A Travellerspoint blog

Bolivian Children's Home

This happened at a Bolivian Children's Home where I volunteered for 2 months. I was playing badminton, using a big red rubber ball instead of a shuttlecock, with a boy from the home named Marvin. As we were playing, I asked Marvin, "¿Cuántos años tienes?" ("how old are you?"), to which he replied "Diez años" ("Ten").

I decided to take advantage of the moment and turn it into a teaching lesson. I paused the rubber-ball-badminton game and said, "Tú tienes un mitad de mi edad. ¿Cuántos años tengo yo?" ("You are half of my age. How old am I?")

I was answered with a blank stare.

"¿Qué?"

Again, I asked "¿Si tienes un mitad de mi edad, cuántos años tengo yo?" ("How old am I if you are half my age?").

Still nothing. Just the blank stare.

No matter how many times I tried to paraphrase the question, he could not answer.

I thought that maybe he couldn't understand my Spanish.

"¿Qué es el doble de 10?" ("What is double 10?")

Still nothing.

I was becoming frustrated at this point. Why couldn't he answer my simple question? Was it too difficult for a 10-year-old? I personally remember already learning multiplication when I was 8 and in the 3rd grade. Why couldn't he add?

Finally, he said, "12?"

I said no.

"100?"

"No."

"50?"

No.

In the end, I just made him count from 10 and stopped him at 20, and told him that was the answer. Half of 20 is 10.

I was very disappointed. Why couldn't this 10-year-old answer such a simple math problem? I knew he understood the question, my Spanish accent isn't that bad. Plus my 10-year-old niece could answer this question correctly in a heartbeat, so I knew it wasn't overly difficult.

I thought that maybe I had tested the wrong person, so I repeated this experiment with three other kids.

I asked them, "How old are you?" and "If you are half of my age, how old am I?" As a result, my age was always different depending on the age of the kid I asked.
Of the three kids I tested, only one answered correctly. The only kid that passed the test was 7 years old, and he correctly determined that I was 14. But this kid looked Asian and everyone called him "Chino", so maybe he wasn't a good test subject.

Nevertheless, although Chino figured out that I was 14, he couldn't figure out the right answer after I asked him how old I really was if half of my age was 10. He guessed "100?", and some other irrelevant numbers until I finally told him that I was 20.

I don't know. Maybe my experiment had errors and I should've only asked 10-year-olds for consistency, and maybe I should've asked Bolivian kids outside of the Children's Home for variety. But regardless, this "experiment" really made me think.

First, I couldn't help but feel disappointed. I was disappointed NOT in the kids, but in their nation's inability to teach them critical thinking skills. How is it that these kids are so left behind, playing badminton with big rubber balls, while their counterparts overseas are excelling in math and science?

It wasn't hard until I found my answer. All I had to do was look around the Children's Home and note the awful facilities they had -- the old, rusted, and broken-down playground was all the children had to play on.

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Their playground was a safety hazard. When I was a kid, my public elementary school had a huge playground with slides and bars and that zip-glide handle-bar thing that everyone loved to hang on as they glided from one platform to another. And for safety, the entire playground floor was covered in soft bark so that kids wouldn't hurt themselves if they fell.

I mean, just looking at my elementary school's ordinary playground could mentally stimulate any kid. Even the homework packets we received as children were enough to rack our brains back then. What kind of stimulation do these kids get when their playground is crap and the homework they receive is pointless bell-work that includes thinking of 3 words that start with the sound "ma"?

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These kids, and the precious little brain muscles inside of them, are noticeably lacking stimuli. Obviously, this is not their fault. Again, when I was a kid, my imagination was constantly being catered to. I was always being made to think outside the box through various activities and assignments. I was unceasingly being stimulated and I didn't even realize it. I guess that's what good teachers do; stimulate the kid without him realizing it.

