August 8, 2016

BLOG: Buckeyes in Bolivia


Aug. 7, 2016

Soles4Souls Student-Athlete Blogs

Anna Kirk | Matt Mendez | Sade Olatoye | Kyle McKinney | Andrea Ballinger

Bridget Vilbig | Josh Wick | Jalen Washington | Chelsea Harpool | Matt Smidt

LA PAZ, Bolivia –
Student-athletes will be providing blog entries throughout the Ohio State-Soles4Souls trip to South America. Check back as the week progresses to learn all about the Buckeye adventure.

August 7, Travel Day
Bolivia here we come! Being in small group of about 12 is still a big number when it comes to traveling internationally. So many different ideas have been thrown out of what Bolivia is like, but let’s be honest, none of us have been there before. The biggest thing we all have in common for this trip is being nervous for the unexpected. We all have different travel backgrounds, but none of us have any idea of what to expect in Bolivia.

We have all been told to put on our “flexible pants” and within the first few hours, our flight was delayed and we have come to realize we like to wait until the very last second and weight out all of our options (never a bad thing). Being flexible is going to be a common trend for this trip because of all the unexpected thing that we encounter. This is one of the things I look forward too.

The unexpected is something I personally expect. Not knowing what is coming or when it comes is such a blessing. I am excited for this trip because it is a chance to go out and experience the world, to see an underdeveloped country and see how I can help. How can I impact someone’s life in a positive way? I am thrilled to see the positive impact we all leave on those children and families when we give them such a little thing, shoes. We often take things for granted like shoes, and I am ready to accept the privilege we have in the United States.

Anna Kirk

WE FINALLY MADE IT! We landed in La Paz at about five in the morning. Thankfully there is no time change from Bolivia and Ohio. Let me tell you, altitude sickness hit all of us hard. We figured we are all athletes and could lug our bags up two flights of stairs unassisted. Let’s just say we all felt like we had already ran our run test because we were so out of breath! The altitude is just one of many adjustments we will have to make here on this trip.

Keep following along for day-to-day updates from my fellow teammates here in Bolivia.

Adios amigos 🙂

–Anna Kirk, softball


August 8, Day Two, First Shoe Distribution
Upon our arrival in Bolivia we were greatly surprised by this country’s altitude. We barely made it up the steps to the Tinka Hotel as were all trying to adjust to the thin air. After eating some breakfast and taking a quick nap, we explored around in the city of La Paz. We captured breathtaking photos while utilizing the cable car routes that stretch up and across the city.

Next, we had a big lunch at La Oreja Negra. We then travelled back to the hotel to freshen up and get ready for our first shoe distribution. When we arrived at the school, we were happily greeted by the faculty and staff as we began to set up and organize all of the shoes within the church. Once the children settled into the pews, we learned a little bit about them and the history of their country. Afterwards, we all said a prayer and went straight to work. We divided the word in four stations: sizing, washing, running and fitting.

The first shoe distribution was a success, supporting 90 kids in total. It was definitely a surreal moment benefitting these children’s lives as it put a smile on my face. I am very humbled by this experience as it makes me realize how fortunate I am in my life. Also, one thing that really amazed me was the amount of teamwork we had already developed with our group. It was great to see how ten student-athletes, each from different sports, could come together and efficiently perform at each station. Even when problems would arise, we would adapt and find a way to alleviate the situation.

We said our goodbyes to the kids and made our way to dinner. We concluded our evening at La Tranquera, which is known for their excellent `chorizo steak.’ I cannot wait to make more memories with these people over the next week

–Matt Mendez, men’s tennis

As we finally started waking up, after our six-hour flight and shenanigans from the day before, we were more than excited when we heard the pilot’s voice that we were approaching our destination. We grabbed our carry-ons, attempted to stretch our legs and said, “Adios!” to the flight attendants. As soon as we got out of our gate we walked straight into customs! As we rummaged through our belongings we took out our passports and customs forms in order to be prepared for the customs agent. The line was a bit lengthy, but we passed through and went straight to baggage claim, collected our bags and finally exited the airport.

