Saturday, December 28, 2013

Things you Need to Know Before Visiting La Paz

  • You will not find a clean wall, gate, or fence anywhere in the city. They are all covered with varying quality of graffiti.
  • If you want to go out for supper, think again. It is difficult to find anything open before 7 or 8pm. If traveling with a toddler who’s bedtime is 8:30pm, this proves to be a bit of a challenge.
  • Their big meal of the day is lunch and may leave you feeling full for days. Lunch includes soup, bread, a small salad, the second plate (which is usually some sort of meat and potato, or meat and rice), and finally you end the meal with a piece of fruit or pastry. Bolivians make some seriously delicious soup! 
  • In addition to feeling full, you WILL feel sick at some point. It’s best just to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for that inevitability. Also, there is a strong likelihood that going to the bathroom will be abnormal probably 70% of the time.
  • When cooking for yourself you need to adjust all recipes for the altitude or you’ll end up with flat, squishy chocolate cake, or pancakes that just don’t hold together. There are many websites that can help you with this.
  • You will not completely adjust to this altitude. You will likely find yourself panting and/or partially blacking out a few times a day.
  • The altitude (and the monster hills you climb everyday) will make you lose weight. Depending on your size at the start, this could be a good or bad thing.
  • There are very few strollers here. Most people just carry their kids in their arms, sans baby-carrier. I challenge anyone to an arm wrestle when we get back…or a baby carrying competition.
  • You will find amazing coffee for cheap!
  • People don’t really care that you’re here. You aren’t an anomaly, and you aren’t special because you are white. It’s nice. You are free to carry on without any celebrity status.
  • Even though people don’t care that you’re here, they are very nice and are willing to help at a moment’s notice. They are even willing to put up with your terrible attempt at Spanish.
  • Most travelers and tourists seem to already speak Spanish. If you don’t, you are probably stupid and are definitely in a minority.
  • Language classes are cheap, so you don’t have any excuse to not learn!
  • People in La Paz, and perhaps Bolivia, speak Spanish with little to no accent, in comparison with their neighboring countries, so they are easy to understand. This also aids in language learning. 
  • You never know what is going to be open and when. So when you leave your house on a mission, be prepared to be disappointed. Perhaps it’s best to have an alternate plan, and be ready for that to fail too.
  • Speaking of open...this city seems like it is on social lockdown. All gates and fences are 8 feet tall, and are topped with broken glass or barbed wire. I don't know who my neighbours are and I'm not sure how to figure that out, short of ringing them at their gate. Also, little neighbourhood shops that are open midday are only kind of open. You aren't able to enter have to look from the door and point at what you want. Either there is a high level of distrust here, or a high level of threat. 
  • The Internet doesn’t always work. This is good for those of us who are used to having it all the time. You can’t stream anything quickly. In fact Facebook friends, could you please stop posting videos? I can only see the thumbnail.
  • The stray dogs are not scary like Thailand stray dogs. They are not aggressive, and keep to themselves.
  • People here seem to love dogs. There are dog grooming places everywhere, and no end to places where you can purchase dog clothes, dog shoes, and puppy paraphernalia. Around Christmas there were Santa dogs a-plenty.
  • Christmas is at midnight…so when someone asks you over to their house for turkey at 1, they don’t mean 1 in the afternoon. They mean 1am. Don’t show up to their house midday (that may or may not have happened).
  • It is incredibly easy to get around the city. Transportation is cheap and accessible, as long as you know where you are going. It’s best not to travel around 6pm or else you may be hanging out the door of the bus just to get a spot.
  • There are very few single occupancy vehicles. This pleases me.
  • There are even fewer bikes. Although, I don't blame them...I don't want to cycle up these hills either.
  • If you're a small kid in Canada, don't'll be the same size as other kids your age here.
  • If you are a kid, and you’re blonde, and you don’t like being touched or looked at, it’s best to learn the art of closing your eyes, or putting your head down early. In all likelihood you’ll eventually adjust or learn how to cope with the attention, just like a little someone I know did. 
Well, I hope that helps with any future plans of visiting La Paz. This place is spectacular, wild, and wonderful all at once. These observations are just the small ways in which we have needed to change or modify our own outlook as we learn how to live here. Some things have been hilariously different, and other things have been tremendously hard, but we are thankful for the opportunity to live here and discover how other people exist.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Up and Running, and Walking

I’m pleased to say that the Center (clinic) is up and running and so are some new patients! Before Christmas we were able to complete three new prostheses and have started work on several others.

