I have been in Bolivia for four days and I am very happy.
It was quite the journey getting here from Hawaii and the reception I received at the airport was overwhelming. I'm being treated like some kind of celebrity, but I don't feel like one.
Edwin Fernandez, who I am helping here with his junior golf program, had been telling golfers he knew that I was coming, but many didn’t believe him. I am here though, and Edwin has been posting images on social media, so many people have contacted him to congratulate him and to find out a little more.
There are only seven golf courses in Bolivia and less than 1% of the 10 million population are golfers. Edwin wants to change that and give local children the opportunity to learn the values golf teaches. He thinks it can give them a different direction in life.
Edwin and I are planning to visit a few of the golf courses to discuss junior golf. I would love to visit them all, but we will have to wait and see. Junior golf is unknown in Bolivia. There are no such thing as junior memberships or programs. Golf is considered a pastime for the elite only, so people who might like to play, cannot get access to facilities.
Edwin and I hope to change that.
I wrote last time that I've been lent both a car and an apartment during my stay. Roger, the pro at El Dorado Country Club, drove the route with me between the club and the apartment. He showed me the roads I needed to take, but at the time after travelling for 60 hours or so, I could only nod and say, “Si. Si. Si."
My first task in any country is get connected, so Roger stopped so I could pick up a SIM card. I was soon to find out I'd gotten the wrong one, as the connection continually dropped out, giving me nothing but trouble.
From there, Roger told me I needed to turn left, then follow the road until the billboard with, "El coche rojo" (the red car), then left again, then right, and on a side street was my apartment. Roger left me and said he would see me at the golf course tomorrow for 9 AM.
The next day, I was up and on the road by 8 AM. I'd left a bit earlier as I wasn’t really sure where I was supposed to go. I'd thought to use GPS maps on my phone, but the connection trouble meant it wasn’t operating. After driving for about ten minutes, I realised I hadn't closed the garage door of the apartment and debated turning back.
Turn back I did, but took a wrong turn and ended up in traffic gridlock next to a big local market. I sat in traffic for more than 40 minutes as I tried to will my phone GPS to work.
I took a few crazy turns - traffic here is a little like in India, but without the hundreds of millions of people. Lanes are more an "indication" of where to drive and the horn is a friend to many. I found you can pull up anywhere and stick your hazards on without confrontation. People just drive around you. The concept is horrifying to a newcomer, but just like the locals, I became accustomed very quickly.
Eventually I arrived at the golf course and was very happy with myself. I was 30 minutes late, but no one minded. First up was a short tournament with all the juniors. We broke into teams of four and played two holes. Thanks to a great putt from me on the first hole, our team won the tournament and each member won a new ball (kindly donated by Snell Golf Canada). The delight on the kids' faces was extraordinary.
Back home, there are some things you take for granted. Tees and balls certainly included. Not here though. Remember the juniors here only had the balls they could find in hazards, until of course Fairways shipped 250 range balls to them thanks to the kindness of Paul Koski. The children talked and talked at me. I could do naught but smile and tell them I didn’t understand. They were speaking very quickly and I couldn’t catch everything that was said. I hope I can ship the clubs in Calgary soon. The kids are still sharing Edwin's clubs.
Edwin, and two others who live nearby me, hitched a ride back to town. This time I was pleased to get home without a problem. Edwin went to a physio appointment, and I found, lamentably, that my fridge was not working. My butter and cheese were sweating and soft.
Edwin returned and we waited, chatting, as someone was supposed to be coming to fix the fridge. We talked in both Spanish and English, and every day I pick up a few new words. The repairer never came, so I headed to bed when Edwin left at 10:30 PM.
The next day, I was planning on staying in bed until my body wanted to wake up, but I crawled out of bed early in the hope that the fridge would be repaired. A couple of hours later, it was replaced, so once sorted I got everything together and headed to the golf club. I took a change of clothes as that evening, I had been invited to the 15th birthday party of Alexander, one of the juniors.
15 is a big birthday in Bolivia and there were dozens of people at the party. Edwin and I were the only non-family. I am not sure why, but everyone seemed to think I was a vegetarian. While everyone else got plastic plates loaded with a selection of meats, I was given two crockery plates, one with beans and cauliflower, and the other with corn and potato salads.
The food was delicious. Ale’s (Alexander's) stepfather jumped up and got me a plate of chicken when he realised I wasn't a vegetarian. Now I had three plates of food, but I did eat a lot of it, sharing the chicken with Ale and Edwin.
Ale is a great golfer who has aspirations of playing on the PGA TOUR. Edwin, who is a 7 handicap, realises that he cannot help him any further in his golf instruction. We discussed options, then I contacted David Bowlan, my golf guru in Canada. He had told me that if he can help out with any of the Fairways juniors, he would be happy to do it remotely. So that is what I am hoping to arrange.
Edwin and Roger would both like to get PGA certified, however as there are very few professional golfers in this country, they are not sure how to go about it. I told them I would reach out to my contacts and see what we can find out.
I had a long chat with a woman at the party. At first she was speaking so fast, I had to ask her to slow down. She did and I managed a half hour conversation in Spanish. I even understood 80%. After the cake, Edwin and I said our farewells, I dropped him off at the golf club and headed home. Driving at night is just another adventure altogether.
The next day and I was back to the golf club early. Edwin and I did have plans to head out to some ancient ruins - I can’t remember the name of the place - but after playing 18 we didn’t have time, so instead I headed home for a nap. That night I was going out with my golfing partners to a restaurant specialising in local food.
I had set my alarm, but accidentally set it for AM instead of PM, so I woke up only 10 minutes before I was being picked up. I checked my phone, but had no service again. I played with it while trying to dress a the same time. Once I got some service, I found Edwin had messaged me to say traffic was awful and could I meet him at the big roundabout on the Fourth Ring.
Santa Cruz is organised in rings. I am living in the Fourth Ring and we were having dinner in the Second Ring.
I jumped in the truck and headed off to meet them. Being a local traffic expert now, I just pulled over and activated my hazards on the edge of the roundabout until Edwin and Roger caught up.
We had a delicious meal of typical local Bolivian food. Rice with meat, roast plantain, salad, picante pollo, a rice and cheese dish, and roast yuca (also known as cassava).
Over dinner we had quite the discussion and brainstorming session about growing golf in Bolivia and making it accessible to all. We have planned a five day driving tour from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba to La Paz. On that trip, I want to find out more about golf in those areas while also checking out the beauty of Bolivia.
I do believe we are off to a wonderful start and I can’t wait to see what we can achieve. As always, please help to share our story.