Fun with Porkacheese

Post by Donna

Learning a language is a lot of work but theres some fun in it too. We have had a lot of giggles over English words that Brazilians have adopted, Portuguese words that sound frighteningly like something else and things we have said without meaning to. Hope you can see the humor in some of these.

Lets start with Porkacheese, our pet name for this language, which resulted from a mispronunciation one day at the dinner table in Arkansas, when Gwen declared, I dont want to learn Porkacheese! Well, shes eating those words now.

Brazilian Portuguese, or Brazilero as they call it, employs a number of English words of more recent origins. However, it seems that in pronouncing them, Brazilians are incapable of ending the word with a consonant sound. They have to tack on a vowel at the end. So ping pong becomes pingy pongy, Internet becomes Internechee and tic toc is chicky tocky (the ti combo in Brazilero has a ch sound).

Then there are words that if you dont get just right, you might embarrass yourself. For simplicitys sake, I am going to spell these words phonetically so its easier to understand the confusion. If you need shortening in the store, better ask for banya, not banyo unless you also need to use the restroom. Likewise, if youre looking for size double X, careful to say sheesh sheesh because saying shee shee will give the clerk the impression youve just peed yourself! And finally, when you go into one of the many bakeries here and are tempted by a bon bon, in Brazilero bom bom, get that o sound just right, because if you walk up and ask for a bum bum, youve just ask for a butt! Who knows what that might get you! And for those of you with some Spanish background, you might be able to relate to how difficult it was for me to come to terms with saying the word for year in Portuguese: ano. In Spanish, say that only if you want egg on your face, or if you actually mean to say anus.

Finally, weve learned over the months that some things that were involuntarily coming out of our mouths were meaning other things and probably causing all sorts of confusion. I had to work hard to break myself from saying, OK. In Spanish, this is well recognized with the same meaning it has in English, but in Portuguese, it means, what. And I wondered why people would repeat things to me after I had clearly said, OK! Gwen, on the other hand, trying her best to encourage her friends who want to learn English, often greats them with Hey! or, in Brazilero, King! So, if sometime in the future, you meet a Brazilian who greets you with King! well know the extent of the influence Gwen has had on Brazil.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of fun weve had with this language, which we feel sure was the result of a spoiled Spanish prince, who instead of getting the speech therapy he needed, created a new language! No offense intended there, just sayin.


Gwen Has Come Out!

Post by Momma Donna

It didn’t take Gwen long to realize she would turn 15 while we were in Brazil, and from early on, she was declaring her desire for a quinceanheira (keen-say-ahn-yera) – a formal coming out party, akin to the sweet sixteen party some still celebrate in the United States, just a year earlier. A rite of passage of sorts for those who can afford it, it signals to society: this gal is ready to git hitched! (Ha! Hardly!)

None of us have ever been to a quinceanheira in the states, let alone Brazil, but I was familiar with the tradition from some films, stories I have heard of others’ parties, and I also searched the Internet and spoke to as many Brazilians as I could find who had been to one or had one of their own. I started this process back in 2010 and learned one thing fairly quickly: this was going to be an expensive affair, even though almost everything one needs for this sort of soiree can be rented – including a cake! Even so, a formal dress rental cost more than buying a new dress in the States would have cost, so we decided instead to look for a dress for Gwen while we were in Bolivia.

We found one, but it was not a long, formal, rather a semi-formal dress. And that one divergence from tradition led to another and another until we finally just gave up all-together on trying to throw a traditional quinceanheira. And if we couldn’t do it according to everyone’s expectations, then we might as well do something no one was expecting, right? Thus emerged the idea to have a Polynesian night theme party. We incorporated some elements of the tradition and did some things like we might have in the U.S., and then other things were a hybrid style, so there was something different for everyone there.

