Bolivia #2: Altitude and Attitude

We flew into La Paz at dawn, the Andes outlined in black, gold and blue. I could see stars through my window – and realized they were stars I had never seen before. The Andes and the southern hemisphere. I felt so small in comparison, deeply aware for a moment of the vastness of this planet I live on and of the greatness of God’ creative heart.

We touched down. As I gathered my belongings I began to feel the effects of landing at 14,000 feet. My breathing changed, my legs began to feel a bit disconnected, and my headache from travel started an uphill climb. I wondered if I would make it through immigration and customs without falling over. I tried the breathing my naturopath had suggested and pushed on.

Once we had purchased our tickets for Cochabamba, we went upstairs to a food court. There we could buy water ‘sin gas‘ (no bubbles), mate de coca, and bread. The coca tea is supposed to help with altitude, and the water is essential for hydration. Several of us headed to the bathroom, reminded that we could no longer drink water from the tap or flush toilet paper. As I sat in the stall, I could smell a certain smell from the bin by the toilet. This was going to be an adventure!

Within one hour, several on our team were feeling the altitude strongly. Nausea, headache, room spinning, and vomiting. It was challenging as a leader to pay attention to my own needs for hydration and sleep, while also needing to pay attention to the kids. We had a five hour lay over – I wondered how bad it would get.

I don’t do well with lack of sleep. I don’t do well with headaches or not being able to breathe well. I had a pulse oximeter with me, and my oxgyen level was in the mid-70’s instead of the upper 90’s where it should be. I just wanted to lie down and not get up for a long time.

Why did I say yes to this mission trip? I keep asking that question. Lord, what is Your purpose for me in being here? All I feel is physically incredibly challenged and very tired. I can’t seem to find any good-time feelings inside of me. And, honestly, I am a little scared – for the kids and for me.

Now is the time when whatever God has grown in me through past challenges is pulled out of my bag and put on the table. Trust – that He has me in the right place, in the right time, for the right reasons. Peace – that I am being held close and that nothing, not even the Andes, can separate me from God or His love. Strength – that I can put myself aside to care for others and can push as hard as I need to in order be present to my team.

My attitude can be anything I want it to be – my choice. Though I can’t breathe well, and I am putting toilet paper in the bin, and I am washing my hands with hand sanitizer, and someone is throwing up – my attitude is my choice. I choose to have a good one!

We boarded the final flight to Cochabamba and any fears I might have had about flying over the Andes were put aside. It’s a 30 minute flight on a shaky airplane over barren terrain. The flight attendants handed out boxes of cookies with the Pope’s picture on it. A double blessings – the Pope and cookies!

We got off the plane at our new altitude of 8200 feet and felt amazed at the difference in our breathing, headaches, nausea. We had survived four flights, over 24 hours of travel, and the challenges of 14,000 feet. We were on our way. I am grateful to God for getting me and the team through. We learned to lean on each other in new ways, and to respect our bodies’ needs. We are ready for the next challenge in our  journey.

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One thought on “Bolivia #2: Altitude and Attitude

  1. Hi Mary. I enjoyed this descriptive commentary. It is as I expected–challenging, but as you always do, you rise to the occasion. Speaking of descriptions that you do so well, I just met with my life-story couple, the ones who are writing the story of their romance. I keep trying to get them to add descriptions and color. It’s been a hard sell. Finally the 17-year-old daughter I have been encouraging them to listen to spoke up. She has edited the manuscript and is observant and smart.
    “You need to add more description,” she said. “What does beautiful mean? What does perfect mean?” I jumped on it, gave her the thumbs up, and by the end of our session they had agreed to work with their daughter as writing coach!! I’m now the consultant/editor/mentor. Anyway, I love your descriptions…and have looked forward to updates. Please some photos of the people.

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