We have finally found routine in daily life. We have been in our apartment two weeks now, but somehow it seems like much more. Similarly, while it has been 40 days since we left the United States, that feels like long ago.
A few of our contacts in La Paz said they were looking out for apartments for us, but after two weeks without anything showing up, we decided to try to figure it out ourselves. We had heard lots of scary stories about people renting (or selling) homes that were not actually their own, and other swindles that left renters out a few months of rent. There are also some online listings, and travellers kept mentioning airbnb. All those are geared to foreigners and are hence very expensive over the course of five months. So I bought a newspaper, circled things, and started making calls. I should say here that I do not like the phone to start with, and doing this in Spanish with the time delay that seems to come with Bolivian cell phones is even worse. But the first place we saw (larger than our house, great views, affordable, but totally empty) made us think we could find something. The second place was owned by an old lady who wanted nothing to do with us when she found we had three children (and shown by two immaculately made-up, well-dressed real estate agents who told us we couldnt find what we were looking for for the price we wanted, suggesting we look in a different neighborhood. The third place had three bedrooms, lots and lots of windows, wood floors, a big kitchen and living room, and two bathrooms. Even better, it is on a tranquil dead-end street (a ´´pasaje´´). The views are great, the owner friendly, the price OK, the location a 30-40 minute walk from school. We moved in Monday, 24 days after landing in La Paz. For now, just one photo.
If week one was spent just getting our bearings, week two was when we began to figure out a bit more about regular life. I (Paul) had my first two classes at the university. I was told to expect 5 to 10 students for this advanced course, but on the first day there were 20 and on the second day about 30. I have also been told that many are just listening in; it isn’t til the second week that I will really know how many are actually signed up (and how many will turn in homework is another mystery).
The folks at the Unidad Educativa Evangelica Los Amigos (or just the friends school, if you prefer) have been very friendly. We visited for second time on Tuesday to talk to the director; he was very open to the idea of Anna (Zeke is in the primary school with a different director) attending as a listener, meaning she participates in everything but doesn’t get official grades at the end of the year. That same day we bought uniforms for Anna and Zeke, and Anna started Wednesday afternoon. We got the OK from the morning director on Wednesday, and Zeke started Thursday morning.
August 6 is the Bolivian national independence day, and on Friday the 5th the schools of that part of town marched through the streets as part of the parade. Thus Anna and Zeke’s first days of school were spend partly on marching practice. Next week will bring the regular schedule. Zeke goes from 8:30 to 12:30, Anna from 1:45 to 6:10 (morning and afternoon turnos are common in South America, as it lets a school have more students with less infrastructure), and it takes about 35-50 minutes walking and anywhere from 25 to 55 minutes on the bus, depending on traffic. Thus it feels like our weekdays are framed by the comings and goings of Anna and Zeke, who don’t see each other at all between 7:45am and 6:45pm. We have hopes of finding an apartment a little closer to school, but quite close will be hard, as the neighborhood around the school is mostly businesses. Now that school is figured out, finding a place to live is our main job in week three.
The idea was to get out of the city for a few days; all of us were needing to see a little green. We thought about Copacabana, along Lake Titicaca, but hotels were expensive. The folks at the Bolivian Quaker Education office in La Paz had mentioned that there would be a celebration in Sorata this weekend for the tenth anniversary of the internado, basically a dorm for high school students who live too far from town to go to high school (I talked to one kid who walks 7 hours to get home every Friday). So at the last minute we changed gears and headed for Sorata.
Getting to Sorata means taking a taxi or bus to the place from which the busses leave. There’s no station, just a block where the minivans wait until they’re full. As is usual in Bolivia, about 17 people fit in a minivan, with any large baggage tied on top. The road winds up and out of La Paz, with great views over the city, and then into the suburb of El Alto, which has many roads and bridge under construction, so that you’re always bumping through a grid of dusty roads and walled-in lots with half-built houses (and the occasional very new-looking house) and messages like “autos sospechados seran quemados” (suspicious autos will be burned) or “ladrones pillados seran linchados” (thieves caught will be lynched). This finally gives way to paved roads and views of Lake Titicaca and the mountains of the Cordillera Real.
