The beginning of our journey to Yolosa began with a terrifying van ride through the mountainous rainforest of Bolivia. The famous Death Road is near here, popular with dirt bikers, but as far as we could tell, there was no difference between the Death Road and our 2 hour drive from La Paz to Yolosa.
This is what our drive looked like. For two hours. With a driver who went as fast as he possibly could.
We had booked five days at a hostel in Yolosa thinking it would be a restorative time. The description on AirBnb touted a wonderful, serene getaway and the reviews had us expecting a friendly host who would offer us meals and make bonfires for the guests at night.
When we arrived, we realized this really was in the middle of nowhere. Our hosts (clearly employed by the owner who does not live there) seemed completely confused, annoyed, and surprised at our arrival and spoke a rural sort of Spanish that we couldn’t understand at all. The place was deserted. Every room covered in bugs. Dirty towels were given to us and the sheets on the bed were ripped. We were frustrated, angry, and disappointed. We call it “Yolosa” but really Yolosa is a 15 min walk down a narrow dirt road, flooded out in places, from where we stayed. It consisted of five outdoor “restaurants” (people just open their front door and cook for you if you ask), two outdoor bars, one zip lining company, and a smattering of people who sell candy and soda.
The entirety of Yolosa.
Breakfast in Yolosa.
This bud joined us for breakfast, too.
After we arrived at our hostel and realized this would be way different from our expectations, we found the one restaurant within 20 miles and shared a bottle of wine in beer mugs while we decided to stick it out at least one more day. And by restaurant, we mean you walk in and someone tells you “we have pasta with red sauce or pasta with pesto. What do you want?”. But we had a nice surprise here, too. We heard birds nearby and went out to look.
This truly characterizes this strange place: a lot of disappointment and frustration but some really cool moments, too.
They let us get so close!
We were planning on cooking most of our meals at the hostel since it advertised two kitchens. However, there was nowhere to buy groceries unless we hitchhiked 20 miles and the kitchens, when we weren’t locked out of them, were home to ants, roaches, and maggots. We spent one hungry night eating a few cookies for dinner because our hosts locked us out of the kitchens again. Our first night, we cooked plain pasta for dinner because we couldn’t even find somewhere to buy butter. Yum.
Waiting for the pasta to cook. Beautiful but remote and deserted.
After our plain pasta dinner, we started getting ready for bed because it was getting dark fast. Our shared bathroom wasn’t attached to our room (but did have walls covered in insects. Nice!), so we loaded our arms up with towels and soap and toothbrushes and headed across the deck. That’s when Nate locked us out of our room. There was not another human being for miles. We were stuck in the dark rainforest of Bolivia, already so disappointed and still hungry from our light dinner. With no idea when our hosts would return from their errands, no light, no jackets, and bats flapping right above our heads, we prayed.
Moments (seriously, moments) later, a white box truck pulled up and two men got out. I began a conversation with them in Spanish trying to explain that our keys were in our room and one answered us in English! Whew! He called the host for us who said he’d return soon to help us out. In the meantime, these guys invited us into their room for a cup of tea. Just what our souls needed.
We learned that Moises is a doctor who works in this rural area doing house calls but dreams of having his own clinic. Since he works with such a poor population, he accepts “goods” for his services instead of cash, and since most people farm or at least have fruit on their property, medical care is much more available to them through Moises than any other channel. Roberto is from Spain and hired by the German church who supports Moises as an engineer to oversee the building of the small clinic. Yes, they are both believers.
They expressed frustration at how slow the building process was going. They can’t find men to work construction because coca farming for cocaine is so much more profitable. We offered to help, hoping that our eight summers of construction work in the Dominican Republic would come in handy.
Nate and I dug a drainage ditch in the afternoon.
It did. We spent the entire next day working alongside their “crew” of two men.
Nate and Moises breaking apart a particularly stubborn rock.
Back-breaking work but not a bad view.
Roberto and Moises gave us a “tour” of the property, including the abundance of fruit trees (coffee and cocoa, too!) and fed us an incredible lunch. We truly felt like we earned our meal that day! I also peppered Moises with questions about the health issues in the area. Some nasty mosquito-borne illnesses are very prevalent as is tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is treatable, but with several antibiotics over at least a year and a half and most people can’t adhere to the regimen. When your family is starving or your livelihood depends on how much coca you can dry and sell that day, taking your pills isn’t always the first priority.
Eating postre after lunch with Roberto outside of Moises’ current one-room, dirt floor home.
Moises hosting lunch in his house, explaining about the rodent skull he found nearby.
Roberto showing us how to peel and prepare coffee beans. Did you know their shell is edible raw?
We’ve been pretty frustrated in our search for volunteer work during our travels. I had no idea what an industry international volunteering really is. Organizations will charge thousands of dollars for the chance to hold beautiful brown babies at orphanages and go on excursions in the evening for a week. I know there are overhead costs to be met in any organization and that volunteer coordination takes time and effort, but we have reached out to numerous organizations and filled out applications offering everything from website or database development, communications consulting, or even just cleaning or data entry, and something thwarts us every time. So having the opportunity to be a part of making medical care available for people in this rural area was exactly what we had been praying for.
Of course, as usual, we found a tarantula and everyone wanted to see. (This is pretty common in the DR). We truly saw a glimpse of Moises’ heart when he vehemently opposed killing it.
Checking out the tarantula.
We are excited to stay in touch with Moises and continue following the development of his clinic. He currently lives on the property in a one-room house with a dirt floor. He sleeps in a sleeping bag and his bathroom is the bushes. The one perk of his property is fresh water. We were a little nervous to drink it once our bottle of sanitized water ran out, but since it is so high up in the mountains, there is nothing to contaminate it; his is the first property near the top of the mountain. Plus, he’s a doctor and he said it was ok. It was delicious! But knowing that freezing water from a spout is what he uses to shower, and observing all the daily comforts he goes without in order to better serve his community, I couldn’t help but be inspired by Moises. The first night we met, he came right out and said, “You know, sometimes I get depressed. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time. But helping people makes me feel better. And I’ve been given so much. I could never, never repay God any amount of what he’s given me. So I do it.”
What an honor it was to spend a few days with Moises and Roberto and be a part of the incredible story they are crafting in the dusty mountainsides of rural Bolivia.
We ultimately decided to leave Yolosa early because of our unfortunate lodging situation and lack of food in the area, but we’re thankful we had this frustrating but serendipitous experience. Now, after a week recuperating in La Paz, we are off to Copacabana tomorrow to spend a few days on the highest lake in the world.