Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bolivian Border Bungle

For this blog entry, I have only my words to describe the events taking us from Peru and into Bolivia, unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately) no photos.  Besides, I’m not sure that pictures could adequately describe the series of events.  As any good storyteller knows, everyone wants to hear about adversity overcome, not the idyllic ho-hum tales that most people tell.  I’ll do my best here.

It was to be a fairly routine border crossing.  We jumped into a taxi to take us from our hostel in Puno to the bus terminal, where we caught the afternoon bus taking us to Copacabana, and planned to arrive in time for cocktail hour.  So far, so good.

The conductor on the bus, once we arrived at the Peru/Bolivian border in Yunguyo, was pretty straightforward in telling us he wanted no dicking around, and that we were all to get to Immigration, do our thing, and then back on the bus without any dawdling.  No problem, seňor, we aim to please.

Being a Canadian citizen, I get a pass in heading into Bolivia, but apparently the politics of the past, specifically those of George Bush, (the junior one) had pissed off Bolivia royally; specifically, requiring Bolivian citizens to have an expensive visa to head to the states.  Well, the childish tit-for-tat began, and now for US citizens to cross into Bolivia, they need to pay $135 US Dollars.  Not Bolivian bolivianos (the equivalent to $135) but actually $135 Dollars, from the United States of America.  Oh, and just to be clear, these can’t be just any dollars, they have to be perfect.  No, wait, they have to be Perfect.  Wrong again, they have to be…….PERFECT.   After 6 months in Panama, 1 month in Colombia, a month in Ecuador, and a month in Peru, (not to mention the previous 3 years in Mexico and Central America), perfect US dollars were in short supply.  

But I digress.
By now, after having talked ourselves blue pleading with the Immigration guy to accept our greenbacks and having him wave his finger at us, in the universal sign of “nope, not gonna happen”, to add insult to all this confounded injury, the bus started to pull away, AND THIS WITH ALL OF OUR LUGGAGE STILL ON BOARD.  A mad dash to get our stuff, back to the desk for more pleading, with the final realization that dusk was upon us, and cocktail hour had come and gone (greatest tragedy) and there we were.  Two old people, two sort of old people, forlorn with our bags, on the sidewalk.  A pitiful sight!

Right, I told myself, must do something.  So, back into the office I went. 

I looked at the Immigration guy and said that we needed to make a plan because otherwise I was leaving my parents, and my partner with him in his office, and I was jumping in a taxi to go to Copacabana by myself for a much needed Pisco Sour, because I could, you see, being Canadian and having the required stamp in my passport. 

He must have seen the crazed look in my eye and unbelievably gave us the nod, with the proviso that we return in the morning with the money. So there we were, the four of us, 2 old, 2 sort-of-old people, and we were now illegally in the country of Bolivia.  These sorts of things only happen in real life.  To add insult to injury, the taxi driver that was our replacement ride into Copacabana decided that the original $25 he had quoted actually was going to be $50, because he had detoured to an ATM (no luck) before dropping us off at our hostel.  After our time spent in Peru, and dealing with the surly cabbies there, Ron and I have adopted a more local attitude, giving tit-for-tat.  We walked away, not paying anything.  After 10 steps, I walked back to the driver, gave him the $25 dollars, and with him yelling and cursing, picked up my luggage, found my very large man, my by now closer to death parents, and stalked off into the night. 

The next morning, with the understanding upon us that we needed to get back to the border to get those stamps, off we headed to the ATM machine.  Guess what?  In Copacabana, Bolivia, there is no ATM that dispenses US dollars.  Joke was on us!!!  I reckoned that a field trip to the local Policia might be interesting to verify that we indeed needed to have US dollars to pay for the stamps, and after chatting with THE NICEST POLICEMAN AND WOMAN EVER, they sadly informed us that we were out of luck and needed to figure something out.  They couldn't help, oh, and besides, the banks were closed today and tomorrow (of course, it being Monday).  

We hightailed it back to the border, with me furiously thinking about how this was going to get solved.  With a mournful look in his eye, the Immigration guy tapped his watch when we walked in, pointing to the clock and waving his finger at us.  Because you see, the border changes time zones, and we were late by an hour.  Christ almighty, not looking good, right off the bat.  

I figured the only thing to do was to head back to Peru, and with the help of a helpful taxi driver we located an ATM machine that in fact DID dispense crisp US dollars.  I had a chat with the policeman at the border, informed him that I needed to make a run for it, and promising to be back within the hour, did I really need to check out of Bolivia and back into Peru?  Nope, first positive thing for the day!  Although I needed to withdraw upwards of $400 for 3 visas, I opted for the "better safe than sorry route", as who knew how many of them would come out "unperfect", and got $600.  Back to the border I went, waving at my buddy the Bolivian border copper, clutching my "hopefully" acceptable dollars, and revisited my super-good-buddy the Immigration guy.  We were friends by now, you see.  

He gave me the thumbs up, and away we went. 

Back to our land-based Adventures in Peru....

After Machu Picchu, we went to Arequipa, the White City, adjacent to the Colca Canyon and home to the Andean Condor (which we saw and Ron got “THE AWARD WINNING PHOTO”)

and a road that lead to ever-higher altitudes (if you can’t see it, that sign says 4,910 meters, which is 15,957.5 feet - GASP!)  Best high!!!! we’ve both ever had.  

Along the way we spotted the undomesticated vicuňa,

the “arrogant” llama,

 and the ever popular and loveable alpaca. 

Ron got to play with a new “toy” the folks brought with them.  Now we will always know where we are, and why we can’t breathe. 

Our first sighting of Lake Titicaca, heading into Puno.  

Peruvian Bulls to bring good luck to the casa.  We would have bought a set for the boat, but couldn’t figure out where we would mount them!

Returning to the ever popular and morbid theme of the trip, we visited Sillustani, yet another burial technique employed by the Inca. 

Ron wants me to make sure that his tomb is THIS BIG!

Traffic Signal, Uros Floating Islands style, Lake Titicaca, Peru.  

In this part of Peru, and into Bolivia, we found out that the feminine ideal of beauty was to be as wide as you are tall. 

Pretty creative with their version of the taxi….

While we were pretty amazed at how traditional (read primitive) these people were, there was evidence of very much being a part of the 21st century.  Plastic bottles degrade a lot slower than reeds, and their buoyancy is renowned in the sailing community around the word.

and recognizing that at this altitude there is plenty of sun, panels were being used to charge everything from lights to television sets on the floating islands.  

Unfortunately, this place above all others in Peru, had thoroughly embraced the money grubbing attitude of “take the tourists for all you can get.”  A ride across the lake in one of the traditional rafts was going to cost $18 for the 5 minute ride, and when a little girl came up to us, unrequested and unsolicited, and proceeded to sing us a song, we were told to pay up.  This is a very interesting place, to be sure, but hang on to your wallets!  

Next stop, Bolivia!