The last 20 miles into Sorata are the classic Andean toboggan ride, down windy roads that you wish the driver would take a little slower. We have been on narrower roads with larger dropoffs, but this was enough to bring those roads to mind. Sorata itself seems thankfully tranquilo after a week in La Paz. Our hostel was mellow and made us a lovely breakfast including crepes and eggs. The celebration at the internado was sweet, and we were made very welcome. I’m not sure how it will fit in with school schedules, but we’d love to spend more time there.
And the hiking is good too. It sounds like Sorata had hoped to be more of a tourist place than it now is, as there are many multi-day treks that can be taken from Sorata. Instead most of its income comes from mining, lately mostly gold. There are signs of wealth – kids in the park watching movies on an iphone, for instance – but the town mostly feels sleepy and remote.
Our first week in La Paz has had its ups and downs. We arrived a day late due to airline problems, but we did get nights in hotels in Miami and Santiago (and meals). Once here, as predicted, we were all hit by the altitude (we are somewhere between 11,000 and 12,000 feet). We drank lots of coca tea, walked slowly, and sat around a bit.
There were the ¨What are we doing here?¨ moments, leavened by the ¨Wow, I´m so glad we´re here¨ moments. We are small town folks, and the city can be overstimulating. Trying to figure out which bus (if any) to take, then trying to flag said bus, then trying to squeeze all five of us on and off the bus – it isn´t anything we´re used to. Sidewalks full of people, traffic that is nearly gridlocked, and all the chaos of markets and vendors that fill up the sidewalks and spill into the streets make it stressful to manage a group of five when you aren´t exactly sure where you´re going or how to get there.
There were partial days of sickness, some homesickness, days of trying to figure out where we would get food we could eat. One thing that has been uniformly positive has been my connections at the university. They are very happy I´m here. It turns out the course I´m teaching – an undergraduate analytic number theory course – hasn´t been taught in years, as the guy who taught it retired a few years back. This makes it clear that I´m not taking anyone´s class away.
On Thursday we had a disappointing meeting with the school we were hoping to have Anna and Zeke attend. They say government control is tight, and they can´t do it. Then in the afternoon a meeting with another school that was much more positive. We still need to speak with the director tomorrow, but this school has had much more exchange with North American Quakers and seems to be more open to the idea. Looking for a house or apartment has been on hold until we figure out where the kids will be in school, but we have a few folks looking out for furnished places for us. Our current hostel is nice, but the five of us are sleeping on bunk beds in one room smaller than most bedrooms in the U.S. With a year´s worth of stuff all around us, it is cramped, and paying by the night is a lot more expensive than paying by the month. The hostel does have a computer and wi-fi, though it is often down or slowed incredibly by other travelers on their phones. The laptop we brought seems to have lost its ability to hold a charge, and only works when plugged in. For a few days, the computer´s fan made a noise like a blender; now it only says ¨Fan error¨ and shuts off. So there are things to be figured out.
What are the upsides? Views of Illimani (the snow-capped mountain that looms over La Paz), wandering streets so steep that you can´t believe someone decided to build a city here, finding fruit that we can´t get at home or an incredibly good bowl of soup for less than a dollar, conversing and connecting with people from many stations in life. As we left La Paz on Friday for a weekend in Sorata, I was imagining life in Bloomsburg right now, and this felt so much more exciting.
After three flights and two nights in
hotels due to a missed flight, we finally arrived in La Paz last night.
We took it easy, and spent a lot of time sleeping, drinking mate de coca, and adjusting to the altitude.
Today we are feeling a lot better, but we still get winded going up the three flights of stairs to our room. Our hostel is great, with wonderful views of La Paz and the new teleferico from the two balconies( I got my hair cut while looking down at the city from one of them.) .The teleferico is a cable car that goes from El Alto, the city above La Paz, to La Paz. Two or three of them exist now, and there are more planned. From my bunk I have good views too, including a view of Ilimani, a snow capped mountain above La Paz.
I am so happy to be here, and can’t wait to run around and explore without having to go slow because of the lack of oxygen. Nights are chilly and I think we are all appreciative of the down comforters the hostel has. I miss everyone, but am having a wonderful time.
