Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tear Gas in the Most Unexpected Places

The other night I went to a yoga class in the center of town. It’s a calming, peaceful experience, during which students lie on mats and the teacher moves on light feet while chanting om.

During this class, I had an especially hard time concentrating. First was the car alarm, that seemed to go off for a good twenty minutes. Then came the repeated sound of shots. No one else seemed to notice.

After class, we descended down to the first floor, into the courtyard of the building.

“Do you smell gas?” my colleague Maria asked me. Another student put her hand over her mouth. I did smell something.

When we opened the locked, heavy wooden door, leading out onto the street, we saw people filing past. Almost all of them held cloths against their mouths. Clearly, something was in the air we shouldn’t be breathing.

We walked across the street to the parking lot where Maria had left her car. The parking lot managers sat outside under a small awning, watching TV. It was a couple, who looked dirty and ragged from poverty, and two small toddlers. All of them, including the children were holding cloths to their mouths.

“What’s going on?” we asked. They told us there had been a protest and the police had used tear gas.

I later found out that it was students from the Rene Montero state university who were protesting. A nearby private university had started to build a new building on a piece of land that Rene Montero university claims belongs to it. The private university shows documents proving they bought it legally. Rene Montero says its not true.

During the construction of this building, the students were constantly interfering and trying to prevent its progress. Bit by bit, they finished it, and now want to put the
building into use.

“And so last night was the biggest protest of all,” said Oscar, my Spanish teacher.

“But tear gas is dangerous, isn’t it?” I asked. “And so many people who weren’t involved in the protest were breathing it in (including me).”

“Yes, it’s very dangerous. But what else can you do when people are getting violent. There aren’t many other good ways to disperse people.” He scratched his head for a minute. “Except in Chile. You know, there they use high powered water cannons there.”

In my short time here in Bolivia, I can see that violent protests are common. Passengers whose plane didn’t fly took over the local airport, then a travel agency. Road blockages are considered a common event. In other areas of the country, considered much more troublesome than Santa Cruz, protests and blockages disrupt work and trade. Before I came, one of our employees in Cochabamba lost his eye by being in the wrong place at the wrong time during one of these disturbances. The protestors, when shown are TV, are generally yelling and gesturing angrily, regardless of whether it’s a young man or an older woman.

I asked Oscar why there is such a tendency for anger and violence in the protests here. I respect that people stand up for what they think is right. But why can’t they do it peacefully?

He thought for a moment, then offered his analysis. “First it has to do with the fact that people here are really misused and mistreated. Those who have power have been very corrupt and have taken a lot from the powerless. There is a great resentment of the rich by the poor. Then there is the heat. When it’s so hot, people sweat, they become uncomfortable, and they get angry more easily. There is the traffic, which also frustrates people and makes them angry. And there is a lot of racism between the cambas (those from the east – more European) and the collyas (those from the mountains - Indian). They don’t like each other because they are different. All these things together can make people get upset easily.”

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Where the Action Is

Last night the office hosted a karaoke contest among its female employees. It rented out an entire disco club and the employees from throughout the city gathered there at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night.

It wasn’t too far from my house. We drove down San Martin avenue in Equipetrol, which is the hang out place for upper class youth. I had known this, and seen it. But never had I seen so many people gathered as I did late on Saturday night.

The street was lined with SUVs and trucks parked on either side of the street. A steady stream of vehicles moved slowly down the street, checking out the scene, deciding where it might be worth it to stop.

Many vehicles had large stereo systems installed in the back. Young women in tight, low-cut tank tops and high heels and muscular young men sat on the hoods, in the trunks, or rested against the sides. Jewelry, make-up and colorful clothing glittered under the streetlamps. Some couples embraced, or French-kissed, in public. Some danced. Most held a bottle of beer.

Among these crowds of privileged youth walked an Indian woman, her braided hair covered with a hat, a colorful striped cloth tying a bundle to her back. It was such a contrast between the traditional Indian woman and the carefree modern youth, such as could be seen in any cosmopolitan city. Other lower-income entrepreneurs roam the crowds, selling snacks, drinks, and cigarettes.

The karaoke concert was nicely organized, and for a work function, was a fun way to spend an evening. We listened to quite a bit of mediocre singing, as well as a few people with talent. It was scheduled to begin at 11. My colleague, Maria, is very timely, especially for Bolivia. We arrived by 10:30 and the place was virtually empty. It started a little after 11:30.