As soon as we got outside I took out my Go Pro and took a group selfie. You can never forget about the selfies. We met Carlos, one of our leaders and guides for our trip. We loaded our bus at 6 a.m., from the highest altitude airport in the world, and started our drive to our hotel – Tinka Bed and breakfast. As we drove along we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunrises ever! Our drive was roughly 30 minutes which was nice, because at this point I was ready to do some yoga and get my stretch on. But we spoke to soon because the altitude started to hit us when we stepped back off the bus! We climbed two flight of stairs, which seemed like 20 flights, to get to the entrance of the hotel. We were exhausted, mentally and physically. We ate breakfast, got checked in and shortly after departed the hotel to view a bit of the city.

While receiving a short tour of the city of La Paz our tour guides Elena, that we just met, and Carlos decided to take us on the Teleferico. The Teleferico is a public transpiration system that is in South America, but famous for being in Bolivia, and it simulates a ski lift but can seat up to 8-10 people. While on the Teleferico we were able to see the North side of the city. After our tour we went to a traditional French/Bolivian restaurant , La Oveja Negra, and had a nice meal before we headed off to our first distribution.

En route to distribution No. q, we met our camera guy, Matthew, as he documented every single thing we did. The city is so vibrant seeing so many people in their traditional attire heading to work and performing their daily tasks.

When we finally arrived at distribution we met the staff at the church and started organizing the shows according to size. We really worked as a team as we communicated what needed to be where. It was great. After we finished organizing, everyone was added to a specific job group for when the kids came. We had the sizers, the feet washers, the shoe fitters and the runners. When the kids came in you could see their faces light up the minute they saw us; we spoke Spanish with them while we helped size them and learned about them and their life’s. Some of the kid’s situations were very bad, but it was amazing that they could still put a smile on their cute little faces because they knew that there was more to just getting shoes; they know that people care for them and want them to better their life’s. That’s what these small acts of kindness do for these kids.

It’s heart warming giving back to people who need it. The distribution group was small, but it was also helpful in allowing us to adjust to the job positions. After we were treated to apthapi, which was a small token of appreciation from the church. We were given coffee, pate which was a meat spread on bread, and hojas de coco tea, which helps with altitude. We thanked the church and headed over to another Teleferico to view the city at night. It was and breathtaking view. I brought my mini speaker along so we were jamming! It was a great time, but we were ready for bed at this point. We left, got some dinner and finally arrived back to the hotel! Thank goodness for wifi! We got resettled and repacked our bags for the next day because we were going to Corioco – our next destination for our next distribution! Day two was really amazing because we were able to connect with each other and reflected on our first distribution. We are so excited to see what the rest of the trip holds for us! For now CHAO!

–Sade Olatoye, women’s track & field

August 9, Day Three, Second Shoe Distribution
The second day started pretty early. It was almost like track season started up again waking up at 5:30 a.m. But all sleep wasn’t completely lost since we were able to make it up on the van for two hours. We left the busy city of La Paz for the small mountainous town of Coroico. We made a couple stops along the way, one consisting of seeing the Andes mountain range in Bolivia. The view was absolutely breathtaking, literally, but incredibly picturesque. The roads we used to get there were along the mountain and there were curves and turns like no other! One other stop we made before reaching Coroico was the famous “la Calle de Muerte” or the road of death. This trail is known to be incredibly dangerous and can be compared to the road less traveled. It’s sits along the mountain as a road but with no guard rail!

As we reached Coroico, we stopped in a little village which was said to be a part of Coroico where I saw Afro-Bolivianos in the country! Bolivia’s population mainly consists of indigenous peoples, mestizos, and whites. As a Black American it was such a sensational feeling seeing another man of color who looks just like you in a country where they make up such a small minority. Ethnic unity can truly transcend any border.

