Our family of four is taking a “gap year” off from the rat race. We quit our jobs and moved from San Diego, California, to a small pueblo in Southern Bolivia called “Villa Abecia.” From here, we are taking opportunities to travel, explore, and do just about everything else we never made time for back home. We’re only six weeks into our year-long trip, so we are still settling in. Here is what life is like so far in our pueblo:
A Farm House
We live in a not-so-totally-finished farm house. With six bedrooms and two stories, it’s more house than it is farm. But we still have enough land to grow all the fruits and vegetables we’d ever need for our family.
We bought an empty farm here for $10,000 in 2012, and so far we’ve spent about $25,000 building the house on top of it. That’s right – a six bedroom house with a farm and a stunning view too for only $35,000 total. Here’s the house:
And here’s the view from our balcony:
What’s the weather like here? It’s similar to our home town of San Diego – except the seasons are opposite. The Southern Hemisphere summer is in December, January, and February. Also, the rain comes in warm summer thunderstorms, instead of the winter. The winters here are dry and sunny. Right now, it is winter. The days are warm, but the nights get below freezing.
Our pueblo is high in the Andes mountains, at about 7,500 feet. It has about 1,000 residents, and you can walk from one end to another in less than 10 minutes. It is a green garden oasis with year-round water, surrounded by farms, thorny desert, and red-rock mountains. Here’s a view of the whole town in the valley:
And here’s a close-up of town:
You can see that right behind our town is a beautiful red-rock mountain range. Within 20 minutes of our house, we can be in a quiet red rock canyon with waterfalls and natural pools for swimming. You’d swear you were in Southern Utah.
Here we are hiking into the entrance to the canyon:
A view up canyon after an hour of scrambling over the rocks:
Our pueblo has water year-round, which means it has attracted people for millennia. There are remnants of an ancient Inca road just outside of town, and you can find old pieces of pottery littered about the surrounding desert. Less than 30 minutes’ walk from town you can find these cave paintings of llamas:
This was a stop on one of the old llama trading routes across the Andes. The brought salt and gold from high in the mountains to trade for fruits, baskets, and other supplies from the East. The cave was a convenient place to rest after a long days’ walk with a llama train:
Villa Abecia is, above all, a farming village. It is especially known for its grape vineyards and wine. But, with a mild Mediterranean climate, you can grow just about anything here. June and July is the middle of winter in the Southern Hemisphere – it’s the time to plant for the upcoming summer. We have a local farmer who tends our land – and, unlike me, he knows how to farm.
I brought with me a variety of vegetable seeds from San Diego – things that are hard to find in Southern Bolivia. We have a variety of kale, mixed green lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, butternut squash, radishes, daikons, arugula, spinach, some heirloom tomatoes, and a variety of herbs.
Here we are together planting some lettuce seeds in my front yard:
We have two kids, aged 10 and 11. It’s the perfect age to be in a place like this, and they are having tons of fun so far. I’m not sure they’ll be so happy going back to California next year. Our kids don’t speak very good Spanish, but they are learning. They’ve easily made friends, and in a small town like this, we can give them the freedom to roam that they would never have in suburban California.
They spend most of their days just being kids on our farm. Farms allow endless possibilities for their imaginations. They are also our “gophers”, and they love taking the short walk into town together anytime we need them to buy something. In the evenings, they go to the town plaza, where they spend hours playing games with the local kids – soccer, tag, hide-and-seek, and other local games I don’t really understand.
We brought with us all the books we need to homeschool our kids – at least to make sure they keep up with the “standards”. But so far, the only schooling we’ve done has been in the subject of Spanish. It is the one thing I want them to learn while they are here, above all else.
Next week, our kids will start attending the local school as “auditors”. This will help them pick up Spanish much faster, and make even more friends. Depending on how that goes, the homeschooling may be on hold for a while.
The Pace of Life
You might think the pace of life in a place like this is slow. You’d be wrong. It seems pretty normal to me. For sure, it’s nowhere near as fast as the go-go world of suburban California. Where people try to stuff in as many activities and events as possible on top of a 50-hour work week, and then wonder why they have so little time to relax with friends and family. That would be nuts. Here, the pace of life is much more normal.
We go to bed early, and we sleep in late. We take several hours a day to cook a proper meal. We have long conversations with each other, and if we see something that looks interesting, we take the time to explore it. If we want to watch a movie or take a nap in the afternoon, we do that. And if you put in a few hours of work in a day – whether in the garden, in the house, or writing for this blog – you feel a proper sense of accomplishment from a solid days’ work.
Here, there is no need to put in 10-hour work days. There are no artificial deadlines and there are certainly no fire drills. Like I said, the pace of life here is normal.
So what’s next? I guess now that we are settling in, we try our best to enjoy life, each other, and the absolute freedom we have, if only for a year.