If trying to plan a party in a foreign language doesn’t seem hard enough, try doing it with the bus as your mode of transport! Without exaggeration, I must have walked 20 miles in preparation for this party. Thank goodness downtown Joaçaba is not that big, but not knowing where I could find some things, and wanting to check prices between stores on other things had me going back and forth and around in circles for about two weeks. I never in my life missed Hobby Lobby and Walmart more than in the last two weeks.

Unfortunately, most of what I am about to describe does not have a photographic counterpart to it. About a month ago, Gwen’s camera broke. Electronics are terribly expensive here, so we ordered her a new one for her birthday from Best Buy. My friend Elaine volunteered to pick it up and ship it to us FEDEX. But it didn’t get here on time (or yet). So we had only our video camera to take pics with and as it doesn’t have a flash and the lights were dim… well, our pics suck. We asked to borrow a camera, but that was forgotten in a rush to get to the party. Some video was OK though, and I’ve made a little compilation – about three minutes worth of party highlights.

After months of planning, weeks of acquiring and crafting and days of cooking, I still grossly underestimated the time it would take to pull it all together once we got to the pavilion. But God provided us with two angels – people we hardly even know, who happened to be in town and just wanted to help. With their help, as well as contributions of transportation and work from many of our Brazilian church family, the last of the shrimp were diving into cocktail sauce just as the first guests arrived.

We held the party at a samba school called Aliança. It was outdoors, lots of greenery. At one end of the pavilion was Gwen’s throne and a some decorative panels we hung to create a stage area. Also, the obligatory (for a Brazilian party) balloon sculptures in the form of palm trees were to the sides of the throne. Behind the throne, we ran a slideshow of alternating great pics of Gwen and pics of tropical flowers with Bible verses that are typical for the quinceaheira celebration. We made paper bag lanterns, about 25, and placed them all around, and we lined the entrance with tiki torches. We decorated the tables with orchids, melons carved as tikis, candles and greenery on an orange bamboo mat. The food tables were skirted in turquoise blue, representing water, and in the center of the food table, we created a little island with three miniature palm trees, bottoms of which were covered in sand, and there was even a ship and airplane wrecked on this little island.

three little palms on a tiny sandy beach in the middle of a vast ocean of blue, surrounding by lots of great gifts!

We served tropical chicken salad hour’dourves (made with pineapple, grapes and cream cheese), sushi (made by a local restaurant), shrimp cocktail, fruit kabobs with chocolate sauce, brownies and the typical Brazilian party sweet called brigadeiros (like small truffles). With the exception of the Coke (the only drink we served) and brigadeiro, all the foods were new to most of the guests. Of course, the fruit was familiar, but the form was new, as was the application of chocolate sauce. Some tried sushi for the first time and John was able to con a couple of unsuspecting young men into taking large bites of wasabi. The cake was coconut cream. Basically, I had to walk folks along, explaining the food to them, but almost everything was eaten, though not everyone was a fan of sushi (no surprise).

After about an hour of eating and mingling, the Schillingers walked up the stairs through the woods and our Pastor Eli welcomed everyone. Then Mercy Me’s “I Can Only Imagine” came on and Mom and Chaise walked in, and then Gwen, escorted by John—and the crowd applauded. We all sat down and Eli gave a brief message, asking the 40 some young people (and the 15 or more adults) in attendance to consider the influences on their lives. Then I presented Gwen with a Bible (Portuguese/English) and a crown. More applause. And John made some remarks – unplanned – that I translated into Spanish and Eli into Portuguese. This was kind of awkward, not just because it took about a minute to say 10 words, but also because during his speech, Chaise fell off a chair. He was a big boy and didn’t cry, but it really broke up the sentimental mood. More awkwardness ensued as we tried to cue “Waltz of the Flowers.” Our music was coming from a DVD player, so there was no skipping the rest of “I Can Only Imagine.” So yea, you can only imagine!

