After 28 years I finally made my way back to my hometown of Cochabamba, Bolivia. This time I had the privilege of introducing my husband Rob to this wonderful city! We had spent the previous week with some amazing friends from our church, working in El Alto, building classrooms and working at a Compassion International site. The rest of the team flew home and we flew to Cochabamba. Following is the best I can do to describe the moments….warning, there’s a lot of reminiscing going on here! For my MK friends – you’ll enjoy, for those who need something to read, it might be interesting, for those who shudder when someone says, “let me tell you about my travels” just skip this blog post entirely! J
Day 1 –
- Flying in to the city, seeing Tunari mountain and all the houses, I began to silently cry tears of joy. I was coming home! Wilsterman airport is in a new location from when I left. Our good friends, Tony and Joanna Murrin, Bernie and Vi Murrin, and Cam and Mary Hurst met us at the airport. I couldn’t believe I was actually there!!!! After some huge HUGS (it had been a long time since we’d seen each other) and introducing them to Rob, we jumped into the car and headed to the mission home – the actual place where I lived many years. Along the way, I began to recognize where we were and get my bearings. “We’re approaching the QuillaCollo (sp?) bridge, right?….And right up here on the left is where the zoo used to be!…and a few blocks in is where the Wiebe’s used to live…and around the corner we’ll come to the traffic circle that we get on to the avenue that leads to Cala Cala, which is my old neighborhood, and we’ll soon pass the stadium where Wilsterman plays and I grew up hearing ….Gooooaaaaallllllll de Wilsterman many a game day!” It was so much fun! There had been a lot of changes, but I was able to quickly orient myself.
- I noticed that there were many new buildings which I expected. Many new high rise buildings, mostly apartments I was told. It was crazy! Approaching the corner of Huallparimachi and Pasos Kanki, I really was overwhelmed with emotion. I was soon going to be inside the Mission Home where my folks, and my siblings and I had lived for many years. Going inside there was so much that was the same – kind of a time warp – and so much that had changed! The volleyball court I learned to play v-ball on was still there – the little cement sidewalk where my footprint is next to the court was there. I took a picture of my grown up foot and the little tiny footprint. Crazy! The courtyard was now cobblestone. The monkey-bars and HUGE palm tree that used to be right by the gate were gone and in their place was a workroom/shop. The pomegranate tree was gone. Sad. The chapel, guest rooms and all looked pretty much the same. Walking in to the dining room I could picture myself there so many years ago as a kid, playing Rook and eating popcorn with my friends, late into the evening. The guest rooms have their own bathrooms in them now. Wow! That was nice! Out where the watch dogs were years ago now sits very nice offices for the staff there. The watch dogs are no longer ferocious German shepherds, but 2 very cute and loveable Cocker Spaniels. The courtyard by the Wyma’s old apartment looks almost the same, minus the beautiful bougainvillea flowers that used to hang over the Huallparimachi entrance. The heges around the v-ball court were gone and the walls were now high cement walls with no option for outsiders to hang over the fence to watch the games. Security has had to be tightened over the years. I walked by the clotheslines and again was taken back to the times I’d run around between the sheets as a little girl, carefree and happily talking to the maids who worked at the mission home. I met Doña Marina – she told me that Don Maximo and Doña Angela were still around as well as their daughter, Juana and her family. Juana had worked for mom and dad for many years. She is now a nurse in a local hospital. I wanted to see them, but time never allowed for it.
- I wanted to see the other mission home that was owned by the mission previously that we had also lived in for a long time – it was called the annex but I had heard it had been sold. It had – but was now the International Church of Cochabamba! And, our good friends, the Murrins, were a part of the team helping at the church! We got to go experience a part of the service. It was surreal, sitting in a beautiful brick building, worshipping God on the very site where my bedroom used to be! I was so thrilled to learn of all the ministry going on in this church! The Annex now this great church, still had many buildings that were the same. And the wonderful looonnnggg driveway up to the facility was still there. The Pacai trees and several others, including the tree that had my brother’s treehouse in it where only the boys were allowed (boo!) was gone. The property on one side looked like it hadn’t changed a bit! The property on the other side that used to have a swimming pool and about 200 trees (exaggeration!) was now a university. As I walked up the lane so many memories flooded my mind. Stories I had shared with Rob over the years came tumbling out…one where a tree had fallen between my big brother Mark and I when I was little and had terrified me – took place in this location! It was so fun to tell Rob, “It happened right here!”
- We went to dinner with the Latins (a missionary family living in Coch – I went to school with Sarah (Dyck) a looonnggg time ago, and she married Phil Latin, who I had the blessing of meeting on this trip. He had gone to our boarding school as well, but after I had already left for the U.S.) They treated us to dinner at La Estancia. Yes! La Estancia has been around FOREVER…was there before I left and still makes the best steaks in the whole world. While we were at the restaurant, I glanced over at another table and I saw a familiar face. But, I was a bit embarrassed because surely after 28 years I wouldn’t recognize this person?!!! I timidly walked over to the table and said, “Are you Leon Galindo?” Sure enough, it was. “Are you Carol Ann Morarie” he responded. It was indeed Leon. Little brother of my good friend Diana. Her Dad had at one time been Vice President of Bolivia. We had spent many wonderful times together growing up. Leon invited us to tea the next night. It was absolutely wonderful to see him and the random fact of running in to him (after 28 years) at La Estancia was just crazy! After a wonderful dinner of lomo (steak), yucca, platanos and more, we headed to a new mall in the area and had ice-cream. I had a dulce de leche Sunday. Yum!
