WHO: Carol, 52, and David Steiner, 53, and son Jonathan, 20, of Boxborough
WHEN: Two weeks in December
WHY: To spend the holidays with their daughter, Erin, 23, who is in the Peace Corps.
OUTWARD BOUND: ''We were very excited to see where she was, and know more about the people," Carol said. ''Also, it's not a place that tourists go very often. We wanted to spend some time in her town, and also wanted to travel in Bolivia. She's encouraged to travel in the Peace Corps."
HIGHER GROUND: After flying into the administrative capital of La Paz, altitude 12,000 feet, the Steiners flew to Sucre, the country's judicial center. From there, they took a six-hour bus ride on mostly unpaved roads to Erin's rural village of Sopachuy, with about 1,500 residents. ''The bus was very old and very high off the ground," David said. Added Carol, ''The seats are assigned, but if you pay less, you can just sit in the aisles. Lots of people were going home for the holidays. There were old people, young people, lots of hugging, music. It was wonderful."
IN THE VILLAGE: ''We stayed in what would be called a boardinghouse," Carol said. ''The buildings were adobe mud, with a stucco surface. The three of us stayed in one room. Erin is working on a survey on what basic sanitation needs are and also helping to develop a women's shelter. We were introduced to many families; she has some very warm relationships with family members. One day, we went with about 30 people in two pickup trucks over crazy roads to the countryside. They had a big bucket of marinated meat and we had a tremendous barbecue."
HAPPY HOLIDAYS: ''We were there for Christmas Eve and Christmas," David said. ''In the town plaza, they had candles in soda bottles hanging in the trees. People with musical instruments would do line dancing and sing traditional songs. They're called 'comparte,' and you needed a comparte to do these dances. You'd go with your comparte into their home and do the dancing and drinking. They drink a locally fermented corn called 'chicha.' Part of the celebration is to share it with Pachamama, a Quechua term for earth mother. You pour a little chicha on the ground. You drink. You pour a little more on the ground . . ."
ROAD TRIP: After the holidays, the whole family went on a four-day guided tour. ''We went to Potosi, a silver-mining region, with a mining museum and mint," Carol said. ''We had lunch on top of the restaurant because all the power went out inside. In Bolivia, power and phone service is very irregular."
HIGHLY SEASONED: ''We spent a full day driving on the Salar de Uyuni, hundreds of miles of salt plains," David said. ''Water was there millions of years ago. The salt plain was 50 feet thick. It's the largest in the world." Said Carol, ''A lot of people get lost out there. The cloud cover is too thick to use a GPS, and on a rainy day, the tracks are gone in seconds." They stayed in a village where electricity was limited to three hours a night. ''Before a rainstorm, we watched men drive llamas into their pens," Carol said. ''You really knew you were in Bolivia. We also went to Laguna Colorada, a beautiful lakes region, filled with many minerals, stuff you don't want anywhere near your body. We saw thousands and thousands of flamingos, bright pink because of red algae."
AUTO-PRAYER: Before leaving from La Paz, they went to Lake Titicaca with a family friend. ''The highlight of this was on the way, we went to a church in Copacabana where the priests will come and bless your vehicle," said David. That involves decorating the car with flowers, colorful paper, and religious icons; burning incense; lighting firecrackers; and pouring and drinking beer.