Amanda Dorough | The Beautiful Journey


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2012, You Were a Pretty Great Year

It’s hard to believe 2012 is already ending.  It was a full year to say the least.  I managed to really “get around,” finding myself in 8 different countries on 4 continents.  I said goodbyes to old friends & formed lasting relationships with new friends. I moved away only to return a lot earlier than I planed and I dared to dream new dreams.

2012 you were a good year.  Here’s a look back at everything you held….

I rang in the new year with 28 members of my World Race W-Squad family at a farm on the coast of South Africa.

New-Years

Although our month in South Africa was short in terms of ministry, we were able to enjoy everything our location had to offer, primarily the incredible beach at Plettenberg Bay.

January

Then, after the longest, sweatiest travel-day ever we made it to Beira, Mozambique and the Kedesh Boys Home.  I would be lying if I said the month was comfortable, in fact it was pretty much the opposite, but the boys were incredible and truly changed me.

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And then it was on to Swaziland, our last country on the continent of Africa.  The living situation couldn’t have been more sweet.  I doubt any other World Race team has gotten to live at a country club/game reserve.  Oh and did I mention I went on a safari?  Because I  did, and it was awesome!

MARCH

Next we traveled onward to one of my favorite countries in the world, Thailand.  I got to make a quick stop at GES in Bangkok before heading northward to spend the month in Chiang Mai working with human trafficking rescue and slum children.

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April brought me back to a place I never thought I would see again, Angkor Wat.  I visited for the first time while living in Bangkok in 2009, and by chance, a 4 day vacation for Khmer New Year allowed me to return again, and let me say, the ruins were just as cool as the first time.

April

But the real reason we were in Cambodia wasn’t to visit Angkor, so after our 4 days we headed south to a tiny village among rice fields called Kampong Speu.  The month was rough.  It was blazin hot and our surroundings were primitive, but we were granted the opportunity to teach english to a group of eager children and just have fun with them!

may

Next, after 10 months of traveling the world, we found ourselves in Malaysia, the last country and last month of our World Race.  The ending was bittersweet.  I was so done living out of a backpack, but saying goodbye to my new family, especially my Unchained Rhythm girls, was rough.

june

In June I found myself back on American soil for the first time in nearly a year.  Seattle was gorgeous as always…

july

… but also lonely at times, that’s why it was so great to meet up with my World Race friends for the Kingdom Dreams conference in Georgia, and celebrate my 27 birthday with some of my best friends.

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In August I got the chance to shoot my first wedding, which also happened to be the wedding of one of my best childhood friends…

august

And then I vacationed with my fam in NE Washington, taking a road trip with my sis and niece on the North Cascades Hwy on the way back.  I’m always amazed by how beautiful my state is!

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In September I kicked my fundraising for Bolivia into full gear, but still found time to enjoy moments with my family, like going to the Puyallup fair for the first time in years!

september

In October I packed up my bags again and headed south, to South America that is.  I landed in Cochabamba, Bolivia on October 12 to begin 10 months of ministry with Hospitals of Hope, and within one week I already had a chance to visit a place on the top of my bucket list, Salar de Uyuni, and it was awesome!

october

Then, only one week later I was given the chance for another awesome experience, biking Bolivia’s Road of Death.

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I spent the rest of the fall exploring Cochabamba with friends, working at HOH’s Cafe Xelda and playing with orphans.

november

And then December came and with it came a very tough decision, the decision to end my time of ministry with Hospitals of Hope and my time in Bolivia, making it home just in time to celebrate Christmas with my family.

december

It’s been a crazy year.  A lot of ups and downs.  A lot of tough decisions and many tears shed.  I don’t think 2012 will stick out as the best year of my life, but instead it will be used as a foundation year that I can build off of, and that makes me even more excited for 2013, because I have a feeling this next year is going to rock!

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Drawing Bolivia to a Close

I’ve been home for a week now. I have to admit it still feels pretty surreal to me. There were moments during my last week in Bolivia when I wondered if I’d made the right decision. While my life in America is far from perfect, sitting here, in my bedroom, bundled up in sweats and blankets, I know I’m in the right place and I feel blessed.

Getting home was no easy task. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more stressful travel experience in my life, but at the same time God’s provision really had a chance to shine through. Getting out of Bolivia itself was a miracle. I spent 40 minutes arguing with the immigration guy over my visa. Technically I had overstayed my one month visa, however I began the extension process as soon as I arrived in the country. It was due to Bolivia’s lack of governmental organization and efficiency that 2.5 months later I still hadn’t been granted my extension. I tried to explain this to the guy (in Spanish to boot!) but he still wouldn’t budge, it was $123 fee or nothing. Oye vey!