I cannot believe how much I have taken my childhood for granted. Families overseas spend a fortune for their children to receive an education that I received for free in the US of A. And what happens to those kids in Third World Countries who don't have rich parents to send them to rich private schools? Well, in the case of the kids in this orphanage-like Children's Home, they remain unstimulated because they are taught by people who themselves were unstimulated. It's a vicious cycle - Third World Countries always stay poor because their education sucks and the young minds aren't taught to be innovative and creative.

I've complained before that in America, you need to have money to make money and that wealth always stays in the hands of the wealthy - because rich people teach their kids how to get rich. But now, I realize that this concept is much greater, and can be applied in a much broader sense. It is the exact same with countries; rich countries remain rich, and poor countries remain poor. In this case, I'm on the other side of the spectrum. I'm with the rich, with the fortunate.

Okay, I'm making a huge generalization with the things I'm saying. I understand that I can't make judgments on an entire country based on the kids I met and the conditions that I saw in a Children's Home. I know that there are a lot of factors that I haven't addressed that play a huge role in this equation. But, at least now I realize how fortunate I was to have a "normal" American childhood, how well it prepared me for the world, and how much more I need to appreciate it.

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Posted by DanPan 13.01.2014 19:22 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Cusco Guinea Pigs

Cusco

I've eaten a lot of crazy things in my life.

  • I've eaten black eggs that smelled like ammonia after

being preserved for several months (called Century Eggs)

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  • I've eaten Fugu (blow-fish in Japanese), which is deadly poisonous and must be prepared a certain way to avoid death. [I ate it and didn't die. Yet]

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  • I've eaten brown rice supposedly grown in the

Demilitarized Zone in between North and South Korea.

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  • And I'll never forget eating fried scorpions on a stick in the streets of Beijing

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Besides this, I've eaten other crazy things like cow utter, chicken heart, and a kosher cheeseburger at an Israeli McDonald's.

But, as of now, the prize for the craziest thing I've ever put into my mouth goes to Cuy - fried guinea pig from Peru.

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I guess from my American point of view it's considered crazy, but for Peruvians, it's totally normal. In fact, guinea pig is considered a delicacy in many counties in Latin America. I guess that's because guinea pigs require less room to maintain and reproduce really fast. Initially, I did NOT want to eat this poor thing. But my frendz did, so we bought it, cooked it, and then ate it.

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I've always been taught not to play with my food, but when it's a guinea pig, I think it's okay...

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Anyway, I didn't like the taste of Cuy, but the others did. I tried to enjoy it, but I just couldn't do it. It tasted kinda like chicken, but the problem was that I knew exactly what it really was and I couldn't forget it!

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Thanks Cusco. I'll always remember that you fed me fried guinea pigs when I think of you.

Posted by DanPan 05.01.2014 11:35 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Peru

Macchu Pichu

This is a story of how my friends and I hacked Machu Picchu

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Every year, Machu Picchu brings in thousands of travelers from all over the world. However, most people don't realize that Machu Picchu is crazy expensive until the last minute (entrance ticket alone costs $45). The Inca Trail, the four-day hike that everyone takes from Cusco, costs around $500 - $600. Consciousness travelers on a budget skip the Inca Trail and take the train, which alone costs around $130 round-trip. Well, my friends and I hacked this system and got to Machu Picchu for only $24.94 .

BUT FIRST, a little background info.

After about a week of going to the hospital and uncomfortably observing burnt patients, I decided to find another place to volunteer. Perhaps it's a bad reflection on my character for starting something challenging and not finishing it. But as I'm sure you could tell from my previous post - I wasn't a very pleasant place...
Instead, I found a volunteer position at a children's home working with kids -- something I have lots of experience doing.

Other volunteers from different countries were also volunteering at the children's home, so I was able to make some new friends. On my second day there, I asked the other volunteers if any of them had gone to Machu Picchu - about a day away from La Paz. One of the Belgian volunteers told me that he was going with some friends in two days, and invited me to come along.

OKAY!

Even though it was only my second time meeting this dude and I hadn't even met his friends yet, I said yes because I assumed that I wouldn't have another chance. It was really spur of the moment. Living on the edge. It's funny, on my second day volunteering at the children's home I was already asking for time off to go to Peru with my new frendz.

