Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 22 January 2008

One Hundred Pounds to Bolivia

Have you ever tried to consolidate your life into two checked bags and a carry-on? And, I mean, your WHOLE life, not just the few items necessary for the couple of weeks before the moving truck arrives. If you are a current or returned Peace Corps Volunteer, chances are that yes, indeed, you have. But for the rest of my dear readers, I’d like to enlighten you on the process.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • I am a chronic planner/organizer.
  • I fear over-packing far more than trying to find underwear or tampons or wool sweaters abroad.
  • I have an (un)healthy obsession with Chacos. (I own four pairs, and I stand by my claim that each serves a distinctly separate purpose…)
  • I own an obscene amount of t-shirts…even after having sent over half to the Goodwill earlier this year.
  • I am very particular about two basic items: toothpaste and deodorant. Tom’s of Maine, or nothing at all for me.

Where does one begin the process of packing for 27 months of living in a country known to be host to every climate zone, save Arctic/Antarctic conditions, on planet Earth? What is essential? I have found this process both exceedingly frustrating and wonderfully challenging.

Yes, I have often felt the urge to just “start over”, and bring almost nothing, knowing that everything I really need, I can find in Bolivia. And while I take this leap into the Bolivian unknown willingly and with open arms, I do not intend to live a strictly monastic life. I really love my sleeping bag and am emotionally attached to my Chacos. And then there are the books… I have insider information that all of the Peace Corps offices have a healthy selection of orphaned paperbacks, compliments of the 46 other groups of volunteers in Bolivia that have preceded us. But, I still have my selections that absolutely must accompany me on this journey. Cien Años de Soledad, Three Cups of Tea and Beyond The Sky and the Earth have made the cut so far. Those which are still in consideration are as follows (and I welcome commentary on the subject):

  • Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  • Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver
  • What is the What, Dave Eggers

I would love to take them all, and then some, but I have decided, rather, that I am going to instate a strict “visitors fee” of one used paperback book and a burned CD full of podcasts for all those brave enough to venture to Bolivia.

After all is said and done, I am sure of one thing: I will have brought too much. And once that realization has been solidified, I will happily begin the process of doling out my goods to various friends, Bolivian and American alike.

One week from this moment, I’ll be on a plane bound for the highest capital city in the world. Right now, I’m singing the Chorus of my life once more before setting off on another journey.

Emails, blog comments, letters and in-person-hugs will all be welcome in Bolivia. You can check the “Contact” section of my website to get further info.

May this find you all well, warm and in good company.



  1. call me ishmael. . .

    i’m eating lunch at pequod’s today, coincidence?

    i vote for midnight’s children

    i also vote for an international book exchange, i’ll mail you the book i’m reading when i’m done, you can never have enough books

  2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle!!! It’s so good and I love her writing style. Good luck, Helen!!! I look forward to reading your blog.


  3. Helen have a blast and keep in touch!

  4. I love me some Kingsolver, but I have to vote against AVM — it’s fabulous, but it’s not 100 Pounds to Bolivia fabulous. It does have recipes, but I think you can probably live without them.
    And really, who is going to begrudge you your 4 pairs of Chacos and Tom’s of Maine products? Not I. Plus, now we all know what to send you for treats.

  5. Helen!! I hope your bags get there safely this time!!! No more lost baggage monkey business. 🙂 I am thinking all good thoughts for you and everytime I wear my Chacos, I think of you and all the places your chacos have been! All my love!

  6. Congratulations on your induction into el cuerpo de paz. How connected the world is now! I enjoy looking at your blogsite. Enjoy each day.

    your Aunt Steph

  7. how did harry potter not make the cut? 🙂

    sounds like you are doing amazing helen! i miss you and wish you the best

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