Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Home from a Much Needed Mini Vacation

We just returned home from a short trip to Santa Cruz. We spent four nights in a hotel there. It was a nice break from our routine and all of our schooling (homeschooling and language schooling). I am enjoying language school and of course I enjoy homeschooling the kids, but you know how it was time to take a rest. Unlike most of my homeschooling friends in the States we started back to school in June so we could finish up last year's school year, then we started right in to this school year in July. So, we've been at it a while. Our mini-vacation was a great time for all of us. I know that the kids enjoyed it because Faith said she wished the hotel was only ten minutes away so we could go back (in reality it's a bit more than a 10 hour drive for us, but more on that later). Then this morning Patience asked if we were going back to our 'other house' (the hotel) because she really liked it. The other kids had glowing reports as well. We spent time together playing games, watching movies, walking around the town, swimming, biking and just relaxing. It was grand. Santa Cruz is only 280 miles away but it takes a good 10 hours to get there by car since it's over the Andes Mountains. The first 80 miles took us half of the time (a bit more than 5 hours) since the road is winding with dangerous curves and up steep inclines. Of course there are very few guard rails but there are literally hundreds of shrines and crosses along the road where people died. These served us as a reminder to take it easy. There are several places where busloads of people either went off the side of the mountain or had a head on collision. I pray that I don't ever need to take the bus even if it does cost only $10.

We were a day late getting away since we were waiting for Joe's international driver's license from the States. There are stops along the way where they check to make sure your vehicle really does belong to you and isn't stolen and also they check for drugs. So, we had to make sure Joe had a driver's license and also that we had the title to our truck. The license arrived in the mail on Thursday and we left on Friday with a prayer that we had all our necessary paperwork in order. Sure enough at the 4 or 5 stops to check it we passed with flying colors. There were also many (6 or so) toll booths along the way. At most of these we weren't charged more toll, the attendants only checked our ticket to see if we had paid the toll at a previous stop. Here is how many of these stops worked: We were stopped by a chain across the road held up by a guard. We would stop either in the road (actually a high way if you can call it that....It's the main road between two major cities) or beside it. We would then walk up to a booth (read: some sort of shack where there were police and posters of scantily clad women) and the police would check to see where we were from, where we were going and check our paperwork. Then we would get back in the car, the guard would lower the chain and we would drive a few more yards to a toll booth and stop again to have our toll ticket checked. I don't know why they couldn't do this at the same stop, but no it had to be a few yards further down the road. Now, many of these toll booths are like you see in the states where you pull up to the booth and you reach out your window and pay the attendant. No, these are booths BESIDE the road where you must pull over and park and walk to the window and have the attendant (in a shack with photos of scantily clad women check) the toll ticket and tell you it's okay to keep on driving. Sometimes these shacks were hard to see. Many times we only knew we were supposed to stop because we saw people in the middle of the road selling fried fish, oranges, juice, toilet paper, etc. (no kidding...amenities for your journey). I'll attach a pic so you can see the bathroom stops along the way. Because they looked like they do, we were prepared in advance. We took a potty chair for the girls and the boys just used the wide open spaces. Johnson Assare (our Ghanaian friend) told us that Africa has the largest bathroom in the world (the great outdoors), but now I see that ours in South America are just as big.
It was a beautiful drive. We could see the landscape change along our journey. We started here in Coch and went up even higher into the Andes where farmers farm with oxen and hand plows almost to the very tip tops of the mountain on steep inclines. We drove through the fact we could see the clouds below us. Then as we drove down the other side we went through the rich green jungle filled banana crops and houses (shacks really) on stilts. At one point Joe said we should let the kids out and let them hack their way through the jungle and see how thick it really is. I said that they would get bitten by a snake. Sure enough as we rounded the next curve there was a 4-5 foot snake in the road.

We found out once we arrived at the hotel that they didn't have us on record as having a reservation. Thankfully we brought along our email confirmation and even though the hotel was sold out, they found us a room. Usually the weather in Santa Cruz this time of year is very hot...approaching 100 degrees recently. Everyone had told us how hot we were going to be, so I only packed us shorts and t-shirt kinds of clothes. Of course it rained almost everyday we were there and was pretty chilly too. We didn't care. We had a great time anyway. We swam in the rain in the semi-heated pool and sat in the almost hot tub. :>) The first day we were there we walked around the main plaza in town. It was chilly that day and as I said we only took shorts. So we donned our shorts (that we haven't worn since we've been in Bolivia) and walked around. Our teens said "We look like tourists!" since most everyone else was wearing jackets and pants. We found this amusing since we ALWAYS look like tourists in Bolivia....for pity's sake, WE'RE GRINGOS!! However, we did stand out even more than usual on that day. It was actually nice that it wasn't too hot while we were there. We all had fun and no one got sunburned...until the trip home that is. On the way home it was plenty sunny and hot. I sat on the side of the car that had the sun coming in the window and got sunburned from my upper thigh to my knee and some on my arm. Below is a picture I took but it was taken more than 48 hours later so the difference isn't as pronounced as it was in real life.

Also on the way home I drove for the first time in over 5 months. It was fun!! It was the first time I've driven a standard probably close to 20 years. That was fun too. Passing big truck on mountain curves was exciting, but I didn't drive for too long because I was worried about the police check points and not having a license. It was a good time while it lasted though. I didn't know how much I missed it. I thought I wouldn't drive here in Bolivia for our first term because the traffic is so crazy. Another missionary told us you have to think like a school of fish. That's the way traffic moves...not in lanes, but like a school of fish. Also, they don't stop for red lights. Never on Sundays on not faithfully on weekdays. But they DON'T turn right on red (go figure) and they don't run yellow lights. The reasoning behind not running yellow lights is because the opposite traffic is already going and in the middle of the intersection by the time that you have the red and they have the green, so if you don't stop on yellow, you will get broadsided. :>) It's just a lot of honk and go. The biggest vehicle, the bravest one, or the person who cares the least about damage to their car has the right of way. At one main intersection in Santa Cruz there was a place where 6 lanes of traffic went down to 2 as you went through a stop light. There were no warnings, no rules of merging, etc. It was just "you guys work it out" and everybody does. The number one driving rule in Bolivia is don't make eye contact, pretend like you don't see anyone and just go. I can't wait to get my license!

If You Would Like To See A Slide Show Of Our Trip, Click This Link


@ngie said...

I loved the slide show! You guys are so adventurous. Glad you got to get away and breathe for a bit.


Becky said...

Great pictures. Thanks for sharing. I know it's great to get away for a while. Santa Cruz looked very inviting.