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Bolivia

A week in the life of a digital nomad

Views from my morning walk: the Teleferico takes locals from the higher neighborhoods to the lower, and vice versa.

After such a rough start to this trip, I looked forward to easing into my digital nomad life by getting to work. Having read numerous blogs about the abysmal speeds of Bolivian internet, I made an effort to find an Airbnb apartment with the highest speed available in La Paz. Still, knowing that the highest speed was less than what I’m accustomed to at home, I came mentally prepared to deal with a slow internet connection—I figured it’d be a good way to “practice patience,” which always sounds good in theory, but is only nominally achievable for me. Much to my surprise, I didn’t need to break out the patience meditations—the internet at my apartment was fast enough to stream Netflix. That’s plenty fast for my work needs.

With that hurdle crossed, the only thing left was to plug in the laptop and start working. So, I plugged it in and—oh mi dios!—no power was getting through. I was puzzled, the power wasn’t out and all my other devices worked fine. I tested it in every outlet to no avail. Suspecting the issue was my power adapter, I searched for local Apple dealers and walked to the nearest one, a tiny shoebox of a store 30 minutes away. The questions I needed to ask the sales person went beyond my Spanish-speaking abilities, so after a few fumbled attempts, I typed my issue into Google Translate and showed the sales person my phone. He responded by typing into his own translation app and showing me his. We had an entire conversation this way, each of us typing away and showing the other our phone. I can only imagine that to onlookers, we looked like two mute people who didn’t know sign language. Thank god for smartphones, which I confess I was slow to adopt, but their usefulness while traveling has me hooked. I bought my new adapter (at a markup of 50%!), took it back to the apartment, plugged it in, and…heaved a huge sigh of relief. It worked. Let’s hope this means that I’ve regained favor in the eyes of the travel gods. Note to self: Check the wattage of your adapter to make sure it’s the right one for your destination. Duh. On the bright side, I’m not likely to make this mistake again.

Why replace cables when you can just keep adding them?

Aside from that little hiccup, I’m happy to say that my first week was met with only minimal challenges and minor adjustments, such as developing a new routine. I’m a die-hard lover of routines and knew that the faster I could get into one, the easier it would be for me to feel “at home.” In order to sync my work schedule with my coworkers at home, I knew I would need to flip my schedule. This meant my free time would be in the morning, instead of the afternoon. So, I began my new routine by forcing myself to sleep in a little, then starting my day with a long walk. I specifically chose an apartment that is within walking distance of all the places I knew I’d want to go, so each morning I enjoy choosing a new route to explore the nooks, crannies, and cafes of La Paz. This all sounds pretty leisurely until you consider a combination of both altitude and terrain. I’ve already mentioned that La Paz is nearly 12000′, but I didn’t mention that the city is also shaped like a “bowl” without a flat center. That means that literally everywhere you go there are hills to climb, and that’s no small feat when one is acclimatizing. Each day I’d walk along my merry way, feeling perfectly fine, then wham! A hill presents itself and I start shuffling and panting like a 90-year old with bronchitis (Dear reader: if you are both 90 and wheezy, my apologies for that terrible simile).

In the category of “small adjustments” has been the weather. I went from summer in the U.S. to winter in a single day. This part isn’t really challenging because at this altitude, it warms quickly once the sun shows itself—and I do love me some good, crisp mountain weather. The challenging part is that I’m in an apartment that has no central heating. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve been anywhere in South America with central heating. All I have is a space heater that, when plugged in, sounds as though it’s frying the outlet (thus, I use it sparingly). Instead, I’ve piled comforters on top of my bed and work in my down puffy every day.

Views from my morning walk: Plaza Murillo

One interesting challenge is something I hadn’t really prepared for: cooking. I knew that altiplano food tends to be heavy from my time in Peru, so I wanted to cook for myself as much as possible while I was in the apartment. On my first night, headache-y and with only a small appetite due to the altitude, I decided to make a simple dish of lentils and rice. Cooking lentils at 12k’ feels like cooking in slow motion. At altitude, water boils at a lower temperature and also evaporates faster, so you have to add more time and water. In short, what normally takes me 30 minutes at home took three times the time and water, and still wasn’t quite right in the end. As a result, I’m scratching legumes off my shopping list, but I can’t live without quinoa and rice, so I’m working on perfecting those (so far, all of my attempts have been mushy). I never imagined that the thing that would try my patience here would be cooking. I’ve spent nearly every evening searching the internet for tips, so I plan to conquer this beast before I’m done. It’s a work in progress.

Behold, a three-day weekend is upon y’all in the U.S., and since I’m working while I’m here, that means I get one too. Mine will be spent near a little town called Uyuni…

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About colleen finn

Colleen Finn is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.

Discussion

One thought on “A week in the life of a digital nomad

  1. Hi Pam! Yes, Google Translate isn’t perfect, but my Spanish is worse than the app, so in the end it worked out well. I am glad to hear you’re doing some translation projects, although I am sure that’s when you are not otherwise occupied with your dad. I think what you’re doing is absolutely amazing, truly.
    I promise I won’t give up entirely on lentils. Maybe just when at 12000 feet 😉
    Xo

    Posted by colleen finn | September 4, 2017, 8:50 pm

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