John and Gwen had taken a waltz lesson the day before, courtesy of Gwen’s lovely ballet teacher Andresa at Bella Danza. And they did quite well. After about two minutes of this five-minute waltz song, I sent Chaise to cut in and dance with Sister. It was just about to work until the crowd broke out again into applause. All of this clapping seemed to happen on cue, but I have no idea who was initiating it! This time, however, it scared Chaise and he decided against waltzing. So, more awkwardness while we waited for “Waltz of the Flowers” to yield to “Thriller.”

Gwen with her friends from Santisima Trinidade High School

From that point on, it was a teen-age affair. We bussed the tables and then I just wanted to sit down and relax for a bit, but my greatest help of the evening wanted to start deconstructing the tables and more. I decided this must be a Brazilian thing. I kept saying, “Let’s wait till the party is over,” but things kept moving. Indeed my biggest disappointment was not getting to enjoy the ambiance it took me weeks to create! 

Honestly, I don’t know all the ways our party was different than the typical quinceanheira, because, as I have stated, I’ve never been to one! The most important thing was that Gwen had a great time, as did all the guests. It was a once-in-a-life-time experience not only for her but for everyone who attended.

Here is the best image of the tiki melon centerpieces. These guys created a smoking melon-head baby monster out of it. You can do that to centerpieces when you're young and carefree. What I really want to know is where did the naked baby doll come from????

Doc, You Cut Me Real Deep Just Now

Post by GwenOnce again, its been much too long since Ive written. Ive been busy; but not for the last week! The last week, Ive been lying in bed. I suppose most of you already know that I had surgery last Tuesday. I had (this is embarrassing) a cyst near my tail bone, so I had it removed. It was the same problem that I had in Bolivia, the one that put me in like… the worst pain of my life, haha. Im sensitive.

Well, I went to the doctor here in Joaçaba and he checked me out and said it wouldnt get better unless I got it removed, he could give me medicine, but itd continue to be a problem. So of course, I wanted to get it taken care of! And conveniently, we have insurance for our travels, so all the bills would be paid for. I got my blood drawn (tearlessly, like a big girl), and two days later was heading to the hospital for suuuuurgerrrryyyyy!!!!! I was extremely nervous.

The day of the surgery I couldnt eat for 5 hours before, so I was starving!! Mom and I got there and they showed us to our room, a pretty nice place, two rooms plus a decent-sized bathroom, two couches, a mini-fridge, and a TV of course. We sat and watched some dumb tv show in English for a while then a nurse came in with my beautiful hospital gown and hair net. Boy was I excited. The front of my gown had a make-up stain on it; better than some other things I suppose. A little while later, a nurse came in with a tranquilizer pill for me to put under my tongue it didnt taste too wonderful. They said I wasnt allowed to get out of bed after I took it, because Id fall scary! The next few hours were all a big blur to me. I remember getting wheeled in on my bed to the room and seeing my doctor, a HUGE light that looked like a flys eye, my anesthesiologist guy, and a lot of nurses with facemasks. All I remember hearing was the clinking of metal, and the anesthesiologist telling me to smile at him, a number of times probably to make sure that I was still semi-conscious and he hadnt killed me. That would have been a bummer.

When I woke up, I was being wheeled back into my room, and I was on my back. That was odd to me because I figured I shouldnt be lying on the place they just sliced open. When I was less drugged up, mom told me that when I was coming back, she started singing Here she comes, Miss America, but, she should have looked at who she was singing to better; some elderly Brazilian woman became Miss America that day. Haha. I came in after the lady. I dont know if she sang it again or not. Anyway, a lot of people lifted me off of my rolley bed onto the bed in my room; I was on a blanket or something and they lifted it up and set me on the bed then rolled me around until I got off the blanket I was just a big drugged-up blob of Gwen.

A little bit later I woke up and both my parents were there; Chaise had stayed with the Zamoras. I remember telling them that the people had stuck me twice for my IV, and then I think I fell back asleep. The next time I woke up, the Zamoras were there, I dont remember anything about that, except that I then realized that I couldnt move or feel anything from the waist down, that was scary. I fell back asleep after that. Sometime when I was awake, I ate some soup for dinner. All through the rest of the night I got woken up a lot by the nurse coming to check my vitals and shove things into my IV tubes. The next morning my anesthesiologist came by to see how I was doing then I slept on and off again.

