Published: June 1st 2012May 30th 2012
Alright, so it's been a really
long time since I wrote one of these things, but I had to get this off my chest, no matter how hairy it is. (Yes, my chest and the story.)
What can I say about border crossings? One thing I can´t say is that they´re not without their...entertainment. I think there are a couple of ways to judge this. Entertainment at expense of the traveler and entertainment for the traveler.
In one respect, the excitement that comes from the new adventure forthcoming which brings a flurry of imagination to the traveler. What different foods will I eat? What mountains and deserts will I cross? What will the people be like? Much different from their neighboring countrymen? Will transportation be [more of] a pain in the ass?
For the border police, entertainment at the expense of travelers is not an uncommon occurance. I've heard stories of forgotten/lost passports, drug busts, theft, even attempted overcharging of visas by officials. Although the job probably doesn't have the most appealing description or most attractive salary, at least they can say every day is different.
Fortunately and unfortunately, my border crossings are no exception to the "entertainment" rule. Fortunately, for reasons given above in regards to the traveler´s state of mind. Unfortunately, I haven´t been without my disasterous border crossings. Nothing too serious...more often than not it´s just a matter of being patient and understanding that this is just how shit goes down at borders. After crossing from India into Nepal, there were transportation strikes which meant that Aaron and I had to take a cycle-rickshaw
(see here for example
) like 30km to the closest town. In Cambodia, we had to negotiate the price of the visa with police.
At the Ecuador/Peru border, there was no electricity on the Peruvian side so I had to fill out all my paperwork by candlelight at four in the morning. Little did I know but this particular border crossing would have a direct impact my travel from Peru into Bolivia...
The story actually begins back in a little town called Popayan in Colombia. A town that prides itself on it´s culinary abilities and faith. Of which, the latter seemed to be taking a day off when I arrived on that fateful evening in mid-January earlier this year. This is the night someone decided to steal my backpack which happened to have my passport, among other things - namely my DSLR, point-and-shoot camera and journal - in it. Regardless, this unfortunate event forced me to back to Bogota and get an emergency passport to travel to Ecuador. For those of you who don´t know, emergency passports can be made at the embassy in a matter of hours and are valid for 3 months. After this point, if you want to go to another country, to put it bluntly, you´re shit out of luck. If you´re continuing to travel more than 3 months, you need to go to an embassy and re-apply for a full passport, which can take 10-21 days as it gets processed back in the States.
For reasons unnecessary to explain here, I didn´t apply in Quito, Ecuador. I´ll spare you the frustrating details. I was able to get into Peru with my emergency passport, no problem, on March 9th. Now, as I mentioned before, all paperwork on the Peruvian side was done by candlelight at 4AM. When you´re traveling to Peru, you are not required to pay for a visa and can request anywhere from 30 to 183 days on a tourist visa. If a certain number of days is not requested, a number is given on a completely random basis. Being half-awake and not thinking to ask for more than 30 days, I was of course given 30 (while my friend who was traveling for only two weeks got 90...). Just my luck.
Fast-forward a bit and I now have my new passport (with 52 pages!) and my emergency passport is all holed-up and void. Fast-forward a bit more and it´s May 27th and I´m leaving Cusco to get on an overnight bus to Puno and from there, onto the border between Peru and Bolivia - which by that time was May 28th. Let´s do some math: March 9th, enter Peru. May 28th, leave Peru. Visa of 30 days...on a different, void, passport. Now, don´t think that I´m so
stupid. Yes, I looked into extending my visa. But, it´s 100% impossible. I read from multiple sources, official ones included, that what happens is you just need to pay $1/day that you overstay your visa. No problemo, right? Wrong.
So here goes: I partied in Cusco the 2 nights before I left...hard. Let´s put it that way. I had been working at the bar at the hostel for over a month and I felt it just needed to be done as a farewell. Why do I mention this? Because it had a sickening effect on the bus ride, literally. I´ll relive the story, just for entertainment´s sake...
