It’s really sad to see this trip come to a close. It seems like just yesterday we arrived and met each other in Miami. Since then, we’ve made memories and water filters, explored the Andes and the Amazon. Working on our service project was one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done. Though it was hard work, we truly made a difference and an impact, providing clean water to a whole community. It was incredibly satisfying to work on this project and when it was time to leave Rurrenabaque, I left feeling happy about the difference we made. After the end of the project, we began to explore the rest of this incredible country, starting in La Paz. Descending into the city by gondola was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, providing us with views of this gorgeous city. Finally, we concluded the trip by visiting Lake Titicaca, the supposed birthplace of the Incas. It stunned me to look at the ancient terraces adorning the hillsides, with massive peaks out towards the horizon. Overall, despite being sad to see this trip end, I’m really grateful that it happened.
I can’t believe that we have only been in Bolivia for two weeks because it feels like we’ve known each other for way longer. As a group, we’ve done so much together that this feels less like a sixteen day trip and more like a full year of service. After we left the jungle, we spent the next day relaxing in Rurre and wrapping up our service, which was wonderful after the effort we had put in installing the filters. In addition, it gave us time to reflect on our efforts and the effects they would have on the community in the future. During this time, I realized how meaningful our work truly was, especially after reading an article from our student reader about the water shortages popping up around Bolivia. In a country where many people have a shortage of water, giving some of those people access to clean water is a big win. Our trip to La Paz was also eye opening, especially because of the beauty of the city that we observed in our short gondola ride. Despite being poor, Bolivia is a beautiful country with plenty to offer, and I am glad that I got to experience it on a trip like this with a group of people as incredible as the one we had.
After we left the jungle, we embarked on a trip around Bolivia, from Rurrenabaque to La Paz to Isla del Sol. Each place was stunningly beautiful in its own way- Rurre was the picturesque town at the base of the mountains, at the mouth of the Rio Beni. Exploring Rurre and climbing up to the top of the nearest mountain gave us access to a breathtaking view of all of the town, from the colorful, touristy part to the neighborhoods with dirt roads and wooden walls. It helped me to realize that despite the access to Internet, plentiful vehicles and paved roads, many people still suffered from lack of clean water, even outside of the Amazon and inside the supposed comfort of a town or a city. That was La Paz, too. Our first view of La Paz was a red and golden city situated in a high valley, also of red and gold, at midday, with the sun bearing down. We sailed over the city in the gondolas, meant to connect the poorer parts of La Paz to the parts of the city with jobs and money. We saw the gradual change of buildings, from red buildings made of hollow bricks to buildings that looked like a Las Vegas casino. It was beautiful and impoverished at the same time, and it made me appreciate what I have back at home. Then, there was Isla del Sol, an ancient Incan town at an elevation of 13,000 feet. It sat on a tall mountain, perched precariously on the side and overlooking the lake Titicaca, the Incan birthplace. It was more advanced than the community in the Amazon, but everyone traveled by donkey and alpaca. After experiencing Isla del Sol, I came to realize how important fresh water was to a community, and what we had truly done for the community in the Amazon. Traveling Bolivia after installing filters really helped me to understand the lack of water that some people suffer, and it inspired me to do more to help!
A bittersweet feeling follows right after boarding the flight home. I’m excited to see my friends and ready to pet my cat Salem again, but I know I am leaving something behind in the towns I have spent the past two weeks in. When you do a trip like this, you surround yourself with people interested in making as much of a difference as you are, and the conversations that stem from that connection are addicting. All I want to do is talk about how we can help the people we share the Earth with, but the fact of the matter is no one at home talks about what is happening in the world around us. I joined a wicked intelligent group and we had insightful conversations over silly games of cards and I wish I could say I will have the same types of conversations at home. In Rurrenabaque, I leave Joselo, the clinic, and the two new filters we built. In the community we visited, I leave behind a filter I painted somewhere in the Amazon – about 4,000 miles from home. In Isla Del Sol and La Paz, I leave my money because I totally spent too much on souvenirs.
There are a couple things I hope to keep in mind as I head back home. I did a lot of work this far from home, I need to focus on how I can bring it back to Boston – How can I continue helping? Also, how much do I need to work this summer to save my bank account from the souvenir shopping?
For the last two weeks, I have embarked on the trip of a lifetime. A new group of people have now all become lifelong friends, and I feel very grateful to have been on the trip. Volunteering allowed me to realize a lot of things. I am very fortunate to live in a place where everything comes a lot easier to me, and I now take water into my daily thoughts, realizing that many people don’t have clean water. At the community, toddlers had big stomachs from the parasites, but at the same time, others fish and get food from the water, bathe, and much more. I’m very happy to be a part of a group of strong, creative individuals, that helped a whole entire community have clean, drinkable water.
During these last two weeks, I have discovered how powerful a small group of eleven people can be. Our team had a single goal – to bring access to clean water to a community. We finished the trip having accomplished so much more. We built more than just water filters. We built connections to the people around us, the world we came from, and the world we worked in. The entire experience was surreal, capped off by a view of the most amazing sky I have ever seen. It truly felt like a different world. No matter how you look at it, though, I was always looking at the same sky, just from a different point of view. The people in Isla del Sol see the incredible view we saw all the time, and we have access to clean water all the time. In the community, I learned that there is so much that shouldn’t be taken for granted, like clean water, fireworks, health, and the night sky. A single taste of what we’re missing out on can change us, just like the night sky at Isla del Sol did for us, and just like I hope the clean water from the filters does for the community. No matter how we felt during the work, the difference we made was so much more powerful, and the connections we made were so much stronger. Sixteen days really do go by in the blink of an eye.