Posts Tagged With: South America

Spreadin’ the News…

It has been nearly 7 weeks at home now and we are certainly getting all the wheels turning again.  For the boys that means school and play dates and reconnecting with friends. For Bo that has meant starting out on his own in work he has wanted to make his career for as long as I’ve known him. He’s working full time as a management consultant and loving it.

And for myself… in trying to figure out what my next progression ought to be, one option in particular got me excited about the idea of heading to work each day.  Thanks to all the encouragement from you readers of this blog, I am exploring the world as a writer.

So far this has entailed writing everything from wine reviews to pages of prose no one will ever see to further summaries of our sabbatical experience for those wanting to hear more. And today, thanks to our wonderful and supportive hometown newspaper, I get to share with all of you findingforeigners my very first ever byline!  Thanks to the Crested Butte News for letting me tell our story in their paper!

Here’s the link, and below is the image of how it appeared in the paper itself:

Believe it or not, I have a couple other pieces being published in the next few weeks and will share those with you when they come out. In the meantime, if there is a topic you want to hear more about or a question you’ve been wanting to ask, or a fantastic and high-paying world-wide major publication that you’d like me to write for…

now would be an awesome time to drop me a line about that.  😉

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

One Month Ago Today…

…we were here:


Which is so hard to believe! I didn’t have the chance to share our Uruguay visit with you before we landed Stateside, so when I realized that that’s where we were on October 4, 2012 – it seemed like a good time to bring those photos out.  🙂

Colonia is beautiful. And magic. And if you ever have the chance to go there, do. Its tranquility defies logic, given that we arrived there via ferry from bustling Buenos Aires, a Huge and Packed ferry that does that trip 3 times a day, and yet somehow all those people became no more than mist as we found ourselves walking along utterly quiet tree-lined cobblestone streets with only the birds and a the river’s waves for company. Maybe it was part nostalgia, knowing that our trip was almost over, but I thought a number of times as we explored around that Colonia had a fairy-tale feel to it. We had one of our most care-free, joyful days there and it was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful end to our sabbatical.

Let me show you:



Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Couldn’t Make this Up

Look at me writing to you all in the middle of the night again. In addition to everything else, Bolivia is clearly hard on my beauty sleep needs.

As you read this update you’ll see that today is not going to go down as one of the better days we’ve had. I want you all to know though that we are all together and safe and caring for each other, and that remains the most important piece of this entire story. This entire trip.

THAT said…

Our Friday morning began the same way our Wednesday and Thursday mornings went, and that is with the sound of an alarm, a quick bite of a cold hotel breakfast and then off to the U.S. Embassy here in La Paz. I have to say that the people at the American Embassy here have been Godsends. They have been efficient, helpful, kind, patient, and hard-working. The thought of how we would have had to deal with all of this without their help…just the thought, makes it hard for me to breathe.

Yesterday’s Embassy visit revealed the location of our stolen passports (inside a notorious Bolivian prison) and today’s Embassy visit revealed more of just what kind of system we are trying to work within.  It was explained to us that in an effort to retrieve our passports two undercover agents were sent into the prison posing as buyers for them because the inmate that has them is demanding money for their return. At our confused looks, they explained that there is really no way to fully describe just how dangerous a place this prison is. It is completely run by the inmates and has been dubbed “Thieves City”, a place where chaos and murder are rampant and the guards are scared to go in. It is not possible for the Bolivian police to just walk into this place and demand the passports from the man who has them, there would be no way to be sure of finding him and it would be a monumental risk to their lives.

There is also no way that the American government is going to pay a bribe (GOOD!), so the plain clothes go in just posed as buyers. The plan being to draw the inmate into a waiting room, close the door behind him and once he got in, THEN bring in the police to arrest him and confiscate the passports. They drew him in as far as the door and just as they were about to close it he sensed something going on and bolted. Disappearing back into the prison. Unreachable.

Given this new information, Bo and I decided to cancel our old passports and get new temporary ones from the Embassy that we are assured will get us into Argentina and back home. A few forms and $400 dollars later, we were on our way to being passport holders again. Since it was going to take a little more than an hour to process them, we decided to use that time to head back up to the airport, checking again on our lost bag.

