better luck next time, columbus.

After accepting the fact that I'd be chained to a desk in a gray office all summer long, I found solace in the fact that my boss brought up sending me away for training at some point. Oh, training: a week-long, 9 to 5 gig, where I'd be chained to a desk...but only in a different location. The idea made me happy.

First, they tried to send me to Columbia, South Carolina. "Awesome," I thought. I have a friend who lives in North Carolina, maybe he could drive down and meet me. No such luck. After I signed up for the course, I couldn't find a flight, so I was sent back to square one. All right, the next training was in Steubenville, Ohio. "Awesome," my boss tried to convince me, "The birthplace of Dean Martin!" As much as I have a particular affinity for the Rat Pack, the thought of Steubenville didn't thrill me. Then, I found out about the flight--New York to Boston to Pittsburg to..wait, a second. You mean I have to get off a plane in Pennsylvania then find a taxi driver who is willing to take me across state lines in a 50 mile cab ride to Ohio? I don't think so.

Luck suddenly hit me. The business trip gods suddenly smiled upon me. The next training session happened to be hosted by, get this, WEST PALM BEACH. It was a miracle. It was a twist of fate. It was my big break. Here I am stuck in an overly air conditioned, windowless office that has furniture duller than my high school charcoal drawing set, and my boss is offering to send me on a week long, all expense paid trip to West Palm Beach. I booked the flight, I booked the hotel, I even booked a taxi to take me from point a to point b. I packed my suitcase--half business clothes, half swimwear--and I was all set to embark on my first adventure since returning from South America in the spring.

Until I wasn't.

Yesterday, a few hours before I was about to leave, as I was jumping into the tub to take a pre-departure shower, my phone dinged, notifying me of an email. (I know what you're thinking, but yes, I'm one of those weirdos that brings her phone into the bathroom with her.) I opened the email from JetBlue and began to weep. My flight had been cancelled.


I called JetBlue. I called Delta. I called whoever flew from New York to Florida and wasn't a bird or a military aircraft. I Expedia-ed, Travelocity-ed, and Googled. I cried, I screamed, I begged. "Please help me! I need to get to Florida!" I pleaded with the agent on the other end of the line. Delta offered me a $500 one way ticked from LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale. Not quite where I'm starting nor where I'm suppose to end up--and it leaves in 40 minutes? Sorry, can't do that. Newark to Boston to Orlando? Now that's really not where I'm starting, nor where I'm ending. The earliest you can get me to Palm Beach is Wednesday?! What do you mean you're all booked?! Who are these hoards of people and why are they getting to Palm Beach and I'm not?!

I texted my boss. Apologized to the poor soul(s) who had to deal with me on the phone, then began my mass cancelling. Called the hotel, cancel. The taxi, cancel. The insurance on my trip, cancel. I left voicemails for my training--sorry, the I have to cancel. My summer of no travel went to the summer of insanely awesome travel to summer of no travel once again. Sigh.

But at least today is Monday, which means I can live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain on the travel channel.



"How long are you staying in Cochabamba?" Asked the shoeshine man. "You can't leave now," he said. "Look. I brought this just for you." He held out a can of cordovan shoe polish. It must have cost him a day's wages, and for a moment I had a vision of myself forced to stay in Cochabamba until the polish ran out. And then perhaps he would buy another can, and I would be compelled to stay even longer."

In Bolivia, by Eric Lawlor

It is really hard to believe that my time in this country is coming to an end. I feel like I have not been here long at all. Maybe four weeks isn't that long of a time in the grand scheme of things, but usually by week three spent away from home, I start to lose my mind. The only time in the past 28 days that I've wanted to be somewhere else other than where I was, was when I was sitting on the cold, white examination table in the Clinica Los Olivos, awaiting my examination. (And in reality, if I were in a hospital in New York, I wouldn't want to be there either.)

Bolivia is unlike anything I've seen before, but at the same time, it feels so familiar that I never really want to leave. Since the very first night, I've dreamed in Spanish and since the very first morning, never did I wake up not realizing what hemisphere I was in. I have absorbed as much of this country as I could in the time I have and in turn, it has given me stories, photos, memories, and inspiration. I have learned to navegate the chaotic transport system of Cochabamba, braved the bumpy (lack of) roads from one city to another, learned to love potatoes (at every meal), and overcame a terrifying tropical illness. I don't want to leave this country because it has become a part of me. I have Taquiña in my veins and Cumbia in my soul And really, Bolivia is unbelievable (unboliviable).



