Bienvenido A Bolivia

It’s 1:10am in La Paz, Bolivia and since I can’t sleep with all the worries chasing each other in my head, I thought maybe if I got up and wrote them all out- got them out of my head for just a second, maybe I could sleep. There’s nothing about the next few days (weeks?) that is made easier by being sleep-deprived.

The hard part is deciding where to start, regressing back, looking for the precise moment things went wrong. That’s hard to tell though and only leads to another round of  coulda,’ shoulda’, woulda’s — which is just as helpful as not sleeping.

So, let me try this by just listing out the events as they happened.

The route from Santa Marta, Colombia to La Paz, Bolivia only happens at night it would seem. All flight options we explored were red-eyes, which can be a struggle (loss of sleep, not able to check into a hotel at 3am…) but, again, there was no other option. So, as Bo just posted, on Sunday the boys and I went to the beach, he packed up, and then at 2pm our taxi arrived to take us to the airport for our 5:30pm departure from Santa Marta.

Checking in at the Avianca Airlines desk began normally enough and then quickly went awry. The woman checking us in reached a screen on her computer that wouldn’t allow her to complete our check-in until we provided proof of our exit. I explained what we were doing,  that we were entering Bolivia by flight but leaving Bolivia by train into Argentina and that we only expected to be in the country for a week, maybe two. No, she shakes her head, she needs proof of our exit from South America. Back to the States. (??!) Which we don’t have because we don’t know the exact date of our return. Again explaining our extended travel and the looseness of our plans, she nods that she understands but preceeds to tell us that there is no way for us to fly from Colombia to Boliva without proof of our return to the States. “I understand why Colombia would want to know when we are leaving Colombia, but why does Colombia care when we are leaving all of South America??” It’s not important to Colombia, she says, it’s important to Bolivia. Again, “Why?”

“Cada país tiene sus reglas.” (Each country has it’s own rules.) She says and shrugs.

And with that we agree to purchase flights home.  Our Avainca rep lets Bo get on her computer to book them as there is no wi-fi or public computers in the airport. Having had to change plane ticket plans once before down here, we knew that on Expedia we could usually cancel our flights within the first 24 hours of booking. After spending $6100 on  random tickets from Buenos Aires to Denver, we were praying that this would still be the case.

Finished the requirements, checked in 3 bags (our 2 suitcases and Bo’s backpack) and finally we are in the air towards Bogotá.

Sadly, the boys did not sleep on that flight, nor did they manage to nod off during our wait for the 11:00pm departure for La Paz. Did I mention that Vaughn got up that morning at 5:30 with Luke not far behind? Tired. Boys.

The flight to La Paz itself was uncomfortable and hot, but otherwise fairly uneventful. The boys did get a little less than 2 hours of sleep, Bo and I nodded in and out around them.

Arrive, go through the visa process (American citizens cannot visit Bolivia with just a passport, a $135 visa is required for each person), go through the customs process, never once asked for our “proof of exit”, grab our 2 suitcases and… no backpack. Plane searched, luggage area searched, help called in… no backpack. Head to other side of the airport to file lost baggage claim at the Avianca desk. Takes a long time but she seems confident our bag will be found and returned, I run to change some money, turns out money exchange doesn’t do Colombian pesos. We had some American dollars ready for paying our visa fees, but something about their serial number made them not changeable either — had one $20 bill that was accepted, and with enough to pay a taxi to get us to the hotel we finally started to head out. While loading up, we meet 2 other passengers from our plane filing claims, not for lost luggage but stolen items from inside their luggage. At which point I notice that our clips have been undone, although that is all because we also have locks on the zippers of our suitcases. So, our clothes were safe but we now have serious doubts as to what actually happened to our backpack. Still don’t know. Boys are zombies at this point having slept roughly 2 hours in the last 24 (pretty sure my mother of the year award is in the mail), but troopers. Honestly, we have rock star kids.

Things in the backpack: external hard drive for our computer, various other electronics, folder with all our copies of passports and our actual legal documents like marriage certificates, birth certificates and the like. The idea that they could be lost (stolen?) is worrying, but I have the originals of our passports and social security cards and vaccine cards in their own zippered pouch which is always in my purse when we travel so that not everything is in one place. Someone savvy on the hard-drive though could access info we don’t want accessed so passwords need to be changed and safeguards double checked. Thankfully, we do spread out our valuables when traveling and the other backpack that Bo used as his carry-on had our computer and ipad so not all was lost.