At last when we finally reached the school, the kids were all lined up in the gymnasium and incredibly elated to see us. Big smiles and laughter set the tone for this atmosphere. We were greeted by the school officials and students shared poems, jokes, and skits with us. It was such a great way to get to know the community. When it was time to work, we decided the tasks among each other and dispersed into our roles. Today I was in charge of fitting the shoes on the children. This role allowed me to talk with the kids in which I learned what their names were, their interests, and how old they were. The smiles were contagious and I gained such a strong sense of companionship thorough my volunteerism. You could immediately tell after the kids were given their shoes that it was more than just shoes it was hope for them. There’s people out here who truly care about them! My favorite part of our time with the kids was getting to play “fútbol” with them. You could truly tell how grateful they were and how much happiness we brought to them. I love the kids here as well as the atmosphere! Looking forward to the rest of this week!

Kyle McKinney, men’s track & field

Day three started very early: 5:15 a.m. to be exact. The good thing is we got a good night’s sleep at Hotel Tinka. It was delightful and I slept like a baby. Everyone was just so tired from the previous day. It felt like we had been in Bolivia for a week because we were so busy the first day. All we needed was a little rest and we were ready to go again.

Our third day in Bolivia began so early because we had to drive two and a half hours to Coroico for a shoe distribution. The drive to Coroico was quite frightening. We drove on the car pathway of Death Road, which is a very curvy road in the mountains that has a great view of a 4,000 foot drop just six inches from the tire wheel! There were a few times that I was genuinely afraid. The drivers were very good at their jobs and easily navigated the tricky roads. It was actually quite impressive. The other times I spent laughing at Cierra’s horrified reactions and Adam repeatedly wiping the fog off the windows in an unnecessary but comical attempt to help the driver not drive over the ledge. We stopped a couple of times to take group pictures along the ledges. The mountains were a beautiful backdrop to all of our photos. Photo time was very short as we had to continue our drive through Coroico. I thought the first half of the drive was bad, but boy was I wrong. The second half consisted of a single muddy, rocky pathway that led up and down the mountain. It seemed that at any moment the bus could hit one loose rock and we wound all go down. The village we were visiting was in an impoverished area. As a result, the roads cannot be paved and fixed because there is no way to pay for the labor or necessary materials. During the drive it began to rain which made everyone a bit more nervous, but Henry, our driver, seemed super calm. It was a relief when we finally got off the buses and headed to the distribution.

This distribution was a lot larger than the previous distribution. There were about 200 kids standing in lines waiting for us to arrive so they could start a welcome ceremony. A few performed impressive poems and a few other kids were a part of a very humorous skit. After the welcome ceremony we jumped right into the distribution. Things were a bit more chaotic today as there were a lot more kids and new additions to our team. Things started flowing smoothly once everyone got a hang of their stations. My main station was a sizer. I would help take off the kid’s socks and shoes, put their feet on a size chart and then write their size on their hand. Adam and I worked at this station together and switched off between sizing and writing the sizes on their hand. Some of the kids were so excited once they got their sizes that they would take off running to the fitting station before we wrote their sizes down. The shoe drive finished fairly quickly considering the amount of kids that showed up. Once we were finished cleaning up we could all go and socialize with the kids. A few played soccer and a few like myself just mingled with the kids. That’s my favorite part. Getting to talk to them and being able to find common ground. I love Spanish and I love kids so I was super excited when I got to just take a moment and get to know some of them. It was especially hard to leave the kids. I’m sure if we could, everyone would want to spend the entire day with them, but sadly we had to go check into our new hotel, meaning we had to drive back down the rocky mountain path.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to be on a highway than I was the moment our driver crossed from the rock path to the paved road. The rest of the drive went by pretty quickly. Our hotel for the day was absolutely beautiful. There was a pool and deck area complete with a ping pong table, pool table and foosball. You would think it would be a good idea to play with the table games, but instead we decided to play hacky sack. Now this was a fun idea until we started to track water from various puddles across the floor. I am a novice hacky sack player, very clumsy, and also standing on wet ground. As you may have guessed I fell … hard. As Chelsea Harpool said, “I’m pretty sure all of Bolivia heard you fall.” Apparently it was a rather graceful fall so that made me feel better about my clumsiness. We all have a good sense of humor so I (and everyone else) could just laugh it off. We soon after moved on to safer games like Uno while we finished waiting for our rooms. Eventually we all went to our rooms and soon it was time for dinner.

