During his first full day in Bolivia, Rotary Youth Exchange student Brock Bastian took a wild car ride to Muela del Diablo (the Devil’s Molar), a giant rock near La Paz — not an introduction for the faint of heart.
And though this courageous Oak Ridge High School student did have that “what did I get myself into” moment, he took this adventure and the many more to come in stride. For nearly 10 months Brock, 17, lived and attended school in Oruro, Bolivia, meeting new friends and polishing those Spanish skills.
“Sometimes I’m still thinking in Spanish,” he confessed after a recent presentation to the Rotary Club of El Dorado Hills, his sponsoring club.
Bolivia is situated in South America, sharing its western border with Peru and Chile, its northern and eastern border with Brazil and its southern border with Paraguay and Argentina. Oruro, three hours south of La Paz, sits at a lofty 12,00 feet above sea level and is home to about 250,000 people. Mining — tin, silver and copper — drives the area’s economy.
Though a much larger city than El Dorado Hills, Brock said Oruro still had that small-town feel. “Everything you need is a 10-minute walk from where ever you are.”
Amenities included a new two-lane bowling alley and the Anglo American School, where Brock attended classes.
“Ironically, my first class was English,” he said.
Brock had 17 classes, including an entire class dedicated to morals. When he wasn’t hitting the libros (books), he played in the school band, sang in the choir and was in the running for Spring Festival king, representing his junior class — not bad for a kid whose red hair, light skin and long legs caught everyone’s attention where ever he went.
Brock also played sports — a big part of the school’s culture — and said, by far, his favorite school experience was participating in and attending the Juegos Anglistas, an olympic-style sports competition at school during which classes were suspended and every student not competing in the games was in the stands cheering on classmates. Brock won silver in the breaststroke and bronze in freestyle swimming. He also helped his junior class win gold on both basketball and volleyball.
Then came the soccer match, complete with a huge ceremony.
“It was a big deal,” Brock said.
That might be an understatement. The junior class beat the seniors, 9-6, leaving some of the upperclassmen in tears.
Outside of school, Brock, sometimes with his family (host and home) and other times with fellow exchange students, got to explore Bolivia and neighboring Peru. He visited an orphanage where the children were fascinated with his red hair and explored old missions and churches (one with mine access). A three-day, two-night river tour introduced Brock to some of the local creatures — ants, spiders, roaches, piranhas, dolphins and crocodiles — and he also got to experience part of the country’s prehistoric past in Sucre, where dinosaur fossils have been discovered.
Gaining a new perspective on things, Brock and exchange students also visited Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, more than 4,000 square miles, that, with the right amount of rain, also transforms into the world’s largest mirror. The area comes complete with a salt hotel where everything is made from, you guessed it, salt (except the mattresses).
Brock also experienced Carnaval de Oruro and said the ornate, handmade costumes were very impressive, as was the amount of foam sprayed at carnival-goers during the event.
Brock’s parents Bonnie and Stan Bastian, along with siblings Shaye, Alana, Cole and Callie, traveled to Peru and explored Machu Picchu. He also has three older brothers, Chase, Reese and Bryce.
What Brock said impressed him the most in Bolivia was the family and friends centered culture. Children went to the same school together until they graduated, schedules worked around family meal times and everyone was very friendly. Brock gladly joined them at the table, eating more varieties of potatoes and corn than he knew existed, plus a fried banana or two.
And though Bolivian meals were fantastic, Brock said his first stop after landing on American soil had to be In-and-Out Burger.