Month: August 2016

More Adventures in Bolivia

I found a postcard in La Paz that depicts an Afro-Bolivian girl from the Yungas region dancing the saya who looks a bit like my little sister. Now I know why the cashier in Brazil asked if I was Bolivian.

Besides my incessant ashiness and a couple of nosebleeds (because of the high altitude), I had a good time in Bolivia. Nevermind the fact that I was in the country illegally.

Let me explain.

One of my strategies for saving money while I travel is to use the cheapest form of transportation possible. In South America, that usually means taking a bus. Sure, it takes 3 times as long to get anywhere, but because I have more time than money, I don’t mind. Flashback to a couple of weeks ago when I arrived to the Argentina/Bolivia border by bus. It was a relatively simple process, albeit long. I stood on line for about 30 minutes to exit Argentina. I got my stamp and was ready…to stand on yet another line to enter Bolivia. Here’s where I messed up. While waiting on line with what appeared to be Bolivian citizens, the guard patrolling the line yelled at me to “pase!” At first I thought it was a little unusual but because that was my first time crossing the border into another country by land, I thought maybe that is what’s done. And so, I crossed…without getting an entry stamp.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago when I tried to exit Bolivia from Copacabana with a bus full of people headed to Peru…”Where is your immigration card?” The bus attendant asked. “My what?” All of a sudden, my stomach sank. This is going to be a problem, I thought. Now, you have to understand that I’m a rule follower. Not in a pretentious goody two-shoes kind of way. It’s just that I don’t like getting yelled at or reprimanded so I just choose to follow the rules the first time as not to get in trouble.

So when I realized that I have been in a foreign country without permission for a whole 2 weeks, my mind immediately goes to Brokedown Palace territory (if you haven’t seen that movie, I suggest that you do BEFORE traveling if possible. It’ll be more meaningful). My story is not as dramatic. The Bolivian officials were kind, professional and were all about that paper! They instructed me through the bus attendant what I had to do: pay for the Bolivian visa and an additional fine, which was about $30. I had to wait a day in Copacabana before crossing into Peru because I wasn’t carrying enough cash to pay for both the visa and the fine. So I got some rest and took care of everything the next day. It all worked out.

In the future I’d like to stick to learning lessons that are not so expensive and risky. At least you can learn from my mistakes.

Bolivian Bus Adventure


FullSizeRender 5.jpg
I stumbled upon a parade on my first day in Bolivia. In hindsight, I could’ve used a  costume like this kid’s for my bus ride.

Several weeks ago, I was in a bookstore in Rio de Janeiro buying coffee. The cashier, a friendly middle-aged Brazilian woman looked at me curiously. She knew that I was a foreigner but couldn’t pinpoint from where. “Boliviana?” she asked. I smiled and replied, “No, Americana.”

“Why would she think I was Bolivian?” I thought. I wasn’t offended but I was curious. I had actually never thought of visiting Bolivia before that encounter. That’s all it took. “I want to go to there.”

Fast forward to a few days ago. I took a bus from Argentina to the Argentina/Bolivia border and crossed with relative ease. Once I was in Bolivia, I rested at a cute, simple hostel not far from the border. I rested and watched TV (a Portlandia marathon in Bolivia, who knew?!?) and prepared for another bus ride to Uyuni.

The next day, I arrived to the bus station and it was just how you would imagine a bus station to be, no frills. Although, there was one difference. Upon entering the door of the station, travelers are surrounded by a group of vendors shouting and competing for you to purchase a ticket from their company. It’s only funny when you’re on the outside looking in. I had already purchased my ticket online so I was able to walk directly to the counter of my bus with confidence. After checking in, I waited a few hours for my bus, which I didn’t really mind because I have lots of things to keep me busy. I purchased some snacks and a quart of apple ‘drink’, the majority of which I consumed while I waited. The bus arrived and we piled in.

We weren’t 30 minutes into the 10-hour trip when we stopped for what I could only assume was customs. The customs officers climbed aboard the bus with flashlights in hand looking under seats, in overhead compartments, everywhere. They found several bags belonging to what appeared to be a family who had packed multiple cartons of white whine (I was nosey and peeked in the bags as the officers stored them next to my seat, which was near the door.) They confiscated several cartons of wine after much pleading and arguing. What I gathered from the whole ordeal was that the family had purchased the wine outside of Bolivia and was planning to sell it in Bolivia, which according to the customs officer was “prohibido.”