Today I decided to join in the custom of eating Sunday lunch out. I walked through an area where I thought I could find some restaurants. Almost everything, except the supermarket, a few kiosks, and some restaurants, is closed on Sundays and the streets were almost deserted. But I quickly realized how to find a place to eat – look for large numbers of SUVs concentrated in one area.

This signal led me to several options. I ended up choosing a steakhouse, where they advertised the best meat in the world (and Oscar, my Spanish teacher, told me they had especially good meat, backing up their claim). It was an attractive, classy restaurant, packed to the rafters, the staff buzzing professionally around, the owner (who looked Argentinean) monitoring the action.

Their specialty was grilled meat, which was served with a plate of green salad, rice, French fries, fried yucca, bread, spiced mayonnaise and salsa. I’d guess the average patron spends about $8 there, which is definitely higher end. Yet every table was full. I looked around at the patrons, the comfortable, middle and upper class families, enjoying their nice meal while their “employee” had the day off. Such families exist everywhere. But what is remarkable here is that there are so many of them. And that these differences in lifestyle seem to be taken as a matter of course (although, not by the President, Evo Morales).

In Kyrgyzstan I felt it much easier to integrate into various aspects of society. I lived in an apartment with normal people – students as well as families and professionals – across the street from a brothel. Sometimes I ate at the upper end restaurants. Other times I went to little holes in the wall. And it didn’t really make a difference either way. I walked, biked, took the buses and taxis, and was fine however I chose to travel.

Here, because of the differences in income, and because of the safety threat, I feel much more of the need to segregate myself with the middle and upper classes. I live in a condo with 24 hour security, when I need a car I order a taxi by phone that picks me up by name, and I even hired an “employee” to clean and cook a few times a week. The best I do at integration is taking the bus to work in the morning. But it’s dangerous to walk, it’s dangerous to take a taxi off the street, and it’s dangerous to stroll into unknown neighborhoods carrying anything of value.

This I find unfortunate. As much as I like the weather and people, I don’t like the segregation of the population and the inability to move freely.

This week I spoke to a Bosnian/German colleague here, who is interested in working in Colombia. I asked whether she was concerned about the security situation there and she told me she liked the people a lot.

“Yes, you have to be careful and you have to go from place to place in a car, but it’s not so bad once you get used to it.”

I guess if you are OK with moving from one sheltered space to another, it’s true, it is OK. You can work, go to the gym, go shopping, visit your friends, and take vacations, all in safe, upper-end places. But for someone who wants to move and breathe and interact with one’s surroundings, to have a symbiotic relationship, it’s hard to consider it living.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sergio's Fifth Birthday Party

Yesterday afternoon, Oscar’s wife Rosario and her two children stopped by my apartment to drop off an invitation to Sergio’s fifth birthday party. The invitation read 4:30 this afternoon.

I arrived at 4:40, thinking I was late. But barely anyone was there. I later found out that other people’s invitations read 3:30. Yet many didn’t show up until five.

Oscar and his family rent an attractive house, surrounded by flowering trees and enclosed with a large black gate. In the back of the house is another building with three separate doors. These seem to be rooms, or apartments, that other families live in.

The theme of the party was cars. I think there was a movie about cars recently, because everything had the same logo – the folded cardboard gift boxes, the sticks put into the gelatin cups and the soda bottles, the Congratulations Sergio poster on the wall and the pull-string bell piñata.

They had a two-man DJ ensemble, who blasted children’s music so loud as to rock the eardrums and make conversing very difficult. Nevertheless, I was able to meet an interesting woman from Cuba and her Bolivian husband. They left Cuba a few years ago due to the worsening economic conditions there. She is an English teacher and has a sister in Miami. But she found it impossible to speak any English when she went to see her sister in Miami. “It’s a purely Spanish city,” she said.

We talked about the importance of the family in Bolivian life and about the way the work culture supports strong families here.

“In the US, the work culture drives families apart,” she said, and I agreed. “It becomes normal for children to leave at 17 or 18 and the parents end up alone, just seeing their children at Christmas or holidays,” she said. “And the majority of them end up in a nursing home. But not here. Here, old people remain a part of their families until the very end.”

I told her how delayed childbearing can make it difficult for some middle-aged people to take care of both children and elderly parents. They told me that here, people have children much earlier, age 21 or 22 on average, but frequently at 15 or 16.