Two days ago when I visited Avianca, I was told that they had found what they thought was our bag in Bogotá and had requested it be sent to La Paz for identification so we allowed ourselves to hope that we’d be getting it back after all. Today however, we were told that that wasn’t our bag and they think our bag is lost. I asked how they could know it wasn’t our bag if we didn’t get the chance to i.d. it, and they said because it didn’t have the corresponding luggage tag number. It didn’t have any luggage tag apparently. The essence of our looonng and bizarre exchange is thus:

“Couldn’t that have ripped off?”


“So…shouldn’t we check the contents to see if it’s ours?”

“Hmmm. It’s not here. It is in Cartagena. Or Bogotá. I’m not sure. We think it’s lost.”

“Well. What do we do now? Can we check your luggage room of unclaimed bags?”

“No. We don’t have one. We will keep looking for your bag. Maybe 2 more days.”

“If it is lost, what do we do? Is there a claim we can file in case it turns up? A police report if we suspect it was stolen? When you have a customer with a lost bag, what to you recommend they do? We are not staying in La Paz much longer and need to know a plan for this kind of situation.”

Shrug. Silence.   “Un Momento.”

At which point another lady comes out and asks us to make a detailed description of all that was in the bag. If tennis shoes-what brand, she says, then they will look in the bag (this would involve cutting the lock) and if the contents match they’ll send the bag to La Paz. So Bo and I head to a restaurant, give the boys sandwiches and cookies and make the list. Hugely disappointed and increasingly worried about what someone with access to the paperwork in that bag could do to our lives, we drop the list off and head back down the mountain to the Embassy where after a short wait, we become passport holders again. (Another round of cheers for the Embassy workers!) I then dissolve into tears. Partly relief, part frustration about the airport visit, part exhaustion, part duration of worry — I don’t really know, but after my momentary mental break and the reassuring feel of Bo’s strong arms around me, we take stock of what’s next.

Only one thing left to get before we are free-moving travelers once again. A replacement Bolivian visa. Which can only be attained at a government office downtown. And feeling so close to the end, we head off to the Oficina de Migracion to see what that entails.  The migracion office had the feel of a DMV, but with armed guards throughout and thick walls of glass surrounding each worker making it nearly impossible to hear things that were already difficult for me to understand. Once we figured out which window was ours, it became clear that problem #1 was how to keep the boys from utter mutiny while we wait in another long line. Bo offers to take them with him while he runs back to the hotel for more money; we didn’t want to get everything done only to not have quite enough dough on hand to pay for them!  So off they go and I hurry up and wait. And wait. And then the metal door is being dragged down and locked so they can close for lunch and I’m feeling glad that I got in before that happened. I’m last in my line, and it’s actually starting to move. Still no sign of Bo and the boys and I’m wondering what I’ll do if they aren’t here and she needs to see them to verify their identity when the person ahead of me says, “Gracias” and walks off. I step up and the teller looks at me, announces she’s closed and to come back at 2:30.

Waiting in the sidewalk for Bo and boys I fight off another round of tears (what is with me today?!), and once they arrive we head BACK to the hotel where the boys get to watch a cartoon, Bo (who seems to be coming down with the flu) takes some aspirin and I try to track down someone at Montrose Public Health to see about verifying our vaccines since we’ve received mixed reports as to whether or not Argentina will let us in if we can’t prove we’ve had the Yellow Fever shot.

2:30 finds us heading back to Migracion, #3 line is long, we wait, boys squirm, we make it to the teller and explain what we need. She sends us to the teller next to her in window #4. He hears our story, tells us to wait, leaves, comes back, leaves again, comes back, tells us to come back in an hour because he needs time to look us up to prove we did in fact have visas before.  An hour would make it 4:00 and on a nearby map we notice a park nearby and head that way.

