I’m home! And the first thing I did when I got to Miami, other than run like mad for my next flight, was enjoy a large cup of soft serve yogurt (without worrying about the dairy source) and three fluff magazines (Us Weekly, Oprah, Real Simple. No more Us Weekly for me. I don‚Äôt care that Jessica Simpson got dumped by John Mayer. What a waste of my money.) Then I sat myself in front of Wolf Blitzer for a few moments of the CNN scroll before being herded on to the next air bus. Ms. USA, I know I bash you from time to time, but the truth is, I love you. Your customer service; your kindness toward providing me clean drinking water, from the tap, for free; your racial diversity; your religious diversity; your sexual equality that allows me to wear shorts without being a deviant. How I’ve missed thee, land that I love.

Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador are three countries smashed together geographically, like children in the back of a station wagon on family vacation who simply cannot wait to get out and tell you exactly how they are different from each other. When you study their faces, you see they are more alike than they’d like to admit. However, their interests and talents vary.
My favorite: Bolivia. Granted, I spent the most time in this country and I made true friendships with my coworkers, but I think any budget traveler just passing through would appreciate the country’s friendliness, cleanliness and ease of travel. I started my adventures with a volunteer surgical team from the US that was providing free surgeries to those in outlying regions. I got to sit in and help. The first stop was Entre Rios, a rural farming community four hours from Tarija, Bolivia, in the southern portion of the country. People in this area grow potatoes (said to be natively from Bolivia. They have more than 200 varieties in most major markets), corn, beans, peanuts and of course, the popular coca leaf.

boy, yellow shirt, Entre Rios drive

It is always the children I fall in love with. They are curious, friendly and sweet. This little boy lived in a small thatch roof home off a dirt road between Tarija and Entre Rios, Bolivia. His father is a rock carver. While the people I was traveling with stopped to admire the father’s artistry, I passed out candy to his children.

Woman, Entre Rios, waiting for surgery

Isn’t she beautiful? Her hat and wool shawl are typical clothing for indigenous women in Bolivia. She was at the hospital waiting to see if we could provide her with a hernia repair. We did. I have all my stories mixed up at this point, but most of the patients walked for more than 12 hours, in pain I cannot imagine, to seek out care.

trying to play doctorita, entre rios

The doctors at the hospital kept calling me “Doctorcita” and I didn’t correct them. It sounds nice and trying to explain “public health practitioner” in my native language is difficult enough. Here I am doing an initial interview with a couple seeking care. The woman had several hernias she needed repaired, including one from a c-section more than 20 years prior.

woman selling veggies -- love of Bolivia, Entre Rios

I enjoy finding and photographing the food markets when I travel. While the fruits and vegetables are typically the same regardless of where I visit — I chalk this up to proximity to the equator, ease of growth and globalization — the people are not. How great is this woman, with her long gray braids?

me and the peeps in front of the hospital

Several of the volunteer medical team, hanging out in front of the hospital. Do you see that little boy wedged between me and Patrick? He was filthy and kept coughing on me, but wouldn’t let me go. I wanted to give him a bath and put some vapo-rub on his chest. Alas, a peppermint was all I had to offer.

Thanks again for all of your support of my travels. I have had a wonderful month and am so happy to be home. I’ll be posting photos in bits for the next few weeks, including many happy shots of Polaroid Project and the Bolivian Bolsita project recipients. Off to catch up on all your blogs now!