After a fantastic week at the Sony Open in Hawaii, it was time for Bolivia!
I had to fly from Honolulu to New York, then on to Lima before the final leg to Santa Cruz. All up about 40 hours travelling including layovers.
I was due to arrive at 4.15am and Edwin Fernandez, my Bolivian contact, had told me that the kids in his program wanted to come to the airport to meet me too. I said it was far too early for them, but he said they were insistent.
About an hour from Santa Cruz, the plane was told we couldn’t land due to fog, so we were diverted to La Paz to hang out on the tarmac until it cleared. Around two hours later we got underway again, and it looked like the flight would arrive five-and-a-half hours later than scheduled. I hoped Edwin had checked the flight delays.
He had not. At the airport, the parents tried to encourage the kids to go home for a few hours, but they wanted to stay. It was six hours before I arrived.
As my bag was being inspected by Customs, the exit doors kept opening and I could see quite a few people excited to greet their loved ones. It made me smile.
When I came through the doors with all my gear, a huge roar went up with delighted shouts of, "Tiffany! Bienvenido de Bolivia!" and a spontaneous round of applause. I was engulfed by a sea of people. My luggage was whisked away by a gentleman who took a bag in each hand, while meantime my hands were being clasped and I was being hugged around the legs and the waist by the kids.
It was a wonderful way to arrive, however, I hope they understand I am nobody special. Just a girl who took up golf and loved it. (Ed. Er, Tiff, how many people have gone to Bolivia to help them...?)
Outside the airport we were asked to stop while a multitude of photos were taken before another round of applause. Edwin told me he is so very, very happy and all his dreams have come true.
Next I was driven to El Dorado, on the way trying to think and converse in my mediocre Spanish. Roger, the pro at the course, was driving a full car, with Edwin and two girls in the back seat. My luggage was in the tray and another six or so children sitting with it. I was told that the car we were driving in was mine to use for the rest of my stay!
The girls in the back seat kept snapping my photo as we drove and when we arrived I was introduced to the greenkeeper before being ushered into the office. Next I was introduced to every child, each coming up for a handshake and a photo with an oversize frame they had specially made with my name on it. I was given a statue of the Virgin Mary and a gourd that had been specially made also with my name on it.
I was overwhelmed with the generosity and could do nothing but smile at the delighted kids. The adults were very happy too and I was introduced to them as well.
Edwin had created a Powerpoint presentation of how Fairways and Bolivia had come to be. Of his sister, Yvonne, passing on my contact details, of our online conversations, to the practice balls we shipped, and photos of the children hitting them.
I just hope we can get the donated clubs that are currently sitting in Calgary shipped. It would be fantastic to see the pleasure on the juniors' faces if they could arrive before I leave.
After the presentation, Edwin said the parents had made everyone breakfast so we all had some delicious pineapple, bananas, cheese toasties and these little bread cakes with cheese in them that are unique to Santa Cruz.
What a welcome!
I've also been invited to a birthday party, as one of the juniors, (I think his name is Alejandro – I did meet a lot of people), turns 15. Apparently fifteenth birthdays are big in Bolivia.
Not to mention there will be a Fairways Fund golf tournament that all the children will be playing, and funnily enough they all want to be on my team.
It was then off to the apartment that I am staying in. The owner of El Dorado, in addition to the car, has made an apartment available to me for the duration of my stay. I can't believe it!
The apartment building is not quite complete. I'm currently the only one in the building. If all the tradesmen were here to finish it would be done in a week. However, in the meantime, I've been given a fridge, a washer, a bed, a chair, linen and kitchen utensils so I will be very comfortable here.
I picked up groceries, got connected and then waited as a few little things in the apartment needed attention. After a bit I went out again to pick up some knives and pans to cook with. They even have gas connected, so I'm delighted to be cooking with gas.
After the repair guy left I finally got a chance to wash away the 60 plus hours of grime I'd accumulated since I left Hawaii.
It was quite a whirlwind first day.