Monday, July 09, 2007

A Seventh Floor View Over Santa Cruz

From Germany, I had a short stopover in the U.S., where I enjoyed the fourth of July weekend celebrations. Last night I flew into Santa Cruz. The plane was supposed to fly from Miami to La Paz, then continue on to Santa Cruz.

“I have good news for some of you, and not such good news for others,” the pilot said as we approached La Paz, already two hours behind schedule. “Due to poor visibility and snow, we are unable to land in La Paz. Even if we could land, we then wouldn’t be able to take off again. So we are continuing on directly to Santa Cruz.”

I was happy to be in the group that received good news. Not only would I arrive on schedule, but I wouldn’t be stuck involuntarily in La Paz, at a dangerously high altitude of over 4,000 meters. The woman next to me, traveling with her son, was part of the unlucky group. She put her head in her hands.

“It never really snows in La Paz,” she said.

This morning on the TV I saw how it snowed. The entire city is covered in a layer of white, the airport is closed, and the roads are almost empty. Children, who rarely see snow, were out in hordes building snow sculptures. I suppose my fellow passengers are still stuck here in Santa Cruz. But they aren’t alone. Even the President, Evo Morales, is stuck, governing from Cochabamba.

Argentina is also under a snowfall and the cold air is blowing east to the plains as well. It’s chilly here (only 19 degrees Celsius in my bedroom right now), with a wicked wind blowing outside. The news said this was the coldest week of the year and Wednesday should be the coldest day of all.

So I appreciate the warm Saturday I spent on Long Island even more. That was one of the few days of summer I’ll experience this year. Germany, though green and flowering, was cool and rainy the entire time I was there. After a short dip into American summer, I return to the coldest week of the year in Bolivia. I haven’t put on sunscreen in months.

After a short rest and a morning at the office, I moved apartments. I loved my last home, but since I’ll be traveling quite a bit in the upcoming weeks, it was no longer worth the price. Now I’m in the apartment I originally rejected, which I share with four other people. However, this time I got the best of the three rooms. Not only do I have the room to myself, but I have my own bathroom. It was sharing a room that I had a problem with before. As long as I have a private space to myself, I don’t mind sharing an apartment.

So I’m on the seventh floor and this is a big change from my former first-floor dwelling. First, I have a great opportunity for exercise if I can continue to use the stairs instead of the elevator. In the daytime we have a nice view over the city. A large window, directly across from my bed, looks out onto the yellow lights of the city below, shining in the blackness. But most noticeable of all is the wind, which rips by my window like a razor through paper, whistling with a violent strength, making me wonder whether it has the power to blow my window in. It whistles so loudly, so persistently and with whips of violent strength, that goosebumps form on my arms and legs, as though my body was the direct recipient of its force.

In coming back to Bolivia, I simultaneously felt glad to be back in a developing country – as though these types of places are where I belong – and impassive about returning to Santa Cruz. This city has not grown on me. I didn’t miss it, nor did I feel any love for it upon my return. My taxi driver was a kind, older gentleman and I realized as I looked out at the passing building that it’s the people I like best about Santa Cruz.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to travel to other parts of Bolivia, specifically Cochabamba next month, in order to gain another perspective on Bolivia. Santa Cruz is serving as my window onto Bolivian life and culture, even though I know it’s an anomaly, rather than a representative piece.

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