Traveling for a Purpose

I am an adventurer. I have never traveled for work, government, or service jobs. But I am passionate about travel, and love to learn new things and experience exciting and worthwhile endeavourers. An opportunity came for me to join a small group from my church Diocese (district) who organized a trip to work and to check on the Soup Kitchen which they had been supporting in Cochabamba, Bolivia. And, in the process participate in an art fund raising project to help students to further develop their interests in art education.

There were ten in our group traveling and working together.  The project was undertaken by a priest who has been in Bolivia for most of his priesthood but originally came from the Diocese of Maine, in the US. He was our host and translator and soon became our companion and friend. I came to learn, help and support this project. It is a great opportunity to visit and see first-hand how things had transpired, and look at ways to improve the facility, while meeting the people involved.

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. At one time it was the cradle of the Inca civilization. In 1544 a young Indian boy found silver and the Spanish Conquistadors took over and Potosi became the richest place in the Western Hemisphere. Now they were back to poverty. During more recent wars Bolivia has lost much of its land to its neighbors. Brazil gained rubber tree forests, Chile gained copper mines, Argentina gained more land and Paraguay gained oil fields. It is a country of diverse culture and the country is naturally diverse in regions.

Santa Cruz is in the lowlands bordering the Amazon Jungle, Cochabamba is in the middle of the country and higher in elevation, 8,000’ and then La Paz is one of the highest cities in elevation in the world. Cochabamba is very arid and dry with only a few lawns or vegetation. Bolivia is not heavily populated but there are several million llamas. Evo Morales is the first indigenous President of Bolivia. Old traditions are still present. Many of the women wear the bawler hats, their hair in two long braids and chola dress with pollera skirt, a vest type embroidered blouse and shawl. The markets had fresh produce and were filled with the locals.

I spent most of the time with the children who came to the parish center in Cochabamba. We spent each day in the center and soup kitchen working on projects, becoming familiar with the people and one day they put on a wonderful dinner and dance celebration for us.  One day we took off to tour a few sites. We went to the Cristo de la Concordia. It stands on a high hill and you can climb the stairs like I did once at the Washington Monument. This is the highest in the world, higher than the more famous one in Rio de Janerio.  It was a spiritual, educational and rewarding experience.

Several years before this my husband and I went to Venezuela. We had a planned trip to Aruba and while there I found out we could go to Venezuela. A small group in our hotel decided to go. It is a short flight and we rented a van and hired a guide. When the guide met us the first thing she said was remove all our watches and jewelry. It was for our safety. We toured the city of Caracas by van walking to major squares, a cathedral, places of interest and the subway which was quite new and well maintained and heavily guarded. We went out into the rain forest which is an experience worth remembering. The birds are so beautiful and colorful and the trees so tall and the vegetation so dense, lush and green.

Later when we returned to Caracas we stopped at the government buildings. While we were walking around a car escorted by police motored in and stopped by the entrance only a few feet from me. The passenger’s door was opened by an aide and out jumped General Hugo Chavez. He acknowledged me with a nod and hello and then walked into the building. When we arrived home about a week later the headlines in the newspaper read Chavez takes over the Venezuelan government by Coup. Wherever I go I travel with a purpose to learn, to accomplish a goal and to share the knowledge with others. My travels to Bolivia and Venezuela did not include hiking or running but there was a purpose, this one spiritual and educational.