We have spent the last few months packing up the house to rent and saying goodbye to friends and family before heading to La Paz, Bolivia. We did this for a year once before – in 2007-2008 – but it feels a little harder this time. The difference is clear: in 2007 we had been in Bloomsburg for eight years; our kids were 5 and 1, and Anna had only been to preschool. Now we’ve been here for seventeen years (minus time away), Anna and Zeke are 14 and 10, and we’re deeply rooted in the greater Bloomsburg, Millville Meeting, and Greenwood Friends School communities. We’ve moved into town, and so we see lots of friends much more often. Sure, we had friends nine years ago, and many of those folks are still friends, and those connections are deeper. What I’m getting around to saying is that it feels like we are leaving more behind this time, and we fully realize that a year is a long time away.
But it is worth going. I’ll be teaching analytic number theory at the Universidad Mayor San Andres, the public university in La Paz. Anna and Zeke will be enrolled in school. Leticia is adept at finding adventure. We’ll be joined by Tenaja Henson, a friend through Quaker circles and a recent high school graduate who is doing a gap half-year before starting college. That takes us to December. What the rest of the year holds has not yet taken shape.
So, before we leave, I’d like to say thanks to our community here in Pennsylvania. Knowing we have you to come back to makes it easier to say goodbye.
We had plans to visit friends in Philadelphia this weekend, plans that got even more exciting when it sounded like they would have a ton of snow, and then less exciting when it looked like they would have so much snow that the smart thing to do was stay away, while we were told to expect a scant one to three inches.
But the course of a storm can change, and the sounds in the hall sounded like Christmas morn – whispers, then an enthusiastic “YES!” It was snowing for real.
Anna and Zeke were out soon after breakfast, and after I got a morning run in, we found all the cross-country ski gear and got going. Plows had been through on some streets, but the snow was coming down so fast that streets were snowy and almost deserted.
After two hours out, we had lunch and later went sledding on cemetery hill. We measured ten inches of snow in the backyard. It was a beautiful day to be out in it.
As I walked to work this morning the thermometer at the bank said 12 degrees F. There was a hard wind blowing and my toes hurt by the time I got there. So to warm up a little, I’m finishing the long-overdue story of our trip to Costa Rica one year ago.
Our second week was spent in a rented house near Santa Elena and Monteverde Reserve. Monteverde is where several Quaker families who left the United States in 1951 settled after some had been jailed for resisting the draft for the Korean War. Two of these settlers were Wolf and Lucky Guindon, one of whose children (Helena) we know from Upper Susquehanna Quaker gatherings. There is still an active Quaker meeting and school in Monteverde, and we were interested in seeing it. Wolf Guindon and other Quakers were part of the formation of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which has become an important protected area with incredible biodiversity – and, as these things happen, a major tourist attraction.
First impressions of the house were of the views, west over the mountains to the Gulf of Nicoya, and the wind, which comes in waves like the pounding of the surf in Manzanillo. It sounds worse than being out in it; temperatures are in the 60s or 70s, so the wind is not bitter. These are the vientos alisios, or trade winds, which blow this time of year.
Even though there is lots of tourist infrastructure, it is really enjoyable to walk dusty country roads outside of town, and our place offered plenty opportunity to do so. We also had a lovely and sometimes comical walk up Cerro Amigos, which has great views when not shrouded in fog. At the bottom it was sunny, with some misty showers, but as we neared the top the wind sounded more and more like a dragon hidden in fog. I don’t know that I have ever hiked a road so slippery that getting through seemed in doubt, so this was a first.
Highlights were Quaker meeting on Sunday
and a day in Monteverde Reserve, including a 3.5-hour tour with naturalist Ricardo Guindon, a son of Wolf and Lucky. Ricardo a) knows his stuff b) grew up in the reserve and c) is part of one of those original families of Quaker settlers, so he was a perfect guide for us.
One last highlight was supper with Francisco, Renee, Jamila, and Sofia, who we met at Friends General Conference in summer 2014. The Quaker world can be a small world.
We bussed back to San Jose assaulted by a melange of smells – the putrefying fish eaten by others on the bus and a few trucks carrying pigs that we kept pace with for a long time. The more common smells of diesel exhaust and burning trash were a welcome respite.