And then there were the flight delays. My first flight from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz was delayed, although it didn’t matter much since I already had a 14 hour layover at the airport, but then, when I checked into my flight to Miami the next morning I was informed that it was delayed as well. We touched down on American soil at the exact same time my flight to Seattle left. It looked like I would be spending the night in Miami, and I wasn’t excited.

But, here’s the point where things started looking up. I made my way through customs and to the American Airlines customer service counter to get a hotel voucher for the night. When my turn came I went up to the counter, explained to the agent that I’d already been rebooked onto another flight while I was in Bolivia. She asked where I was going and when I told her Seattle she said “wait just a second, I may have something…” There was a flight leaving for Seattle via Dallas at 6:55 and I managed to score the very last seat on it (sorry standby folks!). Only issue was it was already 6:15, I needed to hustle, and I needed to call my mom! So I went in search of a pay phone (I know, I know, old school but I thought I would be living in Bolivia for 10 months so I cancelled my cell service). I went up to a TSA agent to ask if she knew where pay phones were. She got a confused look on her face, pulled out her iPhone and said I could use it. PTL! (Praise the Lord!) Next, getting through security proved to be quite a task, the line was long, as in like an hour long, an hour that I didn’t have. So I walked up to the agent guarding the priority line, I asked her how long it would take because I didn’t have much time, showed her my ticket, and she waved me through. PTL!

I made it to my flight on time, but like both my flights before, it was also delayed. Again stress began to build up inside of me. I saw my 50 minute layover in Dallas shrink more and more, and once again I wondered if I would make it to Seattle in time. So I did the only logical thing I could do in the situation. I prayed that my Seattle flight would be delayed. I just needed 20 minutes, please God delay the flight by 20 minutes.

We landed in Dallas with 10 minutes until my take-off time and a gate on the opposite side of the airport. I ran to the train and then home alone style through the airport to hopefully make it before the gate closed. I didn’t care if my bags made it, I just needed to be on that plane.

I reached gate A21 completely out of breath, and go figure, the flight was delayed… by 20 minutes. Thank You Jesus!

So, in the end I made it home at 1am on Christmas Eve. It was such a blessing to be able to spend Christmas with my family this year, and honestly, it’s a blessing to be able to experience winter. After having summer for the last 12 months this change in weather is welcome.

So this brings to a close the Bolivia chapter in the story of my life, but of course I couldn’t finish out this story without a few more picture from my last few weeks in South America….

This is what rainy season looks like in downtown Cochabamba.  There were some points where I was wading through water midway up my calf.  Yikes!

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I decorated the cafe a bit for Christmas.  Feliz Navidad!

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I joined the Christmas Choir at my church.  Nobody will be calling us for a recording contract anytime soon, but we didn’t do to bad!  We would sing a song and then there was a drama that went along with it.  It was actually pretty cool!

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And of course I couldn’t wrap up my time in Bolivia without more pictures from Casa De Amor 1 🙂

Boy did those kids love their Christmas tree!

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Sweet little F (I can’t share their real names).  I love her smile!

IMG_3977Spending time with my precious N.  I miss holding her so much!

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And then there’s G, the little trouble maker.

IMG_4000 Little A has so much personality.  It think she’s going to be a great leader one day.

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Spending playtime with spunky little R.

IMG_1049One of my favorite pictures of Katie with P.

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Playtime at the Casa!

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When the rains came, these little white flowers started popping up in the front yard every morning… they were gone by afternoon.  Weird.

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View of the waiting room in the Hospital.  If you look hard enough you can just catch a tiny glimpse of the cafe in the bottom right corner.

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And then, on my final day at the Hospital I walked outside and the place was overrun with children, hundreds of them, it was a Christmas Festival at the Hospital!

IMG_1122And for a final picture I had to give you all a look at the native Quechua woman and how they carry their babies 🙂

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So there we go, the end of the Bolivian era.  It’s hard to beleive that 2013 is already upon us.  I’m super excited for this coming year because I feel like some big things are coming, and with that there will be some big changes around the blog, but more one that later!


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The Blog I Never Expected to Write

When I returned from the World Race and proclaimed that I was returning to Bolivia because God told me to, few really believed my explanation. It’s hard for many in our modern society to understand that God does still speak to us. But the reason I chose to come for 10 months was a little bit fuzzier. I heard “go back to Bolivia,” but I never heard for how long, so I chose a timeframe that made logical sense, prayed about it and moved forward. But it seems like I got it wrong.

