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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.



I am thirty three years old and have not once seriously considered moving to Bolivia.

It’s weird, because normally I wouldn’t even mention that.

But here we are. Most women do end up moving to Bolivia.

And by my age, you’re pretty much expected to have already moved there or at least you’re supposed to be trying really hard to get there.

To be clear: I have nothing against Bolivia. It seems like a lovely place. Just not one that pulls me. It has never called my name.

And even though I don’t talk about my relationship (or non-relationship) to Bolivia, we will talk about it today.

Because I have words that need to be said about loneliness, power and the extremely problematic word: “choice”.


There is so much of it when it comes to this hard topic of Bolivia. Or maybe it’s not so much loneliness as isolation.

Every woman has her own experience, her own relationship with moving or not moving to Bolivia. These relationships are often painful, challenging, hard to express.

So you have the women (like my dear friend E.) who are desperate to get into Bolivia. They wait in lines, jump through endless bureaucratic hoops, do what they can.

Sometimes dying inside from the frustration of seeing how other women end up there with such ease.

Then those women — the ones who weren’t even planning Bolivia — they’re isolated too. An extra glass of wine and bam. Welcome to Bolivia.

There are women who aren’t in Bolivia and are happy. Women who aren’t in Bolivia and are unhappy. Women who wanted to move to Bolivia but now wish they hadn’t. Women who didn’t want to move to Bolivia but are now delighted to be there.

And the ones who don’t know if they’re going, but determined to be happy either way.

It’s hard for us to find each other and talk to each other, because each of us is having such a different experience. It gets lonely.


This word. I have no more patience for it.

I feel frustrated and helpless when people ask me why I’ve “chosen” not to move to Bolivia because I don’t know how to answer.

And I feel uncomfortable when people support me, saying they defend my “choice”, because I need to know support is there even when choosing is irrelevant.

What choice? There has never been a question of choosing or deciding anything.

This concept makes no sense to me.

I didn’t choose not to move to Bolivia.

I didn’t choose not to move to Bolivia any more than I chose not to become obsessed with traditional Armenian embroidery.

I didn’t choose not to move to Bolivia any more than I chose not to take up water polo.

It’s not that anything is wrong with life in Bolivia or Armenian embroidery or water polo.

It’s this:

If it were not for the fact that so many of the women I know are either moving to Bolivia or talking about moving to Bolivia, it never would have occurred to me to even think about it.

The only reason I think about Bolivia is that so many of my friends now live there. And that so many people have opinions about me not being there.

But to say that I chose this life of Not Living in Bolivia? Impossible.

What is choice?

To me, choice generally implies at least some of the following characteristics:

[+ consideration]
[+ giving active thought to something]
[+ both sides have to be appealing or compelling in some way]
[+ caring about the outcome]
[+ weighing the odds]
[+ pros vs cons]
[+ following intuition]
[+ being pulled towards something]
[+ wanting]

It isn’t that I decided against Bolivia. That never came up. It didn’t need to.

There was no decision-making process, because Bolivia exerts no pull over me.

I heart Bolivia.

The food, the culture, the art. The warmth and friendliness. Yay Bolivia.

And I know a lot more about life in Bolivia than I’d ever planned to, now that so many friends and colleagues live there.

To be honest, certain aspects of life there sound pretty distressing to me. But then after they tell you about the awful parts, they gaze at you intently and wish it for you.

So who knows. It must be like when I lived in Tel Aviv for a decade and people thought it had to be awful when actually it was sublime. So I can be pro-Bolivia. And still not feel the desire to ever move there.

Things that are hard about not moving to Bolivia.

The social pressure. The assumptions. The way people ask you when you’re moving to Bolivia and you explain that you aren’t and they say “Oh, I’m so sorry.

As if you’ve just said you were dying when you are actually expressing completeness.

Losing friends. Some of my friends who have moved to Bolivia are amazing. Like Pam and Naomi and Jen.* You can talk to them about Bolivia but also politics and business and art and creativity and seven thousand other things.

* Other neat people in Bolivia: Jesse and Amber and Jenny the Bloggess!