I surprised that the lack of having an abortion option probably played a role.

“Yes,” she said, and her husband nodded. “It’s really a debate here. There are cases of young girls who are violated and are forced to bear the children. There was recently a case of a 12-year-old who was raped. And during all the time they spent going to court, she eventually carried the child to term. They delivered it by C-section, but still. Someone of that age doesn’t have the capacity to be a mother.”

She told me that the numbers of unwanted children are high – that many families continue to have one child after another after another. That children are abandoned, mistreated, and many turn into criminals. She said that birth control is available, but the lack of education and a culture of using it mean it is not very effective.

What I find most troubling is the lack of options for women who are victims of violence. The other day in the newspaper I read an article about some neighbors who found a woman in their neighborhood. She was about 30 years old and seemed to have been drugged and violated. What if she should become pregnant?

As if suffering the violent act wasn’t enough, can any lawmakers or religious leaders with a conscious truly believe she must continue to be reminded of the horror for another nine months, or twenty years?

Back to the birthday party, where the upper-middle-class children in attendance seemed to have been wanted, we were served muffins, donuts and sodas as we tried to shout to each other over the music. The adults sat in a semi-circle around the patio, while the children sat in the center on small red, blue and yellow chairs. The boys sat separately from the girls.

When the festivities began, the DJ led the children in games – a dance contest, hot balloon, musical chairs. One girl, when she was eliminated in hot balloon (the equivalent of hot potato) ran to her mother crying. Sergio blew out the candle on his cake, then everyone was served a slice of cake with an empanada and another soda.

Finally, the piñata was brought out. Unlike Nicaragua, where they still have artistically made paper-mache piñatas, broken with a bat and blindfold variety (which I prefer), here the piñata was a commercialized paper bell with a bunch of strings. The children gathered under the bell. Rather than take turns at pulling the strings, the birthday boy was able to yank them all at once, guaranteeing that the piñata burst apart on the first try.

“Don’t look up at the piñata!” the DJ told the kids. “Look down!” As though children could look away from candy.

The bell burst and toys and sweets rained down in a cloud of dust and confetti. After the children gathered their treasures, they then swept the dust and confetti into piles with their hands and threw it in each other’s faces.

Each child was given a gift box. I wondered whether that was an American import. And while Sergio received gifts from everyone who came, he didn’t open any of them during the party.

It was a nice way to spend an afternoon and a rewarding little peak into local life.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Slow Afternoon

This has been a welcome, but very slow weekend for me. My big activity for the day was to go see a Bolivian movie, The Andes Don’t Believe in God.

I took a taxi to the Cine Center, a large and modern theater, with an admission price of just over $2 before 4 p.m.

The movie was about the mining life, the mix of immigrants, the local vibe, and the women in the southern town of Uyuni in the 1920s. This is a place I would like very much to visit. There are some salt flats nearby that I hear are incredibly beautiful.

The movie was good. Best of all was the immersion in Spanish and the fact that I was able to understand almost everything.

After the movie, I decided to walk around and try to find some lunch. The neighborhood was filled with small but attractive, upper-middle-class gated houses. There were barely any people on the street. And this made me feel unsafe. I had thought about walking all the way to the center of town, but I felt I stuck out as a single woman walking alone and I didn’t want to take the risk. So when I found a populated area near a park, I decided to stop.

I had a delicious buffet lunch for under $2, I listened to a five man band of guitars, accordion and trumpets play pleasant, upbeat music, and I watched a clown make flowers, swords, and bears holding onto a heart for tips. As long as I was within the fenced in area of the restaurant, busy with family diners coming through the turnstile, taking their plate, and filling it with salads, rice, beans, and stewed meats and chickens, it was fine. But leaving that area alone made me feel unsafe. I didn’t like having to call for a taxi and wait for it, nor the feeling that exploring alone here isn’t a very good idea.

Before coming, I expected to feel some anti-Americanism in a country led by someone friends with Hugo Chavez. I have to say I don’t feel that at all. Like in most places of the world, people think Bush is an idiot. I attended a comedy show called The Chaplin Show and several of the skits portrayed humorous meetings between Evo Morales and Bush. But they seem to be OK with American as a country and a people, aside from its politics.

