Another adventure. This one involving a ride in a taxi trufi to an unfamiliar area “off the beaten path.” (I now have a clearer vision of just what that term means.)
Since arriving in Cochabamba, I’ve been wanting to visit my Bolivian friend, Maria Laura, a tía (auntie) at the Villa Amistad for children. I met Maria Laura back in November when I visited Amistad and I have been praying for and writing to her ever since. Seeing her was at the top of my list during my six-week stay, but so far, I’d been unsuccessful.
In the first place, getting to Amistad isn’t exactly easy. Although public transportation in Cochabamba is cheap and easy to use, with buses, taxis, and taxi trufis (sort of like an old van or VW bus) running constantly throughout the city, there’s only one taxi trufi you can take to the outskirts where Amistad is located. Taxi trufi #119. And it doesn’t run very often. Apparently not many people travel in that direction.
I discovered this the first time I tried to take #119. As I waited and waited and waited on the main Avenida Simon Lopez, taxi trufis bearing every number BUT #119 passed by: 101, 123, 120, 118, 19. Their numbers just close enough to #119 to instill both hope and frustration in me as the sun beat down on my unprotected head. Within seconds of each other, taxi trufis with the same number passed by, only adding to my frustration. I finally gave up and took a taxi — a lot more expensive than the 2 Bolivianos a taxi trufi requires, but, hey, I wanted to get there sometime that day.
Maria Laura was not at Amistad that afternoon. But at least I got to play with the children. And I discovered that taxi trufi #119 really does exist because I took it back to the city. The key, apparently, is to have patience and perseverance.
On my second attempt, I was ready. Armed with the knowledge of how #119 operated, I waited patiently as, once again, what seemed like hundreds of other taxi trufis zoomed by. Finally, #119 appeared. I stuck out my arm and waved it down like an experienced Cochabambina. But Maria Laura was not at Amistad that afternoon either. She’d had to accompany a child to the hospital.
You might think my third attempt was the charm. And it was. But not without incident.
On the Saturday morning before Easter I tried calling the Amistad office to let them know I was coming. Nobody answered. I decided to go anyway.
This time #119 came relatively quickly. A good sign, I thought. But the rickety van was nearly full, requiring me to sit behind the driver facing backwards. We soon veered off the main avenida and headed up the rocky dirt roads I’d come to recognize. As we drove along, I kept turning my head to watch for the Villa Amistad sign. It wasn’t until the driver parked under the shade of a lone tree and turned off the motor that I realized I’d missed my stop. He put his hand out, waiting for his 2 Bolivianos, expecting me to get out of his van.
“Do you know the Villa Amistad?” I asked him in my best Spanish. He did not.
“Do you know the name of the street it’s on?” he asked me. I did not.
He said some thing else in Spanish, and I knew I had to get out. I stepped onto this dirt road in the middle of who knows where, with no idea of how to walk to Amistad from there. Was I concerned? Just a little bit.
Then this woman in a white sombrero with black braids and missing teeth ventured over. Somehow she knew I didn’t belong here. When I asked if she knew the Villa Amistad, which, of course, she didn’t, another driver overheard, and called out to me.
I finally make it to Amistad only to find that the guard at the gate won’t let me in. I’m not expected after all. And it’s Saturday, so the administrative staff isn’t working.
“You need to call the director on your cellular,” he says.
“I don’t have a cell phone,” I tell him.
He can’t let me in.
Then this little angel appears. Madelyn, one of the young girls who lives at Amistad and knows me from previous visits, saunters by, and I call out to her. She explains to the guard that she knows me and that it’s OK for me to see Maria Laura. He agrees to retrieve my friend and bring her to me.
What followed turned out to be my best Easter gift. Maria Laura met me at the gate. I got to embrace my friend. Touch her. See her eyes smile back at me. Ask about her health. Share some simple but precious words.
It lasted maybe 15 minutes. And then I turned and headed back down the rocky road to wait for taxi trufi #119. My heart full of joy. And fully aware of the gift I’d just been given to culminate Semana Santa in Bolivia.