Charlotte Mayhew - General Journalism Projects in Bolivia
I couldn't tell you exactly why I had such a strong desire to travel to South America, considering I didn't know anyone who'd travelled there and I didn't really have a clue as to what I could expect. My mother credits a Japanese cartoon about the Incas called the 'Mysterious Cities of Gold' that I couldn't get enough of as a small child, thinking that maybe it was still lingering on in my subconscious after all these years. She clearly needed to figure out some reasoning as to why, seeing as I was travelling outside of Europe for the first time in my life, I was doing it alone and I didn't know any Spanish whatsoever.
But as I flew the odd 6000 miles to Cochabamba I felt perfectly at ease knowing I was to be met at the airport and taken to my host family by one of Project's Abroad's staff. I will never forget my first taxi ride through Cochabamba, instantly it struck me as a lively colourful city (it helped I'd arrived on a sunny Saturday) and upon spotting a cow tied to a tree in a play-park I grew quite excited at realising I was a very long way from home and this was going to be a very different cultural experience.
As with all my fellow volunteers, I was very happy with my host family. Mine was single mother Beatriz, who couldn't have been more warm and friendly if she tried - within a couple of weeks she had taken to calling my housemate, Heather, and I her 'wa-wa's' (Quechan for babies), which I found very endearing. Every day, she had to sit through what I can only imagine to be my baffling attempts at Spanish and she was always ready with dictionary by her side and teaching me how words should be pronounced. One amusing car journey after her sister's family took us to lunch involved Beatriz mooing and baaing at me as she taught me cow and sheep in Spanish. Thankfully my Spanish teacher Andrea knew enough English so my lessons weren't conducted in this fashion.
I was fortunate in that my placement was located within the Projects Abroad office, only a twenty minute walk from my home-stay (although the walk wasn't quite so enjoyable during carnival season when I would arrive to work drenched by water balloons). I enjoyed the journalism placement as we were given a lot of freedom with our articles, Ximena would arrange interviews and point out a couple of useful websites, but other than that we were completely left to our own devices. That said, Ximena did accompany me to an interview at Sayaricuy orphanage owing to the fact I spoke basic Spanish and the manager didn't speak English.
The highlight of my time away was the people I met. The Projects Abroad staff, our Spanish teachers, Beatriz and her family and of course my fellow volunteers - all were such interesting, amiable people that I am now pleased to call my friends and I do sincerely wish there was a chance we could all meet up again.
Whenever we could the volunteers and I would attend salsa classes, which would always be good for a laugh, and with our dynamic teacher Wilson we'd head into town, possibly to Dali for a jug of Pecera del Amor (fishbowl of love). And of course the weekends were for travelling. My first weekend we took the 12 hour night bus to Potosi to explore the mines, other weekends we'd visit Oruro, Uyuni and La Paz.
The sad part was saying goodbye to Cochabamba. I've never been one to cry. I managed to say my farewells and get on the bus with Philip, Adam, Alex, Melanie and Heather dry-eyed as they came to see me off on a tour I'd booked starting in La Paz. Even when we discovered the travel company I'd booked the tour with back in England had muddled my starting destination as Lima as opposed to La Paz (not naming any names, but they mainly cater for students), I'd say I was more frustrated than tearful.
But the floodgates opened when Philip had arranged for a taxi to take me across the border to Peru, and put me on a bus to the next city with a main terminal from which I could then travel to find my group, then I cried like a child because I truly did not want to say goodbye to my friends. Fortunately, the tour returned to La Paz, so Philip took the seven hour journey back, whilst Adam, Alex and Melanie (who had since gone on to travel around Peru) travelled overnight so we could all be reunited. The excitement to see them again was on a par with coming home to see my friends and family in England. Even after this, I managed to meet Alex again in Rio and we've been out a couple of times in London, one occasion being my birthday. Through Projects Abroad, I'm happy to say I think I've made some friends for life (and some memories to bore my friends back home with.)