I thought 10 months, but God apparently said 10 weeks. Ya, it surprised me when I figured it out too.

It all started two weeks ago. This tug inside that told me I should start praying about going home (and no, not because of Christmas). There have been a lot of changes recently both in in the guesthouse and with the way HOH deals with volunteers, changes that makes it a lot harder for me to feel at home here. The lack of community has also began to wear on me. At the guesthouse volunteers come and go, and because of an early curfew, building a community for myself outside of the hospital is incredibly difficult if not impossible.

So, after a week of fervent prayer and seeking counsel from family and friends I’ve made one of the hardest decisions of my life. To end my time of ministry with Hospitals of Hope. While I still stand behind what HOH is doing in the community here, it is no longer the place where I can best serve.

So where is the place that I can best serve now? Well I’m not sure. I considered and prayed about serving with another ministry here in Cochabamba, but none tugged at my heart, so instead I will be returning home and continuing to seek God’s guidance in this next season of life, wherever it may be. The only thing I know for certain is that I want to work with the youth again at my church (are you excited Linda?).

And to all of my supporters, thank you so much for your support through this time both financially and through prayer. I know without a doubt that I was supposed to spend these last two months in Bolivia. Even in this short amount of time God has worked tremendously and it was because of your support that any of my work here was possible. And for those wondering, I never reached my goal of $7500, which I realize was God’s plan all along, and for the remaining money raised, which after costs isn’t much, my plan is to continue to use the funds for missions, maybe with my churches Mexico trip or if God calls me to lead a trip for another organization. My time with missions definitely isn’t over, although I don’t know if long-term missions is in my future, at least not as a single woman.

I have a little over one week left in South America and I plan to make the most of it. It’s hard leaving a place I’ve fallen in love with and planned on building a life in, but I trust God, and if he’s leading me away I can only imagine what he has in store 🙂

Pairumani

A beautiful day for a walk around my neighborhood. I’m going to miss this.


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Come On A Tour With Me

Holy Smokes! It’s almost December, where did time go?  I feel like I arrived in Bolivia just a couple weeks ago, not 8!

So, in honor of my upcoming 2 month anniversary I thought I would take you on a little tour of the building I call home, the HOH Guesthouse!

Admitedly, this building is pretty sweet.  If you were picturing a hut with mosquito nets and the like, well… that was my life in Cambodia on the World Race and while that’s ok for a month, 10 would be hard (although I would do it if God wanted me to).  So, I’m pretty thankful for the housing I’ve been given!

To start it off I’ll show you the view looking at the house.  Aren’t those mountains amazing?  The other day I was walking back from the Hospital, I stopped to look at the mountains and I just thought what an incredible artist God is.  So incredible that even the greatest artists on earth can only mimic his work.  Amazing.

The house is built in an H shape.  The right side is the “girls wing” as well as were the family lives, and then the right side is the “guys wing” and also holds our TV room and kitchen/dining room.

Walking forward, this is our little front porch and garden. Doesn’t it look inviting?  There used to be hammocks when I visited last year, but the hammocks gave way to tables.  Often times I like to just sit on the porch to do work enjoying the fresh air.

Go in the front door, hang a right and then a left and you’ll find my bedroom, which looks a little like this…

I’d been dying to try that heart shaped photo collage since I saw it on Pinterest.  I think it turned out pretty well.  The small ones will be coming down soon, to make way for a new idea I have, which I’m pretty excited about!

Then when you turn around you see this.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, I have two beds!  And no I don’t sleep in both.  So far, since I’ve been here I’ve had two roommates, although currently I have the room all to myself (yes!).

And no room would be complete without a bathroom, and in this situation the toilet and shower happen to be in separate little rooms, which is actually, really convenient.

Now, we’ll head out into the rest of the house.  If I go a little more down the hall we get to the big girls dorm room.  Right now there’s only on volunteer staying in it, but in the high season it’s packed!

Connecting the two wings of the house is a long hallway.

And right in the middle of the hallway, in the first spot you see when you open the front door, currently sits our Christmas Tree!

Get to the other end and hang a right and the first room you’ll come to is our TV room, which is also home to our wireless internet router, so we hang out in there a lot, as you can see my housemate Mackenzie doing in this picture!

Then , take the next door and you’ve arrived in the dining room!

And all dining rooms lead into kitchens right?  And ours is pretty sweet.  You can cook anything in there!

But the sweetest part about the kitchen aren’t the things we can make in it, it’s what I see when I open the door to the back porch…

Choco and Oscar!  Our guesthouse mascots, who are both technically still puppies so I’m lucky to have grabbed this shot!

