Just a hop, skip, and a jump! – Travelling from Toronto, Canada to Sucre, Bolivia

It had been a long few months to get to this point.  People always ask how you’re feeling: Are you nervous to move to a country you don’t know much about? Are you excited to go on a new adventure? Are you sad to be leaving everyone behind?  To be honest, the last couple of weeks are just stressful.  I don’t even think about these things!  All I can think about is packing one box, one room, one suitcase at a time.  The last few months have been a few giant to-do lists of everything that needs to be accomplished before moving to another continent.  But once you arrive at the airport, all bets are off! Sitting on the plane you finally realize that this is happening, it’s real, and there’s nothing you can do about it!

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Steve’s parents were nice enough to drop us off at the airport in Toronto.

On Tuesday morning we finished packing all our bags and loaded them into Steve’s parent’s SUV.  Thankfully they don’t just have a tiny hatchback or something!  In total, we had 4 large suitcases, 2 carry-on bags, and 2 personal bags (purse and laptop bag).  Plus, his parents both wanted to come, so his mom and I both had to squeeze in the back with some of the bags, and Steve and his dad sat in the front.  His parents live in Newmarket, Ontario, so it took us about 45 minutes to reach the Toronto airport.  We chatted along the way, and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare.  I think they were sad to see Steve go (it would be his first time not living in Ontario), but they were very nice.  We took a few pictures together, loaded all our bags on 2 carts, and set off to find the check-in area.

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Left: Only one overweight suitcase – which is a total victory for me!  Right: We finally made it on the plane!

The check-in area was automated, and we were able to scan our passports and get our boarding passes and baggage tags.  Unfortunately, there was no options to pay for extra baggage, and there was no way to get seats together without paying for them.  So we took our bags (already tagged) to the weighing area with the conveyor belts.  They told us one bag was too heavy (which we already knew) so I took that bag to the counter and paid for it. Once all the bags were checked, we headed through the American security/customs lines.  Of course I forgot my water bottle from the car, so I had to run back through all the ropes, empty it in the bathroom, then put my water bottle back in a tray, wait for it to be scanned and then proceed. Steve was laughing at me, which is fair – total rookie mistake!

After we found our gate, we had lots of time to spare.  Since it was about 2-3pm and we hadn’t really had lunch (since we had starting getting ready to leave the house around noon), we decided to check out the restaurant beside our gate.  It was perfect, we could order cocktails and food on the tablets, check our email, see the status of our flight, and charge our devices.  We also took turns going around to buy some last minute snacks, fill water bottles, use the bathroom – and all those other last minute things.  It’s so nice to travel with someone else so you can just leave all your stuff in one area (instead of trying to carry it all into the bathroom with you – not ideal!).

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Left: My exit row seat had a tray table that left a lot to be desired… Right: It was storming when we arrived in Miami.

Before we boarded, Steve went up to the desk and was able to get us free seats together – yay. The only seats available were in the exit row, which is great for Steve because of his long legs.  We got on the plane, managed to find some room for our bags (thankfully Steve is strong and can lift heavy bags over his head), and got seated (take off was around 5pm).  There was no individual TVs, so mostly I just read my book, ate some snacks, and relaxed a bit on the flight.  Since we were in the exit row, our tray tables were horrible.  They folded in half to fit in the arm rest, so they were super small, on an angle sloping down, and very easy to knock. Thankfully, there wasn’t a lot of turbulence so we didn’t spill our drinks too much, and we made it safely to our layover in Miami.

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Re-routed to Santa Cruz.  There was a lot of waiting involved…

We arrived in Miami to some thunderstorms, but we were pretty much on time (around 8pm).  We had a few hours until our flight so we waited for most of the others to get off and took our time.  We checked on the departures board and were able to find our gate.  I also restocked on supplies, with a new paperback novel and some bugles to snack on. I think Steve was a bit annoyed that I was dawdling, but I knew we’d be doing a lot of sitting once we got to our plane so I took my time.  After sitting at the gate for a while, our flight was delayed, and delayed again.  We managed to contact the Cuso office in La Paz to let the driver know to check the times (since we might arrive late).  Steve went up to the desk and got our tickets changed to beside each other again (since they could only do the first flight in Toronto).

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We all waited for hours while the security team opened and hand-checked EVERY piece of luggage – yikes!