While the majority of Bolivians looking to make money immigrate to Spain, there is also substantial contact with the U.S. One woman I spent time with last week told me her mother immigrated illegally to the Arlington, VA area, where there is an entire street of Bolivians. She has spent the last six years caring for an elderly woman and is now in the process of becoming legal. She combs the woman’s hair and puts make-up on for her. Now the woman is in her final stages and is receiving morphine shots. This Bolivian loves her so much that she calls her daughter daily, crying at how hard it is to watch her die.

It seems to me to be a mutually beneficial situation. The family probably would have had trouble finding an American to care for this woman 24 hours a day with such quality concern for $3,000 a month. And for this 50-year old Bolivian woman, who was considered too old to work in Bolivia, it not only gave her a place to live and a job in America, the work made her feel useful and gave her a new purpose in life.

Since many of the shops were closed, I headed back to my new apartment after lunch. My taxi driver said it was common for businesses to be closed on Saturday afternoons.

“The movement occurs in the evenings,” he said.

Not for me. I’m spending my evening listening to cello music, reading and writing, and enjoying my pretty new surroundings.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, a national holiday in Bolivia. Virtually the entire city shut down. When I went out to try to find some food, the only option I found was a nearby hotel. All the cafes and shops were shut. Very little traffic moved on the streets. Many businesses had dogs sitting in their front windows, ready to bark at any intruders.

I read in the newspaper told about a university student who was attacked in a taxi just a few days ago, and right in my neighborhood. After she got in, the taxi drove a bit, then three others jumped in with her. She was seriously beaten.

It’s definitely been difficult for me to take taxis since my bad experience in Nicaragua. I was told I’d have a car and driver here, but that didn’t emerge. I was told to take radio taxis, as those are linked to a call center and it’s a check on their viability. But even to get a cell phone so I could call a radio taxi was a struggle.

I’ve felt some pressure as if I’m being overcautious, or over demanding. And sometimes it’s a pain to have to wait 10-15 for a radio taxi to come when one is ready to go right away. I’ve been here almost two weeks and haven’t had any bad experiences yet. That leads me to relax and feel like everything is OK.

It’s tempting to try to ignore the signs that danger is present, even though the gates and grills in front of every store and home, the guard dogs, and the 24-hour guards on the street give another picture. But this article reminded me that it only takes one incident, and that it can happen, even in the place that everyone is telling me is so safe. So I’ll continue taking precautions.

I’m currently reading The Plumed Serpent, by DH Lawrence. In it, Kate, an Irish woman, is in Mexico, during the Revolutionary times. She often finds it scary and doesn’t like living with fear. Her friend Cipriano tells her, “..there must be a bit of fear, and a bit of horror in your life…The bit of horror is like the sesame seed in the nougat, it gives the sharp wild flavour. It is good to have it there.”

I feel that little fear, the little horror, in the back of my mind here. I suppose it does give life a more sharp, wild flavor. But if I had a choice, I think I’d prefer to live without it. It causes people to construct prisons around themselves – to lock themselves into their secure homes, secure vehicles, and secure gathering places. It keeps them from interacting, from walking, from mixing with the full array of life around them.

I moved from my hotel into a condominium today. It’s a really cute, furnished place, in a Mexican style, that looks out onto a swimming pool. I like it a lot and despite the fact that it’s on the first floor, the security seems to be pretty good. Yet, it’s still a little scary to be alone. And it’s also strange to get used to having a whole three rooms to myself when I’ve spent the last two weeks in a single room.

Monday, April 02, 2007

My first roadblock

One week in Bolivia and I came across my first road block, a popular means of protest in this part of the world.

I was in a taxi on my way to work when the driver and I saw that traffic was suddenly going against us, despite the fact that the lanes only went one way. He was intelligent and didn’t try to go further, asking me to walk the short distance that remained to work. Other cars tried to go around the oncoming traffic. But as I saw while walking, they ended up just reaching the road block, and having to turn around with more difficulty.

The roadblock was just a little bit down from my office. I didn’t come too close. Last time I messed around with a roadblock in Ecuador, my mom and I were held by the protestors. The fireworks, which sounded like a gun, scared me off as did the story of a manager in Cochabamba who recently lost an eye by being at the wrong place during a civil disturbance.

I could see that tires were placed across the road, as were Bolivian flags. There didn’t seem to be so many people – about ten on either side of the road. Yet these few people were able to force hundreds of cars to turn around on the major thoroughfare leading to the airport.