Back at 4:00 our new teller’s line is long, I beg everyone’s pardon and slide in front to tell him we’ve returned, he looks very surprised to seem me and says, “NO. Cinco. Regresan a cinco.” (Come back at 5). We decide to wait in case he can help us sooner, they boys draw for a while, I take them for a walk, our teller’s line ends and Bo steps up only to be told “No. Cinco.” again. Boys have a melt down on our walk, we patch that up best we can, Cinco finally arrives and as we approach our teller behind window #4 he looks at us, holds up his hand in a wait gesture and walks away to another room. 10 minutes later, he’s back and telling us to come back at 6.

There is no way that works for us as Bo is now coughing and aching and running a fever, and the boys are so restless and hungry and grouchy…. and we have no sense that he’ll help us at 6 either!  So, we track someone down again, explain the whole situation and ask if, now that everyone in the office has seen us to verify I’m not making them up, can I do the application alone or do they need to stay? I can do it alone. Phew!

They head off, I wait. Teller #4 comes back with forms for me to fill out and says he’ll need photocopies of our passports and police report as well when I’m done. I finish the forms hand over the passports and police report for him to make copies and absorb another one of his surprised/annoyed looks. Where are the photo copies, he wants to know. I’m sorry, I thought you were making them here.


Okay, where do I get photocopies? He gives me directions and then the man who has been holding up his hand to me all afternoon to wait, points his finger to his watch and says, “Rapido! Rapido!”.

I “Rapido” my way to the photocopy store and “Rapido” my way back. He takes it all, takes an inordinate amount of time organizing it. Hands it back and send me to the teller at window #3.  Teller #3 re-organizes all the copies and passports and visa forms, gives me more papers to sign and then sends me on to window #9. The man in window #9 hands me 4 huge white folders to write my family’s names on while he types on his computer and determines how much I should pay for these new visas. He tells me a number, I pay it, he says no, in American dollars.

“No tengo dolares, solo Bolivianos.” He rolls his eyes, consults with his friends, does further calculations, and 2,190 Bolivianos later I am pointed over to window #2.

At window #2 I am given another whole set of forms to fill out, which I do, and hand them over. The big metal door is clanging shut behind me once again and I’m soooo close! Teller #2 asks for our transportation tickets showing when we are leaving Bolivia.

This. Again.

I explain we are hoping to leave Bolivia by train and I don’t have the tickets yet. She rolls her eyes, consults with her friends, writes something on all the white folders I have brought over, sticks every form I have filled out, every photo copy I have made, and all 4 of our new passports in their respective white folder and walks away.

Fifteen minutes later she returns and tells me to come back on Monday, they are closed. I ask for my passports back and she says that they are very secure and I cannot have them until this application is complete. I explain that I REALLY want them and she says impossible, they are secure. Come back on Monday.

Begin at window #5.

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

US Embassy Visit and Update

We just got back from the US Embassy and we’ve made some progress with a surprise twist to keep us on our toes!

Before I give the update, Jamie and I want to give a big THANK YOU to our awesome friends and family, especially Dave and Linda Gann. It is great to know that we have so much support and back up. I got so many emails of people offering to send money, I felt like I was a Nigerian prince who had billions in a bank just waiting to be unlocked if you’d just wire some money! Thankfully, we had other ATM and credit cards that were not part of the double theft so we are not in need of money, just passports.

Back to the Embassy visit this morning…As we explained our situation, the gentleman helping us said they had a report of four passports that were found and he left to go get more information. Our tired hearts leapt with cautious hope. He returned with a lady who explained that four US passports had been reported found within the Bolivian prison system yesterday. What?!? We had them repeat themselves because that didn’t make sense, but then again a lot of things around here don’t make sense to us. Our best guess is that the thieves smuggled the passports into the prison to use as bribery to release a cohort, but who knows.  We don’t even know if they are our passports. What we do know is that the Embassy is going to speak with the prison today to see if the passports can be recovered, but they will of course not pay any sort of bribe to get them back.

