|An impromptu photoshoot up at Cristo de la Concordia.|
Last year as we visited one church after another to report on our work, I tended to dust down the same line to describe the topography of the Beni region: "The street on which this building sits has a greater incline than anything in the Beni for hundreds of miles." And I wasn't exaggerating. It's gotten to the stage now that, when we're out in the car and we approach an elevated bridge on the road, we're practically reaching for the sick bucket just in case, so accustomed have we become to the flatness around us.
But our travels around Scotland last year also confirmed that our hearts were in the Highlands, and so, when the opportunity arose to visit some friends in Cochabamba, we enthusiastically headed for the high lands.
|Feeding time in the main plaza.|
Cochabamba is known in Bolivia as 'the city of the eternal spring' and is widely considered to have Bolivia's best, least punishing climate. Sitting at an elevation of 2,500 metres, the air is permanently fresh and the sky (almost) permanently blue, with daytime temperatures never reaching any higher than around 25 celsius and the nights offering a pleasing coolness. It is rather like a less exacting La Paz (altitude: 3,650 metres), and unlike Bolivia's de facto capital, the hills are mostly restricted to the surrounding valley ('shop till you drop' would not be an unfair tagline for La Paz's souvenir district).
|John 14:6 and 15:12 are inscribed on the Bible.|
Since the mid-1990s, Cochabamba's most famous landmark is the Cristo de la Concordia statue, which towers above the city and (gospel illustration ahoy!) is pretty much unavoidable wherever you are, even confronting you as you leave the airport. There is a walkway to the top of the 265-metre hill, but given that visitors are confronted with a sign saying 'In order to avoid getting mugged, we recommend not to use the stairs', I took one look at my bulging camera case and plumped for the cable-car instead. We were rewarded for our, er, efforts, with great views over the city. The statue, by the way, is a full four metres taller than its far more famous Brazilian counterpart, though seemingly Poland have recently taken the whole Christ-statue thing to whole new levels; mind you, it only beats Bolivia's because they ingeniously gave him a three metre-high crown.
|Just to reiterate my response to one of my Facebook friends, no, these|
are not bullet-holes.
The city itself is perfectly acceptable, though for an area of such outstanding natural beauty, the centre does not really distinguish itself. A couple of pretty plazas are basically all you get. That aside, the sprawl of shops and markets wasn't much different from what you'll find in Trinidad (albeit on a much bigger scale). In fairness, though, Bolivia's major cities are all largely devoid of architectural fascination, with the glowing exception of Sucre (much smaller, though still the official capital), where colonial architecture is all around, and the buildings, by law, have to be painted white once a year (told you it was glowing).
|Another view of the city.|
Did we care? Not as long as we had a plate of fresh sushi/chicken wings/crepes/burgers/pizza in front of us. Which we often did, and mostly do not in Trinidad, due to lack of availability/resemblance to the dictionary definition of said platters. Let's just say that by Monday morning, I was seriously considering re-sending my measurements to the kilt-hire shop for my sister's upcoming nuptials.
|With the McColls.|
And such dining experiences were mostly enjoyed, of course, in the company of friends old and new(ish). Of course, we spent much of that time with our hosts, David & Jennifer McColl, whom we had been determined to visit before their looming exit from Bolivia. Dave and Jenn are something of a curiosity for us, having charted a not inconsiderably similar path to our own as a couple (which wasn't exactly normal in the first place). Dave, just like me, came out to Trinidad many years ago for a gap-year. He then, just like me, returned several years later, whereupon he met Jenn, a Canadian on a summer team. They were married in Toronto in 2012 and now Jenn, a first-generation Canuck, is blessed with a top-drawer Scottish husband. Just like Amanda.
So we all had a most enjoyable time catching up with each other while comparing and contrasting family-culture-clash experiences. And speaking of mixed marriages, we spent en evening in the company of Eduardo & Rachel Rojas. Eduardo, you may remember, is my contact from Langham Bolivia; indeed, that preaching conference begins this coming Thursday (see below). We had hosted Eduardo for a brief visit to Trinidad in February and were delighted to meet him and get to know his American wife, Rachel (in one of the several restaurants Eduardo had recommended to us, naturally).
|(L-R) Paulo, Ruddy and Enoc.|
Cochabamba is also now the base for several young people from our own church, who have gone there to pursue work and/or studies. At church on Sunday morning we touched base with four of them: Ruddy and Paulo (Miguel-Ángel's sons), Alan (Elías's stepson) and Enoc, and a more tight-knit bunch of mates you would struggle to find. The four are now in their early-to-mid-20s, and we were greatly encouraged to touch base with them and see how they are maturing in their faith.
|Alan accompanied us on a pleasant walk last|
Indeed, something we will be praying for is for someone in Cochabamba to fill Dave's shoes, as his living room has become something of a home-from-home for them, not least for Sunday afternoon FIFA sessions. The quartet came round for a barbecue on Sunday evening and as we caught up, it was evident just how much they look up to Dave as an older believer.
Perhaps I should go and take up the mantle. Or perhaps I'm just looking for any excuse to breathe that fresh mountain air again. A fine little break.
- It was back to the grindstone on Tuesday and, in the evening, a meeting with the Langham committee, where we received confirmation that, in fact, we will be getting fed at the conference (see last week's PDF update)! There are still a few final details to iron out before Thursday, so we would appreciate your prayers for the coming days. In terms of the schedule, the bus leaves Trinidad early afternoon on Thursday, to arrive at the retreat centre later that afternoon, when the first teaching session will take place. There is teaching all the way until the final session on Sunday afternoon, though there are plenty of breaks in between as well. Please pray that the event would be of help to the participants in their work of teaching and preaching, that positive new relationships would be formed, and that the event's impact would last beyond the weekend.
- Amanda is once again in charge of the teaching tonight at the youth group, looking at Moses. It's her last teaching slot before our break in July; pray that she might finish well!
- Dr. López, the Foundation's ENT surgeon, saw his last patient yesterday after two years of service here. His prospective replacement is attending to a little necessary housekeeping before he can begin work with us. Pray that this might go smoothly.
- For a refreshing, energising, encouraging long weekend in Cochabamba.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
Craig & Amanda