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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Wyles

The end and after

Hello, friends! The date of writing is October 24, 2022 and I am currently on a 2 hour flight from Ushuaia, Argentina to El Calafate, Argentina. Once I land, I’ll be looking to find a bus that will take me to El Chaltén— a hiking town in the great Patagonia!

Okay, what on earth is going on here? Last I wrote I was 2 days away from saying goodbye to my beautiful life in Bolivia as a volunteer at Hogar María Auxiliadora. That was on October 15— and man— a lot can change in 9 days.

The days before I left were emotional and beautiful. The reason I extended my time in Bolivia by a couple of months was to be there for my goddaughter’s confirmation in the Church, which is when I would officially become her madrina, or godmother. It all worked out quite well because my mini-extension meant that the Hogar wouldn’t be without volunteers for the time before the new volunteers came. In addition, it enabled me to be here for a couple of weeks with the first new volunteer to help transition her (Hi Kat! I frickin’ love and miss you!). God sure knows what He’s doing with timing, that’s all I can say.

So on that Sunday, October 16, 2022, we celebrated a beautiful Mass and confirmation of about 60 new young people as adults into the Church! I may be biased, but the girls from the Hogar were the most beautiful :)

We then celebrated with a nice lunch at the Hogar and shortly after lunch, I was “exiled” from the Hogar to go upstairs into my room while the girls prepared for my despedida, or my goodbye party.

During my exile (haha!), I baked chocolate chip cookies one more time for my girlies and did some more packing. The party was so much fun, and although I held back tears for a good bit, the waterworks were inevitable. The girls, big and small, prepared 6 or 7 dances for me and Hermana Letty even prepared a solo dance for me! Happy tears flowed freely.

Later we exchanged gifts, as they created a beautiful book for me that had photos and letters from each of the girls. They also gifted me a beautiful bag! I wrote each of the girls letters and printed them out photos as well. And after letters were exchanged, the sad tears then flowed freely.

But we ended the night dancing, and that is what matters.

The next day, October 17, 2022, is when I officially left. The day was a blur— goodbye lunch with the community of sisters, running around in the city getting a covid test that I didn’t end up needing, and chaotically finishing up my packing at the literal last-minute.

I walked the girls to school for the last time and managed to close the Hogar doors with a smile on everyone’s face— which is how I really hoped it would go. My goddaughter, Hermana Letty, and the new volunteer Kat all took me to the airport. It was surreal saying goodbye to all 3 of these people at the same time. They have all meant so much to me in different ways and, frankly, that’s when the really difficult transition began for me.

That brings me to the after. I went straight from Bolivia to Argentina to begin a 5 week backpacking trip throughout this beautiful country before I head back to the US for Thanksgiving. I have now been traveling for a week and it has been a mixed bag of an experience so far.

I arrived to Buenos Aires, the largest city in the country—the capital— and honestly, was not a fan of this first time around. I say “first time around” because I will be back to spend a solid 4 days here at the end of my trip as I fly out of BA to the US late November, so I will have a second chance with this city. The truth is that the first couple of days after I left Bolivia— I was kinda a mess. You know the stereotype of when a mom leaves her child with a babysitter for the first time and is freaking out the whole time she’s gone? Basically how I felt. To be honest, I was anxious and emotional and straight up in despair after leaving my Bolivian family. And being in a massive metropolitan city with 3 trillion things calling your attention and all you really want to do is cuddle up with some kiddos who love you and whom you love— it was all quite unnerving and overwhelming. So I was quite relieved to get out of the city after a short 2.5 days and immerse myself in an environment that was more welcoming to the state of my soul: the mountains.

On the 20th of October, I arrived to Ushuaia, Argentina! This beautiful mountain town is known as “the End of the World” because it is the city that is the furthest south on the Earth! I was expecting it to feel a touch eerie for being so far south, but it was one of the warmest environments I’ve ever been welcomed to! The hostel I stayed in was filled with lovely people from Ireland, the UK, Canada, France, Israel, Chile, and more. A great Irish girl reached out to me my first night, which was a God-send, as I was honestly a little hesitant to mingle (which is a bit surprising for me since I’m generally quite extroverted.. but we’ll blame it on the difficult transition).

The last few days have been full of amazing hikes in the mountains with new friends, boat rides along the Beagle Channel seeing wildlife (penguins, sea lions, and more!), eating lots of empanadas, hanging out at the hostel, and soaking up the coffee scene. I’m sad to say goodbye to Ushuaia but I am SO excited for the next location on my trip: El Chaltén, Argentina!

The only flights go into a nearby city, El Calafate, so once I land I will be getting the first bus over there, which will last a few hours. I will be back to hit El Calafate later, but for now, bring on the hiking capital of Argentina!

All of this hiking has been quite therapeutic for me, so I’m glad that I have about two more weeks of mountain time.

I think about my girls in Bolivia every day. Although emotionally I have come a long way in the last week and I am having a great time traveling, the truth is that it is still quite difficult for me. I miss them more than words can explain. It brings me to tears if I let myself think about for more than a few seconds. I knew it was going to be difficult leaving, although I knew it was my time. But it’s more difficult than I thought it would be. I know it sounds cliche, but I left a piece of my soul at the hogar. It is not possible for me to ever be the same person as the 21 year old who rocked up to the hogar 14 months ago.

A major consolation for me throughout all of this has been the reality that the girls will be perfectly fine without me. Surely they will miss me from time to time and I will miss them dearly. The bonds that were built can’t be unwritten. But the girls at Hogar María Auxiliadora are fighters. They are the strongest and most adaptable humans that I have ever met. They have learned in their short lives how to shine bright in every situation, and the best part is that they still have plenty of wonderful souls caring for and loving them. Me and my two fellow volunteers may have left within the last few months, but two new volunteers have come to love and care for them just as we did. And of course, they have the constant and long-term presence of the sisters who have been at the Hogar for years and years and who are like mothers to them. This all comforts me. And prayer, as well.

Please pray for me and for my family at Hogar María Auxiliadora.

I hope all is well with you and yours!


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