Ultimately, Costa Rica was the most gringoed country we’ve been to in Latin America – an incredibly high percentage of coastal land is owned by foreigners, for instance, and we saw many more folks who looked like they just got off the bus from Disneyworld than we did in, say, Potosi, Bolivia – but it was a good trip, and a great two weeks spend with Leon and Louisa.
(The race was long. The race report is too.)
In the 1990s, as a graduate student at Purdue University, I kept myself sane by running lots. It started with the Columbus Marathon in 1995, attempting to qualify for the 100th Boston Marathon the following spring. I did qualify, and I did run Boston. I was running with the Wabash River Running Club, and a few of those folks ran ultras – 50 or 100 mile races. Somehow I got talked into running the Ice Age Trail 50 miler in May of 1996. It was a really hot day – in the upper 80s. I ran the first 25 miles in 4 1/2 hours, then realized that I needed to slow down if I hoped to finish. My friend Dave Taylor and I stuck together from then on, fell asleep at an aid station, and woke to someone saying “so, you decided to call it a day?” We went on, walking almost all of the last 15 miles, and finished in 11 hours and 29 minutes. On a day when fewer than half the starters finished, we felt like it was a victory.
I ran a few more ultras over the next two years, but not another 50 miler. In my 30s I had back troubles and then young children, and I stopped running for about 8 years. In 2009 I started again, and have been running ever since, including parts of the Tussey Mountainback 50 mile relay with my friends the Tardigrades each of the last four years. The relay starts in waves, the first an hour after the ultramarathoners, and so we passed several as the day wore on. I was always impressed by them and hoped that one day I might be among them. This spring I ran the World’s End 50K, my first race longer than a half marathon in 16 years. That went so well I began to think about 50 miles. My long runs got longer, up to 20 miles. I ran another 50K, the Susquehanna Ultrarun, in September. Both of those 50Ks were on steep and rocky trails and were a lot slower than I expected Tussey to be.
So I signed up. When asked about my goals, I said under 10 hours (12 minute pace) would be OK, under 9 hours (10:48 pace) would be a good day, and under 8 hours (9:36 pace) would be fantastic, the best I could imagine. As the training went on, and went well, though, my goals began to creep lower (that is, higher). I wondered if 9-minute pace (7 1/2 hours) was possible. I wondered what it would take to be top 10 this year. I wondered many things I had no business wondering. Then 4 days before the race I got a sore throat. The next day it was a runny nose, the following day it was a plugged nose, and the next day it was a cough. Perhaps it was a needed reminder that just finishing healthy would be a good goal.
We spent the night before at Heidi and Jim’s, had yummy beans and rice, and I went to bed early as the others went out to hear music. I got up Sunday morning at 5 to make what has become my standard pre-long run breakfast: two tortillas filled with three scrambled eggs (total, not in each), cheese, and salsa. I drove over to Tussey Mountain, checked in, and went back to the car to drink mate and listen to the reggae. Some years it has been cold cold, but this time it was pleasant. About 20 minutes before the start it began raining, but it stopped ten minutes later. I wore short sleeves and shorts and a camelbak with a red solo cup (for water stops) clothespinned to the back.
Soon enough the race started and we were off in the dark. I really enjoyed this – I didn’t have a headlamp, but the predawn light was enough – and was sorry when it felt like full day only 2 miles in. I cruised through the first mile in 9:15, then up the hill in a little over 10 minutes per mile for the second and third, talking with John and Eric, the former an experienced ultra guy, the latter a first-timer at 50 miles. Conversations naturally happen during long races, and when I was asked if this was my first 50 miler, I felt I had to say no, but the last one was so long ago that it’s like it was in another lifetime. At the top of the hill I went right by the first aid station and down the other side. A nature break made mile 4 a little slow, but the next seven were all low to mid 8’s. I had lost John and Eric at the nature break, but I could see them ahead, and I ran for a time with a woman who had run 8:06 at the JFK 50 last year and was hoping to go faster. I had a banana and some Heed (an electrolyte replacement drink) at the next two aid stations and focused on being smooth and effortless. My knee hurt a little bit, and I wondered if I should slow down, but it seemed like that would only mean more time on my feet.
