I’ve learnt not to sweat the small stuff while traveling, but sometimes you just have one of those days, where you genuinely feel like you’ve left all your intelligence and wit in that dreamscape when you woke up that morning. It happens in real life, it definitely happens while on the road. And this is the story of how I almost got left behind at the Peruvian border.
Definitely neither one of my best days, nor most glamourous travel moments.
Let’s back up slightly to the time when I got majorly restless in Arequipa. As much as I loved Peru, I could feel my time in the country was drawing to a close. I had seen everything I wanted to see, achieved the impossible hiking Cordillera Huayhuash, eaten more than 1 guinea pig, bought and worn to death my alpaca sweater, eaten my share and more of ceviche (but one can never have enough of this…), even learnt to live, breathe and run at altitude.
It was time for some new adventures.
It was time.
Time to leave Peru.
But as it turns out, Peru wasn’t ready to let me leave its loving clutches just yet.
Border crossings are a love hate relationship for travelers. It comes with it the promise of new adventures, but with it also possible hassling and extortion in the form of exit tax of the previous country, and multiple questions, entry fees, visa troubles, and a whole host of bureaucratic problems trying to extort as much money as they can from you before you enter the host country for good.
Usually I am really good with border crossings thus far and of course this one would be no different, so I thought.
It was also one of those days I was very thankful I had great company crossing the border, which ultimately prevented me from being stranded on the Peruvian border.
Exiting Peru wasn’t so much a problem as it was entering Bolivia.
Because of my Singapore passport.
Of all the South American countries that I intended to visit, Bolivia was the only one that I knew that I needed to pay to enter. Of course, like the good traveler that I am, I did prior research as to how much the visa cost and what I needed at the border.
It cost 52 USD. That’s what the internet said, and because everything on the internet is true, I got out exactly 52 USD in cash for the border official to buy my way into Bolivia.
Walking up to the Bolivian border near Copacabana, which is pretty much a shack in the middle of the road with a sign that said Welcome to Bolivia, and headed to the counter which said ‘Visas’ and waited in line behind an American, who are notoriously not as welcomed in many countries with their many visa necessities. I used to think it was cool to have that many visa stickers in the passport, but now I eat my words, I would rather just a stamp and a wave on ahead thank you very much.
The border control guy had the most uninterested face in the universe, there after doing a double take on my bright red Singapore passport, proceeding to ask me ‘Que es pais? (what country?) when it clearly states Singapore on the front.
Okay, this wasn’t going to be easy.
The following was how the entire conversation unfurled, in Spanish I might add;
I don’t ever want to cross the Border into Bolivia ever again if I can help it – but why is this country so beautiful, yet so ridiculously structured economically (sigh)
Mr Bolivia: What country?
Mr Bolivia: Hmm Singapore, not many from Singapore. You need a visa
Me: Yes can I get one please (thinks: hence I am at your counter duh!!)
Mr Bolivia: You need a photocopy of your passport
Me: Can you do it for me? (He has a photocopier right behind him)
Mr Bolivia: No, you have to go there. You need Bolivianos.
Me: Okay (leaves the queue to go get the photocopy)
-Returns and waits for him to finish his coffee in his break room-
Me: Here you go
Mr Bolivia: You need a passport photo
Me: Yes here you go
Mr Bolivia: You need to pay 95 USD
Me: I thought it was 52 USD?
Mr Bolivia: No it is now 95 USD
Me: Why? I read online it was 52 USD
Mr Bolivia: Online is not correct, it is now 95 USD
Me: (thinks: URGH fine I guess I am not getting into Bolivia without giving him 95 USD for that stupid visa) Okay, here is 95 USD
Mr Bolivia: No it has to be in Bolivianos
Me: (thinks: URGH WTH you just said 95 USD!!!) Can you accept USD?
Mr Bolivia: No you have to go change it outside
Me: (thinks: you are really ridiculous!!!) Ok fine.
At this point, everyone on the same bus as me had left the Bolivian border shack and were no where to be seen, presumably back on the bus.
Thankfully to my travel buddy E, who literally stopped the bus from leaving the border control by taking the driver with him to come to the counter where I was (and Mr Bolivia was taking his time counting the Bolivianos I had given him for 95 USD). The driver literally stood there and just oversaw the entire process, but I was beyond thankful for my friend who dragged him over, lest the bus left, backpack and all. That would have been less than delightful :/
Mr Bolivia: Okay, proceeds to slowly fill out the form with my details on his computer, and then printing it out. (Hands me the form to sign – but what he printed out isn’t my details but some Swiss guy’s
Me: This isn’t my passport details
Mr Bolivia: Looks at it again, hmm yes but why
Me: You didn’t print the correct form! (thinks: omg I’m stuck with a person who can’t reconcile details!!)
Mr Bolivia: Okay I print again
(Hands me the correct form this time)
Me: (signs it immediately)
Mr Bolivia: Prints out the visa sticker and very slowly sticks it on my passport
Me: (slowly dying inside)
My friend: silently laughing at my frustrated self from behind, because I previously told him Americans are a whole lot of drama crossing borders. I guess I will eat my words now then :/
Mr Bolivia: Okay this is done now, you go to the next counter
Me: (why can’t he just stamp my passport while he’s at it gosh) takes my passport to the next counter
Mr Bolivia 2: Hello, you have a visa?
Mr Bolivia 2: What country? Oh from Singapore
Me: (rolls eyes inside my head but smiles back at him because he is marginally nicer than Mr Bolivia 1)
Mr Bolivia 2: Okay where is Singapore on this list, hmmm. Can you help me see?
Me: Uhhhhh (the list is behind the counter, behind glass, and am I supposed to be looking at the list in the first place?!?)
Mr Bolivia 2: Oh I found it! But why is it not with the other countries starting with S??
Me: I don’t know
Mr Bolivia 2: Okay you can stay in Bolivia 30 days.
Me: Can I have more days? I read we can stay here 90 days.
Mr Bolivia 2: No, 30 days.
Me: (just want to get this over and done with by this point) Okay 30 days.
Mr Bolivia 2: (stamps my passport) Done! Bye!
Me: Bye! (HOPEFULLY FOREVER!!!)
And the minute I step on the bus, it pulls away from the border. Fantastic
I was that person that everyone had to look at shakily walking to my seat, wondering why the heck I took so long at the border.
Sinking into my seat, my head spun, from all the drama in the last half an hour and also the altitude. I just wanted to curl up into a ball and dive into a comfortable duvet.
And in that moment, with my friend next to me telling me everything is going to be and that we were in Bolivia, I was just really thankful I wasn’t alone (:
Of course, throughout the course of the day I did do many more retarded and unintentionally stupid things like mistake the Bolivian flag for the gay pride flag, sigh.
Sinking into bed that night, I was really happy the day was over, that I was in Bolivia, and that tomorrow was going to be a better day, because after a day like this, the only way left to go was up.
Days like this happen to even the best, most well traveled of us, and laughing and shaking it off was the best way to bounce back. Also proof that life is not all roses, perfect Instagram photos and chauffeur service.
Well, just another day in this travel life of mine ey! (:
It does get better.
Trust me. It does.