For breakfast I had some pieces of apple, a slice of nasty, tasteless bread with matching tasteless jelly, and warm milk. They gave me LOTS of coffee, which, of course, I didnt drink. Then I went back to sleep. (YES, I slept an insane amount.) Before lunch, the doctor came in and told me to get up, walk to the bathroom, sit down, all that good stuff, so I did; I got a little scared because when I stood up, blood went into the tubes of my IV. A little bit later, I got sick in the bathroom because of my pain medicine (I didnt know the cause of it at the time.) That was lovely. By then it was about time for me to go home, but I had to eat lunch first. I ate mashed potatoes and drank sprite, haha. A few minutes later I was on my way downstairs in an awkward wheelchair. Cris gave us a ride back to the house, and when I got home, guess what I did? I went to sleep! I slept for about 3 hours. 😛 Those drugs were really strong! I felt completely out of it. Later that day some friends of mine came to visit, it was nice!

Up until now Ive just been laying in bed doing nothing, with the exception of going to the doctor a few times to get my bandage changed; the doc put sugar in my wound. Are we the only ones that didnt know that its an antiseptic?

Well, now Im a bit better, still hurting a lot because I quit taking my pain medicine because it was the thing that was making me throw up and gave me horrible headaches. Its Sunday morning, I should be back to school on Tuesday. Im very excited about answering all the questions that will follow my return to school; Why did you have surgery? Why are you sitting on a pillow? Will it hurt if I kick you? Can I have the rest of your pain pills? Okay, maybe not that last one.

I should be back dancing on Thursday; I dont know if I like the idea of that though, because I have internal stitches. What if I break them?

Also I should be 80% for my birthday party, which for those of you who didnt know, will be on the 26th. Moms throwing me a semi-traditional quinceanheira with a Polynesian theme. Im very excited!!

Ill make a post about school later, Im going to sleep! 😉


Bonus Observations from Mom:

We are going through the private sector healthcare because since this was not an emergency, it would have taken some months to get an appointment with a specialist through the public healthcare system. We have been really pleased with the care Gwen has gotten. The doctors have been great and the hospital was top notch, even by US standards. The one thing that kind of struck me as makeshift is that the nurses carry their wares around in silverware sorters, the kind you have in your silverware drawer. And of course, were in Brazil, so even in the hospital there was coffee on tap in our room 24-hours a day a hot thermos and coffee even for the kid on the bland diet.

Another interesting thing about this hospital experience is the very minimal paperwork that there was. Our entire hospital billing record consisted of a pink post-card size document that they filled in by hand. All the charges were itemized, again, written by hand. The hospital asked for a deposit on an estimated bill of $2500 and I told them I only had about $500. OK, no problem. Then when it was time to check out, they just had me sign a very simple promissory note that basically said, Donna Schillinger owes this much on this day, and they let me walk. Haha suckers! Just kidding. We have actually been able to pay the bill off already, but it was just a little odd how, without any real hold over me (if I were lacking in scruples, what would keep me from just skipping out on the rest of the bill?), they let me go, owing them $2000. Part of the billing culture here, I guess. You can finance a photocopy and Im not kidding. Its a departure from the rest of Latin America that I know where a common motto is NO FIO (I dont trust you, meaning, dont ask for credit.)

And yes, I did sing Here She Comes, Miss America to Gwen when she finally came down the hall after surgery. I admit, though, after having mistaken a 60-some year-old woman for Gwen, I was pretty embarrassed to be singing again. The first time, as I approached the nurse and who I thought was Gwen, the nurse started saying something and waving me off. I wondered why, but pressed on to cheer my little girl! It wasnt until she was about 10 feet away that her face came into focus, and imagine my surprise to see how surgery had aged her!!!