In mile 12 comes the first uphill in quite a while. I found myself back with John & Eric enjoying hearing conversation but also wanting to go just a little faster, so I eased ahead. Mile 15 also had a hill, but somehow these early hills didn’t seem so bad – I ran mile 12 in 9:22, mile 15 in 10:17. Mile 18 was in 7:50, the fastest of the day, and I reached 20 miles in 2:56, sub-9-minute pace. I began to wonder if the 7:30 finish was possible, but I knew there was a lot of running still to go.
Also, a 3-mile long hill ahead. I alternated running and power-hiking, taking 38 minutes for those three miles. Suddenly I was thinking about reaching halfway and counting how much of the course was gone and how much to go. I reached 25 miles in 3:54, having covered 5 miles in 58 minutes. I was passed by a few people and re-passed a few before the top. I would say that this is the stretch during which things went from being a breeze to being a grind. At 25 I told myself if I could run 25 more in 4:06 (just under 10 min pace) I would have the 8 hour finish I considered so good, but I already knew that doing the second half just 12 minutes slower than the first would be tough. So I told myself that getting to 30 would certainly make the finish seem nearer.
The Garmin battery had died by now (it doesn’t seem to make it past 4 hours) and I was going just on the stopwatch and the mile markers along the way. I told myself I was starting a new 25 mile race, but I don’t think that bit of self-coaching really worked. Between 25 and 30 I was up in the clouds, with occasional clearings and beautiful views. The late 20s had some of those quad-banging downhills that I remember from the relays – they seem too steep to really make use of. I hit 30 miles in 4:40 (46 minutes for the last 5 miles, much better than the previous 5), meaning exactly 10 minute pace from there on out would get me the 8 hour finish.
The next miles were tough, though, with some uphills, though none of them that big. I really was feeling fatigue, the 15+ miles left seemed like a long way, and I felt that if I wasn’t careful things could go really wrong. I calculated how badly I could crash and still break 9 hours. I had been careful all day to drink (water from the camelbak and heed and defizzed Coke at the aid stations). The solo cup meant I could walk off with a cup of drink and not worry about what to do with it 100 yards down the road. I ate more bananas, some pb&j sandwiches, 3 skittles, and some pretzels.
At 36 miles I managed to pull myself back together. The last six miles had taken 64 minutes, I again needed sub-10 pace to get under the 8 hours, and so I recommitted myself to that goal. At 35 miles I had learned that I was approximately 15th overall, and that boosted my spirits as well. Ever since I had left John and Eric at mile 11, I had passed and been passed but not found anyone going roughly my speed, so I had run alone. I was again trying to run under 10 minute miles – 14 miles in 136 minutes, I told myself, and a mile later, 13 miles in 127 minutes, and a mile later, 12 miles in 119 minutes. I had passed 37.5 miles in an estimated 5:57, still at sub-8 hour pace, though I knew I had lost time.
At this point I should say just how helpful the aid stations were, as much for the cheering as for the provisions. By the second half of the race a number of relay teams had caught me, and so there were lots of others waiting and cheering at stations. Relay folks were also really encouraging when they passed me in their vehicles.
I hit 40 miles in 6:20, right on 9:30 per mile pace, leaving me 100 minutes to do 10 miles. Was that possible? The miles were still clicking by in 9 or 10 minutes (I wasn’t remembering the seconds at this point), but I was feeling pretty wrung out. I took an energy gel, my second in a row, at aid station 10 with 9.5 miles to go. Between 41 and 42 I passed another ultra runner, the first in a long time, who was looking pretty ragged. At 42 I was actually ahead of schedule – 81 minutes left to go 8 miles – but then another wave of fatigue, along with leg soreness, hit me. I began walking all the uphills, no matter how steep they were. An ultra runner went by at what seemed like 6 minute pace. Two eleven minute miles put me at 44 miles in 7:01, and I remembered that twenty miles ago I had told myself that if I got to 44 miles in seven hours, surely I could push through that last 6 in 59 minutes. I felt the weight of the effort that I had made over the last 14 miles to hold 10 minute pace, and I thought it would be close – but doubtful.
