We’re now twenty-seven weeks into our Family Gap Year in Bolivia. More than six months! December is the beginning of Summer here in the Southern Hemisphere. And that means all kinds of new adventures, including some of the weirdest bugs I’ve ever seen! Yes, it’s summertime in Bolivia. Here’s what we’ve been up to:
School Is Out (It’s Not)
Last week was the last day of school throughout the whole country. There were graduation ceremonies, parties, and events to celebrate it. Our kids have been attending the local school as auditors a couple of days per week, and our son took part in the 6th grade graduation (the primary school goes from K – 6th).
There were about thirty kids in total in our village graduating from 6th grade. Here’s the ceremony:
Now that school is out, all the kids in our village are truly free. Except for my kids, of course. My kids still have homeschooling (sucks to be them). They have to keep up with their academics back home.
But, it’s not the kind of gruelling six to eight-hour days their colleagues in California schools have to endure. Nope, with homeschooling you can cover a lot more territory in a lot less time. My son is already about a year ahead in math, and both kids are working beyond their grade in Language Arts.
Oh, and we’ve done that in only a few hours per week. It has opened my eyes to how much time must get wasted in 6 to 8 hours in the classroom each day. (Or perhaps how little they pay attention). I’m sure it’s not easy to move forward when you have thirty kids and one teacher.
So now that we’re in summertime in Bolivia, we’re homeschooling for nearly 3-4 hours per day on about half of all weekdays. It’s a tight schedule (it’s not) and we’re racing ahead (we are).
A Visit To Culpina
Since school is out, the local kids have some free time. The mayor’s office in our village helped organize a soccer tournament for the kids against another local town. My son plays, so we all went for a day of games. The town we visited is called Culpina. It’s about an hour away, and a couple of thousand feet higher in elevation – about 10,000 ft. (How would you like to play a soccer tournament at 10,000 ft?)
Here’s Culpina. It’s cold and high-altitude. Not a place you want to stay for long:
You’d think my daughter would be bored out of her skull sitting around all day at a soccer tournament she’s not playing in. But, the thing is… she’s blonde.
No, this is not some kind of blonde joke. Blonde people in Bolivia stand out like a flashlight in a dark room. The people in our village were already familiar with my daughter, and they no longer crowd around her like a bunch of paparazzi. But, the kids in Culpina had never seen a blonde girl so close (she’s actually more of a brunette, but anything in Bolivia that’s not jet black hair is considered blonde).
Anyway, this is how she spent her day:
Foreigners in rural Bolivia often get treatment like this from complete strangers – from kids mostly. They’ve never seen people with blue eyes or blond hair, and they’re really curious about it. They ask all kinds of silly questions, they touch your hair, and ask you to say things in English. It’s an interesting experience at first, but it quickly gets old. As an adult, it doesn’t happen to me very much. But my kids are magnets – especially when we leave our village.
Summertime also means bugs. Since we’re just a few mountain ridges away from the Amazon, there are quite a few surprising bugs around here. And they all come out during Summer. Especially at night.
Here’s one. This guy is a giant moth that flaps around like a slow, drunk bat on a mission to land on your face. For all you readers from Florida or Louisiana, this is probably nothing. You have mosquitos larger than this. But, I’m from California, and we have regulations against bugs being this big where I come from.
And check out the jaws on this guy. This one also comes out at night and is about 4-5 inches long.
Here’s another. This one was my favorite. I was out for a short hike in the hills and I turned over a rock to sit down. Underneath was 4-5 of these little guys. Except they’re not little.
I took a picture and asked around what it was. Most people had never seen it. I finally found someone who recognized it – said the local Quechuas (indigenous people) call it the “stinky worm”. It’s not really a worm, but it stinks like hell if you crush it. Life pro tip: don’t crush this bug.
Probably the worst bug we have is the scorpions. Those f*ckers are everywhere. We’ve killed probably 20 scorpions inside our house since they started coming out in November. They’re in the bathroom, the kitchen, hanging from the walls, and tangled in the cobwebs. We even found one in our bedroom.
So far nobody has been stung. It’s not a highly poisonous species here, but the sting is supposedly quite painful. I know Budhists say every life has value, but not those guys. The only good scorpion is a dead scorpion. Here’s a dead one:
And then there was the Evil Demon Hummingbird-Moth. I was out in the farm one night irrigating our crops, and this thing that looked like a hummingbird with bright orange glowing eyes buzzed me like a Top Gun ace at flight school. He was looking at me, and I was looking at him. He darted around like a hummingbird does, except it was night, and his eyes were glowing.
He kept coming right back at me to size me up, and to see if I was scared yet. I was, of course. Eventually, it went flirting off sucking from flowers, just like a hummingbird does.
I’m guessing it was a moth that mocks hummingbirds. Because apparently that’s a thing. I’ve never seen hummingbirds at night before, and certainly not with glowing eyes. But who knows? There are all kinds of unknown creatures around here.
Seeing these weird bugs flying around your house at night is like a giant reminder that we’re a long way from home.
The central Andes is such a fascinating place, because everything changes from one valley to the next: Flora, fauna, the bugs, the people, culture, language, and the food they grow and eat. Some of the bugs we see may even be unknown to science. It is an incredible place to explore!
I’ve been busy in the last week building an outdoor wood-fired oven. I’ve never done anything remotely similar to this, so don’t laugh. Plus, I don’t have all the proper tools a mason would have. It’s a bit rustic. It only cost about $75 in materials.
Now that we have this oven, we can make cookies, cakes, and pizzas!
I had some leftover materials, so I also decided to make this outdoor grill stand too. We had been grilling straight on the ground over coals. Now it’s waist-level:
Summertime also means fruit. We’ve been overloaded with peaches and plums from our neighbor’s trees. The fruit are small by U.S. standards, but they taste so much better here than anything I’ve ever had in the U.S. They make supermarket plums and peaches taste like cardboard.
We also get to try new fruits we’ve never seen before. I have no idea what this is called. It’s a tropical fruit from the jungle, and kind of reminds me of a lychee, but with a more peachy taste:
Without modern refrigeration or a major market nearby, nearly all of the fruit we eat is local, and each variety only lasts for a couple of weeks before it’s all gone. But every week there is a different type of fruit available here in town. So, just as you get sick of eating too much of one fruit, you move on to another.
Summertime in Bolivia means there’s a lot going on in our village. It’s hot, humid, and buggy. It’s time for cooking outdoors and swimming in pools. The population doubles in our town as vacationers come from the city to enjoy a few weeks of natural beauty and warm sun. The next two months are going to be great! Stay tuned.
This has been one of my “Village Life” posts. To read more about life in our small Bolivian village, see the Village Life archives here.