A lot though.

And now it is 5:06am and we are just checking in to our hotel, unable to do anything about the bag until after we get some sleep.

Amazingly we all start stirring just 5 hours later, around 10:30, and by 11 are headed out the door to find breakfast/lunch. It is cool and bright and we are definitely in the mountains again. We walk around for about an hour but are still pretty worn out so soon head back to our room, around 1pm.

Sometime between 11:00am and 1:00pm, the pouch I keep with our original passports and documents, was stolen.

Desperately hoping I had had an unusual bout of forgetfulness, Bo and I took turns plying the boys with movies and tearing our room apart- piece by piece. Aside from discovering a used condom between one of the mattress sets and some other traveler’s old luggage lock- we came up empty. I studied the surveillance video at our hotel and you can see me taking our passports out at 5:06 am to write the numbers down on the hotel check-in sheet, put them back in the packet, zip the packet closed, put it in my purse, zip my purse closed – and that’s it. That’s they last they were seen.

When it became clear that they were stolen and not misplaced, Bo kicked into high gear calling our bank first and sure enough, someone had tried to get into our Wells Fargo account that day. Same news from our credit card company.

Knowing that step one of moving out from under this mess is getting replacement passports I head downstairs to use the hotel computer (and start another movie for the now-getting-very-restless boys) and look into the American Embassy here in La Paz. It was closed today for Bolivia’s Independence Day but I was able to get a list online of what we would need to get our new passports. Every item listed is something we have ready in case this ever happened while we were down here, stored safely away from the originals in a locked bag – a black backpack to be exact. A missing (stolen?) black backpack.

It is now 3:44am La Paz time, and hopefully getting this out will help me quiet my brain for a little while tonight. Tomorrow involves police reports, finding an apartment for our now much longer stay, gathering info, making appointments at the embassy, figuring out how to prove we are who we say we are, and taking care of our sweet kids in the middle of it all.

Planning being Bo’s specialty, we do have other safeguards in place. A couple ATM’s that still work and copies of our important things stored electronically; and we were able to cancel those Buenos Aires tickets and stop the thieves from accessing any of our accounts. We’ll figure this out. And for the record, what absolutely could have devolved into chaos and screaming, instead saw us crying (me), hugging and holding hands and finally standing up straighter and stronger. An unbroken unit.

And now, taking the time to remember that, I do think I can sleep.

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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27 thoughts on “Bienvenido A Bolivia

  1. Cherith

    Oh sugar, you are beyond a champion! So sorry this has happened to you!

    • Thanks Cherith, as a world traveler yourself I’m sure this is nothing new! Thanks for your love and for calling me sugar because it totally made me smile. 🙂

  2. mimi

    Well……adventures abound! “Life is what happens when your making plans”, right?! Sending you peace and love.

  3. Hi sweets – stay strong and if you need a safe place to recoop after your experiences, you know that Matt and I welcome you and the boys with open arms. I went through a pretty harrowing experience with passport replacement once, and I hope that the embassy in La Paz is easier to deal with than what I went through. If you have passports without microchips in them (standard for those issues prior to 2010 I think?) these are very valuable on the black market. At the time mine was stolen, between $2,000 & $5,000 per passport. Terrorists, drug runners and number of other groups pay top dollar for US passports and set up networks to nab as many as possible in Central/South America. Be sure to explain your concerns with that airline and the other passenger bags to the Embassy – they need to know where the potential links are with tourism (luggage), passports, and the black market buyers. Was the hotel recommended by the airline? If so, I’d be really worried that there’s a link there. I hate thieves!!!

    Our English teacher, CAroline, and her daughter Georgia (7) will be on site at the end of August to begin English classes and start our English outreach program, and it might be a great opportunity for the boys to learn Spanish and land for a bit within a community setting. Its rainy season, but having the community link and safe place for you and the family might be a good rest. We are closed for rentals, per se, for September 28 – November 5, but have a small casa at the community base camp that we would love to have you guys stay in that would be comfortable and sleeps four that we can set up for you guys starting September 1 through whenever. Just sayin’… (:

    Sending you love, and patience. This will be a frustrating experience, but you have places to go and people to lean on! Be safe, everyone is still intact and safe, that is the most important thing. XO- Erica

    • You are brilliant and I love you. Thanks for the info on your passport situation, it’s really helped us be more prepared for what could be going on here. All day long as I looked for a better place to stay, none of the hotels showed any surprise that we would be in La Paz longer than we thought because of stolen passports. I got the idea that this happens A LOT.