In mile 45 that doubtful turned into impossible, as I hit the last steep and seemingly endless hill. I remembered driving this hill in the van last year, feeling sorry for Drue, who was running it. At least I didn’t have team members relying on me, and it was completely clear that it was time to walk. So I walked the whole thing, relatively quickly (in retrospect), finally reaching 45 thirteen minutes later. Now I needed to run 5 miles in 46 minutes, and that was out of the question. In addition, it was really hard to get back to running. With every step, I felt like my quads had been filled with iron rods – a feeling I remember well from the later miles at Boston, almost two decades before. I went to a regimen of 4 minutes running, 1 minute walking, interrupted by an automatic walk break (and reset of the clock) with any uphill.
At the last aid station I took an ibuprofen, a salt pill, and some more flat Coke, and walked up the hill. Another ultra guy went flying by me, and I was waiting for the one who came in to the aid station just after me, but he must’ve been feeling worse than I was, for I didn’t see him. I continued the 4min/1min routine, even with downhills – in fact, flat ground would have been better. I hit 46 miles in 7:26 – could I run 4 miles in 34 minutes? Of course not! – and 47 miles in 7:37 – 3 miles in 23 minutes? Even more clearly not! – and 48 miles in 7:47 – 2 miles in 13 minutes? Why do you even ask? I was wondering if I could gather my strength to run the entire last mile, or if I should time the walk break to not come at the very end. I wasn’t feeling any of the hoped-for adrenaline rush of finishing, either.
Approaching the 49-mile mark, I hear cheering, and saw Heidi (for those not in the know, Heidi is my cousin, who has run this as a relay many times) and Anna (she’s our 13-year-old daughter) waiting for me. Heidi was very happy to see me and said that Anna wanted to run it in with me. That decided it – I would run the last mile. 49 had come in 7:57. Anna was barefoot – she often is – and having her along certainly made it easier to keep running. She was considerate about not pushing the pace, but it may be the first time I have worked so hard to stay with her. With a quarter mile to go, I looked behind me and saw no one coming, so we calmly made the last turn and I kicked it in (relatively speaking). I finished in 8:05:55. Given how long I had been making that push for 8 flat and how tired I had been at mile 30, I think I held it together pretty well. The last 5 miles (more downhill than up) took 52 minutes; the 5 before that (including that long long hill) took 54.
There were 96 signed up, 86 actual starters (I’m told) and 74 finishers. I was 14th, 10th male and 3rd male master, 2nd in the 45-49 age group – 1st place was 7 minutes ahead of me, and I think that was the guy that flew by with about 4 miles to go. I felt tired and somewhat beat up, but not terribly so. Going down stairs was rough for a few days, but I ran 2 miles two days later, 3 miles the day after that, and was soon running normal mileage. If I picked it up, though, I could feel lingering tightness and soreness, especially in the quadriceps.
What did I think about during the run? I’ve really enjoyed my long runs this fall – they have felt a bit like meditation, or like Quaker meeting for worship. Running seems to set my mind loose, and I was curious about where it would go with all this time. Perhaps for that reason I shied away from running in any of the packs I met along the way. It turns out my mind was busy, though, thinking about logistics – what body parts felt OK, where any fatigue or soreness was, how my hydration and fueling was, what my pace was and projected finish time under various scenarios. In the later miles it turned to self-coaching, to just keeping the wheels turning, to reminders of how far I had gone and what percent was left, and how good it would feel to be done and have a warm bath and a cold beer.
How do I feel about it? Well, 7:59:59 would have made me ecstatic, overjoyed, you name it. 8:05:55? I am really close to ecstatic. I can imagine many things that could have gone wrong – dehydration, bonking from insufficient fueling, chafing, blisters (I had a three, but not terrible ones), injury, stomach issues, bear attacks – that didn’t. And I didn’t have to decide between finishing and saving my body from injury. I am well pleased.
What next? Well, Run for the Diamonds on Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps another ultra in the spring. And then a year in Peru, and I don’t have any idea what effect that will have on my running routine. 2015 has been an experiment in more mileage and longer races. Leticia has been really supportive, and I seem to be a little wiser in my 40s than I was in my 20s. It has gone very well.