’t all plane sailing. Given the delays and the fact that her luggage didn’t arrive for more than 48 hours, Constança dealt with everything amazingly well – including the altitude, time difference and being thrown straight into working at the schools!


Having more volunteers will open up extra projects, but for this week it just lightened the load and gave me a couple of sessions off.

I was only in the Children’s Centre once this week; helping in the kitchen for the fifth time out of six. The nursery was happy to welcome the new recruits and they were happy to pitch in by helping the Tías in they classrooms and Maxima in the kitchen.

The Albergue, on the other hand, is not a place for any more comings/goings than necessary, so Ani and Bill didn’t join us here in the afternoons (as they are only volunteering for one week).

On Tuesday and Thursday, the niñas and niños painted their volcanoes (which were mostly unrecognisable from the ones they made the previous week, because we took them home and fixed/re-made them over the weekend!) Next week, we’ll hopefully be getting them to erupt!

On Wednesday, we attempted to play dodgeball with all the children, but there were just too many rules to make it work. They were all excited that there were muchas pelotas to play with, but it was chaos. Much more successful was the netball-type game we played next, because there was only one rule – you can’t move with the ball. It’s a more inclusive game here than football because you have to keep passing and involving other people (with a wide age range and a mixed group, the older boys tend to just keep the football).

At Porvenir, we volunteered as a five for the first time and had two pretty relaxed sessions (the Saturday session was cancelled due to a public holiday that nobody seemed to know about in advance). The skipping ropes were popular this week, even with one of the grandmas!

Away from the volunteering

My Wednesday morning off coincided with Megan and Dane’s, so we made an early start to go to the Valle de la Luna. There was a sort of other-worldly feel about the landscape, but the 45 minute circuit was plenty of time to see everything.

Afterwards we went to the zoo in Mallasa and I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of the animals have been rescued and are there to be rehabilitated, meaning they don’t always look their best, but the conditions seemed quite good. Their headline animal is the puma and from what I saw it isn’t short on food.

There are a lot of animals and we whiled away a couple of hours there – the monkeys were my favourite (obviously) and we got pretty close to the condors.

With Saturday’s session at Porvenir cancelled, the four other volunteers decided they wanted to go to the zoo, so I went along for the second time in four days (it only costs 5Bs or 50p). Laura had also been before and showed us to a few parts of the zoo I had missed on Wednesday.

This included the alpacas and vicuñas – the latter seemed to take a liking to us and one charged across the enclosure straight away. Two minutes later when all seemed calm, it jumped again and Laura managed to take this action shot!

I had a Spanish lesson on my other morning off – it was with a new teacher (new in both senses of the word), so he had to start by gauging my level again and he seemed pleased with what I could do. I enjoyed the way he used different media to teach, with a couple of short videos to watch (including a Toy Story Short and The Butterfly Circus).

On Thursday, all the volunteers and work-aways got together for a meal, and Laura did really well cooking for eight for the first time. It was nice to get everyone together as we’re all usually busy and spread out across three houses. We had burritos, Megan provided chocolate cake (having perfected her altitude baking) and then we played some games, like Uno!


Sunday was the last day for the four Australians – Megan and Dane from the campsite and Ani and Bill as volunteers – so we marked the occasion by going bowling. It might have been my suggestion but everyone seemed to have a really good time; it was new and different for most people!

Afterwards, we ate in the MegaCentre food court and then went to The Dubliner for some happy hour Guinness! It was a good end to another good the week, although it was sad to say goodbye to some new friends.

Bolivia Extra

The last post was basically an overview, but while I’m blogging and have some free time (and after several nice comments) I thought I’d add a few extra details.

My first day in La Paz was the first time I’ve really been affected by the altitude – it’s higher than the Himalayan trek I did in 2009. Jupapina is a couple of hundred metres lower, but even a few stairs can leave you out of breath. Unfortunately, I don’t think living in the Andes is going to make me a superfit runner as it’s just too high, but daily life is easily manageable if you take it easy.

Apart from that, the weather is pretty much perfect and incredibly consistent. There’s rarely a cloud in the sky and every day has been nice and warm. Out of the sun, the temperature drops pretty sharply to about 0°C at night.

The day before I started my volunteering, I went to a football match at Estadio Hernando Siles (the world’s highest international football stadium and subject of some controversy).

It was a La Paz derby in the cup, Bolivar vs The Strongest – the latter is my adopted team because:

  1. the name!
  2. their colours are the same as my university and work teams’
  3. they seemed popular with the kids around the city
  4. they have a player called Pablo Escobar
  5. this was how the fans arrived 90 minutes before kick off:

The match itself was a bit disappointing; the pitch made it difficult to play decent football and the players definitely tired in the second half. It finished 0-0 and went straight to penalties, with The Strongest winning the shootout 3-0. It’s safe to say that the fans outshone the players.

I’m based in Jupapina with the Mendoza family (who run Up Close Bolivia). There’s a large family house, 3 smaller houses for volunteers and work-aways and then a campsite on the same grounds. I share a house with Danny, who’s worked here for two years, although we don’t seem to see that much of each other.

The Children’s Centre and Albergue are a 10 minute drive away in Mallasa (20p by bus or £1 by taxi), whilst Porvenir is just a 5 minute walk down to the bottom of the valley.

It hasn’t been the completely immersive experience I’d been pre-warned about because everyone at Casa Mendoza speaks English. I’m going to have to push myself harder to get as much Spanish conversation in as possible before I go to Peru in September.

I don’t think Bolivia wins many culinary awards, although I’m getting by so far. One of my first meals in La Paz was this very big but very thin beef steak with eggs, on top of mounds of rice and potatoes.

On my first day in Jupapina I was invited to have lunch in Casa Mendoza with the family and workers. I’d already mentioned that I had a dodgy stomach and no appetite that day and that wasn’t helped when they served stomach as the main course (I wasn’t the only one who didn’t eat it!) The next night we went to the local pizza place, which was really good, and I’ve also eaten nice meals at a couple of upmarket places in San Miguel (Italian and Indian). I haven’t done much in my own kitchen yet (no change there), but the fruit and veg here is really good.

Speaking of San Miguel, I discovered the MegaCentre on Saturday. It has all sorts of things in addition to the standard shops and food court, such as bowling, ice skating, paintball and we watched Jason Bourne in the most luxury cinema I’ve ever been in.

Finally, I should say that I played chess against a one-eyed man outside a local shop. He’s there most days and I’d spoken to him a couple of times before we played. Which reminds me, we’re due a rematch.