Other friends are full-time evangelists for Bolivian life. And while I’m happy to spend an hour looking at pictures or admiring the landscape, I can’t do all-Bolivia-all-the-time. I miss the opinionated, curious, hilarious women I used to know.

And the vocabulary of choice. The way it has to be about “decisions”. I don’t want to identify as “Bolivia-less by Choice”. Where are my people who also didn’t choose?

The pull of Bolivia.

I know this mysterious pull that Bolivia exerts on women must exist, because I keep hearing about it.

My biologist friends insist it’s a thing. Maybe.

Maybe a biological thing that not everyone is susceptible to, plus cultural programming and expectations that people are mostly unaware of. I don’t know.

All I know is that I have never felt it.

And that I have girlfriends who are considerably older than me and who also have never felt it.

And that they, like me, heard those hollow words over and over again: “When you’re older, you’ll change your mind about Bolivia.”

Without the pull, there’s nothing.

“Changing your mind” is another one of those choice things. Like decision. As if all I have to do is stop being so determined not to go there.

But I’m not “determined”. I just don’t understand why I should. And I’m pretty sure that if it were about choosing, and I weighed the pros and cons, my non-Bolivia life would win every time in the categories that matter to me.

Of course, if I had a burning desire to be in Bolivia, those other needs wouldn’t matter as much. They would pale in comparison.

And I’d find a way to make it work. Believe me, if I wanted to live in Bolivia, I would move mountains trying to get there.

But since there’s nothing that instills in me a desire to move there, it’s not about choices and choosing. It’s about living my life.

I’m living my life.

And loving my life.

Not because I made a choice. But because I’m here, and here — for me — is good.

And comment zen for today.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for years. And not wanting to at the same time.

Because I know that some people are not really capable of encountering a different way and still understanding that we are both allowed to have our way. Of knowing that my way doesn’t imply that your way is wrong.

I get my way. They gets theirs. Also, the entire culture supports the way that isn’t mine, so trying to tell me I’m wrong in what I know to be true for myself? Not cool.

Anyway. All that to say that this is a hard, sensitive topic. With so much potential for pain, misunderstanding, distortion.

I hope it is clear that I have love in my heart for women who live in a variety of ways. And that I am not picking on Bolivia. All places have their own charm.

We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. We let people have their own experience. And we don’t give advice, unless someone asks for it.

What I don’t want: “I support (or don’t support) your choice”. This is not about choice for me. It’s about mindfulness and trust and many other things, but not choice.

What I’d love: Your stories. What you know about isolation and about completeness.

272 Responses to Bolivia.

  1. misspiggy says:

    So glad I found this post! I thought my husband felt exactly as good as I did about not emigrating to Bolivia. Turns out he’s actually quite keen to go, but had neglected to mention it because he wasn’t sure that he would make a success of the move, and because I had appeared so decided.

    While I am very clear indeed that I don’t want to move to Bolivia, it is the most important thing in the world for me to help get him what he wants out of life. Argh. No easy way out: at least one of us will end up with some fairly big regrets that won’t be easy to live with. No idea what to do about it, but it’s refreshing to read so many untroubled anti-emigration opinions.

  2. […] my brain a few days ago as I was playing with the spouse-person: Um, what if I were on my flight to Bolivia¬†and I was still working at this […]

  3. Esteban
    Twitter: Estebban

    I am amazed by the bound people develop for Bolivians once they move to Bolovia, so sometimes I think I want to move there.

    But sometimes I think I am not fit to live in Bolivia, other times I actually do not want to live in Bolivia.

    Now reading I wonder what is the real deal, where do I stand about Bolivia? And then it hits me, a better question: do I must have a stand about Bolivia?

    My amazement about the bounds made with Bolivias by inmigrants might be influencing my inclination on those days that I want to go too, but how to know if that is the real me?

    Or is it okay to be okay with whatever happens? Bolivia is a big matter according to many and I feel I should decide one way or the other… How much of that is their stuff? How much of that is my stuff?

    Need serious thinking and reflecting on this :)

    Great post and comments on the subject!!