So we have a chance, however small, that our actual passports could be returned. If that doesn’t work out, which we’ll know tomorrow, then we can either get a temporary passport or wait 7-10 days for actual replacements. We’re leaning towards the real thing. Assuming we’ve paid our bad luck dues in Bolivia, we could have passports in a week or so and continue on our journey with a few thousand less dollars and a few hundred new gray hairs. Plus, we have travel insurance from and they have been nothing but helpful with some of our previous smaller thefts.

Everyone at the Embassy was professional, clear, timely and kind. The grounds were clean and the flowers were in bloom. After we walked out of there, I turned to Jamie and said, “That was great. I didn’t know how much I need to know that we had help here on the ground. It makes me proud to be an American.” Although I like country music, I am not an overtly patriotic person so it takes a lot for me to say that.

Despite the pictures of snow-capped mountains and gleaming high rises we saw in our guidebook, La Paz is a rough, haphazard and pulsing city. It makes getting simple things done much harder. This place makes working things out in Ecuador seem like a breeze. For example, the taxis only pick you up if you want to go the way they are already headed and if they get a bit confused along the way, they will just kick you out of the car. Don’t get me wrong, the people are generally very sweet, but more often than not, not able to help. I had a national police officer not be able to tell me how to get to the tourist police office. Really?

In this context, yesterday Jamie took the boys on a whirlwind taxi and hotel tour of La Paz and found us an extended stay hotel with warm water, wi-fi and room for two boys to play. I got the police report filed after only six hours which I think must be a record.

Today, Jamie is headed to the airport and the hopefully open office of Avianca Airlines to get an update on the lost/stolen backpack. We are changing all of our passwords and double checking our financial and personal safeguards.  The boys, who have been so patient, are in the living room playing with all eight of their toys wearing their two super hero costumes. When I’m done with this update we’re headed to a large and nice playground nearby.

Tomorrow, we’ll head back to the Embassy and maybe find a pharmacy so we can buy some lotion and other toiletries. Actually, we might find the pharmacy today because let me tell you something: nothing makes you feel like a man like using your wife’s deodorant.

That’s what we know for now. Thank you again to everyone for you thoughts, prayers and encouraging words. We feel like you’re here with us!

Categories: From Bo | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Two – no make that THREE weeks in Taganga

One of my favorite precepts of our travel phase was that if we got somewhere and didn’t like it- we could just move right along regardless of our original plans, and visa versa — if we showed up and loved it, we had the permission to stay as long as we liked. Taganga, Colombia has most definitely been a STAY place for us. Our one week in Santa Marta turned into one night in Santa Marta and two, now almost 3, weeks in Taganga. We found a great little apartment to rent that is steps from the beach, has air conditioning, and someone who helps sweep up all the sand that finds its way in on our clothes and hair and everything else. Ah, life at the beach…

Taganga drew us in in a way few places have, and it’s hard to explain just why. It is not safer, cleaner, friendlier, cheaper, or more beautiful than Cotacachi was, for example. And yet, every time the day of departure came close, we found ourselves asking the landlord for a few more more days, one more week…

It is a working fishing village boasting one cobbled walkway along the water with good restaurants, dreadlocked-artists selling shell necklaces on felt pallets, and some obligatory beach-ware stands.  All other streets and pathways here are made of dirt and populated by chickens, children, cats, dogs, turkeys, and card tables – the latter being where one’s neighbors congregate for hours at a time to play games and hope for a breeze.  Which they get in spades each hot afternoon when an in-no-way-subtle “breeze” comes racing down from the Sierras behind us and collides with the ocean air. Makes keeping glasses on the table and hair out of your eyes difficult, but also makes the heat bearable and keeps the bugs away- I love it.

All in, Taganga is a rough around the edges, hot, peaceful, helter-skelter, fishing and diving sweet spot. The Carribbean sea from this spot is neither turquoise colored nor warm, but on good days is instead the bright clear of a mountain stream and nearly as cool. On not good days, there is trash that washes in on the lapping waves and impassable mud rivers throughout town when it rains. To get word of tourists getting mugged on the trail from town to Playa Grande is not uncommon and yet the path is never empty. There is a lot that is difficult about Taganga, but for us anyway, it’s beauty and charm and …. I honestly don’t know the word… unique something, has been completely captivating.