That took about 15 minutes to sort and we were back on the road. Now that I wasn’t distracted, I began to look toward the back of the bus where the bathroom is typically located. There wasn’t one. I assumed it was on the lower deck but I remembered that the luggage was stored there so it was logistically impossible. I didn’t have to use the bathroom at that moment but my brain was several hours ahead of me. Then panic set in: “THERE IS NO BATHROOM ON THIS BUS!” I tried to talk myself down. Surely, they will stop at a rest stop on the way, everyone will get off and grab peanut M&M’s and Cokes. My hopefulness had turned into delirium. I thought to myself, just try to sleep and maybe you’ll experience a miracle and not have to go (although you drank almost a quart of apple drink).

A few hours later, and like clockwork, I needed to go. Thankfully, only minutes after I had this realization, the bus stopped. The attendant walked up the steps and yelled “Bano!”

“YES! YES!” I thought. I breathed a sigh of relief as about a dozen people whizzed past me, down the stairs and out the door. I stood up preparing to follow them. It was dark but not too dark that I couldn’t see clearly. There was no building. The ‘bano’ was the side of the road. I saw men walking away from the bus 10-15 feet with their backs turned and women squatting behind dirt mounds.

“Oh, Lawd!” I haven’t reached a level of maturity that would allow me to use the bathroom, basically exposed in public! Nope. I sat in my seat completely uncomfortable but with my dignity intact.

The total trip to central Bolivia was approximately 24 hours between 2 buses. I’m looking forward to discovering Bolivia and I can’t tell you how thankful I am when I see the word “bano” somewhere.


A Vineyard and Life Lesson

Flaky rock.
I climbed this and didn’t hurt myself.

The hardest thing about living on the farm in Argentina was how disconnected I was from everything and everyone. So much of the work that I am doing right now is Internet dependent. Also, it was extremely cold, mostly at night (it’s winter in South America). I’ve never been more thankful for hot water and wool. On any given day, I was layering practically half of the clothes that I packed.

One of my favorite tasks on the farm was managing the vineyard, and by managing, I mean cutting a bunch of branches. However, it wasn’t as easy as I initially thought it would be. It was quite rigorous work. Although, it was peaceful. My directions were simple: trim the branches to create a single trunk with two main branches and three smaller branches that grow from the two. I thought, “I can manage that.”

Then the (existential) questions crept in: How do I know which branches to cut? How can I cut the branches that will yield the most (and best) fruit?

The fact is you don’t know. You do your best and keep in mind the vines’ need for balance and nourishment. I approached this task in a similar way that I approach creating sculpture. The only difference is that the vines are living things and even with the most cautious of care taking, the results are not up to me.

I’m still learning how much of life is that way too.

A little friend stopped by while I was working in the vineyard. Half horse, half mule.
The family garden where most of the produce is grown.
These vines will be full of grapes in several months.
FullSizeRender 2
My work space…a large rock. I would sit here on my days off and catch up on reading/writing.
Prepping the guest house to be repainted, with my most important gear: headphones.
A painting from a catholic museum in the town square of La Rioja.
Detail of a painting at the catholic museum in La Rioja.
I always feel like cactuses are giving me the middle finger.
Centuries-old stone.

About That Farm Life

The view from my work space, which is just a large rock.

La Rioja, Argentina — I’m living on a farm in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town with people (and Internet access) is 187 miles away.

I have been interested in Homesteading for several years now. It all started with a book that changed how I thought about work, time and money. The premise is simple: if you don’t need a lot of money ( expensive lifestyle), then you don’t need to make a lot of money, and you can spend more time doing things you want to do.

So for the next 3 weeks, I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do.  I’m living on a farm. The family that owns the farm has lived in La Rioja for over 18 years and  they built everything from the ground up, including 2 houses, the plumbing system and solar panels for electricity. It’s modern and well-designed. While I’m here, I will be helping with chores; gardening, building stuff, feeding animals, whatever they need. In return, I’ll learn about managing a family farm and improve my Spanish (they don’t speak English). It’s basically a masterclass in innovation and sustainable living.

On one hand, it’s glorious (because I’m an introvert from NYC, so I know the value of quiet spaces). On the other hand, it’s a little terrifying because I have an overly active imagination, I’m a bit paranoid and low-key afraid of the dark.

In addition to learning Spanish, I’m helping them with their English. Just the other night, we gathered around the dinner table to play a trivia game on their iPad. While the words were in Spanish, the topics were international. There were questions about celebrities, religion, history, movies, popular culture…everything. Well, a question popped up on the screen and I laughed out loud. My Spanish vocabulary is the equivalent of a three-year-old’s, mind you but I knew what the question was about. They all looked at me a bit puzzled, waiting for me to explain myself. But I didn’t have the heart to tell them what ‘twerking’ was. Not yet.