Students will spend three weeks in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, learning about the people and culture while finding and reporting news stories.
The UofA news service wrote this short story about our team while we were in Bolivia.
After nearly two days of traveling, I finally arrived home yesterday. Who knew it took two days to travel to South America? Traveling to Bolivia was almost nearly as bad as traveling to Thailand. I say almost because while it took about the same amount of time to get there, the flights to Bolivia were relatively short, no longer than five hours, compared to 12 while traveling to Thailand. I’m still trying to recover from the complete exhaustion of this trip, but there is still a lot of work to do. Over the next three weeks I will be writing my stories and editing video from all the information I collected on this trip. The task seems a little daunting at this point, but I’m really excited to see how the finished products turn out.
While I love getting to travel abroad and experience new places, try new food and meet new people, I’m happy to be home. My last three trips out of the country have been to developing countries, which certainly makes me appreciate American modernity and efficiency. Call me spoiled, but I like having WiFi that is fast and easily accessible, I like having hot showers and all the other modern conveniences of living in the U.S.
This trip was quite different from my other travels outside the country. In the past, I was traveling as a tourist, not a student, and my activities included visiting all the tourist sights there were to see. Although while in Santa Cruz I didn’t get to see every tourist attraction there was to do, I got to experience the city more like a local. I found and explored places I never would have if I had just been sightseeing. I got to meet and talk to local people, and I made friendships with Bolivian students that would never have happened on a vacation. I feel like I really got a feel for the city and a sense of what life is really like in Santa Cruz.
Though I was working my tail end off nearly the entire trip, I really enjoyed my time in Bolivia. I always knew I wanted to be a journalist and this trip only reinforced my decision. I found I could still have the time of my life while working extremely hard and doing my job. I feel like I gained so much experience about how to work with people who don’t speak the same language and how to report from scratch. I had nearly no knowledge about Santa Cruz when I signed up for this trip, and I had no idea what I wanted to write about. When I got to the city, although I had done some prior research, I had to talk with sources and do more research to see if my ideas really could turn in to stories, which I think is something reporters have to do all the time in the field. Through this trip I feel like I am one step closer to becoming an international reporter!
After finishing up reporting in Santa Cruz our group took the three hour drive to Samaipata for a much needed vacation. The town was nestled in the mountains and was much more laid back compared to the business of Santa Cruz.
Our stay here was short, but we packed a lot into our trip. We started early in the morning with a trip to El Fuerta, an Incan ruin. About 600 people lived at the fort and it was used to combat smaller jungle tribes. The ruins were super cool, and as a huge history buff, I really enjoyed getting to really see something I’ve learned about in class.
After going to the fort, I went horseback riding with some other people in my group. The last time I went horseback riding was in high school and we basically had to sit through a 30 minute safety presentation, sign a waiver and follow a tour guide the whole time. My horse was named T.K., short for Tourist Killer, but it was so docile I hardly had to do anything. This time was a little different. There was no guide and my horse was VERY stubborn, so I renamed it T.K. because it perfectly fit his personality. It almost bucked me off! He also tried to bolt a couple of times and he did NOT get along well with others! Luckily my professor who had worked with horses was there to help me out. Overall it was a much more exciting (and frightening) experience!
For those of you who know me well, you know that I worry and stress…a lot! Especially about school. I’m also a person who likes to make a plan and stick to it. Upon deciding to come on this trip, I told myself I was not going to stress. If I was going to be in another country, I was going to take time and enjoy myself. My mantra became “It’s all going to work out”…and amazingly, it has!
As I was researching story topics for this trip, I came across an article about children who lived in prison with their parents who had been arrested. I was immediately shocked by this fact, and I knew I wanted to write about this topic in Bolivia. However, to write this story, I knew I would need to interview a mother, child or father who had been involved in this situation. The only problem was that I had absolutely no contacts and slim chances of getting into Palmasola Prison, the only prison in Santa Cruz. Additionally, according to the articles I read online, Palmasola is known as one of the most sinister prisons in South America. I knew I was going to have a hard time convincing anyone to let me go there. When I arrived in Bolivia, I put the story off, preferring to work on another story I was more prepared for. As last week came to a close, I was still not anywhere clos to being able to pull this story off. I talked with my professor over the weekend, and he encouraged me to pursue Plan B.
I was really disappointed, and I wasn’t quite ready to let the story go, but I chose a new topic and scheduled new interviews for Monday morning. I was actually in a taxi on my way to an interview for new story when my professor called me and told me he completely by accident met someone who lived in the prison with his parents when he was child. The story was back on!
I went to Palmasola this morning to interview Daniel Yanez about his experiences growing up in prison. The interview went great, but I had a tense encounter with the prison guards. They did not want me filming in front of the prison door because they thought I was trying to help prisoners escape. They asked me to come into the prison to see my footage, and they were going to delete footage that showed inside the prison. Luckily I had just put in a blank card and sent the cards with my footage with my professor across the street. Like I said, everything is all going to work out!
Friday: After we finished reporting, a couple of other girls and I went to Fatima Plaza to do some shopping. This was the first time we’d gone out without an interpreter or anyone fluent in Spanish, but I’m proud to say we made it there and back without getting lost or getting anything stolen. I also had my first bite of street food. I have to say it was delicious and it didn’t make me sick. After shopping we went out with the group to a new night club in Santa Cruz. While it was a fun experience, we had a dodgy taxi ride back that ended with us getting out and walking as fast as we could back to the hotel!
Saturday: Our group started off the afternoon by going to lunch at Casa del Camba, a popular Bolivian restaurant that sells traditional food. After that we went to Guembe, a bio center that has a large butterfly house and other animals like birds, sloths, tortoises and monkeys. The scenery was beautiful! Toward the end of our visit it started pouring down rain, but after the crazy vacations my family goes on, getting rained on in the jungle is nothing new (i.e. Hawaii and pretty much everyday in Costa Rica).
Sunday: Lauren and I started off the day shopping at the main plaza with one of our professors Hayot. Everyone should spend a day shopping with Hayot because (besides being hilarious) he’s a great bargainer and helped me get a lot of really great deals. After shopping we went out to lunch with Betsabe and her family at a restaurant that serves traditional food from Sucre before driving to the town of Porongo. The road to Porongo was basically made of mud and there were several times I thought our taxi would get stuck, but luckily we didn’t have to get out and push. Porongo was a cute little town where we walked around the square and took lots of pictures, watched a soccer match and ate a lot of really great street food.
Yesterday I took the hour and a half trip from Santa Cruz to Okinawa, a Japanese colony in the Bolivian countryside founded in 1954. The trip was long, but practically an adventure in itself. We took a van to a city called Monterro and then took another van to Okinawa. The vans were packed with people, and they naturally had no air conditioning or seat belts. So needless to say it was rather hot, sweaty and cramped.
When I arrived I interviewed two officials from the Japanese-Bolivian Association who told me more about the history of the colony (if you want to know more you’ll have to wait for my story!) The president of the association only spoke Japanese, so I got to work with two interpreters, one who translated from Japanese to Spanish and another who translated from Spanish to English. It was a really neat experience!
After lunch we went to a bilingual elementary school where the 70 students who attend are taught Spanish and Japanese. The kids were so fun to film! They either hated the camera and tried to run from me or loved it and kept making funny faces in the camera. Either way they were super cute and fun! Going to the school was probably my favorite part of the day, and I can’t wait to start putting together my videos.
Okinawa was a very long and exhausting day, and I have more than 100 videos to sort through, but it was so fun to meet with everyone and learn more about their unique culture in Bolivia.