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Last Station in Bolivia
Time: 2016-04-02

Lilla and Pablo lived through the time in Bolivia. Regarding their long cycling line in Bolivia, it is the last station. It is the tough touring in this country. The following is their story from their blog --

We are almost leaving Bolivia. How quickly time has passed! In these 40 days we lived, experienced and learned so much: we cried, laughed, yearned, discovered, shouted, hugged, got surprised, shocked, angry, impressed… and we cycled. And a lot! We were warm and got toasted by the strong sun during the day and in the afternoon we put all possible clothes on to protect us from the cold. We slept in small accommodation run by a family, in some cities in comfortable hostels and we also camped a lot. Sometimes in “hidden”places and sometimes asking people if we could set our tent near to their houses. Honestly, we very rarely could hide ourselves; people in the countryside have the vision of the eagle and know their area perfectly. One afternoon we set our camp behind the little bushes of the Plateau, next to a quinoa plantation paying attention to not to be visible from the road and suddenly an old man appeared with his bicycle. He was chasing his llamas. We interchanged some words and he gave us permission to stay overnight on his field.

In Bolivia we deviated a lot from the main roads and have chosen to get a bit lost in poorly connected lands. We got to know the people of the countryside, though sometimes we had difficulties in the communication: the people are quite distant. We can´t know what type of thoughts and feelings they might have: if they don´t trust or if they just simply have no interest in connecting with us. Not once, the people of the whole town (young and old) surrounded us and they were just staring at us without saying a word. On other occasions, there was interest from their part, but the lack of a common language made the communication difficult. In villages the people use Quechua or Aymara language (depending on the geographical area), and very often (especially the older generations) don´t speak Spanish. One day, in a small village we spent the whole afternoon trying to decode what our host, Mrs Anacita, was telling us in Quechan language about their traditions, rituals to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), the mines and the carnival. Luckily, his husband arrived in the evening with the llamas from the field and he was able to clarify some of our doubts.

We also got to know people who could tell us a lot about the Bolivian culture. Between Sucre and Oruro we again took a secondary road which is under construction is these moments but not asphalted yet. One afternoon we stopped at a rural school to ask for permission to camp in the garden. We were attended by teacher Marta; a very interesting, lovely and kind lady. She invited us to sleep in her house and treated us as we were her children. We have had a couple of tough days missing our families and friends, and we were also exhausted cycling in those huge mountains. In the afternoon we were chewing coca leaves, having tea and dinner together.

The next morning we decided to stay and spend the day in the school with Marta and with the 8 students: Lidia, Delfa, Maritza, Mateo, Alex, Adolfo, Jesús y Javier. The kids are of different ages, so the teacher has to give classes at the same time to 6th, 4th, 3rd and 1st grade (in this case). And no disorder at all! The children behave very well and ask for permission to do anything. They spend the whole day in the school (from Monday to Friday): they arrive between 8:30 and 9 in the morning and they stay until 4 pm. Five of the kids are coming from very far away, they walk 1,5 hours to arrive and the same to get home. Before midday, they clean themselves and share the meal what they bring from home for lunch. That day, they had boiled rice, cooked potatoes and chuño (dehydrated-frozen potao), corn and inflated dark corn (crunchy like pop.corn, but not that open). Before lunch we played football with them, in the meantime Marta cooked a delicious soup with noodle and llama meat. That morning, two of the students, the brothers Mateo and Jesús, brought the meat from home. One of their male llama killed a female one. We were told that the male llama is very hardheaded; he is able to insist and chase the female until she dies. Incredible! In the afternoon, Marta gave the task to the kids of drawing us and planned to go for a walk in the surroundings, but the kids paid a lot of attention to every detail and it took them a long time to complete their drawing. Javier, the smallest one, almost fell asleep in the afternoon. He is so cute, but he was incredibly afraid of us. During the football match he relaxed and interacted a bit, but after that he didn´t want to know about us. It is very interesting what a huge power a game can have: during the match the children were laughing and interacting with us and once it was over they returned to reality and for some of them it was hard even to look at us.

In the morning a man arrived to the school. He was Don Juvenal, a neighbour who lives not far from the school. He found one of his male llama untied and saw small footprints around the place. He followed them and arrived to the school. Poor kids, they had a hard time listening to Don Juvenal, but teacher Marta has very good people skills and managed to calm the man down.

Oh, these memories! And the tough life a lot of people in the country live. Marta told us that the people of the countryside hardly eat meat and eggs because they prefer to sell it on the markets and use to money to buy bigger quantity of food like rice, noodles or potatoes in order to feed the many hungry mouths of the family. Families are very big in Bolivia; women are having babies from very early ages until they physically can. We can´t get used to seeing very young mothers and also old ones with her babies. Fortunately the number of child abandonment is reducing, but there are still cases of it. In Bolivia education is free and in addition each year the parents receive an amount of money for each child in school. This is the way how the government tries to reduce illiteracy. But there are still a lot of families where the real value of a kid lies in learning all tasks around the house and in the fields, and knowing how to take care of the animals instead of going to school and learning to read, write and count.

There are a lot of primary schools throughout the country, but the number of secondary schools is much less. A lot of students in secondary schools go to live with their relatives in bigger towns or to boarding schools. One day, after cycling trough inhabited areas and with no food in our bags and being very hungry, we started to see a town on the horizon. We pedaled quickly dreaming of a set lunch (soup and second course). Once there, we realized that there was no shop at all, but there was a boarding school where we were able to ask for some rice. A group of children sorrounded us and smiled. One little girl said to the other: “They are poor!” Leaving the place the kids followed us and also a mid-age woman appeared with a bowl full of cooked potatoes and chuño (dehydrated and frozen potato) to offer to us.

Bolivia is a rural country and there are a lot of people living without any comfort, but fortunately the food is not missing – even it is just a simple plate of rice, cooked potato or corn-. Electricity and potable water arrive to the majority of towns which are loosing more and more their isolation thanks to the plenty of road constructions.

And we are recovering our memories here in La Paz, a vibrant and modern city where people have a lot of comfort and lives a totally different life. What a contradiction, isn´t it?