      We daydream about your Costa Rican treehouses often. Can’t wait to see them in person someday, hopefully under less duress!

      Love and Love and Love to you and Matt.


  4. YaYa

    wishing you smoother sailing today with honest, helpful assistance for brave travelers

    • Thanks, Mom. And thanks so much for being our anchor at home. This is overwhelming true, but would be unfathomable without you and Dad holding us up from the States. Love you forever. 🙂

  5. Desse Anthony


    • Thank you Desse, your prayers mean the world to us. And please thank the ladies on Thursday as well, definitely missing my girls! I am reminded that He is here too, which I take great comfort in. Love to you!

  6. kelly berg

    Bless your hearts!!! So sorry to hear this–but thankful that you are smart, capable, and ‘prepared’–this will no doubt be another learning experience–(one I certainly wish you’d missed). Upward and onward to the beautiful, fun, meaningful, and exciting moments that are still awaiting you!! God Speed and God’s Blessings surround you!

    Love, Kelly

    • Thanks Kelly! We are learning so much already, not the least of which is how to take on something bigger than you can see, one bite at a time. Patience. Definitely a good thing, even if not willingly sought after. 🙂

  7. Brooke Harless

    If there’s a family that can handle anything that life throws with strength and good humor it’s the Stambaughs – sending you good tidings and energy!

  8. Lindsay

    Well, I prayed and cried through the reading of this post. Worried for my friends, but know you are more than capable of getting through this. Will continue to pray for safety and quick resolve of this situation. Love you!

    • Oh Love, I prayed and cried through the writing of it, so once again we are sisters of the heart. 🙂 I am praying it resolves quickly as well, and will know much more on that front tomorrow. Love to you Lindsay!

  9. laurie voegeli

    thinking of you all and hoping a quick resolution to the problems. lots of love and good vibes sent your way! laurie

  10. Kathryn Ross

    I’m sorry to hear about this troubles, Jamie. Take it one step at a time and you’ll all do fine. And get some rest!

    • This actually is an amazing opportunity to practice taking one thing at time, simply because there is no other option, and it’s one of the lessons Bo and I have talked about already gaining from this. Thanks for your support, and yes, I’m off to bed soon! 🙂

  11. Makara

    Wow! What a nightmare! I’m glad y’all are savvy travelers and that your family is not worse for the wear. I will keep you and yours in my heart as you sort thru all this chaos. I look forward to your next update. Hang in there! You will get thru this. Who knows? You might make some great connections in your extra days there that you wouldn’t have made if you could keep to your schedule. Many blessings!

    • Thank you, I am curious to look back on this and see what we got that we might not have. Always hard to tell those things in the midst though…

  12. Lucia

    Wow! So glad to hear all is well. All our love

  13. Mike Young

    So sorry to hear you guys had such a rough time getting to, and then actually in, La Paz so far. Getting a new passport at the Embassy should be pretty easy if you have any government issued ID with you still (CO drivers license, for example). They very easily can look you up in PIERS right on their computers, see it is you in the photo, have proof that it is you by your ID, and then they will put a lost/stolen passport lookout into the system right away, keeping anyone who stole your passport from entering the U.S. on them. Of course, they could still try to use them to enter other countries, but once you have reported them stolen they lose most of their value to the thieves. The replacement passports will probably take 2-3 weeks, since they have to be shipped from the U.S. and I don’t know what the frequency of mail delivery is to the Embassy in La Paz. If you have time, I would wait for these. They can issue you emergency passports at the Embassy, but they will be of limited value traveling around the rest of South America. Many countries these days insist on having the passports with the RFID chips in them for security, which the emergency ones do not. I hope you get a sympathetic consular officer who will use the tools at their disposal and their judgment to help you out, and not get too wrapped up in pieces of paper just for the sake of process in bureaucracy. Can’t promise you won’t, but I hope it all works out well for you guys!

    • Thanks Mike, and thanks for the insight into temp. passports, I hadn’t thought of that and we are still holding on to the desire of winding this whole thing up in Argentina. So glad you shared that, and we’ll let you know on the red tape front — hopefully that there wasn’t any!

    • Mike, this is great info. Thank you for taking the time to share. We have our meeting scheduled for this morning so we’ll know more soon. Kind regards, Bo

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