When I asked what was going on, one person said it was the passengers from LAB airlines, who are still stuck at the airport and haven’t gotten their money back. I was amazed how disgruntled airline passengers, many of them not from this area, could organize a roadblock.

The more believable story, told to me by several others, is that the blockers are from a nearby barrio and are protesting the lack of a stoplight. There is a high school on one side of the road. Being a major causeway, the traffic moves quickly and there is no safe way to cross. Recently, a woman was hit and killed.

That seemed to me to be an understandable reason for a protest. But what I didn’t understand was how so few people could inconvenience so many without consequence.

“Couldn’t the police move them?” I asked my colleague Maria.

“Yes, but they will take at least an hour to arrive,” she said. “People here don’t have much respect for public officials.”

“But they seem to have respect for the blockaders. No one complained. Everyone, including giant trucks, turned around.”

“Yes, that’s true. Sometimes passing cars even cheer the blockaders.”

I wondered why the blockade wasn’t used very often as a means of protest in the States. I figured people might be afraid of going to jail. I asked Maria if they didn’t have the same fear here.

“If they are brought to jail, it’s just for an hour or so. Then they are let go,” she said.

For about an hour, no traffic at all passed the office. We wondered if we’d be stuck there. But by 10:30, the road was open again. By the time I went out for lunch, it was hard to even tell where the blockage had been. Most locals seemed pretty inured to it, but I found it scary.

Today, during my Spanish lesson, Oscar read me an article about the Canadian Mennonites, who are marking the 50th anniversary of their arrival in Santa Cruz. They live in a village called Pailas, about 30 kilometers from Santa Cruz.

These Mennonites are more modern than others. They can wear modern clothing and they have cars, tractors, and electrical appliances. They are very light-skinned, with many blonds and blue or green eyes – quite a contrast to the rest of the population. They came to Santa Cruz from Paraguay, where they had been limited to growing peanuts and cotton. Here they had greater options in agriculture. Currently they specialize in corn, soy, sorghum and dairy farms.

Their young study German, math, Spanish and the Bible for six months per year. Girls graduate at age 12, boys at 14. They believe the greatest lessons are taught by the land. Oscar told me they have a reputation for being very hard workers.

Another coworker today told me a about a very interesting opportunity for locals here. When I asked how he spent his weekend, he told me he was looking for a new house to live in. But the catch is this. He will pay the owner $2500 upfront to live in his house. He will live there 12-18 months. At the end of the period, the owner returns the $2500 to him and he moves on. During that time, he can save more money in order to be able to buy his own house.

In effect, he is giving a loan to the home owner, with the interest being the ability to live in his property for free. I don’t know why someone with a spare house wouldn’t just apply for a loan and put the house as collateral. But it’s certainty a nice opportunity for a forward-thinking young man like my colleague.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Weekend with Local Company

I had expected to spend this weekend alone. I didn’t mind that idea since I looked forward to having a few days to try to get things in order, post-move. But my friendly Bolivian acquaintances made sure I had something to do each day.

Yesterday, my colleague Maria invited me out to lunch. She took me to Alexander Café. It’s her favorite place and I think it will soon become mine as well. Owned by an American in La Paz, it’s a chain café, featuring salads, sandwichs, wraps, fruit drinks, muffins, brownies, and desserts, as well as the best coffee in the city. I had an Asian chicken salad, a strawberry yogurt shake and a whole wheat muffin – a California-style wholesome meal.

Maria, a slender, attractive, single woman with a bright smile and a positive attitude, has worked for the the past five years. Originally from Cochabamba, she worked in La Paz for several years before moving to Santa Cruz.

“La Paz is not a pretty city,” she said, “but it’s a comfortable place to live. The cost of living is low, one can walk everywhere, and cafes and restaurants are on every corner.”

I told her that I liked the atmosphere in the bank and in the country. She said it was largely due to the importance of family in Bolivian culture. She described how when the bank moved its headquarters from La Paz to Santa Cruz, many headquarters staff had to be transferred to Santa Cruz.

“There was a whole process, that took about a year – of helping people to find housing, to sign up for kindergartens. One weekend they even flew everyone and their families to Santa Cruz to allow them to check it out and make sure they’d be comfortable living there.”