Carnaval, Carnaval

post by Donna

Of course, we have been looking forward to experiencing Carnaval since before even arriving in Brazil, and I am pleased to report that it did not disappoint. Carnaval in Joaçaba is much more mild than the celebrations in Rio, Sao Paulo and Salvador, but it is the second-largest celebration in the state of Santa Catarina, next to that of the capital city of Florianopolis. Joaçaba’s celebration attracts a lot of people from a radius of several hours’ drive. Ironically, it repels others within its own city limits.

That’s right, Carnaval is not for everyone. In fact, if you are an evangelical Christian in Joaçaba, you are likely opposed to Carnaval and all that it entails. As you probably know, official Carnaval is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent in the Easter calendar. It’s the last day of “fat” living before a season of self-denial. In larger celebrations, that can mean some pretty raunchy stuff. In Joaçaba it meant about as raucous as a night out on the town.

The parade kicked off with the city/health department or some otherwise concerned group handing out condoms and warning against sex and drugs. Whereas it is true that open condoms (whether used or not I don’t care to know) can be found strewn on the streets the mornings after Carnaval, from the vantage point of the stands where we watched the parade, the offenses were mild – the stuff you might see at a pro football game in the States. Nonetheless, I suppose if we had the chance every year to attend Carnaval, we might end up doing what our evangelical neighbors do… go camping instead.

Greater context aside, the parade itself was amazing. There are three samba schools in the area, each with approximately 1,300 members, who throughout the year are preparing for the parade. The schools pick a theme, write a song to go with the theme, make costumes, choreograph dances, rehearse the drum corps and more. The schools and their themes for this year were: Vale Samba – A Look in the Mirror; GRES Aliança – Tic Toc; Unidos Herval – the History of Ice Cream.
These themes were portrayed through the structure of an opening dance troupe, followed by three series of royal couples, costumed marchers they call “wings,” a float and more wings. Each school had three “royal couples,” five floats, which in Portuguese are called “allegories” for how they depict the theme, and about 17 wings of marchers. The entire 80-minute procession of each school was done to the same one song, performed continually by a band walking along plugged into a mobile sound system. With a 15-minute recess between schools, do the math, and yes, this parade lasted more than four hours! Needless to say, we can’t get those three samba songs out of our heads, even days later!

The schools compete and this year’s winner was Vale Samba, who really had the best song. Costumes were amazing for all three schools. The royal couples and the opening dance number were the only choreographed parts. All the float dancers and wing marchers just kind of free-styled – some better than others. And Brazil is definitely equal opportunity when it comes to parading half-naked in public! There were a good many men shaking their stuff in Speedos right next to the throngs of thonged women. Nor was parading just for the young and attractive. All ages, from children of about six years of age riding on floats, to the senior citizen women in the large round dresses and even those in wheelchairs participated. To be honest, the dancing was not provocative. You would have to be a pervert to get your jollies from the parade dancing.

We took lots of video that we are going to try to put into a brief compilation at some point, but until we get our taxes filed and Gwen’s birthday party behind us, we don’t have time for movie-making. So here is a brief slide show, depicting some of info above.

