Why we almost skipped Bolivia

Bolivia is the first country we considered skipping altogether. Due to the fact that we had to be to Northern Argentina within about 3 weeks of entering the country, we knew that we’d be rushed. We also were put off by the ridiculous number of requirements for a US citizen to get a visa to enter the country. Just to name a couple of those requirements you had to give them a copy of your bank statement to show financial solvency, you had to have a passport sized picture to give them, not to mention a separate copy of your passport, you had to have a flight booked out of South America back to your home country, and you had to pay $160 per person in perfect crisp $20 US bills. The best part is, the lady at the desk barely glances at these documents when you hand them over, she just checks them off her list then makes you get even more copies, and inspects each of the 16 $20s you give her for the tiniest of marks. Luckily we knew this would be required when we were in Ecuador where you could get USD from the ATM so I was proud that she approved each one of the bills I handed her. 

The crazy Visa requirements combined with the timing were almost enough to send us to the Peru-Chile border instead, but the pull of some of the most iconic sights of our trip had us heading to the border with file folder in hand. We checked out of Peru in record time. On to the Bolivia side, where even with all the crazy requirements and a run to get one more set of copies, we were done in just minutes. In less than 40 minutes total time, we were heading in to the office of the Policia to get the “necessary” stamp on our permit. We knew from reports on iOverlander that the necessity of this stamp was actually BS and this would be the first of MANY times in Bolivia where we would encounter police corruption. 

As expected, the cop withheld the stamp while he grilled us on the safety equipment we had on board, including demanding that we carry a set of full-size traffic cones and a First-Aid kit that even paramedics would call overkill. Finally, after refusing to pay the 10 Bolivianos he wanted as a bribe (literally about $1.25) for almost 45 minutes he let us leave with our stamp. We know that this amount of money is nothing for us and a lot of people in these countries could really use an extra $1.25, but paying out these bribes is NEVER a good idea. It just encourages more corruption and these amounts will go up and up as the cops see they can use this intimidation to fill their own pockets. Please if you are reading this blog for information regarding international travel and you have questions about how to avoid corruption, contact us and we will offer you some of the information and tricks that have allowed us to cross 15 borders and countless police checkpoints without paying a single bribe. 

Once we left the border we were feeling a little down and like maybe we should have just avoided Bolivia after all. We pulled in to a town on the banks of Lake Titicaca called Copacabana and stopped at a little sandwich shop for lunch. The shop was called “Baguette About It” and the owners were two guys, Brazilian and Argentine, with a passion for sandwiches and craft beer. They were thrilled to have us stop by their shop and helped us pair amazing sandwiches with some of the best microbrews we’ve had on the trip, both of which were made in Bolivia. 

After lunch, we decided to give this little town, and maybe Bolivia as well, another chance. So we went for a wander through the cobblestone streets and ended up at the beach. We saw two beautiful horses saddled and standing not too far down the way and I remarked how beautiful they were and how I missed being around horses. As if by magic (the magic of Latin American hawking that is) a 20-something Bolivian popped up and asked if we’d like to go for a ride up the nearby hill to get views of the lake. Usually we turn down offers like this, but something in my eyes must have tipped KP off because he turned back to the guy and haggled us down to about $20 for both of us to ride for 2 hours or so. We explained we had experience with horses and after we got on and walked around a bit, I think he saw that. So he made a sound that the horses responded to and off we went up the road back in to town. We wondered if he had another horse, but no this guy ran, literally ran, behind us as we traveled for at least 3 miles up to the top of this hill in a pair of jeans and worn out dress shoes. 

At the top we chatted for a few minutes, took tons of pictures, and then our guide Reynaldo turned to us and said “ok, I’m going back down this path because it’s faster, you guys take the horses the way we came and I’ll meet you on the beach.” So we did as instructed and rode back down the side of the mountain and in to the town, where we may have taken a small detour to go past the beautiful church and main square. It was like being in our own two-person parade as we waved at the locals and the very confused backpackers wondering where our guide was. 

It was an interesting first day in this new country, for sure! As we sipped Pisco Sours at a roof top bar (yes we checked that off as well!) we lamented not about how we wished we’d skipped this country, but that we hadn’t given ourselves enough time to fully explore it. What a difference a day makes!