We met at the Laz Paz bus terminal and took the overnight bus to Cusco. Beside my Belgian friend and me, our group also consisted of a girl from Quebec and a German guy who also lived in Belgium. Except for me, everyone in the group spoke French. It was Japan all over again.

The first part of the journey out of La Paz and into the Bolvian altiplano (plateau) was flat, brown, and pretty ugly.
Это Боливия, детка!

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When we arrived in Cusco, we bought $7 tickets for a local bus to take us to a town called Santa Maria, 6 hours away. Beside my frendz and me, all of the passengers on the train were indigenous Peruvians.

This time, the view had completely changed and we were driving past green fields that were surrounded by towering Andes mountains.

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The views just got better and better the further we got.

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Until finally, the the road became narrower, went even higher into the mountains, and the guardrails suddenly disappeared. Driving in a huge bus on roads like this was pretty freaky - but the views were absolutely majestic!

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After finally arriving in Santa Maria six hours later, we were immediately offered to be taken in a car-turned-taxi to the hydroelectric plant, the next stop on our hacking-Machu-Picchu-journey, for $5 per person. I guess many people take this road to hack Machu Picchu, because the drivers know exactly were to take you. I loved the fact that the diver squeezed in eight people into his five-seater car.

Cars can only go until the hydroelectric plant because that's where the road ends. The closest village to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) is completely surrounded by jungle and getting there is only possible by rail. But, we are hacking Machu Picchu, so instead of spending money on the expensive train, we walked along the train tracks for 2.5 hours.

Getting ready to walk on train tracks...

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...because Peruvian trains are expensive.

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I never realized how difficult it is to walk on train tracks. You can't really walk on on the rail because you keep losing your balance, and walking on ballast (railroad rocks) hurts your feet. Also, looking at the track for more than a couple of minutes begins to hurt your head...

The jungle was amazing though...

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We arrived at the village 2.5 hours later and went to see Machu Picchu itself the next morning. Machu Picchu is on top of this really high hill, and although there is a bus that takes you there for $10, we were hacking, so we hiked.

...

In hindsight, perhaps taking a bus up the mountain was a better idea, because the hike up the mountain to see Machu Picchu was the

hardest hike of my life.

And I don't even know why! I'm a fit guy who stays active and eats relatively well. I easily climbed Mount Fuji in Japan, which has a higher altitude than Machu Picchu. But climbing to Machu Picchu from the village was DEATH.

I couldn't stop panting and sweating and feeling out of breath every 3 minutes. What sucked was that my frendz just walked past as if it were the easiest mountain ever. One of the guys was a smoker, smoking cigs as he climbed, and STILL climbed faster than me. The only logical explanation I can think of is that I wasn't acclimatized to the altitude, like my friends were. Actually, I just don't want to admit that I'm out of shape. Thus, I blame the altitude.

The views were amazing though - just like everywhere else. But on top of the mountain especially!

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Doing a victory pose after reaching the top - even though I am physically broken.

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And then, as we walked through the gate, we saw it. Machu Picchu. The reason for my pain. The reason for our hackery.

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Yay, we made it!

I don't know where I got the energy to jump after all the pain I just went through.

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A Peruvian man approached us and offered to give us a tour for money. I didn't want it but my frendz did, so we agreed. You know what I learned from the insightful tour? Absolute nothing. I don't remember anything the guide said - which is exactly why I don't like tours. The only reason I remember that we took a tour is because it reminded me why I don't take tours.

Taking photos is much better.
Then you can use Wikipedia to learn about the place. This way, you'll actually remember the information. And it's free.

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Next, we decided to climb the mountain behind the site to see Machu Picchu from above. Even though I had almost died on the climb up to Machu Picchu, I went with them to climb 1000 meters higher. What a masochist I am.

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Climbing up mountains when you haven't acclimatized is brutal - but I did it! When we reached the top of the second mountain, I was physically broken (again).