Maybe one of God’s greatest works of art

Hello beloved readers,
H0pe you have been enjoying our travel adventures so far. I know we have not been posting as regular as we had hoped, but life happens. Any how we arrived back in our home base of Joacaba, Brazil, after a month-plus adventure of Bolivia and the Brazilian Pantanal, and if you haven’t watched Donna’s video yet, you need to, it was a great experience.So we got settled back in to our routine, Gwen started school in Joacaba and all was slowing down… and if you know the Schillingers that does not last long. Donna was attending the Inter-American Conference of the Church of God, Anderson, Ind., in Santa Rita, Paraguay, and we figured this would be the perfect oppourtunity for the family to see Iguazu Falls. Donna left on Monday for her conference, and Gwen, Chaise and I would meet up with her at the city of Foz Do Iguazu on Saturday. The falls are basically located at the junction of three countries: Brazil and Argentina which are the two countries that actually contain the waterfalls, and Paraguay, which is about 20 kilometers from the actual falls.So Gwen, Chaise and I boarded our bus to head to the falls around 10pm on Friday night on a fairly comfortable, clean but very crowded bus. It seems that Brazilians love to travel to Paraguay for the weekend. The city of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, is supposedly a shoppers paradise of bargains and deals, especially with electronics, so lots of Brazilians go there to shop. The ride was fairly uneventful, not like the buses in Bolivia. We arrived at Foz Do Iguazu around 8am and had a short wait for Donna. We ate a quick breakfast at the bus station and then headed to the Argentina side of the falls. Upon arriving at the park, we boarded a train which took us to the actual falls. The majority of the falls lay on the Argentina side so we set the whole day aside for exploring them.Well how can I explian what the falls were like except by saying WOW!!

We first went to the Devil’s throat. The is the largest of the falls. It was amazing how much water was going over the falls and plummeting 295 feet.

They have built catwalks so you can walk right to the edge of the falls and look over the edge… so cool. I had the misfortune to get stung by this tiny little wasp… oooh man did that hurt, a lot worst then their larger American cousins.

After the Devil’s Throat, we decided to eat lunch at a cafe, and enjoyed the company of a family of coatis, kinda like raccoons and dogs combined. Very cute, but we also had the company of all sorts of bees, poor Gwen they wouldn’t leave her or her drink alone.

After lunch we headed to the upper falls.


We opted out of the lower trail because too many stairs and we were all too tired to do that. The view from the upper catwalks again was just unbelievable. I don’t think I have ever seen anything more spectacular in my life. I have been to quite a few national parks, and seen some very beautiful things.. but oooh man this was something else. At one point not too long after we started the loop, we were hit by a very powerful downpour and got quite wet. But we prevailed and I luckily had remembered this time to bring a plastic bag to place our cameras in.

I am not even going to try and decribe the falls themselves I will let the pictures do that for me. (And I am editing together a few video clips to make about a two-minute video that I will also post on here and YouTube as soon as I get it ready – so keep en eye out for that). I will say that this isnt just one waterfall, but a collection of over 275 waterfalls making up the waterfall system. But any one of them by itself was also amazing.

After we finished the upper circuit, we decided to head to our hotel in Ciudad Del Este. It took us a little while but we got there and ate a pretty decent dinner and then headed off to a very needed deep sleep. Donna and I were going to wake up early to go do a little shopping. 6am rolled around and we tumbled out of bed, and headed out the door to find to our dismay and against what Donna had been told, the shops were not open on Sundays…uggg. There went my plans for goodies that I had been dreaming of. Donna summed it up perfectly and it was very true. It was God’s way of saying don’t spend you money buying this crap (I am paraphrasing both Donna and God, I am pretty sure.) So we headed back to our room, and napped a little more got up had a decent breakfast and headed to the Brazilian side of the falls.

Now the majority of the falls lay on the Argentina side, and all you really have on the Brazil side is a different view of the falls. So I wasn’t expecting much, especially after how breathtaking the previous day had been, but how wrong I was. The view from the Brazil side was even more amazing, it allowed you to take in the whole scope of the falls.

We decide to start with lunch at the end of the park and work our way around to the falls. There was a very nice buffet lunch at the restaurant. Unfortunately it was Chaise’s turn to get stung by a bee, and it was on his foot. Poor lil guy just was inconsolable for a little bit. After we ate, and Gwen was finished being harassed yet again by more bees, we headed to the falls. Once again, WOW. They were breathtaking and awesome.

We all walked the trail stopping at every chance to take in the beauty before us. The trail ended at a catwalk that went out to a very wet and awe-inspiring view at the base of a rather large waterfall allowing us a unforgettable view of the Devil’s Throat.

We didn’t get any pictures because we didn’t want our cameras ruined by all the water… yes we got completely drenched.
Chaise must have thought he was in heaven: waterfall, bridges and getting soaked… he didn’t want to leave, and I must confess, I really didn’t want to either.