The Center invested greatly in a commercial quality convection oven and although we flopped a chocolate cake, the oven is doing a fine job of baking copolymer polypropelene :) For those that don’t know, one way to fabricate prosthetic limbs is called plastic thermoforming. A flat piece of plastic sheet (usually 3 or 5mm thick) is cooked on a teflon sheet at high temperature until chemical bonds are altered and the plastic can flow. The fluid plastic is quickly handled with gloved hands and placed over a modified plaster model of a residual limb. The plastic is sealed to a vacuum system and thus precisely thermoformed into the three-dimensional limb shape and left 24 hrs to cool.

Designing, fabricating, and fitting prostheses is an extremely rewarding craft, and the stories of success do not get much better than what is happening here at Centro de Miembres Artificiales. Meet A-----o:

A-----o is a young man born the same year as my middle brother. This makes him 36 yrs old. TWELVE years ago he lost his right leg above the knee in a traumatic accident, otherwise he is completely healthy. Since then he has used this contraption to restore body image and assist in standing. 

The inside of the prosthetic interface is peppered with metal staples that previously fixed some type of foam or plastic in place :(

He used lots of fabric from an old sweatshirt to pad the interface and help make the oversized and mis-shaped socket wearable. The prosthesis was suspended using a simple belt. The knee is some kind of outside hinge joint and the foot is broken. Everything is held together with some rubber strips. The unit weighs close to 10 lbs.

In comparison A-----o’s new custom made ischial containment socket fits so intimately to his limb that it is suspended solely with suction, aided by a one-way expulsion valve . The copolymer plastic is smooth and strong, yet allows some flex to aid in comfort. Below the copolymer socket is a new polycentric knee made in-house of delrin plastic and designed by Limbs International. The polycentric joint allows mechanical stability in the stance phase of gait and knee flexion in swing to provide normal (-ish) biomechanics and improved ground clearance. Below the knee is a Shape and Roll foot also made in-house of copolymer plastic. The total prosthesis weighs half of what his old one did.

Less than an hour after fitting the prosthesis A----o was walking independently without aids. That is a special thing to watch :) He walked home and left his old “prosthesis” for our museum.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


After a month in La Paz we finally completed our immigration process. We entered the country as volunteers, so we weren’t able to come under the normal tourist visa. Before we came we went through a process to gather all the necessary documents to obtain the Objecto Determinado, which only gives you 30 days in the country. You are expected (or perhaps not expected) to complete your residency application in those 30 days. We did not. Thankfully we were only 4 days over so our fine was small, but I don’t think that many people are capable of competing this task in the allotted time. Fortunately for us, we did not have to tackle this mission on our own (being that we don’t speak the language and had no experience in the country) and basically just had to show up at random offices and look pretty.

Let me take you through a bit of this process…our fifth day here (mostly over the general haziness that comes with high altitude acclimation), we went to the immigration office to get the list of requirements necessary to complete our visa application. We lost Pingu, got some photos taken and ate some saltenas. Overall, not too bad. A few days later we had to go to another office called FELCC. I’m not sure I can actually tell you what they do or why we had to go to them, but I’ll try.

FELCC: I think they have to corroborate your housing location. Maybe. We went to some small office in the middle of nowhere where we had to give them passport copies, our fingerprints, photos and a receipt that said we put some money in the bank. Don’t worry…I don’t know what that’s about either. They gave us some certificate. I think there were some other documents in there as well, but I don’t know what they were. Next was INSO.

INSO: I don’t know what it stands for, but it has something to do with checking out how healthy we are and whether we will be a drain on their health system, or will infect others with communicable diseases. They sat us down in a big waiting room and then they would call us into different rooms to check different things. We had to pee in a cup, they took our blood, they measured our height and weight (and called Duane “Jesus Christ Superstar” because their height measurer wasn’t big enough for him), they x-rayed our chests, a dentist checked our teeth, and finally we sat down with a doctor who asked us questions and checked out our overall health. This all happened in a matter of an hour, and afterwards we went for Api (hot purple corn drink) and pasteles (cheesy pastry). Next up, Interpol.

