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Last Sunday, a strange silence hung over Cochabamba. It was broken occasionally by the sound of children’s laughter.

On the first Sunday of each September, all vehicular traffic is banned from the city of Cochabamba. The stated reason is to improve the air quality, but a marvelous thing happens. Cochabamba, which is normally dead on Sundays, comes alive. Children bicycle with delight up the major boulevards, something that would normally be way too dangerous to do, and families stroll up and down the streets greeting each other. Ice cream vendors hawk their wares on the street corners, and jugglers and acrobats perform in the plazas. It is a city-wide fiesta.

As I wandered through the streets, enjoying the peace and quiet, I marveled that, even in a very poor country, a sense of celebration can be created by something as basic as simply banning cars, trucks and buses for a day.

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