Women lining up to receive water and other supplies after the massive floods that hit Quillacollo, a municipality to the west of Cochabamba.

As I've said before, when you're walking down the leafy streets of Cochabamba, it's very easy to forget where you really are. With rolling, verdant hills and large, ornate (and when I say ornate, I really mean mafia-style...you know what I mean) homes, Cadillacs and Mercedes Benzes, you might as well be in Staten Island. (Seriously!) There is a lot of money that comes through Cochabamba, one, because of the intense legal commerce (electronics, clothing) that goes on--and we know money always makes money--and two, unfortunately, because of the illicit commerse that goes on. Ever seen Scarface? Alejandro Sosa counts the city as his provenance.
Bolivia? A poor country, no way. It's way nicer than Argentina, the Dominican, wherever. Come on, I have hot water in my shower and my internet works! The point is, that, up until my trip to Quillacollo, to me, this country did not really represent the Latin America I've known.

Quillacollo is an hour bus ride outside the city limits and is known for its devout Catholicism and various religious festivals that occur throughout the year. We didn't visit the area with hopes of attending a festival or a party; we visited to bring water, clothes, and any supplies we could muster on very short notice. This season has been particularly rainy for the province and many homes could not withstand the immense inundations that result. Over 3,000 families have been left homeless or with homes that are virtually inhabitable. (This being said, most families are comprised of 5-7 people.) These people, who already have very little, have been left with nothing. And although there exists a sort of Bolivian red-cross and a FEMA-like agency, the government was only able to provide a handful of tents and very few bottles of water to the population. Most of the Quillacollans are hanging on by a thread, dehydrated and packed like sardines in government-issued, temporary lodging.

A home destroyed by flooding in Quillacollo

So, we went, brought our tools, and tried to make the best of a dire situation. Some came armed with liters of water; some, pajamas; some, baby shoes, and one girl, from Japan and who is probably still mourning the drama in her own country, brought paper. Paper? These people need clothing and food and liquids and she brings paper? Let me tell you that this wasn't any paper, this wasn't generic lined looseleaf or bright white computer paper, the paper that belonged to the Japanese girl was small, square, and multi-colored. I once heard a story about a psychologist who treated victims of the Cambodian genocide and was bracing herself to talk endlessly about the pain and suffering that the people underwent. After meeting the survivors, however, she was completely surprised that they barely wanted to talk about the aches of war, but rather their personal drama, seemingly petty things--like, who went out with so and so's boyfriend and who is gaining too much weight. Gossip. Fun. Chit-chat. Here we are, a group of seemingly wealthy foreigners (or at least wealthy enough to pay for an extended trip to a third world country) preoccupied with supplies and practical items. And here is the Japanese girl, a girl who cannot return to her country because of radioactivity, bringing paper for what reason? To teach the children origami.

Suddenly, a crowd of several hundred desolate faces burst into smiles. These brightly colored little papers began to take the form of lotus flowers, cranes, and pinwheels, all while the Japanese girl sat quietly on the curb, folding and folding, as the kids shouted, "My turn! Make me one!" and chased each other around, laughing, and playing. We all became origami experts out of necessity. The demand superceded supply. The paper airplane you learned to make in second grade? There are five boys over there that want one. Fold, fold! The paper box you learned to make during recess at age 10, make twenty. Keep folding! The smiles grew, the laughter continued, and our hands got tired.

We stayed at Quillacollo until our paper ran out and still, the children (and adults) asked when we would return. Puzzled faces and broken hearts, we realized we had to do something, and arranged a community clean-up every Tuesday and Thursday evening until our supplies (and ourselves) are exhausted.

It is very difficult to think about the consequences if all is lost. You always make a mental list of the things you would take out of your house if there was a fire--the important things, passports, money, photographs. But being prepared and being saved often times transcend the "important" things, because what is truly important is being able to smile and maintain a personal normalcy through stressful tribulations.