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New Years in Cochabamba

Written on: Monday December 31st, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Cochabamba, Bolivia 

Author: Kevin


It?s New Year?s Eve and most of the stores and restaurants in Cochabamba are closed. That made it interesting for us to find a place to eat lunch today. Our hostel is located 4 blocks away from the Plaza and when we got there we saw a beautiful plaza with a park, palm trees, and Christmas lights. Surrounding it was two-story colonial buildings with terraces on the second floor. I was expecting it to have many restaurants and hotels like most other cities we had visited but it was still being used by the general population and not catering to tourists. We walked around the surrounding blocks for a while trying to find a restaurant but none where open. We finally found a French café called Café Paris that was open. It looked exactly like the French cafes we had seen in Paris a few years ago, with the walls painted pastel colors, a large bar at the front of the restaurant, beautiful hardwood panelling, and photos of Provence and mirrors on the walls. At the little round tables, locals were seated having a coffee and a cigarette while reading the free newspaper. It was an idyllic scene and nice place to spend a couple of hours before finding an internet café. Kevin ordered Ratatouille and I ordered a Spinach and Ham crepe with a frothy hot chocolate. It was delicious and we could have stayed there all day but we had to see if we could meet up with Matt and Nina. So we hoofed it over to the only internet café we could find and logged into our email accounts. They had emailed us only half and hour later and were heading to our hostel to meet up with us for the afternoon. 

So, we walked back and there they were waiting for us. We spent a couple more hours catching up on what had happened to each other. The last time we had seen them was Peru, just before we started our trek in the Colca Canyon. Lots had happened since then but everyone was doing well. They talked a bit about the orphanage where they were staying and invited us to come visit the kids if we wanted. So, we hopped on a local bus for the cheap cost of 1bs each. We were dropped off near the entrance to the neighbourhood and wound our way here and there to finally stop at a gated house. A peak in a hole of the gate gave us a glimpse of a bunch of kids on plastic carts driving madly around the tiled exterior of the house. The moment they saw Nina and Matt they yelled out ?Tia! Tio!?, which means Aunt and Uncle in Spanish. The orphanage had 14 kids between the age of 4 and 11 years old. It had been started by an American girl who came to Cochabamba when she was 20 and realised there was an urgent need within the city for more orphanages. The city-run orphanages were filled to capacity with over 200 children each and maybe a caretaker for each group of 40 kids. So, she came back, rented a couple of houses and started taking kids in. She now has 12 children under the age of 4 in one house and 14 kids over the age of 4 in the house where Nina and Matt where volunteering. The orphanage is funded through donations from her church back in the States. If you would like to donate, please let me know and I?ll put you in touch with Nina and Matt. Immediately, some of the kids took a shine to us and took us by the hand to give us a tour of their home. There was a large kitchen, a dining room with two long tables where they all ate together, a living room with comfy couches, and then we headed upstairs where the kids showed off their rooms and their personal belongings. They were 3 or 4 in each room, with a drawer for their clothes and a shelf for their personal belongings. Of the 14 kids, 4 of them were from the same family. Their mother was still alive but couldn?t afford to take care of them so she put them in the orphanage. She had visited the day before and they were still on a high from the visit. Before a child is accepted into the orphanage, their case is analysed very closely to make sure that is the best option for them. Sometimes it?s because the parents have addiction problems or money problems, it is not only for children who don?t have living parents anymore. The orphanage tries to help mediate these situations and find answers to them before they accept a child. The best place for them is with their parents but if the living environment is poisoned then they are taken and placed in this caring environment. There are 4 full time staff plus 2 or three volunteers at each house. The volunteers are asked to commit a minimum of 6 months so as to not unbalance the kids too much by having more people coming and going out of their lives. Nina and Matt were there for 3 months under an approved exclusion since they were already in Bolivia when they applied. They are a good asset to the team since Nina was an early child care worker back in the states and had worked with children with developmental problems; as well Matt was just great with the kids and was always busy fixing all their broken toys. They had received a few new bikes for Christmas but they were already broken, so he was busy rebuilding them to be stronger for them. We spent a couple of hours there, playing with the kids in our limited Spanish. We had a great time pushing them on the swings, or twirling them or throwing them up in the air. Kevin had a couple of young boys attach themselves to him and he spent a lot of time pushing them around on the carts. We could have spent all day there but it was suppertime and our presence was exciting them a bit so we left, quietly saying our good-byes. What a great place! It was nothing like the drab orphanages I had imagined. The kids are going to grow up feeling loved; cared for in an environment that is rich with support and knowing they can be anything they want to be in the future. 

We took an old rickety city bus back to the main plaza and walked around the streets to find another restaurant to eat supper. We found a cute little pizzeria and stopped in to order a pie. It was one of the best I have eaten so far on our trip and we ended up ordering another one because we were still hungry and it was so good! Interestingly, as we sat there, we watched the young boys of 8-10 years who sell Chiclet gum on the streets come in. They would sit at the bar, order a glass of chocolate milk, shoot it back like it was a shot, pay for it and out they would go again. They would occasionally trade in the small change they had made for a bigger bill. It was a great system for the restaurant and them. The restaurant would get much needed change which no one in these South American countries ever seems to have and the kids are not weighed down with a large amount of coins. The last boy, a bit older than the rest to come in, blew us away. He had wads of 10bs and was exchanging them for 100s. He must have been a ringleader of the group and was getting a cut. It was so weird to see him with so much money. 

We returned to our room to wait for Nina and Matt. They had to make sure the kids ate their supper, brushed their teeth and were put to bed before they could join us for the evening?s revelries. At 10 we headed out looking for a nice place to spend the next few hours. Matt had an idea of where he wanted to go so we followed him past the plaza, past the gringo filled streets, to the modern area of town called The Prado. We couldn?t believe how nice it was. When we had started to travel in Bolivia we always heard how it was the poorest country in South American, how there was only poverty, how the food was bad, etc. In all our travels in this country, yes we have seen poverty but we?ve had nothing but good food and have seen some beautiful places, but this place took the cake. I felt like we were back in Ottawa. Modern restaurant filled with people after another lined the palm-tree filled Avenida Ballivan. We stopped at a restaurant and ordered beer and wine and people-watched for a couple of hours. Near our table, 4 men had finished drinking the 40oz bottle of whiskey they had bought. One of them was slumped over the table, with the other three being visibly drunk. They picked up the passed out guy, they walked out of the restaurant, and in front of a police, got into their car and drove away. We certainly weren?t in Canada. 

Near midnight we decided to head down a couple of restaurants to maybe get a bit of a dessert to celebrate. Well, we were pleased to find out that it was also a sushi restaurant. Kevin and I ordered a delicious Miso soup as well as some sushi. It was so good! So when midnight struck, we were in a sushi restaurant, in the third largest city of the poorest country in South America, celebrating with friends from Portland, Oregon, who worked in an orphanage while outside hundreds of fireworks were being set off and a marching band struck up a jubilant song. Never in a million years could I have predicted this night. At about 2 AM, we finally paid the bill and headed our separate ways to catch some much needed sleep. 

Happy 2008 to Everyone! We hope you have a fantastic year.