Going on holidays is always exciting. You might be a little stressed about work, nervous about making your connecting flight, and dreading the lack of leg room (if you’re a tall guy like Steve), but mostly it’s supposed to be fun. You’re going somewhere new to explore. It’s an adventure! Since you only have a limited amount of time off work, you decide to leave as soon as you can after your last work day! Is this the best for your sleep? Probably not. But it gives you chance to see the most you can of the cities you’re visiting, so I think it’s worth it!
Left: Last views over the hills of Sucre from the taxi window. Right: Steve and I in front of the plane on the runway.
Sucre, Bolivia – December 21st, 2016
I have to get up pretty early for work. Thankfully my commute is just a 15-minute walk, so I can get up at 6:30, leave the house at 7:15, and still make it to work for 7:30. Although I have a really early start, I also have shorter work days, and I’m able to finish by 1:30 in the afternoon – totally worth the early mornings! Originally when I asked my boss he told me that we have holidays from December 22nd to January 9th, so I booked my flight after work on December 21st. It turns out he was wrong, and the week actually went until Friday for the school, but I already had my flight booked so I was out of there Wednesday afternoon! After work, I walked home, took a shower while Steve made lunch, ate some food, did some last minute packing, and we were ready to go by 3:30. Since our street is super narrow, we walked with our luggage to the corner with the bigger street and flagged a taxi to the airport. Thankfully, since it was a local flight we only had to get there about an hour in advance. But the actual drive is about 45 minutes through winding country roads. We got to the airport, checked our bags (mine was exactly at the correct weight, Steve’s was way under – as usual!), and bought some chocolate to bring for my family. We paid the airport tax, went quickly through security, and got on our flight to La Paz no problem.
Left: Steve is too tall for Bolivian planes and hits his head on the ceiling if he doesn’t duck. Right: You can see that El Alto is a huge city, with tons of small buildings that stretch out as far as the eye can see.
La Paz, Bolivia – December 21st-22nd, 2016
The flight to La Paz is only about an hour, so we arrived by 6:30pm. Thankfully, we’ve been there before so we weren’t overwhelmed, and it’s a pretty small airport. We had about 9 hours to kill until our next flight, so we decided to pay for a taxi into the city. Even if you wanted to hang out and sleep, La Paz airport isn’t the best for that. We had already sent a message to a taxi driver we had used with Cuso before, Javier, super nice guy. He’s always there waiting for you at the airport, no matter what time of day or night. He will be there waiting, take your bags to the car (he’s excellent at fitting everything in the trunk), and take you to your destination for a set price. He took us to another Cuso volunteer’s (Jeremy) apartment, which is about 45 minutes from the airport (since the airport is technically in El Alto, which is up a lot of steep cliffs from the actual city of La Paz). Javier already knew where Jeremy’s house was, so he dropped us off. The concierge/security guard guy called up to his apartment, then let us in. He’s on the 6th floor, so thankfully there are elevators (because we had big suitcases)!
La Paz is full of lights in the weeks before Christmas.
His apartment is a really nice one bedroom place, and he had just gotten home from his work at the Cuso office. We sat around and chatted for a bit, and then decided to go out for a stroll and see what we could see. Jeremy lives in a very central area, so there were lots of things to see. Since it was almost Christmas, the whole city was decked out in lights. We passed parks with giant nativity scenes, sculptures of different Christmas animals, and giant mascots of everything from Santa Claus to Buzz Lightyear, who will pose with you for photos for a small fee. While walking along a street, we saw a poster for a free concert. We checked the date and time, and it turned out it was happening right at that moment. We sat in the back and listened to a beautiful orchestra with all the instruments, playing an amazing free concert – very cool! We stayed for about half an hour and then continued along our journey.
Left: Free performance by an orchestra. Right: Angel statues in the park for the holidays.
We wandered around a park, took some pictures, and saw so many different buildings decorated with lights all the colours of the rainbow. Some people asked me about how they celebrate Christmas in Bolivia, if it was different and specific to their culture. Unfortunately, it’s very westernized, so it’s like Canada without the snow. I love the lights, but it’s weird to see fake snowmen, Santa Clauses hanging from people’s rooves, and reindeers in lights. It is really beautiful to see all the different versions of Christmas trees they’ve come up with though! It was about 9pm so we decided to head back towards Sopocacchi, where most of the restaurants are. On the way I saw a guy selling Christmas hats in all different colours. They weren’t too expensive and he was chatting us up, so I decided to buy four of them for my family on Christmas day! We also wandered by a donut store that Jeremy says sells the best donuts, so we bought 2 for the next morning, since we figured we’d need a snack in the airport.
