Monday, January 18, 2010

Welcome to Bolivia

We really strapped on our travel sandals today.

Waking up in our teeny, internet-less room in unappealing Puno, we decided Reece was just well enough to make a move. Ignoring our host's insistence that there are no afternoon busses into Bolivia, we ventured to the main bus terminal and found a 1:30 departure to Copacabana, a tiny lakeside hippy town halfway to La Paz. Sold.

Internet cafe for hostel reservation requests. Back to B&B to check out. Waiting for our laundry to dry in order to pack. We were off with just enough time to grab a cash supply for the next few days (there is no ATM machine in Copacabana) and jump on board.

Sometime after the fourth hour of our three hour bus ride, we approach the border. Reece and I are frantic, realizing we can't find the immigration forms given to us on entry that are required to exit Peru. We tear our bags apart on the side of the road as the rest of the passengers from our bus slowly disappear to the other side.

Eventually I locate them in my secret pocket that apparently even I can't find. Confusion ensues as we attempt to figure out the immigration process in a hurry with minimal understanding of the language. We seize our last opportunity to change all of our cash for Bolivianos at an embrassing exchange rate.

Successfully past the Peruvian officials, we line up for entrance to Bolivia. An armed officer surveyes the crowd and passes out the necessary documents, checking each person's nationality along the way. "Americanos?" We're pulled from the line and seated at a desk, where we're informed we'll each require a $135 Visa for entry. If I had referred to my guidebook, rather than the goverment website, I would have know this tidbit of information sooner.

I confidently pull out my wad of fresh Bolivianos, only to find they only take US dollars. What?? We're pointed in the direction of a teenage kid sitting at a desk outside with a drawer full of money. He's our exchange facility. So let's recap... We lost money on the transaction from our US Dollar bank account to the Peruvian Sole ATM withdrawal, then again on our Sole to Boliviano exchange, and once more to trade it all BACK in for dollars. Awesome.

Upon returning with money in hand, I realize I did the math wrong and need more money. But I'm out of Bolivianos. Luckily I stashed a large Peruvian Sole bill just in case, so I go back to exchange THAT for Bolivianos. I get in an argument with a pushy old woman over the rate, and have to rip the bill out of her hand. I'm about to lose it. Or maybe I already did.

Just when I thought we were home free, turns out we also require passport photos, immunization records, and copies of our passports. That's just swell. More frantic digging through bags. Some running to the copy machine hut, conveniently located near the money exchange facility.

By the time we wrap things up, the immigration office is closed. We aren't sure if our bus was meant to wait for us or not, but it was certainly long gone by then. We take a taxi the remaining eight kilometers to town, and get dropped off at an internet cafe with the slowest connection known to man. We are irritable and exhausted and can't wait to crash in one of the many choice hostels we emailed. Gmail is loading... loading... loading... My inbox finally appears and... NOTHING. Not a single response. It's dark and we don't know our way around and we're carrying 45 pound backpacks with nowhere to go. Ugh.

We head towards the waterfront, figuring that's where the nicer accommodations can probably be found. Around the corner we are greeted with Hotel Mirador, a beacon glistening in the streetlamp-light. We snag the very last room available, six flights of stairs up. It takes us ages to reach the top, under the combination of our bags and the increased altitude. I'll tell ya, it was the best $16 we've spent yet.

Later, Reece and I are asked by a shop owner if we're Argentinian. When we reveal where we're from she laughs and says, "Oh, American! You paid $135 to come here!" I guess word travels fast.


  1. You got me chuckling out loud at the whole dollars-to-sole-to-bolivianos-to-dollars fiasco. Classic.

  2. hahaha! Well.... you could be on your 13th hour at an edit house, sick from too much snacking and waiting for approval from your boss who has decided to have a nice family dinner before he will look at anything.