A few months ago, Isabel and I visited one of Isabel’s favourite areas of Bolivia, a town called Santiago de Chiquitos in eastern Bolivia. It’s a relaxed little town in one of the more unique and beautiful areas of Bolivia.
As we hiked and explored the area, I knew right away that the guys would enjoy the experience. I’ve had this dream for awhile, of giving the guys the opportunity to know different parts of their country. Except for a few short mission trips over the years, most of the guys have never been out of the Santa Cruz area.
We ended up planning a road-trip this year, over the four-day break of carnival in February. Carnival is usually a good time to get out of the city to escape the mayhem (although Ken has historically enjoyed some of the mayhem that involves water-balloons).
The guys were very excited when we told them the news, it was all they could talk about.
They also all started hitting our little gym in the house, so they’d be ready for pictures.
I just shook my head at that little tidbit of information.
I shake my head a lot.
Bright and early Friday morning, we were packing the truck and getting ready to hit to road. I suppose early is accurate since it was 5 AM. I’m not sure how bright any of us were feeling. We stopped for empanadas and pop a couple of hours later in the little historic town of San Jose (the original location of Santa Cruz) and that improved our outlook on life.
It’s a beautiful drive. The mountains and cliffs remind me a little of the Sedona area of Arizona…with a little more greenery. We stopped at an amazing, red mesa called “The Devil’s Tooth”, that rises up out of the jungle below it. Despite its name, there’s a beautiful little chapel there, with wood carvings that depict the history of the area. The guys were…sort of interested in that in the church. But what they REALLY enjoyed was hiking up to the cliffs at the base of the mesa…and taking pictures of each other. =)
Eventually we arrived in Santiago and got ourselves settled into the little house we’d rented for the weekend. After some “fatherly instruction” on respecting the facilities and keeping everything clean, we all took some time to relax and get rested up for the adventures of the next couple of days.
Sunday morning we hiked to the top of an amazing plateau that towers over the surrounding valley. After Ken caught his breath, we had church in the shadow of one of the rock formations that dot the top of the mountain. It was a pretty cool place to spend some time worshiping and praying.
Then came what was probably the highlight of the weekend. Only Isabel and I, and Andres’ sister Lupe knew that Andres planned to propose to his girlfriend Cayita that morning. Cayita just thought that they planned to take some fun pictures together. So while Lupe helped her with some makeup and get changed into a pretty dress, I filled in the guys about what was going to happen. Then Andres and I scouted out a phenomenal spot and I got into place to take pictures.
I have to say that it was an emotional moment for me. I first met Andres when he was eleven years old and fresh off the streets. Then I had the opportunity to mentor him through his teenage years and into university. For the past decade he’s worked with me and become one of my closest friends. Many times over the years, when I’ve found myself in another “interesting” adventure or amazing place, I’ve looked over to see Andres’ grinning face beside me.
To see him take this new step into the next part of his life was really a huge blessing. Cayita is a beautiful Christian girl, who we all love. He made a good choice!
After a few more engagement pictures (there's a little video in the "Videos" section if you want to see them), we headed back down the mountain and a celebratory lunch. I was glad that Andres chose that moment to propose and that he included the guys. It was good for them to see the example of someone who is trying to do things right.
That evening we went to “Aguas Clientes”…the hot springs. It’s one of those moments that will stay with me I think. Watching the sun set…surrounded by jungle…watching a flock of tropical birds fly away…while floating in a lake that feels like a warm bathtub.
Of course it’s Bolivia, so there’s no moment that doesn’t have an entertaining element to it. If you looked in the water, you could see little ripples in the sand where air was bubbling to the surface. It doesn’t look like much, but if you step on them, you fall into a hole. The sand looks stable, but it’s not at all.
Bolivians, of course, love to get unsuspecting gringos to do just that…step unsuspecting into a deep hole. When Isabel got me to do it, I never did feel the bottom. I caught the edge of the hole with my arms and pulled myself out. It was an experience to say the least.
Of course, we had to get our two visiting gringos (and the guys) to do the same. We maybe should have checked to make sure my friend Steve didn’t have his cell phone in the pocket of his shorts before we got him to fall down the hole. We did take him to the market when we got back to Santa Cruz, so he could buy a new one. It was an older phone and the experience was funny, sooo….
On our last day, we hiked to a beautiful waterfall back in the jungle. My friend and I always laugh, that when you’re travelling, the coolest stuff is always at the top of a mountain. This time it was down in a deep canyon. Of course, that meant we had to hike back out again afterwards, but such is life, I guess. I’m sure there’s a life analogy in there somewhere.
The waterfall was great! One of the highlights was the guys getting Isabel’s sister-in-law into a blow-up tube I bought, and floating here across the water to the waterfall for a group picture. The tube wasn’t that stable and there was a lot of screaming and laughter involved.
Our last night we had a fire and ate churipans (basically a hotdog but with a sausage instead of a little North American wiener). I had to go to the next town over and drive around looking for buns for an hour to make that happen. I was about to give up when I eventually found two bags of LITTLE hotdog buns that no one had bought because no one knew what to do with them.
In the end, the bread to meat ratio was a little off, but no one was about to complain about that. We also roasted marshmallows that I found. The were in the shape of hearts, which was weird, but once they’re melted and black, no one cared. There’s probably a life analogy in that too, but we won’t look too closely.
That night we did a Bible study on Philippians. They guys had gone through the book the week before the trip, and found passages that they like and that meant something to them. We took some time for them to share what they’d learned and then had a time of prayer. It was a nice way to end off a great week. I was encouraged by what the guys came up with. In the midst of the craziness, they sometimes surprise me with their insights and depth.
The next morning, we packed up and headed home. Of course, there was a little mishap along the way. It wouldn’t be my life if there wasn’t. If you check out the blog, I shared the story there.
All in all, it was a weekend of good memories and fun experiences. We hope to do something like this again soon. =)