We first landed in La Paz, Bolivia. It has the highest commercial airport in the world at about 13,000 feet (that’s a fact according to my 6th grade son – so it must be true). Bolivians have a word for altitude sickness: “Soroche”, and just about everyone’s first impressions of Bolivia include a bit of it. It doesn’t take long to affect you if you’re going from sea level to 13,000 feet in an instant.
Before we landed, American Airlines kindly showed us a somewhat ominous video with health warnings about the high altitude. The friendly attendants told us we may experience vomiting, light-headedness, headaches, and shortness of breath. Oh, and welcome to Bolivia!
Fortunately, we were only in the La Paz airport for about 2 hours before catching our next flight to lowland Santa Cruz. But that was enough still time to give me some blue lips and a ripping headache. Wife and kids seemed fine though. Go figure – it affects everyone differently.
One of my other immediate first impressions was the lack of internet. Our smart phones worked, but they weren’t so useful, since people just don’t rely on the internet for much other than email and social media. Everything is done the old school way. You can’t just whip out your phone or search google to get answers. So we need to get used to life without all the wonderful assistance the internet can provide.
After 5 flights in total, we finally landed at our destination: Tarija, Bolivia. We stayed for a few days at my sister-in-law’s house. It’s winter in Bolivia. It actually is quite nice during the day in the warm sun. But, the buildings are not heated, and it gets cold at night. That means the houses are like cold caves. You have to bundle up if you’re not standing in the sun.
One of the oddest things people might notice about Bolivia are the zebras that direct traffic. Because why not, right? Here are my kids with one of the traffic zebras in Tarija:
Furniture & Supplies
Our main task for the first few days was to buy furniture for our house out in Villa Abecia. It’s a vacation home that only gets used once a year or so, so it’s somewhat empty. We needed to buy more stuff.
Here’s what we bought:
- 2 kids bed frames and mattresses $200
- Blankets, sheets, and towels $122
- Pots & pans, silverware, dishes, and a few utensils $70
- 2 plastic tables and 4 chairs: $100
- Coat hangar $10
- 2 Armoires $100
- 1 closet shelf/clothes hangar $20
- Kitchen shelves $25
Our budget for move-in furniture and supplies was $2,000. We still have more stuff to get, but it’s safe to say we’ll be well under budget.
Out to Villa Abecia
I have to say, staying at the sister-in-law’s place in Tarija wasn’t entirely comfortable. And the cities in Bolivia aren’t that great of a place for our kids. So, we were happy to get out of town.
So the next trick was to get all our furniture, plus our 6 bags and 4 carry-ons we brought on the airplane out to our house in Villa Abecia. It’s about 2 hours outside the city. We loaded up two taxis with our furniture:
They brought our stuff to a bus stop on the outskirts of town, where we loaded everything onto a bus for the 2 hour ride to Villa Abecia. The taxis cost less than $10 to move our things. The bus charged another $25 for everything: four passengers and the cargo.
The bus dropped us off about 1/4 mile from our house. We asked around for someone in town with a car, but no luck. So, we had to carry everything the last 1/4 mile. The kids helped:
Villa Abecia is one of my favorite places on Earth. Not only is it jaw-droppingly beautiful, but the pace of life here is just awesome. It’s so relaxing and peaceful, and I love it here. Here’s a photo of our house after we arrived:
My wife and I originally had talked about doing this “Gap Year” thing in another country where we had never been, like perhaps Uruguay. But there is just no way we could have done all this without local connections to help. My wife’s family was able to help us figure out what we need to buy, where to buy it, and how to transport it all. Local connections are vital.
So here we are! Our next task is to get settled in. We still need a lot of supplies, and we need to get into a daily routine. There’s so much more to come.