It is hard to believe that I am just a few flights and one last jungle trek away from being back on Canadian soil. I can hardly wait to hear the familiar songs of birds, feel the hot humid air of summer, and embrace the sweet smell of the Pacific Ocean meeting the delicious scent of vegetation. I am even more excited to see the friends and family who have kept me going here in Latin America for the past 6 months. Strangely, I am also incredibly excited for quiet. Living on a busy street in La Paz for six months has in many ways drowned my senses. I have grown scarily accustomed to the roar of traffic, car alarms, and fighting dogs. I hardly remember what it is like to hear absolutely nothing. However, there is a rhythm to this country that cannot easily be described, and it is one that I will struggle to part with. Bolivia is stunning in so many ways. The beauty of this country and of its people is truly captivating, and it’s a shame that some people leave without being able to appreciate it. Although Bolivia has tested me to my limits, the truth is that is exactly why I came. My main motivation for coming to Bolivia was because my life in Canada was just too easy. Leaving the comfort of my work, my fantastic community of friends, and my loving family for 6 months was something I felt necessary so that I could experience life where the grass isn’t exactly greener. In other words, a way of life that was more taxing, challenging, wonderfully frustrating, and one that seemed a bit more like living.
Even though my wish to be stretched has been granted tenfold here in Bolivia, I always found it difficult to hold a grudge against this country that has shown and taught me so many valuable things. For one, Bolivia has fed well my insatiable appetite for nature. The towering majesty of the Andes is an experience my eyes are still trying to behold. The sea of green that greets you when you look out over the Amazon is so tantalizing that blinking almost seems criminal. The rivers, the canyons, the glaciers, the deserts, the plains, the lakes, the salt flats, the sand dunes, the forests – at times it is like experiencing in real life the images of a national geographic magazine. I feel even more fortunate that my experiences in Bolivia went well beyond the sites I have seen here. I have learned to trust people, and not the kind of friendly trust that you have for a friend keeping a secret for you. I mean the kind of trust you have no choice but to place in somebody who literally has your life in their hands. When you are barrelling down a 3.5m wide cliff-edge road with a several hundred meter drop just outside your window, you have no choice but to trust the driver with your life.
I have also learned to embrace the unexpected. I have had to cancel travel plans and rearrange work schedules because my wallet was stolen – twice. I have had so many plans crumble beneath my feet, only to be welcomed into new and exciting plans moments later. I have become so used to change that it is now almost instinct for me to expect a totally different adventure than what I was planning. It’s worthwhile learning how to embrace change and not loathe it.
Another lesson Bolivia taught me was to take risks. Not just with extreme sports like biking the Death Road or rafting down dangerously low rivers, but also with people. It has been humbling to see how many people I have been able to welcome into my life just by swallowing my pride, battling the awkwardness and opening myself up to them. By doing this, I opened myself up to an entire community of some of the most loving people I have ever met. Whether it was my church community, my volleyball crew, or my adventure buddies, my life in Bolivia was made through these people, and they invited me into a vibrant Latin American culture which I adore.
** Now excuse me while I write a little note of thanks to my awesome community of Bolivian friends.
Para mis amigos Bolivianos, estoy muyyyy agradecido por cada uno de ustedes. Ustedes han hecho mi tiempo aquí en Bolivia inolvidable. Gracias por todo lo que han hecho para mí. Gracias por todas las invitaciones, los tragos que nos compartimos, y todas las cosas sobre este país y el idioma que me enseñaban. No hay palabras expresar la gratitud que me siento por haberles conocidos. Ustedes son la razón por la que ya quiero volver a Bolivia, y apenas puedo esperar por la reunión gloriosa! Hasta la próxima, mi familia Boliviana. Mil abrazos a ustedes. Les cuento que siempre están bienvenidos a Canadá. Les espero allá. Chaucito.
Now that I write this blog post I realize just how many things Bolivia has taught me. Like how to cope with thievery. How to work with, respect, and appreciate indigenous culture/customs. How to voice my opinion or my concern about a situation so that I am not taken advantage of or forced into situations that I do not feel comfortable with. Realistically, it is futile trying to summarize everything I learned here but I can say that in many ways, this internship was hardly one of professional development. Much of what I learned involved just surviving in Bolivia, integrating into the culture, and working with indigenous communities who seem to have been forgotten about by many. I learned how to be more patient with people, and how to relinquish my worship of time and punctuality. The list goes on, and I am incredibly thankful that it does. This is what has made these past 6 months such a wild adventure, and has made them so memorable for me. I will be sharing my stories here for the rest of my life, so whether or not I enjoyed every day in Bolivia makes no difference. Bolivia has made me a different person, a smarter person, a slightly wilder person, but overall – a better person.
In one way or another, I know I will be back.
Hasta la proxima, Bolivia.