As I mentioned in my First Rotary Meeting blog, I have the opportunity while here in Bolivia to do a few trips with the other exchange students in my district. The first trip for us all, and the first time all the students from the different cities met each other was on the Samaipata trip. The trip started in Santa Cruz, which is about 250 miles from my city of Tarija. Instead of taking the bus to Santa Cruz, a 12-hour overnight trip, (I’m still not sure why, but I guess they can’t go too fast) I decided to fly to Santa Cruz so that I would arrive a half-day early, and while it was still light. I really wanted to take pictures in Santa Cruz and meet up with some of my RYE friends before we all got together for the trip.
As it turned out, this was a great plan for me. I started the morning of October 3rd with a 6 am flight to Cochabamba, the hub of Bolivia’s airline and where I had a five-hour layover. Since I was there for five hours, I paid one of the official airport taxis to take me to the Cristo de la Concordia, the highest of its kind in the world. Not only was the drive through the city beautiful in the morning, but the views on the way up to the monument were incredible and really highlighted how the city is split down the middle by large mountains. Cochabamba is a city much larger than mine, both in its spread and how built up the downtown area is. It is very much in a bowl of mountains, and there are some lagoons in the middle that make for dramatic scenery. Because it was only 7:30 in the morning by then, there was nobody other than construction workers at the top of the mountain. Fortunately, the nice taxi driver waited for me to take pictures and then gave me a tour of the city. He let me loose right in the downtown, where I took an almost hour-long tour of the Convent, and then walked around the main plazas. The convent was a very interesting place, and the views from its roof of the city were amazing. After my adventuring around the city, I took a taxi to the airport, relaxed in the lounge, and caught my flight to Santa Cruz.
This is where the big surprise came! In a previous post, I talked about how the Global Supertanker firefighting aircraft was used to fight the large fire that we had had here in Tarija. After seeing it, I got in contact with them about visiting the aircraft and taking pictures of the operation in Santa Cruz where it was temporarily based. I was persistent for two weeks and finally got confirmation that I was good to go just moments after I landed in Santa Cruz. I waiting 30 minutes at the terminal until Tony from Global Supertanker picked me up and drove me over to the cargo terminal where the supertanker was. We had to give our passports to the military guards and then we drove right out onto the apron (yes that’s the correct name) where the supertanker was parked. I got to walk around completely alone for about 20 minutes taking pictures and looking at the plane. While I wasn’t surprised that the operation was obviously very temporary, I was surprised to see the group of cheap off-the-shelf above-ground pools as storage for filling with water while the plane was gone. This was interesting but, is actually brilliant because it is simple and functional. After a little bit, Dan came over and I hopped up into the engine where he took my picture! This was a great opportunity, and the persistence paid off.
After my adventures at the airport, I took a taxi to meet up with another RYE student Maya, who I went with into Santa Cruz downtown. While she went to the gym, I went and met with three other students at the largest mall in Santa Cruz, Ventura, where we went bowling and had dinner. It was great to have a few hours of light in Santa Cruz to poke around, as well as meet and get to know my Rotarian host family for the time I was in Santa Cruz. The sunset cast a beautiful light on the city and the rain that had been threatening to come stayed away for the afternoon. This was but the first day of the weekend trip and the following three incredible days will be covered in the following post.