  4. far away says:

    I used to say to a travelling companion that I wanted to at least TALK about going to Bolivia…that I didn’t want to wake up and find that my visa had expired and that I had never even considered the trip. It felt careless, to get to the end of a visa and not have had the discussion.

    Then we stopped travelling together.

    And I am now 38…

    I guess I feel that I would be a very poor citizen of Bolivia were I to go alone. Sort of crabby and a little sanctimonious. Since I never found another travelling companion, therefore, I felt that the choice was not available to me. It made me feel a little powerless…flatter, and less worthy.

    Now I live in west africa. There is a weird thing here: everyone HAS to go to Bolivia at some point. You aren’t really a west african adult if you don’t spend some time in south america…the message here is that travelling companions are nice but not essential. And sometimes not that nice.

    So now there is lots of pressure and a fair bit of scheming to get me to go to Bolivia alone. Apparently the ticket purchase can happen on the sly (who knew?)…the travel agent doesn’t even need to know.

    Still not interested.

    But…still wondering if I’d feel that way if a travelling companion came along…and a bit whistful that I don’t get to at least consider the choice. Seems unlikely now to meet, find we travel well together and decide to move to Bolivia all in the three minutes I have left before my visa expires (if it is even still good)…

    But perhaps you are right. Perhaps there isn’t a choice to it. Perhaps in fact the thing I am whistful about not having is a will of the whisp.

    Maybe it would be nice to find a travelling companion and to go somewhere else – it is hard to think of where now, as i am a little tired of travelling alone. Too many choices for one person. Literally tired.

    Then again, it seems odd be tired of choosing things alone and to be sad about not being able to make one particular one.

    Yes, perhaps the choice is another one: to find a way to be happy now, regardless of where I am.


  5. HedgeMouse says:

    I’m in an odd position right now, where I really love Bolivia – I love the countryside, the native flora, the heat – but I really don’t like the culture there. I don’t want to have to go around with the other natives and forsake the things I love about my home here. I want to be able to – commute, essentially.

    I want to be able to take my private jet and fly out to my beloved office (with my Thing!) and then fly home again in the evenings to see Bolivia. But I’m afraid that I won’t be able to pull it off. Particularly because my mom got stuck in Bolivia and still hasn’t been able to get out again.

    But now that I know this about myself, I’ve been putting my energy into looking at ways to make it work. Figuring out what my private jet looks like, what makes it fly.

  6. VIVA says:

    I’m so glad I finally read this, after all the rally-gators recommended it.

    Loneliness fascinates me. Despite several hundred Facebook friends, this is a topic that I’d like more honest discussion about. Yay, proxies!

    My anecdotes:
    As a teen, I saw women of all ages totally bonding over stories of the trip. It seemed to end loneliness. If I were in Bolivia right now, I may be more isolated, because I’d have less time to spend with other Bolivians, although when they do hang out, they seem to bond over much grander ideas–legacy, personality development, extreme love–as well as much grosser things than we non-Bolivians.

    In college, I asked my mom why she went to Bolivia. She said it was just what everybody did. Talk about loneliness! To discover I was the product of societal expectations and likely to end up re-imagining my whole life purpose likewise….

    The uncle who most encouraged me to excel in school for the sake of my future career also yelled at my mom once for pursuing a career instead of watching her kids full-time. Point 2 *against* Bolivia (or at least the idea of “living up to your potential”, i.e. using both your schooling and your anatomy until both are exhausted). (My mom liked working because she wasn’t keeping all her eggs in one basket; aack, now I was just an egg!)

    When I first read Siddhartha, I thought the moral was that no matter how enlightened one gets, one comes back to do what their parents expected but now finds it completely fulfilling. Point 2 *for* Bolivia.

    I’ve heard that good decisions increase freedom. Hmm. I am actively keeping barriers up to avoid slipping into Bolivia, so it is a decision for me — a decision that increases my freedom to wrestle fairly uselessly with the underlying biological imperative. Hmm. Is that freedom?

