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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Bolivia, Part Two

Cochabamba is where my father was born, while my mother is from Oruro, the land of the Carnavál!  I have only visited Oruro once, when I was just 2½ years old, so as you can imagine the few memories I have of it are quite fuzzy.  But Cochabamba.. ahhhhhh, this is where a huge part of my heart lives to this very day.
Visiting Cochabamba in 1993 was the best thing I could have done (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and it gave me the chance to spend a lot of time with my two brothers in a different way than we did at home in the USA.  But more than just having a wonderful time, my MS went into remission the moment we arrived at Cochabamba's airport and this was a miracle in itself.
Picture I took of Cochabamba in June, 1993
My brothers and I stayed with our mom's mom, our Abuelita (grandma in Spanish), and that first evening my brothers had seen on television that there would be a "peña" the following day.  A peña is a sort of concert that features more than one Bolivian folkloric group and I must admit that I was not too excited at the idea of going but the truth is that it beat spending the evening at home with our Abuelita, so I agreed to go with them.. and it was an event that would change my life.  

Until that point I wasn't too keen on Bolivian music, mostly because the only time I had heard this type of music had been from hearing old records my parents had and they were not the best quality, so this is what I was expecting to hear.  Wow, was I ever wrong!  This peña featured four groups but the only one that stood out to me was the second one, Fortaleza.  I fell in love with the music in an instant and returned the following day, with my brothers, for the last day of the peña.  We were fortunate enough to meet that particular group, sat together and shared some drinks and laughs once their "set" was over and became very good friends.
Fortaleza performing, June 26, 1993
It's amazing to me how, in accepting and loving Bolivian music, my entire view of my culture changed and grew to heights I never imagined.  It was as if an entire new world opened up to me the moment I heard Fortaleza play their music, but to be honest it was one song in particular that did it for me and to this day, it remains my favorite song.

I'm not sure how to post a video to my blog, but I encourage everyone to go to youtube and watch this vid!  Yes, it's a very simple video but the song is incredibly beautiful as it's my absolute favorite and the one that began my love affair with Bolivian music. 


Aside from falling in love with an entire new genre of music, I began to see Bolivia in a whole new light.  The people now held a certain charm that they hadn't before and even the food tasted that much better.  My brothers and I were meeting new people, making friends and were accepted everywhere we went, which isn't always easy when you are taller, speak Spanish with a slight American or "gringo" accent and weigh a bit more, or at least I did and still do.

Then we were invited by one of the members of Fortaleza to the small village of Anzaldo, a few hours away, for a fiesta one weekend.  Neither of my brothers chose to go but I jumped at the chance to spend time with my new friends, assuming that the fiesta (which means party) was for one evening.  Little did I know it would last from Saturday morning all the way through Monday afternoon!  Had I known how long it would last I probably would not have gone, but I would have missed out on one of the most memorable weekends of my life.
A breakfast serenade with Boris, Nelson and Ramiro.  July 1993
I learned that commodities, such as more than one working toilet in an entire village, a bed and not eating for three days, aren't as crucial as one may think.  I was high on life and drank it in for all it was worth.  Being that I get sick to my stomach very easily, I chose to "fast" while there but didn't miss out on the enjoyment.  How could I not have fun?  I was surrounded by four of the six men from Fortaleza who made the trip, who insisted on serenading me each morning as we sat around the breakfast table and pretty much sang and played their music everywhere they went.  I tried "chicha" for the first and LAST time, although I'm sure some of you would have enjoyed it.  For me, just the thought that this alcoholic beverage was made of fermented corn and smelled worse than a pair of smelly gym socks was enough to turn me off from having more than just one sip, even though it is considered tremendously rude to refuse food or drink when someone offers it to you.  I tried it.. that was enough for me!

1993 was a fantastic time in Cochabamba for me.  It was spent mostly with friends I made while there but I did have time with family, too.  The aunts, uncles and countless cousins we have there bring a smile to my face just to remember the moments we were together.  But this vacation wasn't mine alone.. it was one I shared with my brothers but the next time I was there, in 1996, ahh, THAT one was all about me.
Younger brother Gonzalo, cousin Claudia and older brother Fernando.  June 1993

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