Our family of four from California has been living now in our small town in the Southern Bolivian Andes for four and a half months. We quit our jobs in San Diego, pulled the kids out of school, and decided to take a year abroad, because why the hell not? At first, coming here was a bit of a shock. But now, we’re settling in, and life is getting normal. We have our routines. People want to know, what is our daily life like in our little Andean town? Here is our routine: a typical day in our pueblo.
First, a little refresher on the whole scene. Our village is located here:
It’s in the mountains, surrounded by desert, about 2-3 hours from the nearest city. The population is about 1,500 people. Here’s a view of town:
And this is our house. We built it here in 2012 for a mere $25,000 (plus $10k for the land):
OK, enough stage-setting. Here is a run-down of our daily life in this place: a typical day in our pueblo.
I wake up, make coffee, get on the internet – usually preparing a blog post or reading the news. I sit out on our 2nd story balcony, enjoying my view as the sun lights up the red rock mountains to the west. Here’s my morning view:
The chirping birds are so loud in the morning, that sometimes it’s hard to concentrate. Yup, it’s pretty great.
Time to wake up the wife and kids. They prefer to sleep instead of seeing the beautiful sunrise. I still haven’t figured out why yet.
On weekdays, we go downstairs and have a simple traditional breakfast of tea and bread (coffee for me). We buy the bread from a baker just around the corner from our house. She bakes twice a day, morning and afternoon. The bread comes in little loaves, about the size of a hamburger bun. Usually, we’ll have butter, goat cheese, or “dulce de leche” along with the tea and bread.
Kids are off to school. Unless I’m homeschooling them, that is. Right now, we’re homeschooling two days per week, and they are going to the local school three days. They are “auditors” in the local school. That allows us the freedom to send them to school whenever we want to – and there are no questions asked if they don’t show up, either. It’s a highly flexible situation.
The local school is about 2-3 minutes walk from our house, and the kids walk to school on their own. In fact, the whole town is full of “free range” children.
Once the kids go to school, my wife and I both head out to exercise. She usually goes to the local soccer field to run laps. Here it is:
I go for a jog on the highway, or I hop on my bike, or I go for a hike in the mountains. I often ride my bike on some of the local dirt roads out to these remote communities where things haven’t changed much in centuries. Here’s one:
On the days that we homeschool, I stay home to teach the kids everything they’ve ever wanted to know about math and language arts (plus a few things they didn’t bargain for). We typically go for four hours of lessons and exercises, from 8:00 am until noon.
By now, my wife is back from her jog. Sometimes I’m back too, depending on how far I’ve gone.
Here in our town, we don’t have any of those fancy-pants “supermarkets” with things like prepared foods. All of our food is fresh and local. We have to cook from scratch. That means we need to start preparing lunch early – typically by about 10 am.
Once we decide what we’re going to cook, one of us will take the quick 2-3 minute walk into town to buy what we need for lunch. Here’s the view from the market building at the center of town. It’s about 300 yards from our house, which is on the outskirts of town.
By 11 am or so, I’ve returned from my jog/hike/bike ride. I typically put on my boots and my big sombrero and get out into our garden. It’s really a small farm more than it is a “garden”. There’s definitely enough space here to feed our whole family. In fact, we’re so inundated with kale, arugula, lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, beets, and so many other vegetables, that we just don’t know what to do with them all.
Between planting, weeding, irrigating, and harvesting, there’s a ton of work to do, just about every day. Do I enjoy it? For sure! It is so much better than working in a cubicle, that I can’t even describe it. Here’s a recent view of our garden:
This is my favorite gardening tool: an 18-inch long machete. It’s a badass!
You’d be amazed how versatile these things are. Digging, weeding, harvesting – this thing does it all. It’s the tool of choice for a lot of things in this part of the world. And the solid “thunk” I get when I chop off some radish greens is just awesome. I wish Home Depot sold these things!
My wife normally cooks lunch and I work in the garden until it’s time to eat. Sometimes I cook instead, and when I do, it’s usually outside over an open fire:
Around noon I usually harvest what veggies we need for lunch from our garden.
Time for lunch. On school days, this is when the kids get home from school. So, we’ve grown accustomed to eating at 1pm. Lunch in Latin America is a big deal. It’s the main meal of the day – way more important than dinner. The four of us sit together for a long lunch – at least an hour.
Lunch normally consists of three courses: soup, a plate of meat and starch (i.e. potatoes or rice), and a garden salad. Lately we’ve been getting into a routine of “meatless Mondays”, “Taco Tuesday”, and “StirFriday”, with any variety of meals the other days.
After lunch, the kids get ready for their sports. There’s a local coach who organizes municipal sports programs for the kids. My son plays indoor soccer with dozens of other boys and my daughter plays basketball most days.
In the afternoon, I typically get back to work in the garden, or on some house project, or perhaps I’ll work on a blog post. My wife does a variety of things – mostly crafty hobbies. She’s really into nail designs these days.
Sometimes in the afternoon, my wife washes clothes. No, we don’t have a washing machine. It all has to be washed by hand and dried on a clothes line. It’s a very time-consuming process. (Thank’s babe, you’re awesome!)
By five, the sun is starting to go down. I usually prepare some “mate”. That’s a bitter tea made from leaves of the “hierba mate” bush. It’s about as essential as oxygen in southern South America. After a shower, I like to sip mate as I watch the sun go down over the mountains.
Also by 5pm, the kids are back from their sports. They usually hang out in the garden, just being kids. Lately, their big thing is a war with some of the local ant nests. Sometimes they have some homework, but not often.
Around six, we have our “afternoon tea”. Like the locals here, we don’t eat dinner. Instead, we have tea and bread, often with a few simple condiments such as goat cheese, peanut butter, or fruit.
At night, the kids usually go to the town plaza so they can run around some more and continue acting like kids. I usually sit at home and either surf the internet or write blog posts. By 7:30 my wife goes to her daily zumba classes in town. (Believe it or not, the daily instructor-led class costs about $7 per month!)
Everyone is back home, getting ready for bed. Sometimes we’ll watch the stars or a distant thunderstorm at night. On a moonless night, here in the high-altitude desert, you’d be shocked how many stars we can see. But usually we all just read or talk until we go to sleep around 10 or 11.
And that is a typical day in our pueblo. It’s not particularly stressful. In fact, it’s quite relaxing. In one word, I would describe it as “normal”.
There is always plenty to do. Boredom is about the furthest thing from my mind. Plus, it feels good to be outside in the sun, using my body. Because sitting in a cubicle all day long is not natural. And neither is the cold blue light of a computer screen. THIS is what is natural. Fresh air. Honest work. Growing what you eat. And having plenty of time to focus on our most important relationships while we still can.
Do I miss the rat race? Not at all.