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La Paz, Bolivia

I spent the last week of my travels in beautiful La Paz, Bolivia. This place enchanted me from the moment I arrived. La Paz is high in the Andes Mountains and literally built on the mountain slopes. With altitudes ranging from 10,000 to over 13,000 feet above sea level you often have to stop and catch your breath as you climb the steep streets.

Beautiful La Paz

During my time in La Paz I stayed with PC(USA) mission co-worker Sarah Henken. Sarah is the PC(USA) Regional Liaison for the Andean region. This means that she keeps up with what is going on with partner churches and organizations of the PC(USA) in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. She also oversees the PC(USA) mission co-workers working in these countries and helps foster relationships between PC(USA) congregations and our partners there. I enjoyed spending the week with Sarah, getting to know her and her work.

With Sarah Henken

I also had a chance to visit with PC(USA) mission co-worker Chenoa Stock. Chenoa had been a part of my mission training before going to Zambia, so it was great to see her again. Chenoa works with the Joining Hands Network, which is known as UMAVIDA in Bolivia (UMAVIDA is short for Uniendo Manos por la Vida – Joining Hands for Life). We were able to visit Chenoa’s colleagues at UMAVIDA, Miguelina and Cleo, one afternoon which was a special treat. UMAVIDA is currently working to address water safety and environmental concerns, which are a serious problem due to mining that has been taking place without proper regulations. They also work with youth, conducting a water school and sending youth to the international youth congress in the region. Cleo coordinates the local efforts and is heavily invested in the work of UMAVIDA. I was very moved by her passion to protect the resources of Bolivia and equip the next generation to take better care of their environment. Cleo is also a dedicated advocate for women’s rights. In Bolivia, 8 out of 10 women have been victims of violence – that is a staggering 80 percent. Cleo strives to speak for these and to restore the hope that has been lost for a better future among Bolivian women. I was honored to meet this woman who loves her country and fellow Bolivians. Please pray that UMAVIDA would find the resources it needs to continue their good work.

Miguelina, Chenoa, and Cleo at UMAVIDA

I enjoyed seeing the sights in and around La Paz. You have seen my two previous posts about El Día de los Muertos and Lake Titicaca. The city of La Paz itself was also amazing. We explored the city - visiting the oldest church, walking through the markets, enjoying lunch out at a few of the cafés, and enjoying the view from several scenic overlooks.

On the top of the oldest church in La Paz, Iglesia de San Francisco

Waiting for the bus

My last day in La Paz was a Sunday and we joined a local Presbyterian church for their worship service. The congregation was small and meets in an apartment. The folks were full of joy and very welcoming to me. Even through the language barrier I could understand their warmth and love. Please pray for this little congregation and their pastor, that they will continue to seek and follow God faithfully.

The Presbyterian congregation I visited on Sunday

As I left La Paz I was sad to go so soon, but also excited to return to the States and to spend some time with my family. Thank you for coming along with me on this journey, I hope you have been able to share in my adventure! Stay tuned for one more post as I return to the States and Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Adios, La Paz!

Posted November 10, 2012
Lake Titicaca

On Friday, Sarah and I headed to Lake Titicaca. We tried to catch a bus in the morning, but they had all left early because it was a holiday weekend and lots of people were traveling. Fortunately, we were able to get a bus just after lunch. The three and a half hour ride out to the lake from La Paz was beautiful. We traveled along the flat, rural altiplano until we started to get into more mountains. As we approached the lake, winding around the sides of the mountains, there were spectacular views. At one point we even had to get off the bus and ride a ferry across a straight to get to the town where we were staying, Copacabana.

View of Copacabana from our hostel

We arrived with just enough time to walk around a bit, then enjoy dinner as the sun went down. Copacabana is a nice but touristy town, as many tours to islands and different parts of the lake depart from there. There were also many local families enjoying the holiday weekend at Copacabana.

Locals enjoying the holiday weekend

On Saturday morning we climbed Cerro Calvario, a hill next to the town. The climb was difficult as we were at about 14,000 feet above sea level but we slowly made our way to the top. In the 1950s, stations of the cross were put along the path up the hill and it is now considered a pilgrimage site. We would pause at the foot of each cross and even stood with a family who prayed the Lord’s Prayer at one of the crosses.

The cross where we prayed with the family

The view from the top of Cerro Calvario was stunning. It was a cloudy day and we could see rain over parts of the lake and every now and then the sun would break through. At the top, women were selling candles to light at the summit – supposedly to bring you health, money, love, education, etc. I bought two to light in memory of loved ones who have died, my best childhood friend Cameron and my grandfather Frank.

At the top of Cerro Calvario

Many people lit candles - the two in the middle are in memory of Cameron and Frank

We stayed at the top of the hill for a while, just enjoying the view. Then we made our way back down to the town, visited the church, and had lunch before catching our bus back to La Paz. It was a great little trip and I’m glad to have seen this amazing part of our world! 

Rain over the lake

Lake Titicaca from the top of Cerro Calvario

Enjoying the view

Posted November 4, 2012
El Día de los Muertos

This week I am in La Paz, Bolivia and my visit has coincided with the holidays of Todos Santos (All Saints Day) and El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). These traditional Catholic holidays have been adopted and adapted here in Bolivia to include traditional beliefs as well. On the days leading up to these holidays people have been preparing for the visits of their relatives who have died. The traditional belief is that the souls of deceased family members come to visit from noon on November 1 and return to the realm of the dead at the same time on November 2.

Buying breads and cookies in prepartion for the holiday

On November 1, Todos Santos, many families prepare tables with pictures of their loved ones, favorite foods and drinks, and other special objects in their homes for the deceased to enjoy when they come to visit. On November 2, El Día de los Muertos, many families go to the graves of their relatives. While visiting they clean the graves, leave food and drink, offer music and prayers, and even share a meal together at the graveside.

A table set up with sweets, fruits, flowers, and other treats

Today is El Día de los Muertos and this morning Sarah and I visited the biggest cemetery here in La Paz. There were so many people in the neighborhood and a market had sprung up around the cemetery. As we entered the cemetery I could sense the meaning and importance of this day for the Bolivian people.

Market outside the cemetery

As we walked through the pathways lined with tombs, my heart was heavy. The tombs were stacked on top of each other, six high on both sides. Some of the tombs were very well looked after while others have not seen visitors for many years. People were everywhere arranging flowers, cleaning the tombs, and leaving presents for their deceased relatives. In the tombs of older people family members left small bottles of soft drinks or alcohol, cigarettes, cookies and breads. In the tombs of children and babies there were bottles, toys, and candies.

The tomb of an adult (above) and a child (below) with gifts from their families

As we walked through the cemetery I had many different emotions. On the one hand it was sad to see people grieving and missing their loved ones. At some of the tombs the people were praying or even singing together, some lovingly touching the tomb as though it were the face or hand of their relative. On the other hand it seemed like a party. There were drums and pipes playing – one family was cheerfully singing happy birthday to their deceased relative. Some families had brought so many gifts for their relatives they were trying to figure out what to do with all the gifts, as they would not fit in the small tombs. Some people were weeping while others were laughing together. I felt the same way, remembering loved ones who have died – how I miss them but remember them fondly and with joy. There was something so sweet and beautiful about this day as the community remembers those who have gone before. 

A family at the tomb of their relative

Flowers for a loved one

Posted November 2, 2012
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