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!
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!
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.
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.