Eventually, we got on the plane, and spent the next 6 hours trying to sleep.  Steve slept most of the way but I was totally awake and there was no TVs so I just read a lot of my new book (which I finished by the time I arrived in La Paz).  The second flight was the longer of the two. The first flight was around 3 hours, but this flight was going to be about 6 hours.  Everything was going according to schedule, and we had even made up time in the air so we were no longer running late.  However, about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to land in La Paz, the captain came on the radio.  I thought he would say something about our landing and thanks for flying with us, but I was wrong.  Instead he said it was snowing in La Paz and we would have to divert to Santa Cruz!

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Left: Our airline gave us breakfast and lunch vouchers for a cafeteria in the airport (along with every other passenger on our plane). Right: Finally arrived and getting our bags in La Paz!

Since I’ve traveled a lot, I said to myself “Okay, this sucks. Not ideal, but you’re flexible. You can handle this. You’ll get there eventually. They’ll have to put you on another flight since they diverted.  You don’t have any plans for the next 24 hours anyway. Just keep moving forward.”  We arrived in Santa Cruz and then we waited, and waited, and waited.  I have literally never spent so long “arriving” at an airport.  First we had to get off the plane and head to immigration.  There we waited in line for about 1.5 hours.  Keep in mind that I had barely slept and it was about 6am by this time.  Plus, we had no internet or phone cards or local cash to inform our driver that we weren’t in La Paz.

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Finally arrived in La Paz! The city is located in a valley, so you actually arrive at the airport in El Alto (the city on the surrounding hills) and drive down lots of twisting hills into La Paz.

Eventually we got through immigration without a problem and then went to find our bags. For some reason they were in piles all over the floor.  I got in the line while Steve went looking. He came back with 3 but couldn’t find the 4th.  I told him to wait in line with the bags, and I managed to find our final bag.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a cart, so we put on our backpacks and just moved forward, 2 steps at a time – in a snake around the conveyor belts.  After about an hour, I spotted a cart and I ran over to get it! We threw all our carrying bags on there, and I continued to roll the larger ones. After maybe about another 1.5 hours with our bags we were at the front of the line – and they were hand checking each bag!  I think because our bags were so heavy and full they only checked 2 of ours before they waved us forward. Unfortunately, one of the bags was a bit broken so we had to tape it, and he made us cut all the tape off – no ideal, since we’d have to get on another plane in a few hours and didn’t have time to fix it before then.

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Driving through El Alto and La Paz, you could see a lot of political message about voting “si” (yes) or “no” in the national elections for president Evo Morales.

After this security check, we headed to the desk for American Airlines.  They were very nice, and they gave us 2 food vouchers (for breakfast and lunch) and ticket vouchers, and told us to go to the Boa desk to get our new tickets in about 2 hours.  So we headed over to the canteen with everyone else from our flight and managed to get some sandwiches and juice. I didn’t eat much (I never can when I’m exhausted), but we hung out until around about 10. It hadn’t been 2 hours, but we tried our luck at the Boa desk. Thankfully they gave us new tickets with no problem, and checked all our bags – it was so nice to get rid of them again!  We managed to contact the Cuso office again on the airport WiFi. They already knew that our flight had been diverted, and we gave them our new flight information.


We headed through security again and waited at our gate.  We recognized people from our previous flight hanging out.  The new flight was delayed again but eventually we boarded and took the short flight to La Paz. At least this time we didn’t have to go through immigration/customs because it was a local flight, so we grabbed our bags and headed for the doors. Thankfully, there was a man with a sign with our names on it. He was very nice, and obviously awesome at Tetris, since he managed to perfectly place all our luggage in the trunk of his car – very impressive.  We drove about 45 minutes outside of the airport into the city, and to our hotel.

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Left: There was even a kitchen in our hotel room – which we didn’t use because we were way too tired to shop and cook, so we ordered from the restaurant instead. Right: Of course a bunch of my toiletries leaked (thank god for ziploc bags), so I had to wash them and leave them out to dry. 

It was about 3 in the afternoon by the time he delivered us to our hotel, where we checked in, and the staff helped us to bring all our bags to our room (which of course was on the top floor, down many winding corridors, and up a bunch of different flights of stairs).  Cuso had also given the driver “welcome packages” for us for the first day – which was really nice.  Now we had a bit of cash, some pills for the altitude, information about Cuso, waterbottles, totebags, and other small goodies.  We were totally exhausted, so we got some drinks from the mini-fridge, took a few altitude pills, and hit the hay early that night.  It had been a very long 24 hours!

Read the rest of this story in my previous/next few blog posts:


About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
This entry was posted in Bolivia - CUSO (2016/2017), Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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