My, how big you’ve grown

It has been five years since we last brought our children to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Everyone and everything has grown so much since then.

Our youngest son is going into third grade. He plays baseball and is really into ships during the colonial era. Our oldest daughter will soon be a teenager in years, though perhaps she reached that milestone emotionally some time ago.

Our two oldest remember their Bolivian family and bits and pieces from our previous trips. The two youngest, though, don’t really. Although they have each been here multiple times, they were very small.

So it was definitely time to return. Plus our niece Abi is going to have her quinceañera while we are here.

I came into this trip with some trepidation. Would the kids enjoy it? Would they connect with their family? Would it turn out to be one giant groan-fest? Life here is different, traveling is hard, and dealing with adolescence is bad enough back in the comfortable environs of home.

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El Jordan’s workshop for boys

The boys all come to El Jordán after school to get help with their school work.
The boys all come to El Jordán after school to get help with their school work.

For many years we have supported El Jordán, which calls itself “a crossing ground for those who desire to change and find freedom from the daily struggles of life on the streets.”

These struggles include drug addiction, delinquency, abandonment, and abuse.

Initially the ministry reached out primarily to “street moms” and their children in Santa Cruz. These women could come to El Jordán, take classes in practical skills like baking or sewing, and get medical and dental care for themselves and their children.

In recent years Corina and Marco have added a center which focuses on boys from ages 12-16. Until this trip, Yoli and I had not been able to see this boys’ ministry. But Monday, Marco took us out there.

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Sunday with the family

We spent Sunday in Yoli’s neighborhood.

We headed to her parents house first thing, and they showed us the new store and kitchen which are nearly finished. The old kiosko still stands, but it will be removed before long.

To get ready for lunch, we had to start moving some things into the new kitchen, like Doña Lucila’s little old propane stove. Her daughters all want her to replace it with a new stove, but she refuses because it was a wedding gift. And besides, it still works fine, she says.

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25th class reunion

This year is the 25th anniversary of Yoli’s high school graduation (or “promo” as they call it here).

Getting together with her classmates was one of the things that motivated us to come on this trip. I haven’t mentioned it so far in our blog entries, but coming to Bolivia in the summer first required us to travel to Washington DC to get Yoli a new Bolivian passport and ID card (“carnet”). We turned that into a family vacation as we try to do, and we had a lot of fun. But dealing with the Bolivian consulate was decidedly NOT fun. They informed us that they had no record of our marriage, despite all the paperwork we did six years ago, when we last traveled to DC. We had to do everything over. Getting all the necessary papers required more money and a couple months.

All this to say that: it takes a lot of time, effort, and money to travel here. It’s more than just buying a (pricy) plane ticket and getting on the plane.

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Revisiting Cotoca, Paila, and old memories

After leaving the clinic with Roberto and Doris, we immediately caught a series of taxis to go to Cotoca.

This is my second time visiting Cotoca. We last visited in 2008. Doris took us to her favorite place to eat breakfast. Yoli and I had already eaten some bread at the ProSalud clinic, but we enjoyed a cafecito with an arepa. Yoli makes these at home now, and they are among my favorite Bolivian things.

We walked around the plaza for a long time talking. Roberto and I walked over to the church, which is now sporting new colors. In 2008, it was white and blue. Now it is white with tan and dark red. Roberto said this was to make the church conform more closely with other Chiquitano missions in the area. Makes sense to me, but I still think it looked nicer with blue.

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A rocky return and a reconciliation

At last it was time to say goodbye to La Víspera and Samaipata and return to the big city.

I woke early and climbed back up to El Trono to try to take more panoramic photos. I’ll have to stitch those together when I get back to St. Louis.

We ate the rest of our bread, cleaned up the cabin, and prepared to get a taxi.

The thing with taxis is that no matter how clearly you explain that you want something, such as an express taxi straight to Santa Cruz with no stops to pick up passengers, the drivers always seem to be unaware of the arrangement you made in the phone. One side of me thinks this is innocent; another side can’t shake the feeling it’s a ploy to charge higher fares, since it’s happened to us three times so far.

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We walked 10 miles


We had a great sleep in our little cabin/suite, called “La Sweet” at La Víspera.

Early in the morning before anyone else was stirring, I went to the café to see if I could connect to the Internet. La Víspera offers WiFi, but it is glacially slow. There is even a sign which asks guests not to watch YouTube or download videos. Given that it often took as much as ten minutes to check my email or refresh Facebook notifications, I’m not sure the sign was necessary.

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