Sunday, January 29, 2012

At 12,000 feet and high on some workable Spanish!

Today is my last in La Paz and has been the best day thus far on my trip. As most of my best travel days, I've spent it walking around the city. The weather was perfect, at least for La Paz, which at almost 12,000 feet you're lucky to take your jacket off. The best part was a stop at a cafe when I ordered, asked for the check, and paid using only Spanish and without any pointing at the menu. I felt especially accomplished when I heard the waitress speaking English to a couple a few minutes later, meaning I was understandable enough that she didn't switch to English! Yes, this was a rather small accomplishment, but after my limited Spanish failed me in my attempt to get a working phone the day before I needed the small boost of confidence.

Later I walked into a shop and it felt oddly familiar, like I had actually been there and I had. It was the same shop I purchased a rug in when I was in La Paz five and a half years ago. The familiarity made me feel comfortable in this foreign place and that was just what I needed.

The day is coming to an end and I'm writing this from the roof of my hostel, which should be it's biggest selling point, yet oddly enough I was unaware of it until today. I walked from one end of the central city to the other and I'm seeing a whole new world from up here. It is easy to see all ends of the spectrum from up here and it makes it that much easier to start falling in love with Bolivia.

Tomorrow will throw me something new as I travel to Cochabamba, the city I hope to be spending my next month exploring.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

$200 yellow fever shot and on to South America

After I got back from SE Asia I had a plan in mind. I wanted to spend a few months at home, take off to South America to learn Spanish, and be accepted into Teach For America so I would have a job waiting for me when I got back. I must say that timing and luck was on my side. The plans have changed slightly, but it looks like I will get to stay in South America for the next three and a half months, and I did get into Teach For America, so I don't have to worry about the fact that I am spending all of my money on traveling because I have a job waiting for me.

I originally wanted to do an intensive language program in Argentina. But after thinking about it logically, ei thinking about the fact that they have weirdest accent ever and that it would be twice the cost, I decided on Bolivia. To be more specific, Cochabamba, a city in which my uncle and cousin have spent considerable time, my cousin's husband is from, and where they met during high school.

Well, I've made it to Bolivia, but not without a couple of issues along the way. I did research about what I would need to get a visa and what requirements there were for entering and exiting the country. The rules seemed to have changed significantly from when I entered the country in 2006. Of course, they never even looked at half the stuff I had prepared for the trip, including a rather painful $200 yellow fever shot, but they did want extra things that were not stated in any of the government websites I read. I'd read in a couple blogs that some disreputable airlines would force you to buy an exit ticket before they would let you get on the plane to enter the country. So, for that reason and many others I obviously booked on what I thought was a reputable airline. That's when I ended up having to purchase a ticket to Paraguay in two months. I fought with them for almost two hours in Miami and they insisted it was required. I bought the cheapest ticket they had with the promise that it was fully exchangeable. Not really sure what I should have done instead as they wouldn't print out my boarding pass so I could go through security until I purchased it and I didn't want to miss the flight. They said I would definitely need evidence of an exit ticket when I got my visa. Surprise, surprise, I was never asked for any evidence of an exit ticket when applying for a visa. Who knows what the rules really are? And I'm here now anyway.

On top of the minor entrance issues I may be in a bit over my head . I have some Spanish background, but Bolivia is by no means touristy. On my flight into the country I saw one other person I would deem a non-South American. To get the full experience of an intensive language program I have signed up for 20 hours of one-on-one lessons a week. I will also be staying with a non-English speaking family. Did I mention I don't speak Spanish? I guess this really didn't hit me till I was speaking to a woman on the plane. She was asking me a bunch of questions about the school, family, my plans afterward, and how I was getting from La Paz to Cochabamba. She thought I was crazy and gave me her phone number for when the shit hits the fan.

Yes, I'm walking into a school I know relatively little about, but I read a couple reviews and it was the school I could find the most information about on the internet. No, I don't know anything about the family I will be staying with other than the fact that I've been told there will be hot water (which I'm sure there won't be) and they live a five minute walk from the school. But I feel confident that it will go well, and if nothing else it will be an adventure with many stories to tell.