So that’s about it for the tour.  There is more to the house, but you can only see so many bedrooms and bathrooms, and who really wants to see our laundry room?

So I’ll sign off from this post with one last picture, the view of the hospital from the guesthouse.  I hope you enjoyed the tour!


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Casa De Amor

To start this blog off I have something to share, an explanation of sorts. Over the last month you may have been thinking Amanda, you’ve taken a curious lack of pictures since you arrived in Bolivia, and the pictures you have taken aren’t up to your typical quality (like the pictures in this post which were taken using my iPod).  Well, it’s true and it’s all due to a very unfortunate event that occurred my first week here in Bolivia, and here’s what I have to say about it.

The train broke my camera.

Ok I may have been involved a tiny bit, but I blame it all on the train.  If you remember, a month ago I got a chance to go to Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats), well, on the train there from Oruro we passed through a huge lake full of flamingos and it was awesome, so I got my camera out to take pictures and then, instead of putting my camera away I put it on the floor and then I fell asleep.  Sometime during my sleep it must have shifted closer to my foot rest because when I woke up in was under it, and when I took out my camera the LCD screen was cracked.  My camera even has an extra hard plastic cover protecting the screen, but… they both cracked.  My luck.  Here I was, on my way to one of the most beautiful places in the world and I’d “ruined” my good camera.

Now, it’s true it could have been worse, I mean it’s just the screen, the rest of the camera works,so since the incident I have taken a couple pictures with it, but there are several issues that arise from the screen being useless, the greatest of which is my paranoia that my pictures won’t turn out. Case and point, a good quarter of the pictures I took at the salt flats had a giant, black piece of dirt or something in the middle.  Bummer.

I’ll admit, there’s a huge part of me that wishes I had $500 to order a new Rebel, because, while I’m thankful for the point and shoot I do have, the pictures just aren’t the same.  But alas, I don’t, and you know, while it’s still hard for me, I’m coming to terms with reality more and more everyday.  I mean, people who shot with 35mm cameras didn’t have LCD screens and their pictures still turned out ok right?

Anyway, on to better things, like cute little children!

A ministry I volunteer with weekly here is an orphanage called Casa De Amor 1, which is a home for babies up to 4 years old (Casa De Amor 2 is for the older kids).  When we arrive in the afternoon the kids are just waking up from their nap, so we round them all up, help the Tia’s change all the diapers, which are all cloth by the way, and then we take them downstairs to eat.

Some of the older kids are able to feed themselves but the younger ones definitely need help, especially the littlest one, who I’ll call N.  I don’t know exactly how old N is, but she couldn’t be more than a couple months.  I love sitting in the rocking chair, holding her as she looks into my eyes, happy to be held.  I wish I could go there and hold her everyday.  She’s so precious!

Feeding the 15 little ones takes awhile.  We’re talking like an hour to get it all done, but finally when they’re all finished and cleaned up it’s time to go outside and play, which is of course their favorite time of the day.  Usually we only have a few minutes to play with them before we have to leave, which is disappointing, but at least we can go back as often as we want!  I’m really looking forward to the relationships I’ll build with the kiddos over the next year, and trust me, I’ll share it all with you guys, pictures or not!


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November Newsletter!

This month I’m a little later with my newsletter than I wanted to be, but as I’m quickly seeing it takes a little bit longer to get anything done in Bolivia, a life I guess I’m going to have to get used to 🙂

And I’ve got some good news, I officially have less than $2000 left to raise!  Yay!  But I need to raise it as soon as possible, so, as the end of the year approaches and the chance to get 2012 tax deductions will soon run out, if you or anyone you know would like to get a tax deduction by donating to a good cause check out my link at the top of the page that says “donate” or send me a message and I’ll let you know how!

Now for the newsletter…

Just click on the link below and you’ll find it! (Or at least you should, I’ve having problems getting it to load right now, so if you are too please let me know!)

November Newsletter


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When in Bolivia… Bike the Worlds Most Dangerous Road

Pictures of Bolivias North Yungas Road usually strike up one of two emotions in a person, sheer terror, or adrenaline filled excitement.

Labeled “the worlds most dangerous road” several years back due to the hundreds of deaths that occurred on it annually, the road isn’t for sissy’s. Built in the 1940’s by Paraguayan prisoners of war, most of the road is barely wide enough for one vehicle, making passing a potentially fatal event. Because of it’s narrow width, the North Yungas Road is also the only road in Bolivia where vehicles drive on the left side of the road, allowing downhill drivers to get as close to the edge as possible when needed.