Interpol: these guys need to make sure we’re not criminals…possibly. This was my favorite part of the process. Their office was housed in an old mansion that had apparently been taken over by the police due to sketchy business on the part of the previous owner. It was like walking into a Quinton Tarentino film. It was basically an all boys’ club of official police, doing official things. We had to go back to this place about 3 times. The first time just to find out what we had to bring them, the second time to pick up our certificate (which wasn’t ready) and the third time to actually pick it up. Oh, Bolivia. We were fingerprinted again, and I think we had to put money in the bank for them too. I really don’t know what bank this money goes into and who gets it, but it has to be done.

After this we went to FELCC again…but a different office in a different location where they fingerprinted us again (this happened so frequently that Amelia started playing “fingerprints”), and we had to give them more documents. I believe this took us to the final stretch of our visa application with only a few days remaining in our time allowance.

Obviously the Bolivian government wants to know that we are able to provide for ourselves while we are here, so we had to go to a notary public to get our bank statements notarized. The problem with the notary is you can get them to notarize anything…a lie, the truth…you just tell them what you want the letter to say and they say it. So, we went to a notary, got our stuff signed and made our way to immigration where we were finally able to submit our papers.

We just went back a few days ago to get our visa and to finally wrap up this immigration fiasco. Our papers were ready, but the whole thing confuses me…instead of having our papers photocopied, they gave us the entire stack and told us to get them photocopied. After we had done so, we went back to immigration where they told us to return the next day because the papers had to be stamped. Uhhhh…does that take a whole day? So, needless to say, we aren’t finished yet. Hopefully we’ll get this all done before Christmas so we can carry on as temporary residents.

And on that note…we wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. For those of you who get to spend the holiday with family, enjoy the time you spend together, and for those of you who won’t be able to, find people who are like family to spend your time with. We are joining Ivonne and her family for their Bolivian Christmas celebration for which we feel so fortunate. Feliz Navidad! 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Where in the world can you travel two hours, drop 1500 meters, and go from a temperate climate to a tropical one? I’ll give you a hint…it rhymes with solivia.

This last weekend we decided to get away after the immigration insanity and take a bit of family time somewhere warm. We heard that many Bolivians travel to a town called Coroico due to its amazing temperatures, and proximity to La Paz so we decided to try it out. There are two ways to reach this town. One is via the “most dangerous road on earth” (aka Death Road) or by a newer highway. Many tourists opt for Death Road taking “gravity assisted mountain biking” tours down a sketchy path with nothing but a mountain on one side and a jagged precipice on the other. We chose the newer highway. Although that was our choice, for a long time I wasn’t sure we hadn’t somehow gotten on the wrong bus and ended up on Death Road.

For $5/person, we all piled into a station wagon style vehicle (Amelia in my lap) and began our ascent to 4800 meters. I guess you have to go up before you can go down. When we stopped for gas, all of the passengers remained in the running vehicle while the driver fueled up (my heart nearly stopped, but Duane assured me it’s very difficult to light anything at that altitude). We passed plateaus full of grazing llamas and alpacas and entered into some hostile looking mountains where somehow people had settled. The bumpy road twisted continually making visibility difficult, but that never seemed to deter the driver from passing.

We continued up until there was no more up to go, and came to our favorite part of the road that travels along the spine of the mountain…views on either side, and road as wide as there is space. And then we began our descent into lush and humid tropical valleys. I was amazed at how quickly the topography and climate changed.

Our driver opted for a bit of a short cut, and this is truly where we experienced our own Death Road. He cut off the paved, single lane highway onto a single gravel path…and when I say gravel I don’t mean what we have in Canada…I mean gravel the size of a fist. We bounded down the mountainside, passengers gripping their seats, everyone silent, steep cliffs mere inches from our tires simply to shave off a few minutes of travel.

When we almost reached the base of the mountain, we started our climb back up to the beautiful hamlet of Coroico, set at 1200m, surrounded by green abundance. Our ‘resort’ was set outside of the town, perched on the mountainside in an old coffee plantation turned Ecolodge. For only $50/night we had an amazing cabin with breathtaking views, an outdoor kitchen and profound silence. The temperature was on average 25-30C. We could walk around the property where there were many coffee plants (that provide organic coffee for all the guests), coca plants, banana palms, lime trees and tropical flowers. We spent our days lying in hammocks, swimming in the pools, and exploring (as much as one can with a toddler). When we got there Amelia said, “I love it here. I’ll live here when I’m older”.