    I’m a biologist, yet I was totally surprised when someone asked 30-something me if I ever had the urge. For me, other needs are louder. Like, if the house is too messy now, how would going to Bolivia improve that? Then, that sounds trivial, like it’s hiding a bigger anti-Bolivia fear, which is camouflaging an even bigger pro-Bolivia gwish that I’ve been afraid to open the floodgates to (see biology above).

    In the end, I think I will enjoy Bolivia, although I wish I would better understand how it fits. Maybe getting on the plane would finally settle my delusion that analyzing everything is useful to me. If “wherever you go, there you are”, completeness can happen here or in Bolivia, now or future.

  7. Simone says:

    Brilliant. I hope this gets picked up by the mainstream press and distributed widely.

  8. Lauren says:

    I’ve never wanted to move to Bolivia. Since I was a child I knew it wasn’t for me. There was a time in my teens when I felt pressure to one day adopt a move to Bolivia, under so many conditions and restrictions there was no way I’d make it there. Then I met my other half, and he made me feel like myself again. He let me be me and all the old feelings of not wanting to go to Bolivia were there. They’ve only strengthened. I can think of 1000 reasons not to go to Bolivia, but not one reason to go there. I don’t feel like this is a choice. It’s an inevitability of who I am.
    Lauren recently posted… Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

  9. elena says:

    For me, the worst thing about not ever having gone to bolivia is that by my age,almost everyone I know is there, or has already been. There are so few of us who haven’t gone, and even if I wanted to – which I don’t – they wouldn’t let me in now. I am so bored of Bolivia – stories about bolivia, photos of bolivia….once people have been there they are never interested in what’s happening back home any more. There comes a point when they even stop “feeling sorry for you ” for not having gone (that was bad enough) – now, they just think you were weird and stubborn and sort of defective for not going – after all, you’ve had all your life to get around to it. Now, even for those who’ve already been, all they talk about is going back – if one of the younger members of your family goes there, they let you back in.Then you get to recreate your life in bolivia all over again. My brother and sister are both in bolivia and my parents are obsessed by it, so when we all meet up we always have to do bolivian things – it never seems to occur to anyone to ask me if I’d like to do anything different, I’m justy expected to fit in with it all. But bolivia has nothing to do with me.Just because I haven’t been, why does that mean I’m not entitled to a say in anything we do together?

  10. Honeybee says:

    I come back to this post every now and then, because I do think about Bolivia a lot, and have been planning travel routes for a while now.

    Looks like my traveling companion and I will be taking a journey to Bolivia by sea. Which is kind of unusual, and we’re probably going to have to explain it a lot to Bolivian immigrants who hopped on a plane like most travelers. I’m a little nervous. As far as I know, my passport’s valid — I was born a citizen and haven’t had any trouble with the INS — but I’ve only ever traveled domestically, with lots of insurance, and I’ve never tested it out. And I have this thing about flying. Don’t ever want to do it. I kinda think that I’d rather parachute out shortly after takeoff than remain in a plane all the way to Bolivia. So I just don’t get on a flight. My traveling companion could maybe fly, and I’d meet her in Bolivia… but she’s got some issues with her inner ear tubes and all that might make flying very uncomfortable for her.

    So we’re planning a steamship journey. And the thing about that is that it takes a heck of a lot longer than flying. There are lines everywhere. (You get to talking with the other people who are waiting to board.) And the customs paperwork is atrocious, especially if you’re young and queer and atheist and so forth. People who fly never have to deal with this stuff; they just hand you a sheet to sign on the plane before you disembark and you’re good, pretty much. But on a ship they worry you’re smuggling fruit flies in your luggage or planning on harrassing Bolivians and disrespecting their culture and whatnot. The Bolivian immigration service frowns on bad publicity. So even though I’ve been eying travel agencies for a long time, it’s going to be a while before we get to the head of the line and board our ship and eventually arrive in Bolivia.

  11. Karen says:

    Very well-put. You do a good job explaining a position about Bolivia that is not often articulated. Emigration to Bolivia is embedded so deeply in our culture, particularly for women, that everyone assumes that a long, complicated, hand-wringing choice is involved, no matter who you are.

