I spent the first 7+ years of my life in La Paz, Bolivia, where it's remained a collection of fuzzy memories in the corners of my mind. Now, after 34 years away, I've finally made it back. To make this return even more special, my dad has come with me. Being together as relieve my childhood memories, feels pretty unbelievable.
Bolivia is no longer the third world country that it was when I left. It's a bustling city full of all the modern amenities I've since grown accustomed and has a vibrant culture to match.
Upon arriving it was time to head out and explore the city. However the city has grown so much that it was difficult to get my bearings. Luckily, La Paz now has the highest Teleferico (cable car) system in the world! This is an urban transit system that serves both La Paz and El Alto, a city that didn't exist when I lived here but is now larger then La Paz. What better way to take it all in than from above!
It was an amazing feeling to be back in Bolivia. I could see, taste, and smell the world I once called home. As a kid, I had a nanny named Juana, who I probably spent more time with over those 7 years than anyone else in my life. When my family moved back to the US, Juana remained behind to look after her aging parents. Since it was the early 80's and we had no internet, FaceTime or cell phones (we couldn't even make an international phone call without making an appointment with an international operator a week in advance) we lost touch but I have never once thought about Bolivia without thinking about her. Once I knew I'd be returning, I made it part of the mission to somehow track her down. Luckily for me the expat community keeps tabs on everyone and we were given a "this may be her cell phone but we're not really sure" number...AND IT WORKED, WE FOUND HER!!!
Although my spanish isn't what it was as a kid, it was such an amazing feeling to give her a big hug and fill each other in on 3+ decades of life. It may have been the most special moment of this trip for me. Talking to her son and hearing that he grew up with pictures of our family in his house, made me realize that those years with us meant as much to her as they did to us. It brings tears of joy to my eyes even as I write this.
After a tearful goodbye, it was back to exploring the city. While walking through one of our old neighborhoods, we came across a rehearsal for El Fiesta del Gran Poder or the "Festival of the Great Power", a religious celebration that pays homage to Jesus Christ.
Every year 30,000 dancers take to the streets and party along the 6km route. It's an amazing celebration like no other and lasts for 2 days.
After a few days in La Paz, it was time to head to Uyuni where we picked up our Land Cruiser and set out to explore the more remote places in Bolivia, some of these places my dad hadn't seen in his 40yrs of living/working in the country which made it pretty exciting for both of us.
We spent the better part of 4 days without seeing a real road. If I ever wondered what life on Mars would be like, I think this was it.
We drove through the Atacama desert on the way to the border with Argentina and Chile. We came across El Sol de Manana, an area of intense volcanic activitiy that is covered with sulphur springs and boiling mud pools. It was a pretty surreal spot
The fact that you are 16,000 feet above sea level only adds to the moon like setting. As we continued to head south, we came to Laguna Verde. This is an amazing lake on the border with Argentina and marked the southern most point of our journey.
It was time to turn around and head back towards Uyuni. The two day drive would take us through the desolate town of Julaca, which was once a bustling town along the train route that heads North-South across the continent.
The final stop for our Land Cruiser would be on the Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flat. It's over 5,000 sq miles and once on the flat you see nothing but white. It's a pretty amazing place. Luckily there was a bit of rain prior to our arrival so we were rewarded with this amazing reflection!!
Being home again, kinda, with one of those most important people in my life was something I will never forget.
Bolivia, I LOVE YOU!!
You will always have a place in my heart no matter how long I'm away.