The First Week In Bolivia Feels A Bit Like Living In A Tree Stump In The Upside Down

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If the Christmas lights you keep up all year long are bugging out, that’s just me trying to call long distance. (PS I’m trying to tell you to take them down, everyone in the neighborhood thinks you’re white trash.)

The first day or two weren’t actually that bad.

We’re on Eastern Standard Time down here so jet lag isn’t too much of a factor, but that 24-hour trip doesn’t really lend itself to a good rest. Not when you’ve got Divergent on the in-flight entertainment that is! Boy, that movie sucked. Still, it’s better than focusing on the dull pain of your rapidly atrophying legs.

Then, the minute you arrive in La Paz, you’re late to see everyone know. It’s a small town in a big city and the social scene loves fresh meat. As you’re probably aware, my wife is far more popular than I am on every continent, so we jumped right into it and started making the rounds. And everywhere we went, we ran into someone who wanted to know why she hadn’t called yet and when we can get together and why she married a big, surly gringo.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great problem to have. Being popular is fun and everyone is right to love her, she’s the best. Plus, Bolivians are amazing (that’s why I married one). Everyone we’ve seen and met so far is an A+ winner and I can’t wait to meet more, and I can't wait to introduce you to some of them. Well worth it, but it keeps you on your toes.

Then there’s the altitude.

Again, we’re sitting at 12,000 feet all day. Those fair weather mountain men down in Denver think 7k is a big deal. Pfft. You know what we call 7k in La Paz? Half way to the beach. I wish I had half as much oxygen as those lowland jabroni’s.

It takes a few days for the altitude to really hit you, but when it does it hits you hard. You feel an ache in the back of your neck and it feels like your eyeballs are about to pop. That turns into a splitting a headache and even back spasms. 10 years in Frisco have gotten me used to trudging up hills, but the slightest incline around this town leaves me sucking wind. And the thing about this altitude is that you can’t ever catch your breath. You feel that tightness in your chest and try to take some deep breaths, desperate for oxygen. But it’s like being a marathon runner on mile 25 and when you reach for a cup of water, you get saltine crackers instead. And the only thing you have to wash it down is a cup of pudding. And the pudding is also salty. And you’re wearing a snorkel too. Maybe that simile went a bit sideways, but the point is: it’s pretty fucking tough to breath.

But that brings us to the miracle of the coca leaf.

What a wonderful little plant. You can buy a big green bag of them at the market, tear them up, and pack them in your mouth like a pro baseball player with a mouth full of chew. Your mouth gets a bit numb and you get a nice little zip of energy as the altitude sickness melts right away. Plus, Bolivians have perfected the process of refining the coca leaf into something even better: coca tea. It’s delicious and this town runs on it. In the next few days (or weeks, or whatever… don’t rush me, I’m on sabbatical) I’ll be putting up a blog just about the miraculous coca plant. I’ll tell ya, I could get hooked on the stuff!

Breakfast of  campeones.

Breakfast of campeones.

And then, there’s the pooping.

For a little context, I should let you know that I went to an all-boys school. That means that I’ve literally peed on most of my buddies but I still don’t like to pass gas in front of my wife. At 35, it’s starting to feel like it might be a bit of maladaptive complex, but I guess I’m just demure like that.

But if you’re traveling in South America, it’s a factor. If I didn’t mention it, I’d be lying by omission. I don’t need to get much deeper into it than that, but just take my advice if you’re planning a trip and pack baby wipes and stick close to a comfortable toilet for a couple of days.

So now we're settled in and feeling pretty good.

Feeling as fully acclimated as possible, but it's still not easy living up here. You can never turn your back on the altitude; push yourself too hard and Bolivia will put you to bed early. But I didn't come here to be comfortable, I came here to see what's past the edge of the world. Every morning, I wake up and look at the cliff side out our front door that marks the edge of town, and I wonder what's on the other side. I've got a mouthful of coca and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol in my pocket, so let's find out.

The view from our front door.

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