    I myself work in Bolivia, and have since I was pretty young. People make a lot of assumptions about those of us who take jobs there. They don’t understand why we commute, instead of just moving there. Or they are suspicious, saying, “But NO ONE can really be dedicated to working in Bolivia unless they live there!”. I like my work, and I really like helping all those Bolivians and their families. But at the end of the day I need my native space and quiet. I couldn’t handle a second shift at the end of my day.

    I have one or two close friends who have moved to Bolivia and still hung onto their native culture and practices, and they don’t insist that Bolivia is great and everyone should move there. They actually enjoy leaving Bolivia for a bit and having a beer or three with me. They understand why I don’t live there. They’ve told me that Bolivian life suits them well, but that not enough people plan their move carefully enough, and too many move there against their will.

    Everyone has their own philosophy about Bolivia, even if you don’t move there…or even want to. And that’s a good thing.

  12. […] we officially kicked off the search for a new apartment again, since that’s the next step in Project Bolivia. We haven’t hit all the goals I wanted to hit before moving, but I’m going to trust […]

  13. […] been thinking about Bolivia this weekend. I’ve been thinking a LOT about Bolivia, apparently. I had no idea I wanted to […]

  14. katiekrackers says:

    Havi, unlike you, we DISTICTLY made a choice to move to Bolivia. And it hasn’t been any more benificial in actually getting us there.

    Hubby and I contemplated the idea of moving to Bolivia long and hard before deciding we wanted to go. It wasn’t an automatic thing for us, it was something to be seriously decided upon and we had many many appealing reasons to stay right where we were. Besides which, we LOVE where we live! There is no gaping hole in our lives that only Bolivia can fill. And there are many other beautiful places to explore that once in Bolivia makes it harder to visit.

    So, we suprised even ourselves that YES, we want to go! Our responsible consideration and knowing we were unified in the move, our relationship more than stable enough to handle such a change and lucky enough that although Bolivia can be expensive we had enough to cover it meant it was all systems go! We even announced it to our close friends & family that we had put in our visa applications in and we expected to be a plane soon. Super excited!

    But we’ve been delayed. Turns out his visa has complications.

    And now were back to square one, because we can try for his visa again if he/we are prepared to go through some fairly rigorous application requirements. And even then there’s no guarantee it’ll be approved.
    So decisions need to be made.

    So just HOW badly did we want to go to Bolivia anyway? I know I would LOVE LOVE LOVE Bolivia once I arrived, but what are we prepared to go through to get there? Should we just accept it’s not an option and move somehwere else. We’d be happy there too I’m sure. Or should we forge forward to Bolivia?

    It may not be about choices for you Havi, but it is for me. We made the choice after studying all the travel options and guides on Bolivia and listening to all the smug Bolivians who tell us we just won’t “get it” until we’re there…but while we’re stumped by technicalitlies in the paperwork, others seemingly keep managing to get on the plane by accident – without choosing – and it seems slightly unfair to me.

  15. luvybear says:

    I really find this blog to be an inspiration. I always dreamed of going to Bolivia when I was a little girl and I was a freshman in college when my boyfriend and I discovered that we had book tickets to Bolivia. But, a month before we were set to depart, I fell pregnant with child, so I decided to get an abortion. Best decision of my life! When ended up catching our flight to La Paz, and had a great time. I recommend checking out Santa Cruz as well, it’s got a totally different vibe than La Paz, but it is a tad more expensive. Definitely a beautiful nation, with a one of a kind culture and cuisine… Every girls dream!!!

  16. mythnlynx says:

    I live in Bolivia, I’ve been here for almost 20 years, and I can honestly say that my fellow Bolivians did not welcome this immigrant with open arms. You see, I have dual citizenship in Bolivia and *Holland, Bolivia being sort of my “vacation home”. Most Bolivians don’t speak Dutch. They don’t see the appeal of windmills and tulips. They don’t understand how serious it is when there’s a leak in the dike. And don’t even get me started about Amsterdam!

