We’re now seventeen weeks into our Family Gap Year in Bolivia. Periodically, I write posts about our daily life in our small Andean village. It’s been several weeks since I’ve done that, mostly because I’ve had so many other things to write about. I suppose also as you stay in a place for some time, you begin to get used to it. We’re having an outstanding year – for me, one of the best of my life. But I suppose things aren’t quite as fresh and exciting as when we first arrived. Nevertheless, it’s been several weeks since my last post about our village life. So here goes again. But first, here’s links to my past “village life” posts in case you need to catch up:
Life In Our Pueblo (that was week six)
Week 17: Oh Hail No!
With the beginning of Spring (Southern Hemisphere), the wet season has officially begun. It’s not really that wet where we are – it’s a desert, but now we have occasional afternoon thunderstorms. Since we have some of the world’s highest mountains (the Andes) right next to one of the world’s wettest places (the Amazon), these thunderstorms can get really big and violent. Most years, there are massive rain and flooding events that hit isolated populations throughout the Andes. For example, earlier this year flooding crippled large parts of Peru.
As you might have guessed from the headline, we recently had a large hail storm that pummeled our town. We’re from Southern California, so we hardly ever see hail. At first, it was exciting, until I realized it was destroying our vegetable garden! Then, after about an hour of pebble-sized hail, we found out the kids rooms were flooded. Ooops!
The good thing is that our house built of concrete, so a little water doesn’t do much damage. But, I’ll be damned if that wasn’t a rush! We spent an hour or so mopping up the rooms, and then the next day I put a little concrete barrier on the rooftop patio to keep things dry in the future.
Our veggies took a beating. I lost dozens of plants – tomatoes, spinach, broccoli. But, we have so many vegetables in our garden/farm that a little thinning is probably a good thing. We don’t know what to do with it all. By the way, if anyone wants some fresh arugula or kale, just send me your postal address (should arrive in 6-8 weeks, freshness not guaranteed) ;).
The silver lining about the hail storm is that it caused our local river to flash flood. Why is that good? The river has been stagnant for months, and the water’s pretty stinky. The flood cleans out the swimming holes with fresh water. And the swimming holes are one the biggest summertime attractions in our town. We went swimming in the river for the first time this year:
Virgen de Rosario
The first Sunday in October is our village’s annual festival for the “Virgen de Rosario”. Most towns and cities in Bolivia have a Patron Saint, and this one is ours. It’s a pretty big deal for the town – three days of festivities.
It all started on Saturday night with Catholic mass, and then a big party in the plaza until the wee-wee hours of the morning. There was food, music, dancing, bonfires, and plenty of drink. They built a small stage outdoors, and several bands made the trip from the city here to play. For a tiny town in the middle of the mountains, it was a big show!
The next day, there was another Catholic mass, followed by the crown jewel – the procession of the Virgen de Rosario throughout the town. Here she is being carried through town, and into the church:
After the procession, there was more food and drink in the plaza. They really take their drinking way too seriously here – and that’s mostly what people did for the rest of the day, and into the third day too. I’m a casual drinker (beer and wine only), but the way people drink here is too much for me. I don’t know how they do it.
The Glory That Is The Internet
Maybe the real reason I don’t need to drink like a fish is because we got internet installed in our house! Yay! For the first four months of our gap year, the only internet access we had was through old second generation cell networks. It was so slow that you might as well not have internet at all. We went through internet withdrawal.
But in late September, we had a microwave antenna installed on our house that gets decent internet reception. No data limits – all the time. It’s expensive (about $60 per month -that’s A LOT for most folks around here), and it’s still not very fast (only 1 Mbps), but it’s usable, and it’s always on! Oh the glory that is the internet! I feel like I’ve been woken from some kind of long, dark, sleep.
Our original plan was to homeschool during our gap year, but for the last two months, the kids have been going full time to the local school instead. Attending the local school has been great for their Spanish and for making friends in town. But after two months, we’ve begun to see that the local school really doesn’t do a whole lot of actual, real “school work”. We realized that if we don’t start homeschooling soon, the kids are going to fall behind next year when they return to California.
So we recently started two days of homeschooling, while they continue attending the local school for three days. I brought a whole suitcase of textbooks with us from California, so we’re prepared. Each home-school day, we spend about 2 hours in the books – math and grammar lessons. Then, in addition to the textbooks, the kids are spending an hour on Khan Academy to supplement their math, and an hour learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone.
Rosetta Stone is a really intuitive way to quickly learn a language (shameless plug). It’s very different from the traditional classroom process. I highly recommend it, but I also believe it needs to be supplemented with more traditional grammar-based language learning, such as a textbook.
One of the many reasons we decided to do this whole “gap year” thing was to get our kids to learn Spanish. Like so many second generation Americans, our kids were growing up without learning their mom’s native language. My wife would say stuff to them in Spanish, and they would respond in English. Or they would just say they don’t understand, and my wife would end up repeating it in English instead. So, it’s important to us that our kids speak Spanish while we are here.
My son’s Spanish is progressing quickly. Just the other day, we were out in town at a friend’s house when someone said something that I didn’t quite understand. I was about to ask “huh?”, when my son responded instead. I’m very fluent in Spanish – I’ve spoken it for many years. So the fact that he understood something that I didn’t is a great sign that his Spanish is getting really good. To think that my son’s Spanish was really at level zero just a few months ago!
A New Inca Trail
I mostly fill my time between homeschooling, endless vegetable gardening, and blogging. But I also like to get out into the desert for hikes and mountain bike rides. The mountains here are full of surprises – beautiful canyons and rock formations, natural springs, and Inca ruins.
Just yesterday, I discovered a “new” Inca road. I suppose it’s not new – just new to me. I followed it up into some hills for several miles. These Inca trails crisscross the Andes. They were once part of a road system that stretched thousands of miles from modern-day Ecuador into Northern Argentina. It was perhaps the most extensive road system in the world at one time. Today, the roads are largely forgotten or destroyed.
After following this road for several miles, I reached a vista point where I could see it extending even further into more distant mountains. I had to turn back to get home for lunch, but I’ll definitely be back soon for a longer hike.
In a week, we’re heading off to our next adventure: the Salar de Uyuni and Eduardo Avaroa National Park. It’s remote, spectacular, and surreal country in the Southwest corner of Bolivia. We’re looking forward to it!
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