Today the road isn’t as busy as it once was, thanks to a new, paved highway leading from La Paz to the city of Corioco, however you’ll still find an occasional vehicle making the dangerous trek along with dozens of crazy mountain bikers, who can be seen making the 63 kilometer ride down the worlds most perilous stretch of road.

I am now one of those crazy mountain bikers.

Visiting the North Yungas Road, aka Road of Death or Calle de Muerte has been on my “things I want to do list” for years. When I visited Bolivia last fall I desperately wanted to ride the road, but thanks to a fairly steep price, riding the Road of Death was a little to far out of my budget.

However this time around, with 10 months in Bolivia to look forward to I was determined to make it happen some way, and, couple weekends ago, thanks to an incredible gift from a new friend, I got my chance.

It really was a last minute, whirlwind trip. Our friend Angus, who had been volunteering at HOH for the last couple months was flying out of La Paz the coming Saturday, but he was spending a couple days in the city to see the sights. On Thursday night at about 7 we got confirmation from him that he’d booked a tour on the Death Road for the next day and within an hour Kristin and I had contacted the hostel about getting on the same tour, and were in Quillacollo (the closest town to us with a bus stop) buying overnight bus tickets to La Paz.

We arrived in La Paz bright and early the next morning and went straight to the hostel where we were immediately informed that the tour “unfortunately” had no more space on it. Seriously? We sat down stumped trying to decide what to do, and that’s when Angus walked in. He convinced us to go to the tours meeting spot and try to beg to get onto the tour last minute.

And guess what? It worked! And apparently the hostel never contacted the bike company. Hmm…. Some shady business going on there?

Our tour had about 20 people on it from all over the world and at 7:30 we all loaded into a van and minibus and headed up into the awe striking Cordelleria Real. Seriously, the tops of the snowcapped mountains looked close enough to touch.

After we had all unloaded and tested out our bikes we headed out on the first stretch of the ride, which is not technically on the death road (this first part was paved!), but incredible and dangerous none the less.

Where we started. We followed the road to the left all the way down through the valley.

I hadn’t mountain biked in years so at first I wasn’t confident in my abilities and was convinced I was one of the weaker riders, so I stayed toward the back of the pack, but after the first couple rides (we would stop and regroup every couple kilometers) I realized I wasn’t so bad and the need for speed soon won over. Before long I was in the front of the group, usually finishing just behind our guide and another guy from Ireland.

But when we finally reached the traditional “Death Road” everything changed. Riding on large, loose gravel is a whole other animal and I decided to take it slowly (or slower…).

40 Kilometers of the ride is on this stretch of road so by the end of the ride my bum killed me and my fingers were cramped from gripping the breaks.

But, even though the ride was difficult, the road narrow, and the obstacles plenty I never felt truly scared for my life, that is unless I rode a little to close to the edge. I mean, hit one rock and you’re done. No more Amanda, adios! Thankfully that didn’t happen, and actually my entire group made it the whole length of the road without an injury, minor or major, which apparently is a pretty huge deal.

On the famous “postcard point.” I’m one of the ones sitting on the edge in the front.

Once we reached the end of the road outside of Corioco we were all sweaty and hungry. Over the course of the last few hours we had descended from 4,700 meters to 1,900 meters and had gone from the high Andes to the Amazon, and let me tell you, the Amazon was hot!

Kristin, Angus and I after riding for hours.

Our bike riding was officially done for the day, so we loaded back in the vehicles and headed a couple minutes down the road to an animal rescue center/nature reserve where we were going to have lunch/dinner.

The place was pretty unreal. Parrots and monkeys roamed around freely, and when we were finished eating we were able to go swimming in the local river. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to wash the sweat off from a long day.

In my opinion, we didn’t get enough time at the last stop, but we had to start heading back to La Paz eventually and because our bus driver wanted to take the old road back (aka, the official Death Road, aka the one we just rode down) in my opinion the more sunlight we had the better. Thankfully our driver was one of the most experienced, if not THE most experienced driver on the road, so we were in good hands, although there were a few turns I had to close my eyes on. At one point he stopped and opened the door of the bus, and we had maybe 4 inches between us and a very, very, very long drop. Yikes!

But alas, we didn’t die (Thank you Jesus!) and now I’ve lived to tell the tale. All in all the Death Road ride was incredible. Probably one of my most exciting experiences ever and one I definitely recommend.

My last few weekends here in Bolivia have been a lot quitter, spent in Cochabamba instead of traveling around the country and I’ve really enjoyed the chance to relax and dig into the community a little deeper, but more on that in the posts that come!