I spent the day of the 27th doing absolutely nothing, I´ll admit it. I was hungover as hell so I vegged out all day before my night bus to Puno, the next major city in Peru before you go on to the border. At the bus station, I specifically ask the woman at the ticketing desk if there is a bathroom on board, as things may get ugly a couple of different ways (I didn't go into that much detail). "Si, señor". Beautiful. "Is there also an ATM at the border, because I don't want to bring too much money with me right now". "Si, señor". Perfect!
While boarding the bus, I tell Brendon, "I think I need to puke...no, I can hold it." 8 hours...nothin', right? About an hour into the trip, what happens? I take a sip of water and next thing I know, I'm RUNNING to the bathroom...but don't make it. It just so happens they put me in, literally, the last spot on the bus.
Spew in isle, on jacket, headphones...probably on a person or two (not joking). I go downstairs (it's double-decker bus) to try and open the bathroom door and it's locked. Why wouldn't it be? I knock on the driver's cabin. "Puedo usar el baño??" "No hay" ("There isn't one"). Fantastic. I sit down on the stairs, recuperate and head back upstairs, hoping the smell has dispated and no one is about to start swinging, mid-way between cleaning the remnents of chicken soup off their alpaca sweater. Luckily, the lights had been off the entire time, so I seriously tip-toed
to my seat. Smell not too bad, people snoring...all's well. Did it even happen? Yes, don't fool yourself, Max.
So, onto Puno! We arrive at 4:30AM and the bus to the border leaves at 7:30. Cue me: passing out in the caffeteria at the grimey bus station.
We board the bus, have a couple of laughs about the last bus trip and we're on our way. In 3 hours I'll be in Bolivia! ..........
OK, we get to the Peruvian side and there is a line stretching out of the Border Police station across the street. 30 minutes later I find out there's one guy running the border with over 100 people waiting in line.
A bit anxious to see how this is going to down, what I'm going to say and how they'll react to my visa situation...time creeps. When it comes to my turn, I give him my emergency passport only and my immigration card. As the emergency passport has holes in it, I'm hoping he doesn't inquire as to why. He doesn't. Home free! Nope, just need to go to the Immigration Office next door. I give my emergency passport to the clerk. "Why are there holes in here?" "That's an emergency passport, here is my new one". He looks at it, tells me I need to pay $50 for overstaying my visa. No problemo! Then, another clerk looks at it. He starts telling me that I need to have a stamp in my NEW passport, that I should've gotten a new one in Puno. "You'll have to go back to Puno".
After 30 minutes of explaining the vomit-ride from Cusco, that I just can't go back to Puno, that "por favor, por favor, por favor señor! Todo esta aqui!" etc...they tell me that if I pay $60, they'll let me fill out a new Immigration Card and give me a new stamp. Whoohooo! Done and done. Onto to Bolivia.
I walk over to the Bolivian border in search of an ATM, as Americans have to pay a $135 "Reciprocity Fee" because we like to make other countries pay crazy fees to come to the US. Are there ATMs? No, why would there be??? The Bolivian police tell me I have to go back to Peru, get a taxi to the next town over to withdrawl money. FUCK! At this point, the bus that I took from Puno is telling me to get my bags because they can't wait around anymore...I'll need to take a cab to Copacabana (our destination in Bolivia).
So, a bit...frustrated...yes, that's the word...I walk back to Peru, jump in a rickshaw and go to the next town over at a startling 12 mph. I return to Bolivia, fill out the forms, pay the fee, get stamped. I jump in a taxi and onto Copacabana, a beautiful little town on the coast of Lake Titicaka. But honestly, do I give a shit at this point? I could be going to shithole-bumblefuck, Bolivia at this point and be happy that the ordeal is now over.
So what's the moral of this story? I don't know. Think ahead? Don't believe what people always tell you? No, I think it's that border crossings are never without their "entertainment". So sit back and enjoy the ride.