(This series was originally written in email form during the summer of 2009. Here is the second installment finally in blog format.)
Sunday, June 14, 2009 at 11:19am ·
My second week in Bolivia has been fast paced and exciting. I am learning more and more about the structure and organization of Pro Mujer, the microfinance institution that I am interning at. I spent the first day just reading about the Communal Associations, which are groups of women that guarantee each others´ loans due to their lack of collateral. A Communal Association is made of up of at least four groups of four or more women. All of the women should be part of the same community, and these communal ties are supposed to encourage women to pay their debts on time. If one woman defaults, the others in the group are responsible for covering her debt until she can pay them back, or the whole Communal Association goes into default. This sort of network is implemented in order to guarantee the loans and make credit available to those who do not have any collateral.
The rest of the week was spent visiting the various Pro Mujer centers throughout Cochabamba. There are ten centers in the city, plus a regional office. In order to familiarize myself with the centers and their particular needs I am helping get the centers ready for next week, when the Director of Pro Mujer Bolivia is going to visit the region. It is a good way to learn about the different areas of the city where Pro Mujer operates, as well as observe what kinds of projects could benefit the women of the various centers.
This past weekend I went traveling around Bolivia with some of the other FSD interns. We had a four-day weekend due to the holiday of Corpus Christi on Thursday, and we decided to take advantage of this opportunity to go to Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is a huge lake in the mountains between Bolivia and Peru. It is one of the highest lakes in the world, at around 12,555 ft. above sea level. To get there from Cochabamba, we took the overnight bus to La Paz, one of the capitals of Bolivia (yes, there is more than one capital city). From there, we took another bus to the lakeside town of Copacabana, which shares a name with one of the most famous beaches in Brazil, but that is where the resemblance ends. The ride there was amazing, with spectacular views of the snow peaked mountains, and a tour through the stark Bolivian countryside. We did get stopped once by Border Patrol, but I managed to talk my way out of not having my passport or visa with me.
The town of Copacabana is quaint and flanked by two huge hills. Our first night there, we climbed one of these giant hills to watch the sunset over the lake, which was unforgettable. Another thing that was unforgettable is how thin the air is at 12,500 ft. We were panting just walking up stairs. So obviously, we decided to spend the entire second day hiking across an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. We took a boat to the Isla del Sol, which was absolutely stunning in its tranquility and isolation. This “Island of the Sun” is supposedly the birthplace of the sun in Incan legends.
After hauling our stuff up what seemed like hundreds of Incan stairs to a guest house, we explored the island. The Festival of San Antonio was going on at the local church, which involved traditionally costumed men and women dancing in formation while a live band played in the courtyard. All of the flying swirling skirts of the “cholitas” were mesmerizing, and the music set the tone for the whole town.
We spent that entire day hiking the island, south to north, and back again. There were some Incan ruins, but more striking was the view of the lake below the terraced fields, with the mountains rising in the background. We had dinner at a restaurant that was just the front room of a family´s house. They served us some tasty homemade pizza, and we enjoyed a bottle of wine before heading out into the pitch black night to star gaze. It was very dark and quiet at night; the only sounds were those of braying donkeys, because there aren´t any roads or cars on the island. The Milky Way was so clear in the sky that we could even see the dark matter running through the galaxy. Unforgettable.
Our weekend trip was a great first adventure, and now we are back in Cochabamba getting ready for the week ahead. It’s Sunday, and that means that my host family makes a huge lunch and eats and talks for hours. It´s quite enjoyable. The topic at hand this week was the merits of Santa Cruz versus those of La Paz (two of the capital cities of Bolivia). Last week´s topic was Che and socialism. I am a fairly argumentative person, and defiantly enjoy these good-natured discussions. I look forward to learning more, and will try to keep you all posted as to what´s going on in Bolivia.