Have Hope, Will Travel
I had the privilege to be the first visitor from home for Alli and Elizabeth, and they so graciously asked me to write a guest post highlighting the week and my thoughts on it. Being one to extract every ounce of meaning from my experiences, I have happily obliged, and the product is before you:
To start my Bolivian adventure, we must first go back to the weekend before the girls left. I have been assigned to a work project about 60 miles west of NYC, and I made the trip into NYC to see Elizabeth on my first weekend to wish her well on her trip. During the visit, she, almost off-handed, suggested that I come out and see them during their trip. Due to the long term work assignment away from home, I get a few extra days off every 6 weeks. Realizing that this time off would come right on the heels of Thanksgiving, I excitedly called Alli and dropped the bombshell that was my intention to come visit them. I had originally planned on visiting them and then going to see Maccu Picchu, but they (thankfully so), convinced me to just spend as much time with them as I could. I gave them the dates I would be available, and I waited as they were forced to plan a month in advance. The longer I stayed down there, the more I realized how difficult a task it is to plan a trip when your schedule is already full, and you have limited access to the internet. Much appreciated ladies.
I landed on a Friday night, after a long trip down. The girls had prepped me for my customs experience in Bolivia, and it went relatively smooth, even though I didn’t feel like admitting it at the time. I grabbed a cab and met them at their hostel in Santa Cruz, and, after a few excited hugs, joined them in the pool. This still is one of the highlights of the trip because I had been carrying so much stress over the past several months at work, but it all dissolved as soon as I hit the water.
It was an amazing week, but to keep this blog post shorter than a novel, I will touch on the highlights:
– We spent about a day and a half in Sucre, the old capital of the country. It was a beautiful city in the mountains with old, beautiful architecture. It was here that I was first introduced to the Bolivian culture as we walked around the town and the girls explained everything I was seeing. We made dinner at our hippie hostel, watched the sunset from a hotel terrace we snuck into, talked about life, grabbed beers at a local bar, and tore up the club. It was on the forbidden hotel terrace where we started the list of “things Mac breaks” when I tried to impress the girls by opening a beer bottle on a ledge. The entire bottle ended up getting shattered into 1,000 pieces… They weren’t impressed.
– We crouched, climbed, ducked, and walked carefully through a silver and zinc mine in Potosi. Our guide was a former miner, and you could see his appreciation for those who work in the mines. He teared up when he talked of the struggles the miners endure to provide for their families, including putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations daily. Personally, I have worked in tunnels before, so I found it really interesting to see the difference in working conditions between Bolivia and the US. After that tour, we all walked away a little more grateful for the life we’ve been given.
– Uyuni was the next stop, and the highlight of my trip. We spent 3 days touring the salt flats in southern Bolivia. We were joined by Guatemalan Susie, her son Lionel, and Seb, a 29-year old Frenchman. Our driver and leader through the salt flats was our less-than-joyful guide Samuel. It became our goal to “kill him with kindness”, as he just didn’t seem thrilled to spend time with us and did not offer explanation for any of the beauty we were seeing. We softened him up a bit by the end of our three days, however. The landscape changed from expansive salt flats, to highland plateaus, to towering volcanos, to mountain lagoons filled with flamingos, to other-worldly boiling mud and steaming geysers.
– Traveling to new cities became either the low points or the high points of the trip. Traveling in big open buses in the afternoon, watching the sunset over the mountains and just relaxing was awesome. The night buses not so much.
– The last evening on the salt flats was easily the highlight of my trip, which was appropriate as it was the last night I had with the girls. We spent the evening in a building surrounded by absolutely nothing for miles and miles, powered (for a meager 2 hours) by generators. We had met kindred-spirit Aussie friends at our hostel the night before, and were SO disappointed they ended up in a different hostel than us. However, we ended up making the most of our last night together. After a few drinks and laughs at dinner, two guys, one from Russia and one from Israel, pulled out their guitars and we started requesting songs. Despite having a 3:30AM wake-up call to get on the road early, we sang and played until 11:00 in the night. At one point, the power went out and we only had the light from a headlamp to continue singing. Before going to bed, Elizabeth and I went out to check out the stars and just about fell over upon leaving the doorway, partly because of the cold, but mostly because of the sheer brightness of the stars above us. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the intensity of the stars almost knocked us over. It was incredible.
The next morning came quickly, but it led us to a set of geysers early enough and cold enough to see the steam in full effect. This was yet another hidden gem in such a remote area. Save for a few quick pit stops, our last big stop was the hot springs where we were able to bathe for the first time in 3 days. A fitting way to end our time together! (Hundreds of dirty bodies bathing for the first time in the same small hot pool meant we got SUPER clean…)
On our ride to drop the girls off at the border to Chile, I allowed myself to reflect on the week. My mind was racing with thoughts, but I kept coming back to hope. I had been struggling to find peace before coming on this trip and had fallen into despair as things have not been working out as I had imagined. I had let the difficulties I was encountering darken my spirit.
It’s nothing new to state that everyone encounters difficulties in life. As a young adult, I’m faced with the vast unknown that is supposed to be the rest of my life. Alli, Elizabeth and I, along with probably many others that we encountered during my week down there, are trying to figure life out. Sometimes, when my dad asks me how I’m doing, I respond with “good, just trying to figure out what I want to do with my life,” to which he responds, “me too.” I think that’s part of the human condition, to be traveling along the road of life, not fully knowing where it leads or when you’ll get there. If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans, right?
Being human means living with the tension of the unknown, but that doesn’t require us to be consumed by it. The light will always push out the darkness, we just have to let it. Engage the tension and embrace it, but embrace it with hope. Become familiar and comfortable with the unknown. Hope gives us the ability to wade through the difficult moments, knowing that on the other side is something greater that can only be reached by embracing and rejoicing in the difficulties.
On my day layover in Panama City en route to the US, I met a nice couple from California that owned a place nearby. When I left, I said something to the effect of “take care,” under the assumption that I would never see them again. They responded with something to the effect of “looking forward to seeing you soon.” I found this statement childish, because there was almost no chance I would see them again. But I see why they said it – they held onto hope.
In the matter of a month, I planned and went on this amazing trip with two wonderful girls. Looking forward to what this month will bring me.
Hope you enjoyed the guest post!
UP NEXT: Crossing into Chile from Bolivia… (Nowhere near as dramatic as the crossing from Peru into Bolivia)