Our cabin
The view from our porch
Biggest fiddlehead fern I've ever seen
Air filled spiky balls
These guys were everywhere
Milly learning how to swim
Our trip back was just as eventful. We drove through thick clouds, with limited visibility all set to an eighties/early nineties music montage that lasted for over an hour. On our descent back into La Paz I became convinced that our minivan had mechanical difficulties/possible brake trouble as our driver coasted down hills and had minimal, jerky use of his brakes. Thankfully we made it back in one piece…only a little travel weary. 

There’s nothing like some time away to make one thankful for “home” no matter how small, uncomfortable, or different it may be. I think all three of us felt this when we arrived at our apartment in Sopocachi, La Paz. We have all started referring to this place differently and felt a sense of relief when we experienced the familiarity of our neighborhood streets. I loved Coroico, but I’m not sure how soon I’ll be ready to make that journey again.

Friday, November 22, 2013


Hey friends…many of you have asked how you could donate to the project or how you could help out. First and foremost, this clinic is need of financial assistance. Much of what exists here has come out of the pockets of those that run this clinic. They have had some aid, but there is an ongoing need for dollars.

I’ll list the big items that were purchased to get this clinic back on its feet and you can decide if you want to “buy” an item or put money towards a specific tool. I've also added some regular outgoing finances. A tax-deductible receipt can be provided by following my instructions at the end of this blog. The prices listed are in Canadian dollars.

These prostheses are homemade by some of the Center's patients.
Heat Gun - $25.00
Saw for Cutting Plastic - $164.00
Drill Press - $170.00
Plywood for Work Benches - $193.00
Bench Grinder - $200.00
Shop Vac - $243.00
Monthly Rent - $300
Salaries - $400
Vacuum Pump - $465.00
Band Saw - $540.00
Oven - $2430.00
Scholarship Fund to send Bolivian Technician to school for Prosthetics (2-3 years of study)- $8000

In order to receive a tax-deductible receipt, donate to an organization called “Sending out an SOS”. The founder is a female Bolivian amputee who became an actress, moved to the states, started a prosthetic business and wanted to give back to Bolivia. Contributions can be made at this address through Paypal, and through credit card by pressing the “donate” button. If you need a tax ID, please email me and I can give it to you. Checks can also be sent to this address:

Sending out an SOS
14431 Ventura Blvd., Suite 290
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

Please make a note that the donation is for “CMA Bolivia Prosthetics” and email me at to let me know when, how much, and how (check, Paypal, credit card…) this donation was made so we can follow up and ensure that each donation was credited appropriately.

Remember that any amount helps! You don’t have to pay for an entire tool to contribute to this clinic. We believe in what is happening here and feel honored to be a part of it and are grateful for a community of people who believe in us.  

Views of La Paz

Here are the views seen from the hill beside our apartment.

According to some, the new president Evo Morales likes football better than politics so many pitches have received new artificial turf over the last few years.

Can you see the Lego building?

Mt Illumani can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.

Sky is clear and blue at 12500' elevation

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the Brink

The Centro de Miembros Artificiales is about to re-open! As mentioned previously much of the equipment for the prosthetics lab was purchased in a single day at one of the worlds largest open-air markets in El Alto.

Bandsaw for cutting plastic and anything else that might need a quick zip during the fabrication of a prosthetic leg.

Drill press is critical in the fabrication of the in-house made Limbs International polycentric/locking knees. The knees are cut and drilled from black delrin plastic.

Bench grinder modified for use as our primary socket trim-line shaping tool. It will serve as our “Trautmen” grinder.

Ivonne, the Center's manager, demonstrated the fine art of bartering to get a decent price on the Rigid brand-name shop vac (in the corner of the pic) which will be used as our lab’s dust collection system.

This refrigeration pump (purchased mail-order from Argentina) will serve as our thermoforming vacuum. In combination with the shop-made PVC surge tank we hope to have a very functional system for cheap.

And the grand-daddy of them all is this Brazilian gas-fueled convection oven to heat our plastics for thermoforming. Finding this oven was like partaking in a city-wide treasure hunt. You see, in Bolivia you can’t simply search the internet for what stores sell the type of equipment you are needing. And no, you can’t search the yellow pages either. You literally have to hit the streets. This meant many days and countless hours of taxis, mini-buses, micro-buses (oddly larger than the mini-bus), and walking to find the best oven to meet our needs and budget. We are happy to be finished explaining to shop owners that YES we are going to cook plastic, not fine pastries. However, to celebrate the purchase, we ARE going to bake a delicious cake and some scones in the oven on Friday before it is tainted by the first piece of polypropelene.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


I have a story. It’s one about thankfulness, about connections, about incredible hook-ups, and about thankfulness.