The dinner here was so good! We had a chicken, rice, and potato soup, french fries (my fav) with meat, and crepes with papaya. Everything was going so smoothly until Sade managed to fall off her chair. No one really knows how it happened, just one minute she was fine and sitting like everyone else, the next she was on the ground. It was actually hilarious. Needless to say, we all got our entertainment for the day between her fall and mine. After dinner we went back to the deck area and played the table games. Everyone was pretty much finished after we lost the ping pong ball. Just because we can’t get enough of each other, we all migrated to the lounging area and just sat and talked. It’s so nice getting to just hang out and bond with everyone. Things took a turn for the worst when Bridget suspected she saw a rat running by the couches. It was probably just her imagination because no one saw anything. I think she was just tired and wanted to go to bed. That pretty much ended the evening and everyone went to their rooms. It was probably best that everyone go and rest up for the next day’s adventures!

Bolivia has been absolutely wonderful these first couple of days and it’s hard to think I’ll only be here for a few more. For now, I’ll just try to take everything in and appreciate the time I have in this beautiful country.

Andrea Ballinger, women’s tennis

August 9, Day Four, Third Shoe Distribution
Hey friends!

Well, to start Day 4 we got to sleep in and by ‘sleep in’ I mean we had to wake up at 7 a.m.. We stayed in Hotel Viejo Molinjo, which had an amazing view with beautiful mountains. Unfortunately, it was cloudy when we woke up it covered up the mountains. After breakfast, we got in our van with our driver Henry. Henry was awesome as we jammed the whole van ride to the town of Corocio. We finally made it to Cruz Pampa Escuela, where we were welcomed with children lined up ready for the distribution. First, the students put on an impressive performance while wearing amazing costumes. A group of students played the Bolivian National Anthem while everyone sang along and I could feel the passion the community had for their country.

My first job for the distribution was a runner, which means I would get the correct size for the people who were putting shoes on the children. I enjoyed this job because I was always moving and keeping busy. After I did that for a little while I moved to sizing where I would get to size the feet of the children. This was a lot of fun because I was able to have conversations with the children and build a relationship with them. My favorite part that I have done throughout the distribution was giving the children their shoes because I got to see the smiles on their faces and that made it all worth it.

After we were done handing out shoes, we had the opportunity to play soccer and take pictures with the kids. Let me tell you they LOVE to take selfies! I also bought the children stickers and got to hand them to each of the children! I bought the ‘scratch and sniff’ stickers because growing up those were my favorite! After many pictures and laughs, we were on our way to La Senda Verde.

On the way to La Senda Verde, Henry served as the D.J. Some of the music that he was playing made the whole entire car start singing on the top of their lungs.

I had no idea what to expect when we arrived at La Senda Verde, but when we pulled up there was a huge gate with a bridge behind it. When you walked over the bridge, you walked through gated paths. As we were walking through we saw monkeys everywhere. We sat down, ate lunch, and then went on a tour. We saw many different types of animals and learned all about how the animals have arrived at La Senda Verde. One of the tour guides had mentioned they knew someone on the women’s lacrosse team at Ohio State. As we were about to go on the bear tour I ran into him and found out I knew exactly who he was talking about. What a small world! After the bear tour, we found ourselves back in the van with Henry. We had about a two-and-a-half hour drive back to La Paz and trust me when I say we were all exhausted. It was crazy that we were so high up and we were driving through the clouds!