- Back at the Mission home, we headed to our room to turn in and lo and behold, who do we run in to but Betty Wyma! She and Tim were in Bolivia – Tim in meetings in Santa Cruz and Betty getting some dental work done in Coch. The Wymas and my parents were co-workers in the Ayoré tribal work many years ago. It was fun to see her and catch up on how her family is doing. Home for them now is in Florida.
Day 2 –
- Our friend, Joanna Murrin, picked us up early in the morning and we headed to tour the Quechua Radio Station where our friends Cam and Mary were involved in ministry. Mojo Chaski is the station name. What a GREAT ministry! We loved hearing about all that is going out on the airwaves to the most remote areas where for some this station is the only way to hear any news. We laughed as Mary shared stories of the great resource people have – they can come in and fill out messages to be read over the air…one young man was getting married and had the announcement go out over the airwaves to let his parents know. The people working there do a wonderful job. Cam and Mary helped a ton at the beginning of this ministry and now it is completely run by Bolivian nationals which is just so awesome.
- Next I was super excited as we headed out to my grade school and middle school/Carachipampa Christian School. I couldn’t believe how many buildings now lined the highway heading out to Carachi. When I was going to school there, we would pass the last housing development and then there would be tons of open fields on the way to the school. You knew you’d be close to the school when you saw the PIL Dairy, which is still there. Now the highway is full of housing developments on either side. The school campus is beautiful! There is a brand new memorial building (from Aunt Ruby Miller) that houses the library, AV room, cafeteria, chapel for the school. There are brand new 2 story buildings with beautiful classrooms, extending from K – 12th grade now. When I was there the school was 1st – 8th grade. The playground relocated to the back of the campus near the basketball courts. And the old rickety swings and teeter totters were gone, which is probably a good thing , since many a kiddo, including myself, went flying off the hand swing thing, thudding to the ground before school. The extremely tall, beautiful, eucalyptus trees that lined the soccer field were there, but only on one side, the rest had been taken out due to some of the property lines changing over the years. Helen Steele, who taught 2nd grade when I was in 1st grade, gave Rob and I a tour of the property.
- After spending the morning reminiscing about days gone by at Carachi, we headed to Casa del Campo restaurant for lunch with Cam and Mary Hurst, and all the Murrins. I had Millanesa de Pollo and Rob had steak again, however, he also sampled Cam’s Cow Tongue steak. We really enjoyed the fellowship!
- After lunch it was off to the Cancha! We walked from Tony and Joanna’s house. So fun! The cancha is hard to describe…it’s rows and rows, and rows, and rows of little shops, with pretty much anything you can think of for sale from touristy kinds of stuff, to beauty products, shoes – sandals made out of rubber tires, food, clothing, electronics, etc. It has probably tripled in size since I was there in the early 80’s. There is not much room to walk in the aisle ways and a smart shopper will definitely not carry a purse and will keep on the lookout for possible pick pockets. We had a ton of fun looking at everything and picking up a few souveniers. Both Rob and I LOVE shoes, so I think we also hit every shoe store in Cochabamba before we left. I loved looking in Bata and Monaco shoe stores…again, floods of memories came back to me while shopping in those stores!
- We ended the day by having tea with our good friends, the Galindos. They graciously served it to us in their home. I felt like I was 13 again, hanging out with Diana in her home. We ate fresh guava jam, cheese, ham, breads and drank delicious tea. After our visit, Leon drove us on a night tour of the city – around Lake Alalay – where the Country Club was, we used to hang out with the Galindos there, I think one of my worst sunburns came from one of those outings! And the City Fair was also at the Lake. We finally returned back to the mission home around 11:30 pm, tired, but happy. A common phrase for me during my time in Coch, to Rob, was, “I’m soooo happy! I’m sooooo happy!”
Day 3 –
- Vi and Bernie hosted us for the morning. We shopped at a grocery store. Wow! Times have changed. There were no options like this store when I was a kid. You had about 32 different shops you’d have to frequent to get all your groceries! What a treat to see this great grocery store in Coch. We bought Api ( a purple corn based, with cinnamon, hot breakfast cereal), dirt chocolate (which I love, but probably tastes like it sounds to most…gritty sugar in chocolate), Sublimes, Batones, Bolivian tea…and more. I have a lot of siblings to bring stuff to!
- Then we headed to the Post Office building – behind it now are rows and rows of artesanias – souvenier shops. So fun! Again, more shopping. Rob was a trooper! Usually at home he has to “pre-medicate with Tylenol” anytime I mention the word shopping!
