I decided to go for the confrontational (or perhaps more cheeky approach) in my leaving speech at the Maryknoll Language Institute in Cochabamba and tell everyone how my leaving Cochabamba was compensated for by moving to a far better city, La Paz.
It got the understandable boos and hisses, and made my last few lessons fun. "So, La Paz is better than Cochabamba, is it? So, what is it you don’t like about Cochabamba?!" said my teacher Alicia with a firm and threatening stare.
The reality was that it was quite a wrench leaving Cochabamba. The six weeks flew past, filled with an intoxicating mix of new friends, the buzz of learning (and feeling I was improving) in spanish, and most of all a feeling that I was hugely privileged to have ended up in such an amazing country.
The Institute proved to be a great environment both for learning but also meeting engaging people all committed in some way to giving time for others whether children in orphanages in Cochabamba or immigrants on the US-Mexican borders.
Best of all, the one-to-one lessons with teachers were fantastic not just for learning the imperfect subjunctive (definitely my favourite tense) but for getting to know some lovely Bolivians in a short period of time and chatting to them about this hugely important year in Bolivia’s history.
Liliana, one of my teachers was one with whom I would wile away afternoons walking and talking, opening up in a way that I would never have expected so soon in another country, in another language.
Away from the Institute, Tomas and Cecilia, a Belgian couple who invited me to their house at a serendipidous moment back in March were another two who made my time very special in Cochabamba.
They sadly leave Bolivia at the end of June, but I am hoping to persuade them to come with their new-born baby to WOMAD festival in 2006 (after all if you are not changing nappies at the festival, you are nobody) when I plan to head back to the UK for a visit.
And lastly in this necessarily selective bunch, there was Beatriz and her daughter Isabel who hosted me in their relaxing house along with half of their neighbourhood’s wildlife.
They introduced me to lots of Bolivian dishes, the best of Cochabamba’s chicha, and good long chats on everything from Fidel Castro (Beatriz is a big fan) to machismo in Bolivian society. In return I introduced them to Nitin Sawnhey, Thai green curries and chocolate brownies.
This heady mix combined with the constantly beautiful weather and scenery left me buzzing with life.
But it was also a bit of a protective environment, away from daily life and my desire to get involved in supporting Bolivians struggling for justice. So, last Sunday I propelled myself to La Paz with the 8 hour journey over the altiplano.
And here I am in La Paz as winter kicks in, the surrounding mountains illuminated by brilliant white peaks, the streets full of campesinos and indigenous people protesting against the new gas law, the smell of teargas, the slightly-on-edge energy of a big city.
In the coming week, I need to sort out visas, a place to live, the stuff of everyday life before a little escape with a friend Graham into the mountains.
Then on 13th June, I start voluntary work at Fundacion Solon helping them communicate on this key year in Bolivia’s history and helping to translate much needed information on the impact of a proposed free trade agreement between Bolivia and the US. Lots to get my teeth into….