Finally we arrived back in La Paz and it was freezing! We went to Mappe Monde for dinner and it was delicious!! Then we went back to Hotel Tinka and checked back into our previous room we had. We did a small team reflection to help build a connection throughout the group. The day was finally over and we all went to bed!

Bolivia has been such an amazing experience and I could not of asked to come with a better group. The friendships I have made I know will last a life time. Stay tuned to hear about our next day’s adventures! Bridget

Bridget Vilbig, women’s lacrosse

Day Four Photo Gallery

Hola Amigos!

It’s Wednesday night and I sit here reflecting on the busy day we just had. Waking up this morning was the hardest yet. I don’t know if it was due to the heavy rain outside my window or the 38 hours straight I was awake for earlier in the trip finally catching up on me. Nevertheless I dragged myself out of bed and slowly walked to the shower. Still half asleep, I stepped into the shower, turned on the water and looked down, staring back at me was a huge spider. Immediately I jumped out of the shower and attempted to let out the scream of a five-year-old girl. Thankfully since most of me was still asleep nothing came out of my mouth and I was saved the embarrassment. I regrouped, grabbed a towel and preceded to jump on the spider at least 50 times. Finally with my spider predicament out of the way I hopped in the shower and got my day going. We began our day having breakfast at Hotel Viejo Molino. We all scarfed it down and rolled out to our last shoe distribution of the week.

After a bumpy drive through the jungle town of Corocio we arrived at Crus Pampa Escuala. The people we met and the memories made at that school will never be forgotten. It began with the president of the school giving a speech and introducing our group to the students. Afterwards the students performed for us — they sang, danced and they gave us their hearts. It was incredible to see the passion with which they performed. That passion set the tone for what would be the best distribution of our trip.

Kristen, our leader from Soles4Souls, assigned roles. I was given the job of runner, standing behind the fitter and grabbing the shoes they needed for the kid. My fellow runner and I also had to go through all the boxes and organize all the sizes of shoes, as we were doing this we came across a problem. We were dangerously short in medium size shoes. Unfortunately this meant that some kids may not get the correct size. Though really sad there was nothing we could do about that now so we refocused and got back to our job as runners.

Halfway through the distribution we switched roles and I became a fitter. This job was two-fold, first we washed the kids’ feet and then we fitted them with a new pair of shoes. In my personal opinion this was the best job as you could see the joy in the kids’ faces as they walked away in a new pair of shoes. Another aspect of the job that I found extremely powerful was when we washed their feet. Not only was it necessary from a hygienic perspective but it also carried a deep religious meaning. I specifically remember washing a kid’s feet and feeling a rush of emotion. Immediately I thought of Jesus’ words to His disciples when he washed their feet at the last supper. He said “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example and you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:13-14). To me the aspect of washing these kids’ feet was the ultimate example of servitude. Not only are we giving them a pair of shoes but also our love and more importantly God’s love.

As we finished giving out shoes we noticed that many of the kids had stuck around and wanted to play. Being kids ourselves we obviously joined in on their fun and started to get to know the kids on a more personal level. The real fun began when we broke out the soccer balls. Like most of Latin America, Bolivia Is soccer crazy and practically everyone plays. We decided to challenge kids to a game of 6v6, because we were bigger, stronger, and collegiate athletes we figured we would have to go easy on the kids. Turns out they were the ones who needed to go easy on us. The whole game we only scored one goal while we lost track of their score due to it being so high. No matter the result everyone had a blast and it was the greatest feeling ever looking at the kids grinning ear to ear playing the game they love and forgetting about their problems if even for just a few hours.