And speaking of posts to come, just a quick note on my blogging situation here. The internet, as I alluded to before I came is not the fastest so I’m forced to leave a little more time between posts than I would like simply due to the sheer frustration I feel every time I try to put one up, but keep watch because I have a lot to share with you all!


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El Dia De Los Muertos

Last Friday was El Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

Chances are you’ve heard of the DOTD before.  Maybe you’ve even gone to a party, because honestly, in North America we simply see the day as another excuse to celebrate.

Here in South America the Day of the Dead is a serious and major holiday stemming back hundreds of years.  It’s a day to both remember your departed ancestors, and to pray for their souls, because, in the minds of South Americans there’s a great chance that their love ones won’t get into heaven if they don’t attempt to intercede on their behalf.

In modern times, on the DOTD most families will set out a table covered in their departed loves ones favorite foods.  If a fly comes and lands on the food the insect is seen as their ancestor coming to enjoy the meal.  In Bolivia there are a lot of flies, so getting one to land on the food isn’t a problem.  Then later that night the family eats the food that has been sitting on the table.

On the DOTD families will also visit the graves of their loved ones in the local cemetery, covering tomb stones with flowers or paying local children to cry and plead and pray for their family member (because children are seen as innocent and pure of heart, the DOTD is actually a pretty lucrative business day for kids).

Many years ago, in the countryside of Bolivia the DOTD had a more morbid tradition.  Late at night family members would go to the local cemetery, dig up the remains of their dearly departed relative and carry it under their poncho to the local cathedral so that it could be blessed.  No joke.  But the government has recently outlawed this practice hoping to stall the spread of disease.  It makes me wonder though, if maybe the tradition lives on in some remote places….?

This year I was able to witness my first Day Of The Dead.  Because it is such a large holiday doctors didn’t hold consolations in the morning which meant the hospital was essentially closed except for emergencies and also meant we got the day off.

The other volunteers and I spent most of the morning and early afternoon with a local youth group at a pool a few blocks from the Hospital. When we were walking back we could hear loud music thumping in the distance, and when we got close to the hospital we could see dozens of cars parked in front of it.  At this point two things went through my mind, either there was a HUGE accident, or there was a party at the Hospital.  But when we reached the hospital the party wasn’t there.

So where was the party?  Well at the cemetery of course.  That’s right, and they only thing that lies between the hospital and the cemetery is a field.

To give you an idea of how loud the music truly was, the house that had the speakers pumping literally took the entire villages power, so we arrived back at the guesthouse without a lick of energy to cook, entertain, nothing.

So what do you do when the powers out and it’s starting to get dark?  Check out the party of course.  Well, really we decided to go check it out because we were curious about what it was like, not because we were in the mood to party.

As we got close to the cemetery we noticed more and more food stalls had been set up.  Drunk men cat called from every direction, yes we felt very out of place.

Walking through the cemetery was an incredibly weird and creepy experience.  People here aren’t buried very well or very deep. In America our cemeteries are neatly laid out on grid system but in Bolivia, at least in the countryside where I live, they just bury people wherever the heck they can find space.  I was more than a little unnerved having to step on so many obvious graves.

In the end am I happy I got a chance to see the celebration?  Yes, it was definitely interesting, but more than that, I am so, so, so happy for the hope I have in Christ.  For the knowledge I have that Christ died for my sins and my families sins so that I don’t have to continually pray for their salvation and admittance into heaven once they’ve passed on.

And now, I’m praying for as many opportunities to share that hope I have with the people I meet here in Bolivia so that maybe come next Dia De Los Muertos they will be praising God for what they’ve been given instead of praying out of desperation.

 


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Where Heaven Meets Earth

There’s a place, near the top of the world where endless expanses of blue sky meet an endless blanket of white. The place is surreal, incredible, gorgeous…. It’s like no other place on earth and you almost feel like, if you could jump high enough, that you could reach heaven.

God truly had a special plan in mind when he created the salt flats outside of the Bolivian town of Uyuni. An endless expanse of white crystals that stretch on for miles and at the center reaches a depth of 150 meters. In case you’re wondering, thats a lot of salt.

I first saw a picture of Salar de Uyuni about 5 years ago and it was immediately placed at the top of my bucket list. Like I said before, the place looked surreal, and the photography opportunities seemed endless. It was a special kind of paradise.

Over these last few months, as I planned my return to Bolivia I have to admit, there was a piece of me that hoped that sometime during my 10 months in the country an opportunity would pop up for me to visit the salt flats, I had no idea it would come only a week after my arrival.