I saw the family atmosphere this afternoon. I spent the afternoon with my Spanish teacher Oscar, his wife Rosario, and sons Sergio (5) and Mario (9 months). After they picked me up, we went out for lunch at one of their favorite cafes The Corner That Everyone Should Know. The unassuming exterior led into a pleasant courtyard filled with chairs and a small restaurant. Almost every table was full – young tables, families, and families with children.

“Every Sunday, families like to go out for lunch,” Rosario told me. “It’s the day of rest.” She also explained that household employees work from Monday through Saturday. So Sunday is the only day there is no one to cook for them.

“Do most families have household help?” I asked.


“But the employees don’t have anyone helping them.”

“No. That’s why they have Sundays off.”

This is just one of the indicators that sets Santa Cruz off from the rest of Bolivia – the fact that the average citizen has a housekeeper.

Oscar and Rosario are solidly middle-class, but far from rich. Oscar earns $8 an hour teaching English and Spanish. Rosario is an accountant. They rent their home and they drive a small car with no radio, clock, or glass in the side mirrors (one was stolen, the other smashed).

After enjoying our plates of grilled fish with French fries, rice and salad, we headed for our main destination, a butterfly park. To get there, we had to drive past the wealthy suburb of Urubo. We traveled on a smooth, well-maintained road, lined by brick walls with wire toppings, much like a jail wall. I asked what these walls were for.

“It’s because it’s a closed community,” Rosario told me.

I had wondered what Rosario would be like. Oscar had told me she wanted to marry him after one year of dating, but that he wasn’t interested. She continued to date him, but was sad to not have his commitment. He finally did marry her because she was pregnant. She was only 21 at the time. When I asked why she was in such a hurry, Oscar said, “Because she didn’t want to lose such an interesting guy.”

He is an interesting guy. And very nice. But his short height, his pot belly, his former immaturity and reliance on his mother, and most notably, his shrunken left arm and hand, apparently a birth defect, could make it hard for him to find a partner.

He has come to love and appreciate Rosario and told me repeatedly that “She’s a very good woman.” She looked similar a woman who one could imagine would overlook physical shortcoming. She herself was slender and pleasant, but rather plain, with a wide mouth and large teeth. But I could easily feel the tranquility radiating from her that Oscar had described. She seemed simple, kind, caring and good. I liked her.

And Oscar clearly loved his children. He had told me that their running to greet him when he comes home in the evening is one of the things that makes him happiest. Throughout the day, he held them, kissed them, talked to them, called the baby his king, his world.

After the series of fancy lots, we drove down a rough road, so dusty and sandy it was like driving on a beach. As motorcycles, 4-wheelers and large trucks and 4x4s passed us, they raised clouds of dust so dense we couldn’t see a thing.

After a couple of miles of this, we reached Guembe Biocenter, a park on 83 hectares of land. Admission cost $7.50 for adults, quite steep by Bolivian standards. I worried it was more than Oscar and Rosario expected. We were assigned a young man as a guide, who would lead us through the park.

First he brought us to butterfly laboratory, where we saw the stages of butterfly development – first the eggs on a leaf (visible through a magnifying glass), then the larvae, the cocoons, and the butterflies breaking free. Once they broke free, they were moved to the butterfly museum. They say it’s the largest butterfly museum in the world. I’ve only been to one other – on the Canadian side of Niagara falls. I’d have to say the Canadian one was better – with a denser population of butterflies and better visibility. But this is Bolivia after all and it was still quite impressive, especially since they only use local butterflies.

Inside the netted viewing area was a 120 meter observation deck that we could climb and look out over the dense tropical greenery. The butterflies lived between 24 hours and 8-9 months, with an average of four weeks.

From there, we saw a couple of orchid plants, and a symmetric stone structure, where the property owner practices yoga, considering it a center of energy.

They had a series of small pools as well as a lagoon, where one could kayak. I hadn’t brought my swimsuit, since Oscar thought it would be too cold. Although by the afternoon, it was blazing hot. Unable to swim, I took a quick spin on a kayak and spent some time reading. In the afternoon, we took a horse and buggy ride through the forest. The buggy was equipped with incredibly soft seats that absorbed the shock of the rapid trot.

We ended up spending the day there, not leaving until almost six. It was the first time for both Oscar and Rosario to visit that place and they seemed to enjoy themselves. They invited me to their home for evening tea, an invitation I appreciated. But since I still had some things to do in the evening, I asked whether I might be able to take them up on it another time.

All in all, I spent a pleasant weekend with very nice people. I think I could get used to living here.