Last month I spent 2 weeks in Bolivia with a digital nomad tribe known as the Wifi Tribe. The first person I told that to told me "that sounds dangerous, but epic". No, I didn't join a cult and there was very little blood involved. And the blood wasn't mine anyway. (One of us wiped out on a mountain bike going down a mountain if you were curious.) But it was EPIC.
The Wifi Tribe are an awesome bunch of young entrepreneurs and remote professionals doing a co-living world tour. First stop was Bolivia which is super close in nomad terms to Santiago, Chile were I was when I found out that they were taking applications. Fast forward a couple weeks and I'm landing in La Paz, Bolivia where you can feel the altitude before even landing. El Alto, where the international airport is, is 14,000 feet above sea level. Never had I felt altitude sickness prior to that point. After getting hassled over a debatable hairline tear in my $20 bill, part of the $160 US reciprocity fee, I was in. Feeling lightheaded the tribe picked me up from the airport and we went on a SIM card run. And I literally mean run! Three of us entered a small mobile carrier shop while the other two waited in the car with our driver. While were being bounced around like human pinballs from one teller to the next inside the store, the local police were hassling our driver for sitting idle on a chaotic road that probably had real crimes happening. We got the SIMs and sprinted toward our van and headed to our accommodations located just south of the city.
Side note, if you are a remote professional already intrigued by this adventure, the tribe is headed to Portugal in June/July 2016 – Let me know if you want to be introduced to the founders.
The Villa. We arrived at our Bolivian accommodations and it was beautiful! More bedrooms and bathrooms then I could count, and the property was sitting on a cliff overlooking a farming community. It was quiet, scenic, safe, with a huge backyard, and 4 super friendly dogs always eager for a petting or a scratch behind the ear. After some coco mate tea I was feeling more myself. (Not really the best tasting thing ever... very earthy, but it's the local solution for altitude sickness. And no, the coco percentage is way too low to have any kind of cocaine-effect.) Anyway, A+ on the housing.
The tribe... What the Wifi Tribe does best is balance work and adventure which is not the easiest of tasks. It's kind of a work hard, play hard mentality, but since everyone is either self-employed or working remotely, your level of hardness on either end is up to you. The major advantage of co-living/working with the Wifi Tribe is building lasting relationships and really getting to know who you’re on this journey with, which would be impossible with the other larger, remote-living groups out there. Not only do you save on expenses by traveling with a team, but the tribe provides a creative atmosphere where you can bounce ideas off one another and share experiences and skills. For example, Nomad + Camera is less than a year old, and with any business out there, I'm always looking for opportunities to collaborate and gain new clients. But I also want honest feedback from "outsiders" on what's working and what's not. When you're so involved with what you're doing on a day to day basis, it's hard to look at what you're doing objectively. I found the Wifi Tribe such an awesome platform to not only brainstorm with but share struggles and skills so everyone can elevate their game.
Bolivia is an underrated playground for outdoor adventures.
But work is work. Bolivia is an underrated playground for outdoor adventures. Part of our itinerary included sailing on Lake Titicaca. Our Bolivian captain allowed us to take turns at the helm. And while I topped out at only 4 knots, I still felt like a bad ass sailing the largest, highest body of water in the world. We even picked up a few Remote Year castaways (another co-living/co-working organization) that were in the area for a digital nomad boat party on international waters! We did the camping thing... bonfire, s'mores, guitar, harmonica, singalongs, and of course wine and cheese (because we kept things classy like that).
Getting salty. The biggest highlight of our Bolivian adventure was Salar de Uyuni. Which if it's not on your bucket list yet, pencil it in right now! Seriously. One of, if not, the coolest places in nature that I've experienced. It's a prehistoric lake that evaporated leaving behind nearly 7,000 sq miles of a white salt desert. Coming from Chicago, I couldn't get over that I wasn't looking at ice and snow, but it was actually relatively warm. Like jeans and sweater weather. But you need sunblock. And... TEQUILA! I mean, when life gives you salt, make tequila shots, right?! Jose Cuervo joined us that day on our adventure. We'll leave it at that :)
Note, the last picture in the gallery below is not of the sun setting, but actually of the moon rising. That's how big and bright it was. I've never witnessed anything like it. But I guess that's what makes this country unBolivable. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
When does work happen? Anytime between these adventures. Could be on a bus, a plane, a lawn chair... basically, anywhere where we were connected. Typically Monday through Friday because many of us have clients working those hours, but really anytime because projects have deadlines. While we had some off the grid adventures on weekends, it's actually really important to stay on the grid. That's when shit gets done! Being a digital nomad is a lifestyle, not a job. It's the constant balance of living and working remotely. The freedom that digital nomads talk about is that balancing it is on your terms. But the challenging part is keeping it balanced when there's so much stimuli and excitement going on. For sure it's a good challenge, but temptation is always knocking on your door (or more literally vibrating your phone).
For example, while driving back from Lake Titicaca we got stuck in traffic that pushed our ETA back 4 hours. (Long story.) But Julia tethered her phone to her laptop and was knocking out e-com product listings. That's maximizing time! Another example of road work is we arrived into Sucre late and had to book a hostel on the bus ride there. Yet, I still had to make sure I took my 7am Skype call with a client. Was the hostel wifi crap? Of course! Did I wish I could have slept more? Definitely. But first and foremost is accomplishing work, even if couple cleaning ladies had to mop the floor around me. Without my clients, I'm just a broke nomad. Nothing glamorous about that. #instapoor
The White City. Speaking of Sucre, that was our last stop on our Salar de Uyuni roadtrip. A must-see city. Not widely promoted, but it's a clean, well kept city full of history and excellent Bolivian cuisine. It was founded back in 1538 and is where Simón Bolívar signed Bolivia's constitution. Fun Fact: Bolivia was the first Spanish colony in South America to fight for independence, yet the last to achieve it.
We had some fun flying a drone around a plaza in Sucre. As you can imagine, it attracted a lot of attention from the locals!
Co-living. It's kind of a weird word. After all, aren't we all co-living? But in digital nomad terms it means having temporary, full-time living companions. In the case of the Wifi Tribe, like-minded housemates. As with living with anyone 24/7, especially people you don't know well, you're going to get on each others nerves at times. But as freelancers/entrepreneurs, communication is a common strength of ours. So talking things out and moving on to the next thing is how you get past any disagreements. If you've ever shared a dorm room at university, had a flatmate, or even brother/sister that's similar in age, you know what I mean. It's a great balance of having people to socialize with but there was also lots of time and space to work independently, take video calls, call your family/friends back home, etc.
The Wifi. Bolivia isn't known for having the best wifi in the world. Knowing that, my expectations weren't great nor were they exceeded. As a group we made sure that one of us had each of the major carriers: Tigo, Entel, and Viva. Smart decision. But that also meant there was a lot of group tethering which was a bit annoying and didn't help the speed, but it's a necessary digital survival skill. There's not a clear cut winner among the three providers, but if I went back to Bolivia, I'd go with Entel. It seemed to have the best coverage.
In closing... Would I rejoin the Wifi Tribe in the future? For sure! But more importantly, I feel like I'm now part of a bigger network that will stay in constant communication even if it takes awhile until we cross paths again. Cheers, Wifi Tribe! Good luck on your next adventure!
P.S. Like I said, if you are a location independent professional looking for a tribe to co-work/co-live with, let me know and I'll put you in touch with the founders :)