Wednesday, March 26, 2014

From Saint Paul to Cochabamba

On Friday, March 14 I left Saint Paul for Cochabamba, Bolivia. But first there  was "a bump in the road." The previous evening my tax preparer had called and told me I owed a lot of taxes yet above what has already been withheld. That news was somewhat upsetting, and I didn't sleep very well. I also was a bit nervous about being up in time to meet the 7:30 am shuttle to the airport and so decided to just give up sleeping about 4 AM and get ready to leave.

I was downstairs at the 10th Street entrance of the building about 7:10. I sat on a sofa in the lobby with my phone in my hand for the previous time when I had taken the shuttle the driver got a bit lost because my building has a new address in many systems. I realized I had my apartment keys in a jacket pocket and that didn't seem very safe. I put them away in my tote bag safely, looked up and saw the shuttle outside the door, about 10 minutes early.

Off we went to the airport which I quickly discovered was in chaos because many schools in the Twin Cities area had started spring break and many people were traveling. I was told to go to another place to check my luggage and ended up waiting in a line of about 50 people just to do that. Since I was traveling a day ahead of most of the group going to Bolivia I thought I would send an e-mail to the trip leader suggesting others leave plenty of extra time when they arrived at the airport -- and now where was the phone? I backtracked my route through the airport, went back and was able to search the shuttle, checked the counter where I checked in the luggage -- and no phone. I couldn't imagine what I had done with it.

I managed to find a pay phone and left a message for my daughter asking her to suspend service on the phone. I had my kindle with me and was able to go online with that at the MSP airport -- which has full Wi-Fi service and found the customer care number for T-Mobile just before boarding the plane to Miami.

At Miami without a phone I couldn't call the hotel shuttle so had to take a taxi. After seeing my desired address the taxi dispatcher told me I had to wait for a "blue taxi." When one appeared colored blue rather than yellow, he directed me there. The driver of this taxi complained the whole way about taking me to the address. Why was I in a blue taxi? I had no idea. I was just doing what the dispatcher had directed me to do.

At the hotel things got better. I was greeted with the news that I now had diamond status with the Hilton Honors program and was given a bag with cookies and two bottles of water. I was told also to select two items from the nearby pantry area.

Upstairs in my room I called T-mobile and put my phone is suspension. The last thing the customer service officer said to me was "Mame, don't worry, you have insurance on this phone; it will be all right." I also called my daughter again even though I knew the charge from a hotel room would be rather high. Her first words were "Oh, mom, I am so worried about you. I can't suspend your phone." I told her I had taken care of that.

I went down to sit by the pool for awhile.

It was actually a bit too cool to do that, so I went inside to the lobby and sat down to read to a bit and let my blood pressure come back down to normal! I enjoyed an early supper in the hotel restaurant and then went walking a bit around the hotel.

I like this bench.

Here's what the sky looked like -- this explains why sitting by the pool was a bit too cool.

I went to bed early to make up for the previous somewhat sleepless night.

The next morning I enjoyed a complementary breakfast. I left for the airport about 11:30 AM for I had made plans to meet some of the other trip participants. Since I was without my phone they couldn't call me so I thought I would search likely places. I was glad to be relieved of the suitcase holding the peanut grinder.

I saw the sculptures in the North Terminal of the airport many times as I walked up and down looking for others. We had established two meeting places, the gate for our flight departure to Bolivia and the La Careta Restaurant. I went to the restaurant and had a sandwich for I was interested in some lunch. I was glad to have my Kindle for reading and also found a place to charge it, so hopefully it would also be available during the flight.

Finally about 6:30 PM I found some of the others going on this trip and enjoyed a bit of rice pudding at the La Careta. And then finally our flight began to appear on the departure displays.

We were indeed off to Bolivia at 11 PM. I was able to sleep a bit on the flight. We landed at La Paz about 5:30 AM.
We were to continue to Santa Cruz staying on the same plane. I was surprised to find we had to get out of seats while airplane staff totally took every seat apart to ascertain we were not smuggling in drugs -- well, not just us -- every seat was searched.

After about an hour we were on our way to Santa Cruz. We were handed a sheaf of paperwork. These were not to easy to fill out when half asleep!

On the way to Santa Cruz I got a great view of the Illimani Mountain. This is one of the higher mountains in the Andes. It is 21,122 feet (6438 meters). Illimani is an Aymara word, not Spanish, but I don't know the meaning of the word.

The flight between La Paz and Santa Cruz is only about one hour. When we landed there I noticed a Coca Cola ad on every window frame as we walked along the hallway to immigration. Going down the final set of stairs I found a full wall ad.

Here most of us got stopped and shunted to another line because we didn't have a visa to enter Bolivia. The Bolivian consul in the United States had told the trip leaders that we would have a special fee of $85 rather than $135 because we were not coming exactly as tourists. However no one had told the Bolivian immigration officers the same piece of news. After a long discussion we each paid the $135, but not before filling out another piece of paper. The immigration officer than transferred this information along with a photo onto a very formal certificate file, about 10 x 12 inches. I thought that was going to be quite something to carry about, but then discovered that the Bolivian government keeps that form, and instead in my passport, I have just a piece of paper.
This visa is good for five years in case I wish to go back.

We then gathered our luggage and waited in a very long line to walk through the door that said, "Nothing to declare." I would estimate there were about 40 people ahead of me.

Our next goal was then rechecking baggage for a BOA flight to Cochabamba. This went quickly and we gathered in the gate to wait for our flight. There is saw something I've never seen before.

This is a freezer holding fresh meat, that one can buy and take on the plane -- but I truly have no idea why, nor did I see anyone buy any meat.

Our flight to Cochabamba was about 45 minutes. Soon we had gathered our luggage and were boarding a bus to the hotel.

The weather was a pleasant 75 degrees (23C) or so. Since we have had a terrible winter in Minnesota, this was more than a pleasant change!
Quickly we arrived at the hotel.

The staff at the hotel are so very gracious. There is always bottled water available in one of those type of coolers from which one can select cold water to refill one's personal water bottle or hot water to make tea or coffee. The porters were quick to help with luggage. I couldn't figure out why one of them spoke English so very well, but over the course of the week I learned that as a child he had been adopted by an American medical missionary and was raised in the United States. He is now back in Bolivia going to a university there and working as porter at the hotel. He was quite intrigued to discover that my large suitcase held a peanut grinder!

We settled down for a bit of rest. I had a lovely room. The electrical outlets in Bolivia are the same as for Europe so I had all the right stuff. I actually spent most of this rest time in the nearby courtyard, because I knew if I tried the bed I would sleep for probably six hours and miss the activities for the remainder of the day.

But that's a whole another story which will appear in the next post.

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