When I arrived at HOH there were 4 other volunteers. Two of them, Angus and Allison had already been here for two months. They’d traveled around the country and had made a failed attempt at getting to Salar de Uyuni, so before Angus left last week they wanted to try one more time. I just happened to arrive at the perfect time.

So, two fridays ago, a week to the day since I arrived in Bolivia we packed up our backpacks and boarded a bus to Oruro and then a train to Uyuni. It was a long travel day to say the least and it included a dramatic change in both altitude and temperature. We left the spring-like climate of Cochabamba and were greated by 40 degree temperatures in Uyuni. Brrrrrrr.

The next morning, after making a quick stop at our tour companies office, and at the market to buy necessities like water and toilet paper, we all loaded into a Toyota 4×4 along with an Aussie guy named Scott and headed out into the flats with a brief stop at a train cemetery and a salt processing factory along the way.

Playing on the trains at the Uyuni train cemetery.

The company gave us a bag of props to use for pictures so we had a lot of fun taking perspective shots on the flats.

After eating lunch in a retired salt hotel, taking a bazillion pictures and watching our driver/guide/cook Orlando fix our flat tire we headed deeper into the flats, making a stop at Fish Island, which is covered in giant Cacti, and thankfully, had a bathroom.

Fish Island

After our hike, we drove further into the flats, and further away from the horde of other tour groups. This gave us a chance to stop and really take some fun we’re in the middle of nowhere photos, and also gave us a chance to see the sunset over the flats.  So gorgeous.

That first night our accommodations were pretty awesome. We got to stay in a salt hotel just to the side of the salt flats. Literally everything was made of salt. The walls, chairs, tables, beds (although we had a real mattress thankfully), it was pretty awesome.

Relaxing on a salt bench, next to a salt wall in the walt hotel.

The next morning we took off into a landscape beyond the salt flats, skirting the border of Chile for most of the day. Our first stop was at the ancient lava fields of an active volcano, half in Bolivia, half in Chile. If you looked really close you could see a little plume of steam rising from the west side of the volcano, but don’t worry, it didn’t erupt.

Then we were onto the first of many lagoons, and I got my first glimpse of my highly anticipated flamingos. The setting couldn’t have been more gorgeous. Aside from the fact that the locals call it “Stinky Lake” (in spanish of course) because of the lakes sulfur content, the surrounding high peaks and bright pink flamingos made the location perfect.

After lunch we were off again, and we truly learned why these tours are taken in 4×4’s. The landscape and driving was pretty rough, climbing over rocks and falling into holes, but our next 2 stops were totally worth it. First we made a brief stop at the Stone Tree. Formed from a rock that had been worn away over time by wind and erosion, it was a pretty cool site to see, then we were off to an even cooler stop, Laguna Colorada, aka Red Lake. Yes ladies in gentleman, it’s not a photoshop job, the lake really is that red. It looked as though someone dumped a million cans of Campbell’s tomato soup in it, incredible.

That’s one big stone tree!

Flamingos in Laguna Colorada

After a long day of driving, the laguna was our last stop and we drove 5 minutes to our hotel for the night, which was unfortunately made of bricks, not salt. The hostel itself was entirely unimpressive other than the fact that we froze our butts off. When we woke up at 4:30 the next morning (a ridiculously early start) it was well below freezing, and as we took off into the martian landscape I couldn’t help but notice we were driving over frozen puddles. Brrrr.

We drove up, and up and up until we finally reached an altitude of 5,000 meters (aka 16,404 for you Americans), enter altitude sickness, fun. As Orlando was explaining the altitude we managed to run over a boulder, yes a boulder, but the 4×4 handled it. That’s one tough vehicle!

Our first stop for the day was only a couple minutes past the 5,000 meter point at some geysers. We got out to take some pictures, and the minute my foot touched the ground I immediately wanted to jump back inside. It was freezing. Take the below freezing temperature and add a 40 mph wind on top of that and you get a mighty cold atmosphere. So, I snapped a couple pictures and two minutes later I was back in the SUV, shivering and waiting for my crazy friends to return.

I didn’t have to stay cold for very long because our next stop was at a natural hot spring. Yes the few minutes between taking off my layers and jumping into the water was a bit cold, but the temperature of the water couldn’t have been better. We didn’t want to get out! Alas, we had a 30 minute time limit, bummer. And once we’d put all of our layers on again we were off driving through the Dali desert and on to Laguna Verde and the border of Chile.

