My beguiling friend descends from two ethnicities: Bolivian and Czechoslovakian. I have never met anyone from both of those backgrounds. She is as interesting and exotic as her heritages and they play a major role and influence in her personality and flair. I interviewed her about her trips to her mother’s homeland, Bolivia. She spent 10-12 summer trips there as well as visiting her father’s homeland of what was then called Czechoslovakia.
What inspired you to travel to Bolivia?
We went annually in the summers to visit family.
What did your trip itinerary involve?
We stayed at a resort in the Amazon jungle called Chapare. I remember it being so lush, green, untouched….HEAVEN.
It was a family owned resort with a woman who cooked meals for us with ingredients from her backyard. We hitchhiked while there as a family since there were no taxis or buses. It was rural and close to Cochabambra where my mom grew up. It was a little town; extremely rustic with open air markets, dry meats hanging and fresh bread. The taste of the fresh bread is something I’ll never forget. I have never had bread that stands up to par like that.
What areas do you recommend?
The city of Santa Cruz is becoming more metropolitan. We stayed in Chapere which was a diamond in the rough.
How would you describe the perfect Bolivian meal?
There are so many varieties of potatoes there. Salteñas is like an empanada with chicken or beef. Sometimes a chicken claw is in the food because it supposedly adds a lot of flavor. My sister and I would ask each other if a claw was found in our food as a sort of game.
Describe the vibe of the culture.
There was an eclectic mix of Indian and Spanish fusion. The Indian Incan culture was more vibrant and dominant than the Spanish. It was family-oriented, warm and a lot of eating at people’s homes.
Describe a custom that you observed there. Did you incorporate any of their customs back home?
A Christmas tradition there is a dessert, like a begneit, called bunuelos. On Christmas Eve, we made up batter with Pisco which is a S. American liquor which gives an incredible smell to the batter. You pull the dough apart, drop it in a hotel oil and put a hole in the middle to creat the “donut hole.” Then, you put powdered sugar on top. Delicious! Our family still makes these every Christmas Eve.
Were there any challenges in getting to your destination? What was the flight like?
Because of my father’s job, we flew there in a military plane. The flights and layovers took 14-16 hours. We sat on the belly of the plane in a fiberglass shell of a seat that had a little scoop and seatbelt. We flew over La Paz which at that time was the highest altitude airport in the world. (I don’t know if it still is.) It is very common to need oxygen when you land due to altitude sickness, so this was always a challenge.
What did you learn about yourself from this trip?
I learned how proud I am of where I come from. I am proud of my heritage and the values instilled in me. They are deeply seated values from being in an extended, multi-generational family. You bring in family members in their time of need.
How did your trips to Bolivia enrich your life? Did you have any experiences that made you grow spiritually?
It opened my eyes to a broader world view. It makes me appreciate what we have here in America but also, there, too. Experiencing nature and a more rural lifestyle helped us entertain ourselves without television and the usual amenities. It taught us how to have our own fun and enjoy the simple life. Because Catholicism is so dominant there and at the core of everything, those religious values became so instilled in me at a young age. It is prevalent there in everything you do; it is both religion and culture. Today, I am a non-denominational Chrisitian, but I still have a love for my Catholicism. Having a broader world view also helped in getting comfortable with both hosting and sending children on exchange trips. We hosted students from Costa Rica and Spain and our daughter participated in a 2 month exchange to Spain in 5th grade. We have bonded with both the Costa Rican and Spanish families and traveled to visit both as a family. These experiences have enriched our entire family!
Interviewer’s side note: (We discussed that political problems and safety concerns that are currently going on in the world, etc…and topics of being global citizens and the love of travel). My friend had a wonderful quote that she remembered from somewhere:
“When you hurt another human being, you hurt all humanity”.