And now (months later) for some of the insights that came out of Bridget's trip. For all those who'd rather just hear about our fun travel adventures and see pretty pictures, please refer to the previous blog post, although I will try and add in some fun pictures along the way in this one as well :)
There were a couple things I realized not necessarily because of Bridget, but more because of what we did together during her visit. The first has to do with hiking in the Andes. Sadly, my life down here doesn't really include a whole lot of nature. This is true for a variety of reasons such as lack of easy access to anything that's actually outside of the city (ie something other than a city park), safety concerns with the few options I've enjoyed in the past, not having access to a car, typically being busy evenings and weekends, etc. So I think that over the past couple of years I'd just kind of forgotten how much I crave the outdoors and the deep a sense of peace being in nature gives me. Which made my hiking with Bridget all that more special since not only was I finally out of the city, but I was experiencing some of the most beautiful scenery ever, and I was getting to do it with my favorite hiking partner ever. Bridget not only has the ability to stay positive pretty much all.the.time while hiking (even when the hiking to me is beyond difficult...), but her positivity is incredibly infectious and at times got me through some very challenging ascents. In the highest altitude I've experienced to date. Oh, and she'll also sing with me, which is also a dream come true. At one point, we sang just about every song we could remember from the Camp Manitowish song book. And then got thanked by many of the other hikers for being so "entertaining," which I think was a compliment...
Another insight that came out of my travels with Bridget was just how obnoxious tourists from the US can be. Now, let's all take a breath here and realize that I did not just say ALL US tourists are obnoxious, nor do I think all non-US tourists are perfect; however, I can safely say that during our time traveling to Peru and our time hiking to and experiencing Machu Picchu that I have never been more embarrassed in my life to have been associated with many of the other US tourists we came across. I think the highlight? or maybe more accurately lowlight? of the multitude of shenanigans we witnessed was when one of the women in our hiking group complained that the young man who had led her and her husband to their hotel, "didn't even speak English." Yup. It was all I could do to keep Bridget from curtly mentioning that it was almost like we were traveling in another country or something... Needless to say, all of this made me even more thankful (yet again) that Bridget is who she is, which in this instance is not someone I'm even remotely embarrassed to travel with. Except the few times she feels the need to act like my father... *wink*
Now, I think this second insight (ie my possible desire to distance myself even further from the "American" culture) may have led or at least contributed to my next one, which was the sense of homecoming I felt upon returning to La Paz after our adventures in Peru. I should take a second and point out that although I very much realize that Peru and Bolivia are two separate countries with distinct cultures, I noticed a whoooollle lot of similarities between the two during our travels. In comparison to Bolivia, I found the Spanish to be similar in Peru as well as many aspects of the indigenous culture (dress, language, shyness, etc), the local cuisine, the physical appearance of the rural villages, the prevalence of machismo (sadly), the presence of local "chicarias" selling a popular homemade alcoholic beverage called chica, the chewing of coca leaves and reverence to the Pachamama (mother earth), etc. However, even with all of these strong similarities, I still felt a much stronger connection to the people and the culture upon de-planing in La Paz. This feeling took me a little bit by surprise since although I'd felt a strong affinity to Bolivia for many months at this point, I'd never thought that I'd ever feel a sense of home and/or comfort associated with my new country of residence. It was a very nice surprise and a feeling I cherish still to this day.
However, I should point out that even in all of this new found Bolivian connectedness coupled with my embarrassment regarding peoples' actions from the US, I still was somewhat jealous that in La Paz Bridget was boarding a plane to the US, whereas I was getting on one to Cochabamba. And honestly, I think this had a whole lot to do with the assumed ease I saw Bridget returning to, whereas with me, whether I was feeling strongly connected to Bolivia or not, I was heading back to a life that due to its nature of being cross-cultural and mainly in a different language, was not as "easy," at least on the surface level. Which once again got me thinking about the immigrants in this world who don't have as many comforts or privileges as I do here in Bolivia, nor the possibility of returning to their home country whenever they want, let alone the possibility of having loved ones come visit them (due to lack of economic means, difficulty in obtaining a visa, etc), which I think I can safely say is pretty much the MAJORITY OF THEM. Just more food for thought when it comes to how we can better support and welcome immigrants in the US regardless of who becomes our next President.
A fifth insight, or maybe more accurately validation, that came out of Bridget's visit was the constant micro-aggressions I experience on a regular basis due to my sex (and somewhat also do to the anomaly of my skin color down here). I have tried, and continue to try, to "let go" a bit of the many small unwanted comments, gestures, sounds, etc I have misfortune of being subjected to on a daily basis. However, being the highly attentive person that I am, this has been very difficult for me and often times is just not possible. To see that these actions also affected Bridget in a negative way, and that she noticed that they were going on, helped me feel a lot less crazy and a lot less like I was "looking for" or "being too sensitive" to men's actions towards me. It reminded me yet again, that sexism (or I'm sure the same can be said about racism, homophobia, discrimination, etc) is not necessarily something that is blatant and obvious for all to see, and has more to do with how the action is being experienced regardless of what the intention was from the person acting.
And lastly, Bridget's presence helped highlight the deep loneliness I have felt at times living in another country so far away from my family and many of my good friends. I don't think I can fully express how nice it was to have a live-in companion who not only thought very similar to myself, but also liked similar foods, TV shows, music, activities, etc. At one point while we were in the tourist town just at the foot of Machu Picchu, I found myself whining for her to come for a walk with me, despite the fact that she wanted to rest for a bit. When she asked me why I cared so much, I thought for a moment and realized that my desire to have her come had nothing to do with being uncomfortable with walking on my own (something I do all.the.time down here) and much more to do with wanting to take full advantage of the fact that she was there and if she changed her mind, I didn't have to go alone on this walk. And as someone who considers herself to be pretty independent, this was a good realization for me to have: that although I can do everything by myself, that doesn't mean I necessarily like doing stuff alone all.the.time.
And done. That's what I got for now. And to think, it's been less than 2 months since my last blog post--very possibly a new record for me, but also one I probably will never be able to break :)