Greetings from La Paz, to all and Sundry. We’ve arrived here from Cochabamba, starting at 2558 meters above sea level, climbing to 4500 meters (600 meters short of Everest base camp), and descending to La Paz at 3640 meters. It’s been a hard time acclimatizing to the alturas but a rich set experiences nevertheless. After a brief sharing of our adventures we also have an announcement to make regarding our continued travel.
In Cochabamba after our last blog post we had a transition of host: we “moved” from Faustino and Ligia’s house to the house of F.A. Hutchison, a world traveler dedicated to the promotion of cycle-touring culture, and with it a message of peace. You can visit his site at cyclingpeace.org. He was an excellent host to us and a great person-of-departure for Cochabamba.
From Cochabamba we began our climb out of the city and our ascent into altitudes we’d not previously encountered. We passed 3800 meters and were proud of ourselves, then 4100 and were even more so: it wasn’t until we reached 4500 that we were really up there and aware of our accomplishment, though dimly so for lack of oxygen.
As we climbed higher and reached harder climes, the people and their way of life changed around us. More and more we see a hardy people steeled against the dry wind and the frigid nights, yet welcoming and hospitable in their disposition toward us. An image that will leave none of our minds is that of the rock walls built by the residents at 4500 feet: they construct small foxholes of stone in which they hide from the wind while selling their wares to travelers. Their bodies and their buildings reflect the environment in which they live.
We continue to be blessed by our experiences with the global Church. Our final night before reaching La Paz was spent in the student quarters of a Catholic Church 105 km from La Paz. The padre there, Iver Alvares, was warm and welcoming to us, and thanked us for our trust in the Church. We were astonished at this, being equally grateful to him for his trust in us. Spontaneous mutual trust is a beautiful gift.
Another wonderful thing we’ve discovered in South America is the system of “casas de ciclistas.” There is a network of houses here dedicated to serve as landing places for cycle tourists wandering through South America. We found our first here in La Paz and we’re astonished and grateful to have stumbled upon this excellent cultural artifact.
We’re a bit crunched on time for this blog post: we have a lot of logistics to figure out for our departure from La Paz, the character of which has changed a bit. We’ll be departing from La Paz in two groups: Levi and I, Matthew, will bus ahead to Quito to arrive there on the 18th of July, and Michael and Abe will continue by bike to catch up with us on the 26th of August.
Levi, unfortunately, is sick and unable to write directly his statement of intent for busing, but before he had to return to our room at the casa de ciclistas here he was able to write up a little something, which I’ll paste here:
Several months ago I initiated the process of securing an internship with the heath advocacy organization, MAP International. I´m exciting for this rich oppurtunity to immerse myself in medical Spanish and ecuadoran culture. After the program coordinator recommended for me to arrive in late July—a month earlier than anticipated—I realized that I am very invested in the experience, and that I needed to hasten mý travels through Peru. Though it will be hard to part with two of my buddies, I´m grateful that Matthew will be accompanying me through the next 2 weeks. I´m excited to be able to stay in a place for 3 months—to know the people and to improve my Spanish.
For my part, I decided to join Levi several weeks ago, when he first mentioned the possibility of advancing his internship. I’ve been rather drained by the continuous meeting and leaving of hosts on our journey. I’m deeply affected by a sense of place and home, and haven’t yet found in myself the energy to travel well the way that we’ve been doing it. I’m going ahead with Levi to try to find a more solid grounding in a continuous place, people, and language, and perhaps from there I will be better able to travel.
I’m looking forward, as Levi is, to being able to spend three months in one place, to improve my skill with the Spanish language, and hopefully to be open to excellent relationships and ways of being in the place that I am. Although the transition to a smaller group of cyclists may present new challenges for Abe and Michael, the four of us have discussed the situation thoroughly and everyone has come to approval of the decision.
Thank you all for reading and understanding! Now I’m off to go figure out bus logistics.
Matthew, for the cyclists.