Thursday, November 17, 2016

And Now for a Visit from the PARENTS!

I can finally say that as of August of this year, my entire nuclear family has now made it down for a Bolivian travel experience! And what an experience this past one was... :) As I did with the blog posts about Bridget's visit, I'm going to break my parents' visit up into two parts--the first (this one) just giving the nuts and bolts of our adventures and the second looking at any take-away messages I learned during their two-ish weeks with me.

So without further delay, let's start with our first adventure, which happened very shortly after my parents landed in La Paz... Now before I go on with this story, it's good to point out a couple of important details. First of all La Paz has the highest international airport in the world, clocking in at an impressive 13,325 feet above sea level. This means oxygen levels are quite low and ones ability to feel "normal" and not want to either 1) sleep all the time, 2) vomit all the time, or 3) take ibuprofen for your killer headache all.the.time are also quite low. Additionally, these feelings are typically exacerbated even further when one has been traveling for a bazillion hours on route to visit your lovely daughter who lives in a different hemisphere...

So now that all of that is in context, let's picture my parents getting off their international flight at 5AM in La Paz tired, jet-lagged, etc and walking into the land of ZERO OXYGEN. My dad actually did alright in the moon-atmosphere-like conditions, but my mother's body unfortunately didn't react so kindly to the lack of normal breathing materials. Knowing this was probably going to be the case, I had booked us a flight to the Amazon area of Bolivia (read SEA LEVEL) just a couple hours after my parents' arrival. Unfortunately, when I went to check-in to said flight, I found out that due to monsoon like rains that had hit the town we'd be flying into (Rurrenabaque), instead of leaving at 730AM, our flight time had now been switched to 5PM to accommodate all the travelers who had missed flights the day before.

Luckily for us, with the help of my good friend Minh (who was also traveling with us), after some thought, lots of question-asking, and lets be honest, divine intervention, my parents and I managed to score last minute plane tickets (ie bought at 6:30AM for a 7AM flight) on a different airline, called TAM. TAM stands for Transporte Aéreo Militar or military airlift in English, which means that in order to take this flight we had to take a cab to the Bolivian military airbase located about 15 minutes from the airport. Lets just say it was a bit of a surreal experience overall.

But surreal or not, we were so grateful when we finally landed in Rurre a short 45 minutes after take off. From here on out, I am happy to report that travel plans went much smoother. We spent a lovely day in Rurre before hopping on a 3 hours boat ride up the Beni River to get to the amazing Serere Ecolodge. Here we had 4 days and 3 nights of sunrise canoe paddles (to see birds of course--do you even know my family?!?), walks in the jungle (primarily to look for even more birds...), evening canoe paddles (to see red caimen eyes glowing in the water and view the incredible display of the Milky Way), an afternoon of jewelry making from jungle nuts, a few afternoon naps, and darkness lit only by candlelight and headlamps. It was an amazing experince overall. One of the highlights happened day 1, when our guide, Juan, showed up to meet us for the first time dressed in a St. Olaf College Soccer t-shirt... Yup. What are the odds... :)

 In the boat on the way to the ecolodge!

Um Ya Ya!

 My parents just hanging with some of the ecolodge's permanent residents :)

 My father showing off is bird watching abilities just before sunrise.

And not to be outdone, here's my mother making birding look awesome!

Ring making going full swing!

After our jungle experience, we headed back into the altitude, this time a little more rested and also on local altitude medicine (ie Sorochi pills and lots and lots of coca tea!). We spent a "rest day" in La Paz, where the highlight was without question riding in the city's super cool aerial cable car system. The next day we woke up early and took a windy bus ride to the town of Copacabana, which is situated right on the shore of the massive Lake Titicaca. It was here where we all fell in love (some of us not for the first time) with Bolivia. The lake is incredible. The mountains in the background are stunning. The cool crisp air (although devoid of oxygen...) is clean and sweet, and the hostel we stayed in was quite literally a slice of heaven. It was the same hostel I stayed with when Moly and I visited, and it was just as perfect as I'd remembered.

 View from the Teleferico (ie ariel cable car system)

View of the harbor from our hostel suite

Although we were only there for a couple days, we took full advantage of our time. We walked the shoreline, admiring all the cars that had come to be blessed at the local cathedral, we ate dinners watching the sun set over the peaceful harbor, we hiked Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), which according to Inca mythology is the birthplace of the sun (!!), we spent our evenings cuddled by the fire doing crossword puzzles and word jumbles together, and we drank "un monton" (ie a WHOLE lot) of coca tea. It was truly a special time :)

 One of the many decorated and blessed cars near the harbor

A small harbor on Isla del Sol

Hiking buddies for the day on Isla del Sol!

Next, our journey took us to Cochabamba, so my parents could get a taste of what my "real" life is like! I tried my best NOT to pack our schedule in Coch, but with so many people and places I wanted them to see, it was hard. They were troopers, and visited both of my ministry sites, getting to bake for a morning at Manos con Libertad, and having the unique experience of visiting both the girls' and the boys' homes at Niños con Valor. We also spent time with Bolivian and ex-pat friends, giving my good friend Ariane the perfect opportunity to practice her English! And then there was experiencing the Saturday morning market, visiting my favorite local coffee shop, taking trufis (public transportation), going downtown to the artesian market, being present for the beginning of Cochabamba's now pretty serious water crisis, experiencing a Día del Peatón (ie day when no motorized vehicles are permitted anywhere) and going to a Bolivian mass. All in all a very good but definitely full time!

 My parents and Ariane :)

 Group shot after a morning of baking at Manos.

 Fish for sale at the Saturday morning market..........

Getting ready to bucket shower after finding out the well to my house had run dry...(which it still is...) 

My proud papa after returning from a successful solo trip to the corner market to buy some drinking water due to the lack of any water the well...

And then, just like that, it was time to take my parents to the airport and say good-bye and maybe, just maybe, even possibly wait an hour or so at the outside plane-viewing area in the freezing cold wind with only a little jacket on, wiping away tears (not from the wind) every so often just so I could see them walk down the jet bridge to their plane... And then rush home so I could be there in time for them to Facetime me and tell me that they got to their hotel safely and that all will be ok...

I won't sugar coat their visit too much and say that we didn't have our fair share of "family moments," (cough, cough...) but overall, I am filled with gratitude not only to have had this special time with my parents, but also because it allowed them to get a tiny glimpse into my reality and help put my experience into a more understandable context.