The next stop on our tour was Cochabamba, a town in central Bolivia about midway between La Paz and Santa Cruz. Ordinarily it might not have been a destination on our travel route except for one key factor. This was the town where Alejandra lived. Alejandra is a good friend of Kevin’s dating back to his time in Spain who had had her first child a few months ago. Kevin was very excited to catch up with Alejandra and meet little Luana. Alejandra and her family were kind enough to let us stay with them as we took a few days to recover from our arduous hike and relax. They were so sweet and took us on tours of the city, invited us to eat multiple meals with friends and extended family, and generally made us feel at home.
Alejandra had friends in Cochabamba who ran a paragliding business, so we decided to cross paragliding off our bucket list. There is very little training or preparation that went into our guided tandem flight. We drove about 45 minutes to the top of a nearby hill, chatting with our guides in English and Spanish. When we got there our instructors began setting up the parachutes while we took some photos of the city below. After the parachutes were laid out they came over and gave us our helmets and the breakdown of how our flights would go. The talk went something like this: I will be strapped in behind you. When I say go, we start running. When we start running the parachute will fill with air and pull us backwards a bit, don’t stop running. That looks like a cliff below but it’s not…the hill just gets much steeper. We need to sprint at that point and make sure we get enough lift to take off. Any questions? No? Ok let’s go then!
There is something magical and exhilarating about running down the side of a mountain and feeling the wind lift you up. Once you are flying it is actually quite peaceful and provided us with a unique view of the city, although it was slightly nausea inducing if you are Kevin (though many activities we do seem to have that effect on him).
We had initially planned on taking a bus from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz to spend a day or two there before we needed to catch a flight back to the US to attend a wedding. At the counsel of Alejandra’s family, however, we decided to take a quick flight to cover that distance due to frequent road closures along the route. Luckily we found a cheap flight but it got us into Santa Cruz with only 8 hours to enjoy the city before heading back to the airport for our flight to San Francisco.
Eight hours was sufficient to give us an overview of Santa Cruz, try some of the local cuisine (including a very sweet drink made with a dehydrated plum at the bottom of each glass), visit a museum, and walk around the city center. At the end of our short visit we hopped in a cab back to the airport around 11:30 pm and got to the airport by midnight to check in for our flight. With just one connection in Panama City for a couple of hours we were home on Christmas Eve just 17 hours later, exhausted after not sleeping for 33 hours but excited to spend the holiday with our families.
The holidays were a blur of food, family, and friends. This was the first time we had been apart for more than a few hours since we began our trip in September, but we were optimistic that we could survive on our own. Somehow our first several days back passed in what felt more like 10 minutes and it was time to head up to Geyserville for our friends Paul and Joy’s wedding. The ceremony was in a beautiful small church and the reception was at a nearby winery. All in all it was a lovely evening celebrating the union of our friends, catching up with other friends, eating too much delicious food, and dancing the night away.