The 11th cohort of International Citizen Service volunteers arrives in El Alto, a city which is connected to the capitol of Bolivia, La Paz. We had arrived in Santa Cruz after a long-haul overnight flight from Madrid.
El Alto looks completely different to La Paz. It is completely flat. There are many shaby and unfinished buildings, and it seemed quiet (it was a Sunday morning). We were met at the airport by the head of the ICS programme at Servicio International Britanico and one of the Bolivian volunteers.
We stopped to look at the view and I picked up a 20 Boliviano note from the floor! (about 2quid)
We arrived at the office, met everyone, had coca tea, then were met by our host families. Joe and I went by car with our host mother to her home in Bolognia. There we met the rest of the family; her husband, their three sons, 17, 12 and 5, and their 2 dogs and 2 cats. We all went round the corner for dinner in our host father´s mother´s house where our fellow volunteers, Lloyd, Myles, Jules and Taylor live. We met cousins, aunties and uncles. The food was good too. Pasta, rice, potatos, some new root veg, plantain, chicken and a small amount of veg. The qunatity of veg in meals has since gone up. It was low at the start because the host families had been told we should avoid fruit and veg for the first 2 weeks. Despite following all the advice, I still got ill in the first week and was in the clinic on Friday! Most of the other volunteers got ill too. My roommate Joe is the only volunteer in Bolognia, our little area, not to get ill! Our mate Myles got appendixitis of all things and was in the clinic for 3 days!!!
But I´m jumping ahead...
Day 2, Monday
We were accompanied to the office by two local volunteers, Adri and Alijandro who live in our district. Minibus to the Amarillo Teleferico on Obrajes 1 (MI TELEFERICO is the name of La Paz´s BRAND NEW CABLE CAR!!). Then a 5 min hop up the hill, skipping lots of winding roads, over buildings, past an army barracks all the way to the office, which is literaly across the road from the teleferico stop. The young women who work on the teleferico are gorgeous! And everyone is so friendly (sorry for commenting on women´s looks, I guess that could be taken as derogatory, but I don´t mean to be).
We had an intense day. Some rather heavy intro stuff about why we´re here and what there is to do. To me Bolivia looked pretty sorted on paper, but there are infact a lot of problems (unsuprisingly, why else would we be here?) I realised that the problems here and elsewhere in the world were mainly the result of human ineptitude. This is not a fact, it´s just how it seems to me. And it´s quite annoying to me to think that if only people were thoughtful and considerate, then the world would be a much better place. We had a cracking lunch of chicken, rice, potato and plantain, then more important training and induction stuff. After leaving the office we went to the Blueberries cafe. I sat outside and sketched with Myles and a beggar came and asked us for money. I said I´d give him money if he´d let me sketch him. He kept trying to look at the sketch, which made it hard. So I asked to photograph him. But as soon as I gave him the money he ran off. Cheeky bugger. I gave him a wopping great 20Bs. (I was still thinging in British money, and I had picked up 20 the other day, so what goes around comes around. He needed it more than me.)
Bolivian smoking outside Blueberries Café
It had gotten late, and the rain caused the teleferico to stop. So we had to find another way home. Raquel and Eric from the office helped us to get the right bus. After waiting for a while for a Bolognia bus I remembered Adri´s instructions that actually a direct bus was rare and we had to change. After I remembered that I managed to lead out group home.
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Liam Rickard is a musician & illustrator from North Wales performing multilingual, global-alt-pop, party music and comedy under the name Worldwide Welshman, and as one half of the Welsh folk-rock duo, Lo-Fi Jones.