    I had been told I would never move to Bolivia, and while this made my traveling companion and I wistful, we accepted it, so imagine our shock when our visas were approved! “There must be some mistake,” we said, “we haven’t budgeted for moving to Bolivia! We haven’t got any plans in place, what do we do?” But we boarded the plane, and we arrived. At first, the natives were welcoming, but after three or four years, more and more Dutch started slipping into our speech, and we were becoming incomprehensible to all but a few Bolivians.

    So now we spend most of our time in Holland, where the people are warm, friendly, and accepting of newcomers. We are still often isolated, we dearly miss our friends from other nations and regret not being able to give them more time, and most of our friends communicate through their computers. The Bolivians occasionally make overtures, but once the find out that you’re actually from Holland, the invitations usually dry up. So now I make a few side trips to Bolivia a year, but Holland is dear to my heart.

    *Look up a poem called “Welcome to Holland” for more information on what it’s like to be headed elsewhere, say Bolivia, and end up in Holland instead.

  17. Sarah
    Twitter: sarahneedles

    Bolivia…is somewhere I never wanted to go. I had a visa, kept it in the back of a closet somewhere, and got annoyed whenever it fell out of the cupboard on top of my head. I celebrate Bolivia for other women, and I will fight for a woman’s right to decide whether she travels to Bolivia or not, but for me, there was no instinctual pull.

    Then, a hundred and one things later, I went and spoke to a travel agent about Bolivia. Turns out my visa is iffy, and I’m on the no-fly list, so to travel to Bolivia would be life-threateningly stupid. So, if I value my life, I can’t go to Bolivia. Ever.

    I can take a train to Bolivia, or move to a neighbouring country. Those options are great, but they’re not the same as flying to Bolivia.There is a world of difference between keeping a visa in a closet to sometimes pull out and look at, and burning that visa and throwing away the ashes.

    I’m at an age where my friends, colleagues and peers are excitedly planning their flights to Bolivia. When they ask, and I tell them I can’t fly to Bolivia they suggest all the ways I could sneak on the flight, get a fake visa, wear a disguise, bribe security. When I say I don’t want to go, I get shocked silence. I don’t want pity, I don’t want a bizillion suggestions for fighting the inevitable: I want space to grieve, and to be in my experience for what it is.

  18. Questing Lee says:

    The Dude and I removed all reference to Bolivia from our nuptial vows because his Mom really, really wanted one of her kids to move to Bolivia, now! I did not like the physical requirements for moving to Bolivia and The Dude had an aversion to having to be around Bolivians. So, we took steps to avoid waking up in Bolivia by accident and reviewed our decision in three years, when we were both 30.

    We looked each other in the eyes and said, “Do you want to go to Bolivia?” And both answered, “No.” And since he’s the only one I would go with, he had all documents stamped, “Travel good for everywhere but Bolivia.” I passed the emigration age 10 years ago.

    Occasionally people ask if we regret not going, or tell us that our old age will be barren because we didn’t go. Yes, occasionally I feel a twinge of regret, but we keep a list of “Reasons We Didn’t Go to Bolivia” and feel confirmation that our decision was right for us when those who did go have problems that we never had to deal with.
    Questing Lee recently posted… Feeling fairly Alabama Crimson.

  19. Deborah says:

    This. Is. Beautiful.

    Thank you.

  20. Lucky Bamboo says:

    I spent a few years crazy about getting to Bolivia, even though my OH wasn’t 100% into it. now I have found out the chances of ever getting there are unlikely and I feel like I don’t even know if/why I wanted to go there in the first place! I feel quite happy with my life now (although it has taken a while to get here) and I just don’t feel the same about going to Bolivia anymore. There is a miniscule chance that I could end up in Bolivia but I am happy now to leave that to fate and just enjoy what I have and make plans to do all the things I couldn’t have done if I had ended up living in Bolivia.

  21. Puck says:

    I have been visiting Bolivia a lot lately because both my sisters moved there a few years ago, but every time I spend a week in Bolivia visiting my sisters, I remember just why I don’t want to move there permanently.

    So thank you for this! And for providing a space where we can talk about Bolivia without all the BAGGAGE (ha!) that comes with talking about moving there.
    Puck recently posted… Five years ago there was skiing! via @timehop

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