As you already know, when we moved here we were living in a shared accommodation. We were thankful for many things there…the puppies, the garden, the quiet…and then we moved to our own place. We have been thankful for…our own space. I haven’t allowed myself to say that this accommodation is difficult. I haven’t allowed myself to want for more or wish for something better. We could live here. We could be happy. We could make-do. I mean, no big deal that we have been toasting our bread on a pan or that we only have 2 pots. We have hot water. We have a bed. We have our own space. BUT, the truth is we are living in a tin can. A bell literally goes off just outside our window every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. It marks quarter after, half past, quarter to, and then the hour with an addition bell to mark what hour it is. Midnight is a spectacular 16 bells. We only have internet in our kitchen window because apparently the owner has another property across the street so they put the modem somewhere in the middle. The people above seem to be clomping around in high heels until 2am everyday, and someone in our apartment owns a yappy dog.

Don’t get me wrong. We have been planning all along to live here for 6 months. We could do it and be fine…but sometimes beyond all reason, events conspire to provide you with your heart’s desire… a longing you wouldn’t even dare voice for fear of seeming ungrateful. And here the story begins.

Two days after we arrived we were exploring our new surroundings. We discovered an adorable little yard that appeared to be a kid’s play area or daycare of sorts. A friendly, foreign looking man stood outside so we decided to approach him to ask him about this place. He did in fact speak English and took us inside to translate for us, where we discovered that this WAS a daycare that could take Amelia so she could make friends and learn language. It turns out this was also the place that our dear friend and coworker, Ivonne, had in mind for Amelia before we even came.

About one week later we saw this man across the street and waved to him. No interaction. Just a wave. Another week later we were walking in a plaza near our apartment when this man approached us out of nowhere and said he had been thinking about us! He told us that his family shares a garden with another family who happens to be moving back to Spain for 6 months and they are looking for someone to sublet their flat. He knew we were in town for that amount of time and he and his wife thought we would be perfect! Duane, Amelia and I checked out the flat that very moment and fell in love. It is the most beautiful little home. Amelia immediately made herself comfortable, digging in the dirt, and riding on the little bikes (yes, there are little kids that live there). They even told us that hummingbirds come to visit. There is NO BELL, and it’s only 3 blocks from the clinic where Duane is working! 

SO…in 3 short weeks we will be moving to this amazing location that I can’t even believe just fell in our laps. I am thankful beyond words. Thankful that our desires are known before we even give words to them. Thankful that we don’t even have to give words to our desires. Thankful that men like Lluis exist, and thankful for places that feel like home.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Valle de la Luna and El Alto

We had a weekend of adventure. We went to a place called the Valley of the Moon. They didn’t mince words when they named that place. It was a valley and it was moony. And we also ventured to the top of the world to a market (and city) called El Alto.

Now, you might consider any sort of outing in a foreign country to be an adventure, but add to that an inability to communicate (other then hand gestures), a toddler, and public transit, and you’ve got yourself a full-blown Bolivian escapade! There are mini vans here that are privately owned but have a specific route that they have worked out with the city to take, and so for mere dimes and nickels we are able to travel all over the city and surrounding area (come on Saskatoon…jump on board). They have little placards in the front window that tell you where they are going, which only prove to be useful if you know where that place is. They cram as many people in these little vans as humanly possible and the driver takes a mental note of where everyone gets on and gets off so as to get the right fare. We have fully embraced said transit. And so for the Valle de la Luna outing we climbed aboard a little mini bus for a 40-minute drive through some of the craziest topography I’ve ever seen.

Not having any clue where we are going, and not really knowing how to tell the driver where we want to get off makes for an interesting ride, but we succeeded and found ourselves in what felt like the desert with all sorts of jutty, spiky rock formations. Valle de la Luna was a beautiful and confounding place.