We’ve posted a huge amount of photos here to add to the description of this place. Believe it or not, we’ve taken over 900, so sharing 60 is very conservative by comparison. 😉  And to start this off… here’s a video Bo caught of the loud, chaotic, completely unsafe (and therefore very South American) celebration of Colombia’s Independence Day we managed to catch on our 2nd night here.

As one spray-painted sign next to the water says, “Vive Taganga!”

Categories: From Bo, From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

More than Language, Part 1: Quechua

June will begin our 5th month of the allotted 6 months our visa allows for us to be in Ecuador. We’ve used this time to rent an apartment, go to school, meet some locals and try to immerse ourselves in the local culture and language. What I’ve come to understand in a deeper way is that immersion in culture is not a separate undertaking from immersion in the language. You do not learn them in categories, separate from each other. Culture knowledge informs language learning and language learning illuminates culture. They are each other’s “in”. We didn’t know that part of our cultural immersion would include learning some (very) basic Quechua, but it’s been one of the best surprises we’ve had.

Quechua, some facts:

Quechua (sometimes, Kichwa), is the language spoken by the indigenous populations of South America’s Andes regions. That means it incorporates what is now Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, parts of Argentina, Northern Chile, and Southern Colombia. It was the official language of Tawantinsuyu, or as it’s called in your middle school social studies class: the Incan Empire. Given Quechua’s massive reach and extensive history, there are some large variations in pronunciation and spelling from one end of it’s territory to the other. For example, speakers in Northern Peru will understand the little differences of speakers in the neighboring provinces or two, but by the time you get to Southern Peru it’s almost a whole other language. One of the things I’ve learned is that given the variations it is called a “language family” as opposed to a “language” and, according to Wikipedia, “It is the most widely spoken language family of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total of probably some 8 to 10 million speakers.”

I’m going with the version we’ve learned from Elena. Elena is a beautiful indigenous woman who has served as friend and housekeeper to Bo and me, and whom my children love more than any other person they’ve met here. She loves them even more devotedly in return. In case it’s not clear: We Treasure Elena. 🙂

These are the phonetic spellings as I tried to stick strictly to Elena’s word usage and her Quechua is verbally learned, not something she’s ever seen in written form. When I asked her how to spell these words she did her mirthy laugh that shows her eyes and hides her teeth and gave me a look that says I’m so very odd, but in an endearing kind of way.

Quechua, our two favorite bits:

1) Ali punja, Ali Chishi, Ali Tuta

One of my favorite things about both Quechua and Spanish are that they are both the language of greeters. In Quechua these consist of: Ali Punja (Good Morning), Ali Chishi (Good Afternoon), or Ali Tuta (Good Evening). A revealing fact about the Quechua greetings is that they add a term naming the person to whom they speak as being family.  When Bo opens the door for Elena in the morning he’s greeted with an “Ali Punja Tio” and if I’m there as well I receive an, “Ali Punja Tia”.  Now, if one of the boys says it, Elena responds with a purred, “Ali punja, mijo” (Good morning, dear son) and then immediately folds them up into an embrace so tight their giggles are barely heard, being so completely muffled by fabric as they are. Despite being notably pale skinned in the land of copper and tan, we’ve been given the title of uncle or aunt, even son, in her greetings. This makes us extraordinarily happy. It also reflects one of the core beliefs of this indigenous population. Lighters in the air folks, here it is:

We are all part of the same family.

I know that’s bumper sticker gold, but it’s also…wonderful…to witness and be included in, firsthand.

As was the case last week; we passed an elderly woman in indigenous dress, head tilted to her shoulder while she was resting against a warm wall in the last rays of sun (what we consider evening, they don’t switch to “tuta” until 7:00pm), and I watched Luke do a full stop, bend his head to meet her eyes, and say,

“Ali chishi, Tia.”

She straightens. Smiles.

“Ali chishi, ñaño.”

Good Afternoon, little brother.

And then his blonde head skipped back up to where Vaughn and I were waiting.

Some moments mean more than others.

They just do.


