After our time in Yapacaní was over and we said our sad goodbyes, we boarded a plane to El Alto/La Paz, twin cities in the Altiplano highlands of Bolivia. (To read about my first week in South America, start here.)
El Alto's airport is the highest elevation airport in the world. We started feeling the effects almost immediately after getting off the plane! We made our way to Casa Betania, a beautiful retreat in the middle of La Paz, to spend the night. The following morning we piled on the bus and headed to Chalice's sponsor site known as Guadaloupe, where many of the sponsored families and children were waiting for us with signs and banners.
It was probably the most colorful welcome ceremony we experienced on the whole trip. The ladies of the village had crafted beautiful garlands of real flowers to hang around our necks. Everyone got doused in confetti, then received a knitted hat and colorful satchel as a gift. The children of the village were clothed in brightly colored traditional costumes and holding signs that read things like "Thanks For So Much Love" and "Guadaloupe's Project Thanks You." It was quite the spectacle, I was running around frantically trying to capture all of the action with my camera.
We hiked up the hill to Guadaloupe's little community centre, where the children performed their traditional dances for us. It started out very mellow with a girls' basket dance, flower petals being strewn around and simple movements. By the end of the presentation, the music was loud and crazy and every member of our group was on their feet dancing, wearing the childrens' hats and circling the tiny room in a frenzy!
After the dances were finished, two members of our group were very pleased to reciprocate and present some gifts to the people of Guadaloupe. The youths in Guadaloupe spend most of their free time playing soccer, so several sports teams back in Canada had raised funds and collected donated sports equipment that we hauled all the way to Bolivia. There were soccer and basketballs, shoes and shin pads. The gifts were recevied with much gratitude, as was expected. It felt nice to give back after receiving so many gifts in Yapacaní and then again at Guadaloupe!
Next we were treated to a traditional potluck, known as Apthapi, where everyone from the village brings a little bit of food, literally piles it on the table, and then everyone digs in. There were eggs, potatoes, corn, dried meats, and deep fried savoury pastries. It was unreal. As in Yapacaní, the sense of community was incredible.
Later that afternoon we wandered around Guadaloupe and visited a few of the sponsored families there. Among them were two adolescent boys who received their own beds to sleep in (a rarity in Guadaloupe), school supplies and new clothing thanks to sponsorship.
We also visited a young mother whose daughter was born with a cleft palate, which is a common birth defect among the poor population in La Paz. The Canadian family from P.E.I. who sponsors her and her child were more than willing to pay the several hundred dollars needed for the surgery to fix the child's cleft palate. She can now eat properly and looked happy and healthy as her mother held her inside their modest home.
The last family we visited was sponsored by one of Chalice's employees back in Halifax. We showed up with a bag of gifts, Pokemon cards and photos for the little boy, who was overjoyed! Thanks to sponsorship, the boy's mother is able to operate a small jewelry-making business out of her home. As we were nearing the end of our visits, the sky clouded over and a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky!
We had to get up early (4:30 AM!) the following morning to begin our journey to Lake Titicaca, so we said yet another round of sad goodbyes and headed back to Casa Betania. Before leaving I gave my camera to someone and got an awesome photo of myself high above the city of La Paz...