Now, El Alto deserves a bit of explanation. It used to be a part of La Paz. It was where much of the city’s poor lived (and still live), and consequently where most of the indigenous people reside. Over time it grew and is now bigger than La Paz, and is considered a city of its own. Here is where they house one of the world’s biggest open-air markets…it is said that it would take you seven full days of exploring to see the entire market. I believe it. If I weren’t with Bolivians I might never have come out of El Alto. People of La Paz go there because they can get absolutely anything they want for very little money. Things are crazy cheap. We went because, as Duane said in the previous post, we are currently setting up the clinic and are purchasing tools to make Centro de Miembros functional.

This trip proved to be profitable, as they bought almost all of the tools needed to get the clinic running again and we had one of the best views of the city we’ve ever had. Sitting at nearly 4000 meters, El Alto lent us a spectacular look at our temporary home. The only casualty was one cell phone nicked from the pocket of our Bolivian friend. Sneaky little pickpocket.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Starting From Scratch

Some people bite off more than they can chew. That describes how I feel; except I didn’t take that gargantuan bite… some less-than-lovely folks in La Paz threw a curve ball at Centro de Miembros Artificiales and it landed right in my mouth. I’m catching my breath from time-to-time, but still unable to chew this wad of work down into a manageable size.

To reiterate; approximately one month before our arrival in La Paz, the prosthetics clinic I am volunteering at was forced to move locations and due to other complications also lost all of its equipment. So, rather than showing up here and observing a fully functioning prosthetics clinic to critique where/when/how I might add to their practice, I find myself purchasing fabrication equipment in a foreign country (one in which nothing is advertised online), planning work flow in the lab, advising on lowest-cost-possible-McGyver-style fabrication setups, delegating tasks to part-time volunteers, and giving general operation guidance. I must say I am lucky to have become one corner of the triangle that is strong enough to get this much needed prosthetics clinic up and running again. The other two corners of the triangle are Matt (the American co-founder of the clinic, currently hogging all the American bandwidth to email and skype with us 24/7) and Ivonne (permanent volunteer clinic manager) the never-tiring, hardest working, loveliest, humanitarian Bolivian grandmother who does everything.

Our goal at Centro de Miembros Artificiales is to be operational as soon as possible (2 more weeks?) so that the two Bolivian prosthetic technicians can come back to work and we can all continue the service of providing the best possible functional prosthesis free of charge to the underprivileged amputees of Bolivia.

Monday, November 4, 2013

First Impressions

So, we’ve been in La Paz for 12 days now and I have to say, this city is really growing on me. We are constantly discovering new and breathtaking views, and are amazed at how quickly and drastically the weather can change. The clouds coming over the mountains often speak of rain and thundershowers, and the booming claps echo throughout the valley. Even though we see this everyday, it doesn’t mean that it will rain. I haven’t quite figured out how to predict the weather. Most days have been warm and sunny…a nice fall day.

There are playgrounds everywhere here!!! I was pleasantly surprised (as was Amelia), so we have been frequenting a few of them. It’s unclear to me yet if the same people go to the same playgrounds, making it a market for new friends…time will tell. There are also plenty of green spaces, which they have placed in the middle of their round-abouts…cars whipping around, making this mother a bit nervous.

People don’t really seem to care whether we are here or not. It doesn’t have the same vibe of many of the other countries I have visited where you are a bit of a novelty and points and stares are the norm. We are free to do as we please without much notice from others, which is nice. Amelia still seems to draw some attention though…her tiny frame (making her the same size as many of the other kids her age here) and her blonde hair are a cause for cheek squeezes and “bonitas” from people of all ages. Teenage girls seem to pay the most attention to her. And old ladies.

Only 12 days in and I have already realized some things I have taken for granted, and which I am thankful for at home;
Clean water – We are boiling water all the time so we can wash vegetables, make coffee, etc.
Hot water – Each tap only has one faucet…cold water. We are also boiling water so we can wash our dishes in hot water. At least the showers have hot water, so I’m incredibly grateful for that. My first shower here was very, very cold because I didn’t understand how to make the water hot with just one tap (basically you have to nearly shut the water off to make it hot…the more it is shut, the hotter the water will be).
Flat topography – Everything is on a hill. Everything. You are either always going up, or going down. And we’re not talking about slight grades here…we are literally hiking. Our butts are going to be awesome when we come home!
Unlaboured breathing – Since we are so high in elevation, our lungs have not yet adjusted. We pant up hills, we pant while putting on our clothes, and we pant while stirring a pot of water. Standing up from sitting is enough to make you pass out. Amelia has developed a bit of high altitude sleep apnea, which scared me at first but her breath has been regulating itself as she acclimatizes.