2) I got another laugh/look from my Quechua coach when I asked, “Como se dice ‘gracias’ in Quechua, Elena?”

I soon came to see that that laugh/look was due to the fact that I would undoubtedly have a hard time grasping this one. First of all it’s a whole phrase that they say as one word. Quickly and jumbled with intentional slurring together of syllables and sounds. Also, “thank you” in Quechua is different from Spanish and English in that there is no direct translation for the act of giving thanks. Okay, bear with me, this is as close as I can get to Elena’s word: “Díosonlopuí“. It doesn’t mean “thanks” as we know it, it means “God will pay you”.  This really puzzled me. An American mindset is trained to think that if I did something for you – you thank me, the one who did the work.  I’ve had my boys parroting thanks to every waiter and bus driver this side of the equator.

However, once you consider that if you are in a culture where it is held that everyone you meet is part of your extended family, and family simply helps each other out as a matter of fact (not choice), then to say “thanks” to someone for doing simply what they should — doesn’t make much sense. In that light, saying ‘God will pay you’ is a better way of showing gratitude. You’re acknowledging that they did something that took extra effort on their part and the Creator of the universe Himself honors that act. Suddenly this seems a much more true and powerful form of thanks to me.

And so,

Díosonlopuí, Tia...

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Plan-less Plan

We have been overwhelmed by the support we’ve gotten once our adventure went public- thank you! We’ve also been fielding a lot of  understandable questions that we’re going to try and address in these next few posts. I’m taking on the, “Where are you going and how long will you be there?” query.

Well, we are largely “wingin’ it” on this little trek of ours, and doing so on purpose.  For us, the first step in making room in our brains for new thoughts and ideas requires loosening our vice-like grip on the control we’ve previously  strived for and letting our route be guided more by Curiosity than Schedule. So our plan-less plan shakes out more like an outline than anything else. An outline written in pencil. Very light pencil.  This is how I can best describe what it looks like, today…

We are going to South America. For those of you, like me, for whom it is difficult to pull any concrete information about South America from the recesses of a middle school geography memory, here is a map of this remarkable place on the Earth:

Ecuador, our starting place, is the small one along the Pacific coast, north of Peru and south of Colombia. It is a tiny country in a big continent with an unbelievable amount of biodiversity and an indigenous population that still lives and dresses and eats fairly closely to how they’ve always done. Without a doubt pink Dora backpacks, Chinese plastic pez dispensers, and KFC are making a strong stand in Ecuador, but, for now, there is still a local level of authenticity above and beyond what we’ve seen in some of the other countries we’ve visited. That is one of the main reasons we are so excited about starting our journey there.

We fly into Guayaquil just before midnight on Feb 1, where we will spend a couple of days checking out Iguana Park, the Malecon 2000, and Santa Ana Hill. Then we are being picked up at our hotel by the friendly people from Finca Punta Ayampe where we are staying for a couple weeks of pure take-a-deep-breath-holy-cow-what-did-we-just-do-let’s-go-play-with-the-boys-on-the-beach downtime. AND THEN….



That’s all I got as far as any actual plans go.

That would make this the super-light pencil section of this post: we are thinking of traveling up the coast a bit for a stay in Canoa where there is an intensive language school at a hostel on the beach.  Ecuador has loads of wonderful langauge schools, but if one of the choices is on a beach… yeah, that’s what we thought too. After giving our spanish skills a much needed shot in the arm, we will continue on a winding route up the coast, working inland and then meandering our way south through the Andes Mountains.  The places we think we’d like to stop include Quito, Banos, Otavalo, Cuenca, Zaruma, and Loja. I’m so looking forward to that, but almost more so for all the places along the way that we don’t even know yet we want to stop and see.  If we find a community we love and want to stay and immerse ourselves in, we stay- if not, we keep going. And we’ll be doing that for as long as our fincances allow, our best budget-guided guess being in the ball park of 18 months.

Not the clearest answers to the Where and How Long questions, but the most truthful ones I can provide at this point. I promise to provide more details when we get… somewhere,

at … somepoint.


Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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