Complete Harmonious Chaos: A Trip to Bolivia

My dad, Bevan. Served a mission in Bolivia in the 70's. I grew up hearing about the place - names like La Paz, Cochabamba, The Altiplano, Copacabana, were common topics of stories told as I grew up. It was no secret that Dad, in all honesty, didn't think he would get the chance to go back.

I am glad that hasn't been the case. We have had a wonderful trip together, and have seen and experienced another world. You can't help but have your eyes opened to a completely different way of a life, you can't help but be humbled by the generosity and determination of a people with far less than us.

First off - La Paz sits at about 12,000 feet above sea level, making it the world's highest capitol...and you can feel the thinner air as you walk it's streets.

It's streets. The streets here are hard to explain, ok not really. They are insane. There is no law, and you go as fast as you can while honking and weaving in and out of other cars, pedestrians and motorcycles...and giant potholes. Dad and I laughed as we talked about how Mom would react to such a situation. Ha ha ha.

We spent our first day here walking around La Paz, visitng parks, monuments, cathedrals, markets, you name it. A highlight of that day was visiting what was once the Mission Home for Bolivia. Dad's first baptism was there, and he spoke with then Elder Hinckley about missionary work. While in the area, we saw the NEW mission headquarters, and were greeted by a host of Elders - very cool. After getting hopelessly lost that night, we flagged a taxi home.

We spent the next day traveling to Copacabana; a small city on the shore of Lake Titicaca. From La Paz it takes 3-4 hours depending on who's driving and traffic. The drive takes you across the Altiplano; the Bolivian Highlands. The Altiplano is an eye opening place for sure. Small dwellings, very rural, no services, and inhabited by many of the indigenous people of Bolivia. The scrape a living off of the land, and sell wares in small shops in the cities. Their living is meager, and as we drove across the plano, I wondered how they survived.

The land mass that Copacabana sits on is across a neck of Lake Titicaca's water. There is no bridge, instead people and vehicles are ferried across on wooden barges. It is not a peaceful process, instead, the ancient wooden boats are pushed off by hand and then motored across the lake, rocking on the waves of the lake.

The highway leading to Copacabana is 13,000 feet high, and crosses through ancient terraced mountains, which are still cultivated by hand today.

Copacabana is a beautiful little city on the shores of the massive lake. From this town, the islands of The Moon and The sun are accessible by boat. Ruins of an ancient Incan temple lay on the Island of the Sun, the Incas believed the sun god was born here.

Copacabana has an attraction referred to as Calvario, a small mountain path that represents Jesus Christs march to Calvary. Along the path are different sites where people come to pray and worship. While climbing the path, Dad passed a Cholina (a native woman) who had a deformed leg, and struggled just to walk. Yet, her faith led her up Calvary where she humbly prayed.

The Basílica de San Francisco in La Paz was another of my favorite sites. Since 1753 it has stood in one form or another as a edifice to St. Francis of Assisi, and it's massive stone bulwarks must have dominated much of the surrounding landscape in it's earlier years. The dedication required of those faithful to build such a structure never ceases to amaze me.

Although the country has a bit of a reputation for crime and corruption, I did not find that to be the case generally. Instead, we were helped often by strangers, and were treated generously by those we met. I didn't once feel uncomfortable or threatened in any way during my stay.

Cancer is one of those diseases that keeps on giving, and I cut my trip short to see a Doctor in the US about a complication of my chemotherapy. Regardless, it was the trip of a lifetime. Most impactful, was the man I was able to share it with, my Dad. In a way it was like coming home for him I think.  And I wouldn't have missed seeing that for the world.

 Dad, at a La Paz overlook
 The building in the background was the LDS Bolivian Mission Home
Basilica de San Francisco
 Crowded La Paz street, small shops in the foreground
Overlooking the mountain capitol of La Paz
The Altiplano
A small settlement on the altiplano
Cholos sort coca on the altiplano
Cultivating the earth by hand
 The Altiplano
Altiplano settlement
 A small altiplano village
 Fields in the Altiplano, notice the terraced hill
Not much shade, for dogs or people
A Cholina and townfolk in Tiquina, the crossing town of Lake Titicaca
Children play marbles in the street of copacabana
A crippled Cholina climbs Calvario to worship
The seven sorrows of the virgin Mary are symbolized on Calvario
Lakeside town of copacabana
The view from our hotel room in Copacabana
Residents of the altiplano
Tiquina crossing, what reliable looking barges!
Tiquina Crossing
Riding in a microbus on the LaPaz streets
 El Alto market


Emily said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and pictures about this special trip.

Keep writing!

BDN said...

I think of our trip to Bolivia often and feel so grateful to have shared that incredible experience with you. Your narration, so well written, brings to life the experience every time I read it. Without you the trip would not have meant so much, with you it meant everything. Thank you for sharing not only this trip but your life. Whew! I'm glad you made it home alive.

A year later, in 2015, we added Devil's Tower to our list.

Bevan Nelson