We are able to take an elevator back to the top of the cliffs, which also had a wonderful view while going up, and then one last viewing opportunity to see the falls and we were done with an absolutely amazing two days.

At this point, tired, wet and ready for home, we headed to the bus terminal for yet another 10-hour bus trip to our home. We arrived in Joacaba about 4am and poor Gwen had to get up at 6am for school the next day, but handled it like trooper. We are all rested up now and awaiting our next adventure in Brazil… Carnaval anyone?

Let’s Say the Rest in Pictures

Hi All,

Well, the trip is over and time got away from us and instead of blogging on about it, maybe you would like to see some awesome pictures. As I was putting this slide show together, I was amazed again at the bio-diversity of Bolivia and all the wonderful experiences we had, many of which could not make it into the slide show, since YouTube put a time limit on me. I hope you enjoy and note that there is still time to get in on this adventure with us. The trip is only half-way through. We would love to share some South America with you!

The captions in blue are a little hard to read and the slides move fast, but just pause the video to read if you need to. Start the video and then double click in the center of the vid to make it go full screen to see and read better. “Esc” key will get you out of full screen mode after it is over. Also, when I viewed on YouTube, the music was breaking up. Sorry, that is annoying. Anyway, enjoy!

Peace Out from La Paz

Sorry we’ve been such poor correspondents; when we’re not on the go, we’re vegging, trying to recuperate. It’s been a great trip, now that we’re over the digestive adjustments and past the worst of the long bus trips. We’re just at the half-way mark of our trip, we have a couple of long trips left, but we decided it would be worthwhile to fly from the Andes back to the Pantanal on the border with Brazil, saving us 28 hours of grueling bus trips.

John’s update got us to Santa Cruz, and from there, we went to Buena Vista, a very nice town, and La Chonta, a community-run ecolodge on the edge of the Amboró National Park, which is at the southern-most tip of the Amazon rainforest. Accommodations were rustic, as the whole community of La Chonta has no electricity or running water. For the tourists, they run three light bulbs at night on a battery and have a gravity-powered running water system. The bathhouse was under construction – it had no roof – which made showering in the rain interesting, especially when it came to drying off!

We took several hot and sweaty hikes into the rainforest and saw a lot of beautiful flora, as well as many macaws, and John and Gwen even saw monkeys. On one hike, John and I tracked a jaguar downstream. The tracks were fresh and we thought at any moment we would round a blind spot and startle what was obviously a big cat. However, it started to rain heavily, so we had to call a halt to our hot pursuit.

On our last day at La Chonta, we visited the community that runs the ecolodge and were quite shocked to see how poor they are. They had a miserable looking school that went through 8th grade. The teachers come from the nearby Buena Vista and live in the community during the school year. The town has a well, but no spicket, so their clean drinking water remains trapped underground and in the meantime (like since the beginning of time) they bring their water from the river. This group was definitely some of those 40% of Bolivians living on $2 a day.

It was a bit of a mental transition to leave there and go to El Cafetal, a coffee plantation with a very nice inn. We sprung for the cabana with a/c, king size bed, wifi, the works. We cooled off in the pool, then had a nice dinner, but not without reflecting on how it is by no merit of our own that we are able to do this, and the people in La Chonta are not. Gwen and I imagined what it might be like to be born into La Chonta and summed up our imaginings by just shaking our heads. We thank God for a cushy life assignment!

The next day after touring the plantation and drinking way more coffee than was prudent, we headed off on a series of trufi rides. Trufis are shared taxis – shared in the same sense that sardines share a can, that is. Four miserable trufi rides later, we made our destination for the night, Villa Tunari, the last jungle town before ascending into the Andes.

