Wednesday, April 9, 2014

El Día del Peatón

This past Sunday I got to experience my first ever "el día del peatón" which translates into "the day of the pedestrian." It's an awesome day where no one is allowed to drive anything motorized between the hours of 9am and 6pm ANYWHERE in the entire department of Cochabamba.  And although this is not a huge area, it's definitely large enough to make this accomplishment quite impressive (see orange section in map below--sorry for the blurriness, but this is the best one I could find).

There are three of these days throughout the year, all of them falling on a Sunday, which for most Cochabambinos is a day off of work.  The days were created as a way to help ameliorate Cochabamba's increasing air pollution problem.  However, although my host mother *swears* that these three days every year have lead to a substantial increase in air quality in the region, most of the other Bolivians and Maryknoll Lay Missioners I've talked to say they haven't really noticed any difference.  That said, I don't want to diminish its awesomeness.  It is most definitely a great start, and a feat few American cities, let alone counties (that's pretty much what I gather the American equivalent to a Bolivian department is) could pull off.  

So what actually goes down on these days without cars?  It's pretty much nothing short of an all city (and I'm sure department) block party.  You can find food venders lining most of the major streets in Cochabamba and the downtown is full of food, dancing, free outside concerts, a multitude of inflatable bouncy houses, and TONS of people riding more bikes than I ever could imagine existed in all of South America.  Ooh, and let's not forget about the numerous horse riding opportunities or the free public work-out sessions that can be found being led throughout the day be various work-out instructors.  I sadly did not bring my camera down with me to the festivities (and Nate wasn't around to take awesome pictures for me...), but below are some pictures I got from the internet that best capture what I was lucky enough to experience:

Let's start off strong with a great example at what the work-out classes  looked like.  You can see the instructors and participants really going for it as passers by stop to check out the action.  However this picture is missing the aerobic steppers that were present in many of the classes I witnessed to help the instructors and participants get their "sweat on" during this day of fun. 

And below we have the horses.  And what comes with many horses in the streets? That would be a whoooooooooole lotta horse poop :)  Awesome.  Happy trails everyone!

And below are a few good looks at what the streets actually looked like on this day.  Below is a great shot of the main street located about a 20 minute walk from my house on the way to the downtown area.  You can see all the food venders' umbrellas set up on the right side of the photo.

And below is a picture of the downtown area.  Please take note that the umbrellas are not being used for protection from the rain, but instead for protection from the sun.  I have found it to be quite rare that a Bolivian will actually use an umbrella when it is raining out, however, as you can see, it is quite a different story when it is sunny out.  Do not take this information as criticism though.  I for one have *jumped* on the sun-umbrella bandwagon and use one pretty much every single day on my walk home from language school so as not to get scorched by the sun's strong rays. #whitegirlproblems

And finally below we have a picture of the bikes.  I think this photo highlights nicely the number of bikes that can be found on the streets (ie a TON).  In fact, one of my Franciscan Lay Missioner friends wanted to re-name the day as "the day of the bikes," since they clearly had way more run of the street than the pedestrians did :)  This photo also shows how non-existent helmets are (sorry Mom).  However, in a country that never uses seat belts, I wasn't all that surprised.

So there you go.  To all you Americans reading this blog (as opposed to by *extensive* international following...), I think a day without motorized vehicles is a great idea to bring to your local/state/national representatives.  I know Madison already has a couple "Ride the Drive" days throughout the year where one of the major roads in Madison is closed to motorized traffic and has activities for bikers and other people on wheels.  Maybe that could be turned into a city-wide event?  (That is of course only if there are special allowances for nurses and other lucky workers who have the opportunity to work on the weekends :) ).  Let me know if you have any luck pushing this great idea!

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