- We walked around the Plaza Central. The big pillar with the Condor bird on top is still standing strong. Then we went on a hunt for Daza Jewelry store. As I was walking along the streets, I told Bernie, “I think it’s on Heroinas and a street that starts with an ‘A’!” Sure enough, we found it on the corner of Heroinas and Ayachucho. This was the jewelry store my Dad always frequented and bought beautiful jewelry for “his girls” over the years. All of his daughters and grand-daughters have a little gold ball pendant that is typical of Bolivia from this store. Rob bought me a ring with a “Bolivianita” stone in it. It’s beautiful! The The Bolivianita jewel is a natural combination of Citrine and amethyst, giving a diversity of color starting with a delicate yellow, through shades of lilac to reach a deep violet. These special characteristics make it one of the most unique gems in the world. The legend is told about a beautiful Ayorea Indian Princess (my parents worked with the Ayore tribe!) called Anahi. She fell in love with a Spanish Conquistador and was killed by her own tribe because of jealousy and intrigue. At the moment of her death she gave a Bolivianita to her Spanish lover. This special indivisible union between the citrine and the amethyst makes the Bolivianita the stone of eternal love.
- Rob got to see the old indoor market – where a long time ago grocery day meant stocking up on our vegetables, going to a known meat vendor whose slabs of meat hung in the market, and taking everything home. We soaked our vegetables in iodine water to make them safe for eating, and packaged up our meat to put in to the freezer.
- We ended the day with tacos at the Murrins. Delicious, Vi! Thanks so much. After another wonderful time of fellowship, it was time to head out for anticuchos! Anticucho vendors start frying up this fun little snack in the evenings after dinner. It is sliced cow heart, really thin, on a stick, with slathered with the Bolivian hot sauce ahi or peanut sauce with a potato or piece of yucca on top. Rob bravely ate one. He wasn’t a huge fan. I LOVED it!
Day 4 –
- Last day. Sigh! How in the world do you do justice to your lifetime in a country in just 4 days? We did the best we could. We packed our bags in the morning and then went on a walk through my old neighborhood. I showed Rob where the swimming pool – La Riviera – used to be. This pool was always COLD, but very refreshing during summer – which fell over Christmas. Many a Christmas Day we headed to the pool after lunch! On up the hill was Taquina, on the way to Tikipaya. I talked about the camps I used to go on to Los Molinos and Candelaria. We stopped and ate salteñas and split a Coke Diet. We walked up the street where my friends the Mattias’ family lived. We walked behind the old bodega of the annex and back around to the main home of the mission where we had been staying. So much development! But still felt like home.
- We ate lunch at a new restaurant favorite of a lot of the folks – Tuesdays. Then we headed out near Lake Alalay to the hill where a HUGE statue of Christ now overlooks the city. It has replaced the Coronilla as the place to go to overlook the city. Rumor has it that this statue is taller than the Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro. I’ve been to both, can’t say for sure if this is true. Regardless, we loved seeing the massive expanse of Cochabamba from this view and took a lot of pictures. Tony and Joanna Murrin did a great job of pointing out old landmarks to me. I was in awe of just how much growth had happened to Cochabamba since I left in 1982. You expect it, you know it happened, but to be there and see it….another story!
- We left the site seeing, stopped by Los Tiempos building to see our new friend from Compassion International, Maria Elena, and to see their Cochabamba based headquarters. As always, we were very impressed with the quality and quantity of work being done for children through Compassion. The staff was extremely professional, warm and very much being used by God in tremendous ways as they worked hard to make sure all the Bolivian Compassion children were being taken care of properly.
- Finally we made our way back to the airport. Said some good byes – I HATE good byes! Boarded the plane and headed back for one more night in LaPaz.
- We arrived in LaPaz and took a very crazy, winding through dark alleys, trip to the hotel El Dorado. Elections in Bolivia were just around the corner and all the main roads were blocked for political campaigning. We ate a quiet dinner overlooking the city of LaPaz and turned in for a few brief hours – we had to get up at 3:45 a.m. to head back to the airport for our long journey home.
Day 5 –
- We left LaPaz at 1:45 a.m. Denver time, leaving the hauntingly rugged peaks of the Andes Mtns. and arrived in Denver, happy to be back in the Rocky Mtns. at 10:00 p.m. A loonnnggg day of travel, which didn’t lack for adventures along the way! Customs was crazy, we thought we were going to miss a connection in Miami and after sprinting as fast as we could for about a mile in the Miami airport, hoping they would hold the plane for us, we found out the plane was delayed an hour! We looked like 2 sweaty tired alpacas when we finally boarded the final plane leg home! It was awesome to see Robbin and Jake at the airport. We arrived on April 1st, so in true April Fools form, they handed us a picture of an ultrasound with a note that said, “Congratulations, Grandma and Grandpa!” I fell for it for a bit, then Rob reminded me it was April Fools.
So there you have it! A very long-winded trip with me down memory lane. This was a long hoped for trip. God is good. I’m so thankful for His provision of allowing us to go on this trip! I can’t wait to go back!