Just outside Villa Tunari is another national park that preserves secondary forest. We went on a guided tour to a bat cave, where we had very good views of fruit bats at rest, and in another grotto, we saw the nocturnal oil bird. Another highlight of this tour was crossing a raging river in a cage connected to two cables. The guide pulled us along the cables to move the cage across. Most people don’t have access to a plush cage though, and just pull themselves across, sitting on a two-rope “chair.” John did this on our way back across the river. We saw kids loaded down with supplies doing it too – horrors!

After another long, sweaty day, we rode one last trufi to Cochabamba. We went straight to the bus station to catch a night bus to La Paz. The bus terminal in Cochabamba was a mad house, as many buses leave at night. It was standing room only everywhere in the terminal. Didn’t particularly leave me wanting more of Cochabamba, but we will be going back that way toward the end of our trip, since we fly out from Cochabamba.

In La Paz, we have been staying with a family that offers room and board to volunteers and students and the occasional odd-ball family like us that finds them under “homestays” in a Google search. Marta and Luis have three boys, Pablo 21, Brian 15, and Luisito, 13. Gwen has really enjoyed their company, playing monopoly and other board games late into the night. We also got to see Brian in action in a semi-final soccer game for his league. The homestay agreement includes use of the kitchen, but Marta has invited us to a couple of meals with them, over the weekend when the whole family was at home more. In one meal, we had dehydrated potatoes, an ancient native dish. We also watched, and Chaise helped, make Bolivian humitas, a tamale of sorts made with white corn, cheese, egg and spices. Chaise helped grind the corn and it was quite amazing since it was a very hard thing to do. He is a lot stronger than even I knew. Then he helped dish the corn mix into the leaves. He stayed intently at this task for over an hour. Everyone was amazed.

We like La Paz. It’s a large city, very typical Latin American, congested, polluted, but pretty too. Beautiful colonial architecture, plazas, with the Andes as a backdrop. The weather is cool to downright cold at night. We have visited some museums and shopped. Bolivia has incredible artisans and I wish I had a $1000 to spend here – and a way to get it home! John has gone wild shopping for pirated DVDs – they cost less than $1! And Gwen and I enjoyed pedicures for $6 each. Also, I think I found where Goodwill sends everything they can’t sell. And all those things that are marked down to 75% off in department stores, then one day they are just gone? They end up in Bolivia. Lots of neighborhoods have small stores that sell second-hand goods and then in one neighborhood in LaPaz, twice a week, there’s a huge second-hand goods fair. Marta took us there as the only way of finding John a new pair of shoes on the continent of South America. His foot is freakishly big to the locals (size 13).

Besides really loving the exchange rate, it’s very interesting times to be in Bolivia. The country’s president, Evo Morales, is very popular among the country and indigenous folk – they sang his praises at La Chonta – but not at all popular among the middle-class folks, like Marta and Luis. It’s been very interesting to hear the different perspectives. Just as we were arriving in Bolivia, Evo (has the people call him) passed a law to do away with subsidies on gas, resulting in a more than 80% price increase. It set things in a tizzy here and people were making longs lines for everything from sugar to cement. The law was repealed about a week later because of the unrest and uproar it caused. We haven’t been affected by it noticeably, but it has been very interesting to observe.

I’m writing now from self-proclaimed paradise, the town of Coroico in the Yungas, a subtropical zone between the Andes and the jungle. The town is not even a semi-finalist for paradise, but I have to say that the area is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and the ride here ranks among the top I’ve ever taken. It’s no use trying to describe it and pictures don’t do it justice either. Just don’t die before you see the Yungas.

Yesterday we visited a small African-Bolivian town, there are several in the Yungas, and spent the afternoon visiting waterfalls. This was great fun for Chaise and we got a great little video of him braving the bottom of the largest waterfall, where winds were about 35 mph just from water hitting water.

Today we leave paradise and head back to La Paz. We’re attending the first pro soccer game of the season with some of the family we stayed with. And then on Monday, we’ll head out to Lake Titicaca. The stark and cold landscape of the Bolivian salt flats are still to come too, so stay tuned.

From La Paz, peace out!