Katie Crooks - Soccer in Bolivia
My first impressions of Cochabamba and Bolivia
I arrived at Cochabamba Airport at 4am. It was dark and slightly chilly, but I was given the warmest of welcomes from Rocio, one of the Volunteer Coordinators. I was nervous as I couldn’t speak much Spanish, yet as soon as I arrived at the home of my host family, everything felt as though it clicked into place. I was given the day to settle in and get to know my host family and then I was shown around Cochabamba. I did not know what to expect.
My Volunteer Coordinator, Freddy, arrived the next day to show me around Cochabamba. I was made to feel at ease, despite my lack of Spanish knowledge and my nerves at being in a completely new environment. The first thing I was shown was how to use a ‘truffi’; one component of the public transport system in the city. I was told to stand on the roadside and flag the minibus that approached. I paid two Bolivianos and took my seat. As we approached Plaza 14 de Septiembre, Freddy told me to shout ‘esquina, por favor’ to the driver, who then stopped at the next corner for us to get off. I was a bit overwhelmed and I’d already forgotten all of the tips I’d been given, but my worries disappeared as I looked up.
It wasn’t like anything I’d seen before; the feeling of being in a large built up city filled with beautiful flowers, plants, and trees was wonderful. The buildings were stunning and there were people busily walking everywhere. There was a friendly feel to this city and I already knew I was going to feel at home here. The weather matched the way I was feeling, a warm and sunny day, and I was soon to learn that this weather was to be an everyday occurrence in Cochabamba.
My Football placement
The next day I was taken to a sandy football field in the centre of a small park to begin work at my placement. I was to be working with young boys aged 7-10 years old. As soon as I was introduced to the children, I was greeted with hugs. It was an amazing feeling. I was introduced to Damian, the coach I’d be working with for the next three weeks, and despite the language barrier, he made me feel extremely welcome. I already felt as though I was part of the football club.
Over the course of the three weeks, I developed strong relationships with Damian and the players. As my Spanish lessons paid off and my Spanish began to improve, I was able to communicate with them more and more each day. I was able to take more responsibility within training sessions and this was extremely rewarding. Seeing the smiles appear on the boys’ faces as I told them ‘muy bien’, seeing their skills and knowledge improve each day, it made everything seem worth it. I knew I’d made the correct decision when deciding which placement to do and where to do it.
Living with a host family in Bolivia
I stayed with the Urresti family in Cochabamba. The house was nothing like I’d expected. It was a beautiful house with an even more beautiful garden. I lived with Jackie, Lauro, Vicki, Laura, and Luis, as well as their dog, Patan, and two other volunteers. I learnt so much through living with a host family. I learnt a great deal about the Bolivian culture and way of life, and the sense of community running through the household was like nothing I’d seen before. Luis could speak perfect English, however he insisted on speaking to me in Spanish so I could practice what I’d been learning in my lessons. Needless to say, my Spanish improved by a mile!
My favourite part of living with my host family, however, has to be the food. I ate many traditional Bolivian dishes including delicious quinoa soup and homemade papas rellenas, potatoes stuffed with meat and vegetables. I had been told many times that Cochabamba was the gastronomical capital of Bolivia and I had been informed correctly. I looked forward to every meal while living there and now that I’m home, the food is something I miss already.
Travelling around Bolivia and Peru after my placement
Another opportunity that Projects Abroad opened up for me was the chance to do some independent travel upon completion of my placement. I visited Salar de Uyuni, La Paz, Rurrenabaque, Machu Picchu and many more places in Bolivia and Peru. In particular, Salar de Uyuni was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, with such a drastically varied landscape, a landscape like nothing I’d seen before in any place that I’d visited.
It was amazing to experience many new places and cultures throughout my entire trip. I feel that it improved my confidence and knowledge. The two months I spent in Bolivia and Peru will impact me forever and choosing to spend my summer volunteering with Projects Abroad and travelling independently is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!