We moved today…when we arrived in La Paz, we were staying in a shared house. It’s a massive home with more rooms then I even know. We were sharing with many Bolivians and a couple from the UK. There was a beautiful garden and a nice courtyard where Amelia liked to play. I know, I know, this sounds ideal but with all of the change our wee one has experienced we felt that it would be the best for her to have our own space. Any time anyone came into the kitchen she would stop eating. There were all sorts of tiny, breakable knick-knacks that she loved to play with that were at her level. I felt like I was always telling her to put stuff down. At least now we can make a home. And we don’t have to work around others in a small kitchen.

The new place we moved into is a small apartment very close to a nice area of town. An English guy lived here before us and left this place in a state…the expectations to leave a place clean apparently aren’t the same as at home. The place is cute though, and will be comfortable for us. We will have to get used to the sounds and smells that come from our surrounding neighbours (ie the thumping from upstairs, and the bell that seems to ring every 30 minutes from somewhere outside), but that’s all a part of living somewhere else.

There’s a lot more to say, but I think I’ll leave that for another post. Duane can update about the clinic and all that is happening there. Although this post was about all that we are getting used to and such, we are very comfortable here and are very happy to be living in La Paz. We like it here. Of course we miss our friends and family, but the winter will pass quickly and we will be home just as the flowers are poking through the soil. Adios for now!  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

La Paz, Day 1

Hola from Bolivia! We have arrived safe and mostly sound and are currently getting our bearings, although we are taking our time to adjust to the elevation and moving pretty slowly.

We left Miami last night around 10:30pm. We were already a visible, and linguistic minority on the plane…possibly the only people who weren’t capable of speaking Spanish. Amelia stayed awake until take-off and then had a pretty good sleep on the plane. She laid out on a seat between Duane and I, and as far as I knew, remained there until we landed…Duane informed me this morning that at one point he woke up to find her standing on the floor with her head resting on the seat, still mostly asleep. At least she didn’t fall off the seat, right? Right?

We landed in La Paz at 5:30am, and immediately Amelia started throwing up. Poor little thing was so pale and weak…even though we had been taking anti-altitude sickness medication, she was still affected. In fact, we all were (are). As we left the plane we walked so slowly, and felt light-headed, experiencing the minor effects of the elevation. For those of you who don’t know, La Paz is just under 12,000 ft making it the second highest urban center in the world…Lhasa, Tibet being the first.

Our first view of the city was breathtaking (and not because of the altitude). There was just enough of a break in the clouds to cast some light on this spectacular valley. Buildings and shanties scale some of the most seemingly uninhabitable inclines, and there are mountains surrounding the city on every side. As we entered La Paz, it because clear to us that while the streets made absolutely no sense to us, people were very adept at getting around. There were no visible street signs (other than one hand-written one that I saw).

Our house is a shared accommodation. There are some other volunteers living here, although I couldn’t tell you how many people since we’ve been dead to the world since we’ve arrived. There is a really nice courtyard, and a small piece of grass that will be a nice area for Amelia to play on. We’re not sure how long we’ll be at this place…we’re just going to play it by ear and see if we like it and if it works for our family.

After arriving at our place we all immediately fell asleep in our massive bed…after about half an hour Amelia threw up again and felt awesome!!! Then she threw up again…wuh wuhhhh. That was at about 8am and she hasn’t been sick since, just really sleepy. Duane has basically been symptom free, and I have been sporting a bit of a headache and some nausea. There’s also the crazy feeling of your heart beating out of your chest when you walk upstairs…you know, like if you sprint, but here you’re only slowly taking a flight of stairs.

So, that’s our first day and we’re only halfway through. We are so looking forward to this adventure! We have no idea how to get around or how to find out house again if we leave, but that’s all a part of the joy of international travel! 

Thursday, October 17, 2013


So, we've made it to Florida and it's everything I expected and more!!! We are staying at this amazing bungalow rental in the middle of nowhere! Quite literally, our little place is an oasis in the midst of barren land. There are few trees and single level homes all around us and we are just offset from the highway, but when you enter the property where we are staying you'd never know that anything else in the world existed. Apparently they have about an acre of land and also doubles as a nursery, so we are among a cornucopia of foliage....bamboo, ylang ylang, and other stuff I can't pronounce or recall.

