Getting there: Making our way to Santa Cruz

Ludi and Josie enjoy the BOA flight from Miami to Santa Cruz.

Our 2023 adventure kicked off at the ungodly hour of 2:30 a.m., when we awoke to go to St. Louis Lambert International Airport. It was Ludi’s birthday.

In this post and the next, I’m going to cover the logistics of our trip, plus recap the first two days, which were spent almost entirely on transportation: flying, driving, and sleeping.

Packing

We try to pack as light as we feasibly can. But there was no avoiding one reality: It’s summer in the U.S., but winter in Bolivia. The Salar de Uyuni and the altiplano cities would get pretty cold overnight, and most places don’t have indoor heating. But after the Uyuni adventure was finished, we’d spend the rest of our time in Santa Cruz, which is more tropical, and can reach the 90s even in winter. So we had to pack many layers: winter coats, sweaters, long- and short-sleeved shirts, T-shirts, long pants, and shorts. We tried to bring a lot underwear, and only a little outerwear.

Ultimately, we each brought one carry-on backpack, plus a few personal items (two violins and one or two little bags). My backpack was mostly computer and camera equipment, and the kids had books and other stuff to avoid boredom. We checked three bags of clothes.

Flights

A major difference from our past travels is that American Airlines no longer flies to Bolivia. They sold their Miami-Santa Cruz route a few years ago to Bolivia’s national airline, Boliviana de Aviación, or BOA.

For us, this sale added several headaches and inconveniences. It’s no longer possible to book a single itinerary and check our luggage all the way through from St. Louis to Santa Cruz. Instead, when we reached Miami, we had to pick up our checked bags from American’s baggage claim, then lug everything across the airport to another concourse and check in again with BOA for our flight to Bolivia.

BOA’s logistics leave a lot to be desired. The check-in process dragged on slowly. By the time we made it through security and down to the gate, it should have been time to board. Instead, we waited another 30-45 minutes, until the employees from the check-in counter showed up at the gate.

They began by announcing that everyone with children, plus classes one through four, should line up. That encompassed almost everyone on the flight — so rather than a line, a massive horde formed. By the time we got to the front, the lady told us they were only boarding groups one and two, even though we and everyone else had heard them say groups one through four. So we stepped aside and awaited our turn.

When they finally let us come, all five Renaud boarding passes rang up red. We had to wait for their overworked boss to get through a pile of other customers with similar problems.

BOA’s process in Miami leaves a lot to be desired. But once we were up in the air, the flight itself was pretty good.

Our seats were close to the front of the plane. So when we arrived at Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz, we disembarked very quickly, and got through aduana (customs/immigration) in the fastest time ever. No long delays stuck waiting on the downstairs steps with crying children, as happened to us so many times in years past.

A brief respite

After a full day of flights and layovers, we had made it. Our plan was to sleep overnight in Santa Cruz, then leave immediately the next morning for Uyuni.

As I rounded the corner to enter the main lobby of the airport, I immediately spotted most of the Zegarra-Antelo family, wielding at least two violins and one guitar. There, amid the crowd of folks waiting for loved ones, they launched into a full-blown serenade for us, culminating in “Cumpleaños Feliz” for Ludi. It was very special and memorable.

They drove us to El Jordán, where we are staying for most of our time in Bolivia. We visited for a while, sang “happy birthday” to Ludi again, and ate a wonderful chocolate cake. It was a very long day, and another early wake-up call was looming. But what a lovely way to arrive to Santa Cruz.

Ludi blows out a candle on the cake, after a full day of travel to Santa Cruz on her birthday.

Yoli talks with Dona Lucila.

Josie and Joseph talk with Rebeca, Daniel and Kuko.

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