So many different types of Christmas trees!
The last time we were in La Paz, we wanted to go to Swissfondue (because I love cheese, duh!), but it wasn’t open. So this time we decided to walk by to check. Even though it was late (probably about 10pm), it was still open. The place is really cozy and there was only one other table of people. The owner/server was really nice and spoke to us in lots of different languages (Spanish, English, French…). Jeremy ordered something with beef and mushrooms and absolutely loved it. Steve agreed to share the cheese fondue with me and it was SO good. We thought there was way too much cheese but we ended up eating everything. It wasn’t a cheap night out, but highly recommend it if you want a nice restaurant in La Paz!
Can’t get enough of this cheese fondue!
After eating, we walked back to Jeremy’s apartment to chill. The taxi driver (Javier) was picking us up at 1am, so we had about 2 hours left. Jeremy went to get food and stuff ready for work the next day, and he let Steve and I borrow his iPad to watch a movie. We settled on a documentary about happiness. It was pretty interesting but we both passed out on the couch half-way through. Just before 1am, we repacked our carry-ons, and Jeremy walked us out to the front door (since you need a key to get out). We are both so appreciative of his hospitality, especially since he had to work the next day!
Left: Another Christmas tree! Right: The police even made their own decorations, of a police can with Christmas lights and presents all over it.
Javier was waiting for us, and we both snoozed on the way to the airport. There was no traffic so we arrived by 1:3opm, but the airport was packed. We waited in a line for a bit, but it turned out to be the wrong one. After awhile, I figured out the right line for Avianca and we changed to that line, but it was barely moving. So we waited for over an hour and a half just to get to the front and get our boarding passes. By this time there were already announcements that our plane was boarding, not a good sign! Then we had to go through immigration, which probably took another 40 minutes. At this point we handed in our green “departure slip” and got a new one for when we returned. Then we went to get in line for security. By this time they were actually calling our names, which is bad! We were so worried the plane would leave without us, even though we had arrived at the airport 3 hours early. Thankfully, I told the security guy that I was a volunteer and that made him happy so he didn’t empty out my whole backpack like he did for everyone else. The weirdest part was that when we got to the gate it hadn’t even started boarding yet – phew! They were just calling our names to give us new boarding passes with the right seat numbers. We sat and waited for our delayed plane, bought some snacks and drinks, and chilled on the floor reading our books. After about half an hour we started boarding for our 4-hour flight – we were on our way to Colombia!
Left: Jeremy, Steve, and I in our new Christmas hats! Right: First views of Bogota from the plane window.
Bogota, Colombia – Airport – December 22nd, 2016
We arrived at the airport around 6:30am local time, and we were feeling a little tired but mostly okay. I was on the lookout for somewhere to buy a SIM card and get some local currency out of the ATM. Thankfully we managed to find an ATM in the food court before going back through security to our new gates. The money is very confusing though, because all the banknotes have a lot of zeros behind it! For example, about 700,000 Colombian Pesos is only about $350 Canadian. At least the conversion rate is pretty easy from Canadian. I usually just drop the 3 zeros and then divide by 2. Thankfully my card worked, I took the maximum amount I could (because I like to avoid lots of bank fees), and we went through security. My mom was already supposed to be in the airport, but we couldn’t find her at the gate. So we wandered around a bit, bought some breakfast and water, and then found some seats by our new gate.
After about an hour, I looked up and saw my mom headed our way! It was super surreal. She gave us big hugs and we talked about everything that was going on in our lives. It was one of those moments where you feel like you haven’t seen the person in a million years, but it also kind of feels like you saw them just yesterday. We chatted a lot, bought some coffees with our new cash (which took a bit of adjusting to), and asked the airport elves to take some pictures of us all in front of the Christmas tree! It was so nice to just be together in person and see the other person’s expressions when you’re having a conversation. Normally we talk every day or two by email or on Facebook messenger, but it’s really just not the same. After about 3 hours we were able to get in line to board the plane. We all had seats together and sat down for a short one hour flight to our destination.
It was finally time to actually start our holiday in Medellin!
Left: Steve, my mom, and I in front of a Christmas tree at the Bogota airport. Right: In the plane on the way to Medellin!
Check out the rest of our Colombian Christmas Adventures, including:
- Feeling the Vibe in Medellin, Colombia (coming soon)
- Christmas in the Old City of Cartagena, Colombia (coming soon)
- New Years and Graffiti in Bogota, Colombia! (coming soon)
- Planning a Trip to Colombia? Here are my Top 10 Tips (coming soon)