It’s Always Sunny in Cochabamba

Our second guest blog is a lifestyle piece on living, working and playing in Cochabamba. Thanks to our friend and volunteer Lily Young who spent time on the ground working alongside our beneficiary project.

Trying to select a handful of photos to sum up the experience of living in Cochabamba is just about as difficult as attempting to describe it, so bear with me. I’m constantly reminded of various snapshots of the time I spent there and the fresh smells from the orange juice carts, the burn of the high-altitude sun, the art of cycling through the city at rush hour, and the cacophony of car horns, reggaetón rhythms, nasal mobile fruit vendors, and the occasional protest march. Each day was an assault on the senses, and most of the time, I ended the day exhausted but happy.

Cochabamba is a city in the middle—situated right in the heart of the country, moderate in its political outlook, eternally spring in its climate, and mid-sized population-wise. To a foreigner, the city is what you make of it. Few tourists include Cochabamba on their itinerary unless they are breaking up a long journey, yet (perhaps partly because of this) it makes a great place to live. A handful of expats call the city home, and most are involved with local NGOs or the press. It is not terribly difficult to immerse yourself in Bolivian culture and eschew any reminders of home; many visitors do. As a volunteer and later employee of Sustainable Bolivia, I merged my worlds, straddled the lines, and spent my time attempting to soak it all up. It was a constant give-and-take, sharing the ways (read: food) of a Texan with friends from Cochabamba and around the world and imparting Bolivian wisdom to newly-arrived volunteers.

Most volunteers live with a host family or in shared housing with other volunteers. I loved the community the volunteers and I built in Casa Lopez, though every visit I made to a home of one of the families we partnered with made me want to pack up all my belongings and move in with them on the spot! I felt tugged in all directions in the best possible way. It was as if every path could potentially be the right one, which is a fantastic way to live.

From the bathroom in my house in the city center, I could see the mountains reflected in my neighbor’s window, a sight which never ceased to make me happy. My walk to work cut through Cochabamba’s largest university and for a few minutes I entwined myself into the lives of the students hurrying to class, gossiping with friends, or enjoying a leisurely fruit shake under the shade of the snack bar. If the timing was right, I would intersect ‘my’ fruit seller, driving at the slowest speed a car can go while judiciously reciting the goods on offer that day. Work was enjoyable. Each of my colleagues was dedicated to supporting our volunteers, our host families, our partner organizations, and the populations they served. Some days I would meet new volunteers and take them to their host families and we would all get to know each other over tea. Other days we gathered all our volunteers to build a garden at a children’s center or construct solar stoves to be distributed to low-income families.

Lunch is the most important meal of the day in Bolivia, so most workplaces close two hours or so to allow their employees to eat unhurriedly with their families. I quickly adopted this tradition while continuing to give due respect to dinner. The volunteers and staff often took turns cooking meals for our group, and inviting our friends and host brothers and sisters was a great opportunity for cultural exchange. We also took it upon ourselves to celebrate any and all holidays: Bolivian independence day, Pancake Tuesday, Yom Kippur, and birthdays, of course.

Evenings were full of bustle and proved to be my favorite time of day. It seemed like the entire city was heading somewhere, and most were happy to be doing so. There was always something to do—a jazz concert at Casablanca, an art exhibition, a lecture, or a film screening. My favorite events overall were the parades, allowing for thousands of sequined dancers to take to the streets, joined by marching bands and delighted crowds echoing their steps, singing along, and chanting for besos from the attractive performers or hugs from those dressed as bears.

I traveled around the country when I had the chance, completing the usual tourist circuit. But the longer I lived in Cochabamba, the more I came to appreciate the city as my home. On the bus out of town last July I began the long trip back to Texas. As the bus snaked through the south of the city towards the highway I turned around and caught a glimpse of the Cristo from my window. Rising above the city at the top of an abrupt hill in my old neighborhood, it was a landmark I regularly used to get my bearings. One day soon I hope to spot the statue as it welcomes me back, guiding me to a place that I am proud to call a home.

View of the Cristo from the Sustainable Bolivia house


One Response to “It’s Always Sunny in Cochabamba”
  1. Kathy Drago says:

    Beautiful blog capturing the loveliness and excitement of Cochabamba. Well done!

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