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Hmm, maybe I was being punished with severe altitude problems for hacking Machu Picchu...
Well, regardless, I still did it. And I had a great time with my frendz and paid significantly less than most travellers. Even though it physically broke me twice :)

Photo after I had recuperated:

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Posted by DanPan 04.01.2014 12:21 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

In A Bolivian Hospital

This post is going to be a graphic. Reader discretion is advised...

So before I started this blog and began traveling in the summer of 2012, I was a good 19-year old Biology major, studying to someday get a career in medicine. Obviously my medical ambitions have been placed on hold as life took me through Europe, Asia, and South America during the last year and a half.

Being here in Bolivia for 2 months, I have ample amounts of free time that I intend to put to good use. After searching out volunteer opportunities, I came across one that included volunteering at a Bolivian hospital for burned victims. I have never had clinical experience in my one-year-old medical career, so I assumed that volunteering in a hospital of a 3rd World Country would be a good hands-on experience for me to decide whether or not medicine was my thing.

I arrived at the hospital, and after a quick interview over tea, I was sent to change into scrubs and called into the observation room to watch the doctor and nurses observe patients.

The first patient in the observation room was a little boy, laying facedown on the observation bed, with burns on both of his legs. Beside the single observation bed, the scarcely filled observation room also had a desk at one corner, and a white cabinet containing a few cheap medical supplies at the other corner. Two nurses changed the bandages on the boy's legs as the boy's father watched. While his bandages were off, the burns on his legs reminded me of the design on top of marble countertops.

I couldn't believe they were letting me watch this. I was just some random dude who had walked into the hospital 30 minutes earlier, and was now wearing scrubs and observing patients with doctors and nurses. I also couldn't believe how bad the conditions were in that hospital. The doctor wasn't using gloves and the equipment they had was stuff you could probably find in any American high-school science class.

After the boy, the next patient was heavy-set woman wearing gloves, a hat, and a surgical mask covering her face. Once inside, she removed the mask to expose a completely burned face and neck. When she laid down on the bed, I noticed that half of her nose was gone, and in its place was a black hole. At a closer look, however, I noticed a thin piece of cartilage running down the middle, just barely qualifying the hole as two huge nostrils. On the ridges of her nose and on her forehead she had stitches, which the doctor began removing with a pair of tweezers and scissors. Again, the doctor wore no gloves as he proceeded to work on her face.

Every time the doctor tugged at her stitches, it felt like he was tugging at my heart. At times, the woman would flinch, causing me to flinch as well. The doctor found a napkin and placed it on the patient's forehead, on top of which he would put the stitches that he had just removed from her face. Once the doctor had finished, he threw the napkin away into a wastebasket and the patient got up and left; after putting on her hat, gloves, and surgical mask.

The next patient was a young man whose one eyelid couldn't reach the bottom of his eye, and after him was a few month-old baby girl who already had reconstructive surgery done on her cleft lip and plans were made to fix her remaining cleft palate.

The next, most memorable, patient was another woman with a burned face. She had stitches as well, starting from both ends of her mouth and continuing until halfway up her cheeks — kind of like Joker from Batman. I watched the doctor pick up the scissors and tweezers, again with no gloves, and begin to take out her stitches. And again, as he pulled on the stitches, it felt like he was pulling at my heart.

After all the stitches were removed, the doctor took out some cream and began smearing it with a Q-tip on the patient's burn scars. He put dabs of the cream along her face, where the stitches were, and then began smearing the cream on the flesh wound below her mouth. Suddenly, while the doctor was still smearing, the flesh wound gave way and the Q-tip went straight through her skin, into her mouth.

Watching the doctor take the Q-tip out, covered in blood and cream, lead me to think that perhaps medicine was NOT my thing after all. Just looking at these poor, burnt people, with Q-tips inside their mouths, and the unsanitary medical conditions they were being treated in made me very uncomfortable.