Our hosts are incredible as well! They have introduced us to their chickens (yes, there are also chickens on this property) and have given us some eggs. They also brought over gigantic avocados...the likes I have never seen before. I thought they were papaya they were so big. And they have also given us access to bananas. I might never leave!

Duane and Daren left this afternoon to head to the polo court for their first day of competition, and while they embarked on their journey, I embarked on one of my own...after Amelia's nap we walked (well, I walked while carrying her) about 10 blocks to a bus stop in 30 degree weather to head to the beach. We had no problems on the way there! Easy connections, very little waiting. And we had an amazing time at the beach! Amelia loved the ocean and the sand and the warm air and water! She didn't like the salty water in her mouth and eyes, but who can blame her? Before I could even get her into her bathing suit she was digging and crawling in the sand and running towards the water!

We played for about 2.5 hours before I decided that we needed to head back before it got dark. Good idea in theory. We ended up waiting at a bus stop for 45 minutes in the scorching heat with no shade while I tried to force feed Amelia grapes and water and block the sun from her tiny body. Finally I gave up. We walked (I walked) another 6 or so blocks to another more populated bus stop to wait an additional 15 minutes to get on a bus that wasn't really a bus, so I had to pay more money (even though I had an all day pass) which took me right past where I needed to go, but they wouldn't let me off because apparently it's against the law to drop someone off at a stop that's not yours. I ended up in tears. It didn't work. We eventually ended up in an ok place where we waited another 20 minutes or so for our bus to arrive and when we got to our stop it was dusk. I chose a more populated street to walk down, thinking that would be more safe, but it seems to me that men driving by perceived me to be a street walker (carrying a toddler!?!?) because I was honked at and waved at a number of times on the way home. Either that or I looked like someone that multiple men knew.

Amelia was entirely unscathed and would probably do the whole trip over again...which is more then I can say for myself. What a relief it was to walk into our little haven. I'm not sure I recommend exploring a new city with a toddler on your own....

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


In amidst all the packing and cleaning we've had to remember our yard, and more importantly, our garden. Oh, to live in an apartment at times like these (although the bounty when we return will be amazing). I've canned about 6 pints of salsa, 8 jars of pizza sauce, 8 jars of pickled beans, and about 9 jars of pickled carrots. Our pantry will be full when we get home!!!

Throughout this process I have been overwhelmed with the help from our community! Harvest never would have happened if two friends hadn't come over and dug carrots, raked leaves, and entertained our daughter. And I never would have finished canning everything without the help of a friend taking Amelia so I could work on my own! It's amazing how much one can accomplish without two extra little curious hands getting into everything. Thanks to all of you who have lent us your time and your help so we can prepare for our departure.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


I'm currently sitting between stacks of papers, scattered toys, bits and bobs that have been pulled out of cupboards, and half filled bins of stuff....lots and lots of stuff. It's nice to purge. It leaves me feeling refreshed and unburdened.

I suppose we are coming to the end of a chapter...or maybe more appropriately, a pause of one. The countdown is on until our departure for Bolivia and I waffle between the feeling of excitement and utter panic. I know this is normal. I've done this before. But I can't help thinking that this time we're dragging another little individual along with us who is unable to choose this for herself. There are moments where I have to remind myself that this will be an amazing experience for her...for all of us. There are other moments where I know it.

So, what's our story, you ask? Duane and I have often talked about making international travel a part of what we do as a family...volunteer travel more specifically. Around Christmas we decided that there was no better time than now. One child, flexibility at work, limited expenses...we could do it! Now the question was where? We opted for South America simply to avoid jet lag for Amelia, and Bolivia was the country that came up. They have a very grassroots clinic there that provides prostheses to the poor for free. There is no where in the country for nationals to train in the profession of prosthetics and so everything they know they have learned on the job. Duane has the unique opportunity to work alongside two Bolivians and to offer further training, as well as to learn how prosthetics can effectively be done in a developing country. Amelia and I will learn Spanish, work on applying for our temporary residency visas, and make friends.

In just five and a half weeks we will leave our home, head to Florida where Duane will compete in the Bike Polo World Championships, and then carry on from there to La Paz, Bolivia. Our thoughts are scattered (as are our belongings at present), but we look forward in anticipation to this coming adventure.