After the distribution we drove 15 minutes down to the bottom of the jungle to go to Senda Verde animal preserve. Senda Verde started out with just a few animals a little over 10 years ago. That number has now grown to over 700, with most of the animals being rescued from the illegal animal trade. Before we got to see the animals we first ate lunch at the preserve, though it was just pasta and beans it tasted like a five star meal as we had all eaten very little over the previous 24 hours. Two, maybe three, helpings later we were finally on our way to see the animals. The preserve was awesome and filled with animals. We saw capybara, ocelots, caiman, toucans and hundreds of monkeys, at one point we were able to get arm’s length from a bear with only a couple wires separating it from us. The coolest part for me was when a Bolivian aardvark creature took a like to our group and came up to say hi. He was very friendly and at one point just came over and crawled in my lap.

Once we finished at the preserve, we packed up the vans and began the two-and-a-half hour trip back to La Paz. Luckily due to the fact that I was completely exhausted I passed out the entire journey back to La Paz. I awoke to the bright lights and crazy traffic of La Paz. Though I loved the quaint peacefulness of Corocio, it was nice to get back to the civilization of La Paz. We ended the day with food and conversation at a restaurant called Mappe Monde. Sufficiently exhausted we staggered back to the comfort of Hotel Tinka and all passed out attempting to rest up for another busy day ahead of us. All and all Wednesday was my favorite day of the trip so far. We woke up in a rainy jungle and went to sleep in a mountain metropolis. Our distribution was awesome and it was incredibly moving to see kid after kid walk away with new shoes and a massive smile. I remain in awe at the country of Bolivia, each day is better than the last and the memories we have made are unforgettable.

Josh Wick, men’s golf

August 11, Day Five, Copacabana Excursion
Today started with a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, followed by a very cold four-hour bus ride across the mountains to Lake Titicaca via Copacabana, Bolivia. We arrived around 10 a.m. The trip included a three-hour bus ride, a five-minute boat ride across a channel off the lake, and another hour bus ride to our destination. Coming in we saw all types of animals including llamas, donkeys, and cows. We saw the beautiful scenery of the mountains combined with the shops and markets in the city.

Coming into the city we had two decisions. Walk around in the city looking at the shops and stores, or take a hike up The Calvary Road (an hour-and-a half of hiking up and down steep mountain) that from the look of it seemed very difficult. But our entire group decided to be adventurous and take the hike. The road was filled with a lot of culture and religion. The climb proved way harder than any of us had imagined. For a group of athletes the steepness of the climb combined with the high altitude really took a toll on us. After a half hour of walking and climbing we reached the top and the views were amazing. The moments at the top of the mountain were filled with relief and many photos being taken. We later walked to the bottom which seemed a lot easier for us.

After the climb we headed to lunch in the city and stopped at a place called Maura’z. We ate soup, pizza, pasta, steak and caught a bit of the Olympics which we have been missing out on since we’ve been down here.

We soon left for Isla del Sol (Sun Island) which was an hour boat ride across the beautiful lake. The trip was filled with mountain views and amazing blue water. We arrived and little did we know we had another adventure ahead of us. We had another hike up to the top of the mountain to our hotel. Along the climb we saw many rocks, markets with clothing and food, animals including alpacas, dogs, and donkeys who were actually carrying our suitcases on their backs. About a half hour of vigorous cardio we reached our hotel at the top of the mountain. Although the climb was tough in the end it was definitely worth it. The views were indescribable, with the mountain and lake scenery.

The rest of the night we played a little hacky sack, watched the sunset, had dinner and a group activity. We ended the night hanging out in our rooms reminiscing about the good times we had on the trip.

Jalen Washington, baseball

Day Five Photo Gallery

Today was exhausting and incredible, about like every other day here in Bolivia. We started our day bright and early with a trip to Copacabana. It’s winter here in Bolivia and our bus doesn’t have heat so the first four hours of the trip were spent trying to sleep in the cold surrounded by amazing mountainous scenery. Our bus ride was followed by a short boat ride across a canal of Lake Titicaca, and another hour by bus. It was starting to warm up by the time we reached Copacabana and we were all appreciating the sunshine.

