The trip to Bolivia began, and as usual, was very interesting…well, maybe that’s not quite the right word. I land in La Paz and am told to wait patiently….several times. Myself, another young American woman and some Asians are made to wait once everyone else has gone through. We need to buy visas (or what I like to call the extortion fee, though it is usually brought on by the fact that our government charges them to enter our country…vis a vis). Everyone else has easily gotten through immigrations. So there are about 8 of us pulled off to the little room on the side…waiting. The officials are all focused on this middle aged man. He looks normal enough, slacks, white buttoned down collared shirt which is neatly tucked in emphasizing the paunch of his belly. They keep making him fill out his form. He would write something and the uniformed man would read it and then point at something else on the paper and the whole thing would start again. This went on for quite a while. I’m thinking why is this man so special, because I’ve been at Immigration for about 3 hours now and my patience is wearing thin. Then I notice the Interpol jacket on one of the officials. Finally they seem satisfied with the hombres paper work and then the man lifts up his hands to them and the next thing I know they are handcuffing him. This guy is literally 1 foot away from me. I then think, poor guy and next think, uh oh, I hope I’m not in this room for the same treatment. They will only take American dollars and I don’t have enough on me…so the other american woman and I get to surrender our passports and run to find an ATM. It’s all a little crazy. The young American woman is sticking to me like glue because she thinks I speak Spanish…yep, we are definitely in trouble:) At any rate we finally do get through immigrations…we are the last people to do so:( They even mixed up our passports but luckily the young woman notices. So, now it’s late, it’s cold and I’m tired and hungry. Hola Bolivia!
The next day I just kind of wander aimlessly around the streets of La Paz. It’s rustic and charming all at the same time. The women especially are a sight to behold. They have these layers of brightly colored clothes that in no way match, but the best thing is the hats on their heads. Most wear a kind of weird ill fitting top hat sort of thing. They have round faces and round bodies and I never get tired of watching them. The city is surrounded by snow covered mountains and the altitude makes for difficult breathing. I sit at the plaza in town where the ground is literally covered in pigeons and the locals are enjoying themselves and all the birds. In the evening I head out in the cold and wet to find the El Mercado de las Brujas…or the witches market. I figured I would fit right in:) Of course I did:) There were two missed connections with my young American friend so we finally gave up…that happens sometimes too. I had booked 3 nights in La Paz only to find out the bus to Cusco left the next morning…really early. They had no buses the following day. I still had to pay for the third night but it was cheap and the room was not something to be sad about leaving early:)
Bolivia Hop was there to pick me up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am. The funny guy in charge of the tourist said he was freezing and La Paz hadn’t had this much snow in 25 years…lucky frickin me:) They took me to Copacabana for a 5 hour layover that included not only a stroll through the city but a boat ride to a little island. An excruciatingly slow boat ride. Copacabana is situated on Lake Titicaca. Which happens to share itself with both Bolivia and Peru. It’s a gorgeous lake and I wanted to see it, because just like a 12 year old boy I wanted to able to say I’ve been to Lake Titicaca:) The small island, Isla del Sol was pretty, but still affected by the altitude I forewent the hike around the island and chose instead to watch the donkeys and my first sightings of llamas by the seashore. I am so easily amused.
Next stop would be to cross the border into Peru and then head to Puno for the night before moving on to Cusco. Our bus guide was making sure we all had our papers in order and checking our passports. When he got to me, he looked at me with worried eyes. “You have no stamp.” I had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that when I went through immigrations they should have stamped the paper that I filled out. Of course they hadn’t but they did manage to stamp my passport. He said he would walk me through the immigration exit for Bolivia, warning me that they might charge me $50 and they might be rude. I laughed and said, “You mean they are going to charge me and also be rude because their fellow officers failed to do their job correctly?” He laughed too and said, “Yep, that’s about right.” I used my best charms with the immigration officer and for once they actually worked. He let me pass and stamped my passport so that I could exit Bolivia. Whew!
My time in Bolivia was so short…only one full day spent there. The country is very beautiful from what I saw. As I understand it, they are still angry at Chile for taking their coastline that they see as rightfully theirs…obviously Chile feels differently:( It leaves them totally land locked and they are also very poor. Some claim that one has something to do with the other…honestly, I don’t know and wouldn’t even begin to speculate…just reporting what I heard and saw.
Bolivia…So little time there and yet so interesting…maybe one day I’ll return to see more of it, including the amazing Salt Flats I missed:(