An interesting fact about the Laguna, no flamingos live in it because it gets it’s unnatural green color from Aresenic. The lake is full of it, so don’t get to close! The color of the water was less than impressive while we were there because apparently it was the wrong time of the day, but again, it was cold and windy so I only stayed out to take pictures for a minute.

After the lake we were supposed to drop Scott of at the Chile Border crossing, an activity I was really looking forward to because you actually have to cross into Chile to get to the guard post (hello, country 37!), but, since he was the only one in our car going to Chile he was moved to another car to save time. So instead, I was forced to look at Chile, a mere 500 feet away, as we turned around and began the long trek back to Uyuni. It was a day devoid of sites, except for a herd of llamas that showed up when we took a break for lunch, so we were just able to rest as we rode back.

We had to spend a few, freezing, hours in Uyuni before we were able to board our 1 am train back to Oruro and once we reached Oruro the next morning we were greated with a blockade, a common site in Bolivia. Usually they occur only in specific cities, but this blockade was a national one, so we weren’t able to get a bus back to Cochabamba until that evening. We spent the day wandering around Oruro, but unless you’re there during Carnival there really isn’t anything to see.

It’s crazy to me to think I was able to have this incredible adventure my first week in Bolivia. I feel so blessed by everything God has given to me so far, and I’m excited to share with you about the adventure I was able to go on this past weekend as well, and even more I’m excited to share about the ministry that’s going on here. So stay tuned. I have more to come!

If you want to see more picture from Uyuni you can find there on my facebook here, and soon on my flickr page here.


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Home Sweet Home & The Story of One Nutty Travel Day

I made it!  I’ve officially been in Cochabamba for two days now, and man, it’s hotter than I remembered!

Ove years worth of stuff crammed into 3 bags and a back pack. No bad if I do say so myself.

Getting here was no easy feat.  The travel day was nuts to say the least and I feel like there are so many things I could tell you about it.

Like I could tell you about how we sat on the plane in Seattle for over an hour waiting for the baggage to get loaded since American Airlines only had one baggage crew.

I could tell you about all of the awesome people I got to sit by on the way down, from the two middle aged men I sat between on my way to Dallas, to the Microsoft marketing pro I sat by on the flight to Miami, we had some great conversations.

I could tell you about how both domestic American Airlines planes I flew on were nicer than the one to Bolivia.  That thing was seriously a dinosaur, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the oldest plane in the American fleet.

Last meal in the states. Chicken nuggets and a frosty. Yum!

I could tell you about how we had already taxied onto the runway for my flight from Miami to La Paz when the Captain came on the speakers letting us know that the center fuel pump had stopped registering so we had to return to the gate so that maintenance could look at it, and how an hour and a half later he comes on again to tell us they only had to flip a switch and the problem was fixed (ya right *).

Or how about the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on that flight that didn’t speak Spanish fluently, even the cabin crew was from Buenos Aires, so I found myself having to answer questions and give my drink/meal orders in Spanish a lot earlier than I expected.

What a beautiful sunrise!

I could tell you about how after about three hours of sleep I woke up to sunrise over Lake Titicaca and snowcapped Andes Mountains.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.  God is an incredible artist!

Or about how on the “full” flight to La Paz the middle seat in my row happened to be open, allowing me to stretch out more (praise Jesus!), and how on the next flight from La Paz to Santa Cruz my whole row was empty so I was able to scoot over to the window seat and stare in awe at La Paz and the high Andes as we flew over them.

La Paz is at the top of the world, literally.

Oh, and then I could tell you about the point, in the Santa Cruz airport when I went to call my contact, Neco, and I noticed a long line at the American Airlines counter, then I heard a woman talking on the phone in english next to me (I wasn’t eavesdropping I promise!  I was just so caught off guard to hear english), she was telling her friend that there was some sort of *maintenance issue with the plane that they couldn’t fix immediately and the flight to Miami had been cancelled.  Ya, that’s the plane I just got off of.  Hallelujah that I made it to Santa Cruz in one piece, and my bags made it too!

Or how about the time I had to wait, with all my bags for 6 hours before I could check in to my flight to Cochabamba, which meant no bathroom for 6 hours, man that sucked.

But when all was said and done I finally made it to my new home in the countryside outside of Cochabamba.  It’s been a quiet weekend.  The first night everyone was gone except for Elma, Necos mother (Neco and his wife Rose are the guesthouse hosts).  She only speaks Spanish so getting settledled in was an experience.  Yesterday Neco, Rose and their two boys came back from visiting family, and sometime today all the volunteers should get back, so things should liven up!

Things are definitely different around here compared to last time, but I’m excited.  This year I’m going to be stretched a lot, but I know God has good things in store!