Our next adventure was a hike up The Calvary Road. I don’t think any of us were prepared for how tough this hike was up the mountain and we were continually shown up by elderly Bolivian women who easily navigated the steep and unstable path up the mountain while all of us athletes slowly struggled. On our way up we took breaks at each cross statue. The entire hike was very moving as we witnessed Bolivian men and women stop at each cross to pray and place a stone at the base. When we finally reached the top of the mountain I was blown away by the view. I have never experienced a more true example of `breathtaking’ as I felt my chest tighten in awe of the sights of mountains and Lake Titicaca we were taking in. The hike was tough, but the view at the top of Calvary Road was a sight I will never forget.

After our hike back down the mountain we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. This was in a touristy area of Copacabana and it was neat to see backpackers from all over the world enjoying lunch and taking in the view.

We then boarded another boat that took us to Sun Island. We were met on the shores with another tough hike up a steep mountain to reach our hotel. Thankfully there were donkeys to carry our luggage up the rough terrain because I don’t think we would have made it otherwise! Our hotel was located at the very top of the mountain and, of course, had another surreal view of Bolivia. Our night was relaxing after a long day. We watched the sunset on the roof while playing hackey sack and enjoyed a delicious dinner at the hotel. Afterwards we all hung out in one of the rooms and kept the entire hotel awake from the noise of us laughing as we all told stories. Bolivia has been one adventure after another and I have been blown away by how beautiful this country, and it’s people share that beauty. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will hold but I’m positive I will leave this trip filled with joy and with a ton of wonderful memories. Thanks for following our adventure!

Chelsea Harpool, rowing

August 12-13, Day Six-Seven, Returning Home
Well, it’s finally here, the last full day of our amazing journey in Bolivia. The day started with a 7:00 a.m. wake up call followed by a hotel breakfast at 7:30 in Isle del Sol. After breakfast, we hit the road en route back to La Paz where our journey began.

As our journey back to La Paz began, we had to take an hour boat ride to Copacabana where our bus was waiting for us. During the boat ride we passed beautiful scenery, including some Inca ruins! Once we reached Copacabana, we hit the road but we had to make a detour which happened to be the bumpiest road any of us have ever been on. The bus ride was filled with some sleepy faces, but finished with singing faces as we sang some karaoke to finish off the five-hour journey.

Once everyone was showered up we were ready to hit the markets to purchase some Bolivian accessories in order to have memories of this incredible trip! To finish off the night, the team went to a famous Bolivian restaurant called Ali Pacha. This restaurant is one of the most well-known restaurants all throughout Bolivia because of their Bolivian style of food. This was also a Bolivian vegan restaurant which included five courses (two of them being dessert!). The team was able to experience different types of food that are native to the Bolivians. Eating this meal allowed us to see another aspect of their culture and how it differs from ours in the United States.

The next morning, the team woke up at 2:30 a.m. (some didn’t even sleep) in order to take a bus to the airport for a 6:00 a.m. flight to Santa Cruz and then a 9:00 a.m. flight to Miami. Once we reached Miami, we then boarded a flight to our final destination being Columbus, Ohio.

This trip has been an eye-opening experience to not only me but to the rest of the Ohio State athletes that embarked on this incredible journey with me. We were all able to see the tough conditions that some of these kids live in, which we don’t see regularly in the United States. Seeing these conditions firsthand made me realize how fortunate I am to grow up where I did and have the things I do. Being able to give back to kids in need really made me feel amazing. Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces have left my team and I with goosebumps. We were able to see the smiles of each other and each of the kids as we touched the hearts of the community just by offering shoes.

I would like to thank Soles4Souls for giving me and the nine other students the opportunity to embark on a life-changing journey in order to help kids in need. I would like to also thank our supervisors for the trip — Cierra Gilson, Adam Hatem, and Kyle Kuhlman — for experiencing this journey with us and leading us the entire way. So that’s a wrap from the trip in Bolivia! Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next group of Ohio State student-athletes and supervisors as they experience a life-changing journey!

Matt Smidt, men’s lacrosse