I walked outside, into the waiting room full of people waiting to be seen inside the one observation room. There, I met another doctor, who began asking me questions as to who I was and where I was from. Because my Spanish sucks, our conversation was full of long and awkward pauses, during which the doctor would just wait, not making any initiative to begin work and help all those in the waiting room. This really annoyed me. I saw how these people had a completely different attitude concerning work, this "I'll get to it later" mentality that was very bothersome. The poor and unsanitary conditions of the hospital also continued to bother me.

Although it was annoying, it was precisely because of this attitude and these conditions that I was allowed inside the observation room to watch the patients be observed. I still continue to think back onto this experience - my first experience ever in an observation room. I still remember the poor and hopeless victims and think about how many of them there must be in our world. And although part of me has decided that medicine is not my thing, another part of me wonders if this is my calling; the tip of the iceberg of my future...

I didn't take any photos, out of courtesy to the hospital and the patients. But here's one of me in scrubs.

Say hello to Dr. Dan!

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Posted by DanPan 25.11.2013 16:49 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz

Now that I've acclimatized to La Paz's 3,640 m (11,942 ft) altitude, I had the chance to go out and explore the city in which I'll be spending the next few months.

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THE PLACE

First of all, Bolivia (of which the administrative capital is La Paz and legal capital is Sucre) is a land-locked country in the center on South America. Not many people know that. Not many people have even heard of Bolivia before, much less know where it's located. When I told people that I was going to Bolivia, the most common reaction was, "WHY?! There's a war there!", thinking that I had said Libya instead of Bolivia. I've also had people think I said that I was going to Bulgaria or Serbia, and I've once even Guatemala, because they've never heard of Bolivia and it doesn't register as a name of a country.

BUT. There are definitely a few perks associated with being in a country that is unknown by most of the world; such as the fact that there is no tourist-overload like in the famous countries in Europe and Asia. Without the tourist hype, Bolivia's rich ecosystems and ancient ruins are well preserved. Also, without tourists, you can really get the good feel of the country in its true colors. It is what it is. All the potholes and graffiti and missing pieces of pavement are left in all their glory for everyone to see.

THE LIFESTYLE

The reason Bolivia remains virtually unknown by the outside world is because it is still a developing country. But even though it's developing, it is the least developed country in South America. However, this also comes with perks (at least for Americans, like myself) -- it is very cheap! I enjoy the full course lunches for $1.50 and the 0.25¢ bus rides across town. Anyone on a fixed income from any developed country can live here in riches.
(Unless, of course, you buy American products in Bolivia. Because they're high quality and because of an included import tax, American products are more expensive here than in the United States. $10 cereal? WHAT?!)

Just make sure to buy "Hecho en Bolivia" (made in Bolivia) products and you'll be fine!

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THE PEOPLE

Like many countries of Latin America, there is a big mix of people of indigenous and European decent living in Bolivia. But, in Bolivia especially, the indigenous factors have a significant influence on the culture, especially on music, food, and art.
Although I had mentioned before that Bolivia is a developing country, the lifestyle is pretty westernized. Almost everyone has cell-phones and wears blue jeans. But even still, there are some indigenous people who prefer walking around town in cultural dress rather than western. These people are called Cholitos (male) and Cholitas (female). Although Cholito dress is less distinguishable, Cholita attire is very outstanding. Cholitas are known for their poofy dresses, colorful shawls, and bowler hats (kinda like Abraham Lincoln's). It's a strange fashion choice in my personal opinion, but it's considered indigenous cultural attire, and you will find many women dressed as so.

My attempt to photograph a Cholita, being as discreet as possible:

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Wow. I feel like a stalker...

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THE LOCATION

The final, and most unique aspect of Bolivia's administrative capital, La Paz, is its extraordinary geography. Being the world's highest capital that so kindly gives altitude sickness to it's first-time visitors, La Paz is situated in the Andes. Originally constructed in a bowl-like crest completely surrounded by mountains, the city began climbing the surrounding hills, resulting in a city with various elevations and awesome views from anywhere you look!

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Posted by DanPan 16.11.2013 18:35 Archived in Bolivia Comments (2)

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