Bolivia: Getting There

The trip started off as quite the adventure, to say the least. My friend Emma had invited me to accompany her and her friends on a trip to Bolivia to celebrate the end of classes and our first semester (can you believe it’s already done?!?). Although I had several finals to finish before the departure, and I only knew Emma out of the group, I decided to go. And although I didn’t know much about Bolivia, I heard it was a pretty country and certainly a worthwhile experience. After all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that spontaneous travel is the most rewarding, interesting, and fun.

So despite our finals, Emma and I set out to tackle the process of obtaining a Bolivian visa. Little did we know what was in store. We started by heading to the Bolivian embassy, hoping the process would be relatively easy so we could get back to studying. But despite our six months in Buenos Aires, we somehow managed to forget that everything, EVERYTHING is complicated in South America. So after going to the embassy, we learned that there was another embassy across town that dealt with visas. Bearing the god awful heat and enormous amounts of traffic due to yet another subway strike, we ventured across town only to find a line stretching out the door at the visa office. Knowing the wait time would be at least half a day, we decided to go back to the other embassy to see what they could do. In short, we ended up getting sent back to the visa office and finding out that, to obtain a visa, we needed excessive amounts of documents, including proof of a hostel reservation and 4×4 pictures of ourselves. We proceeded to spend the next three days running around town making excessive amounts of photocopies, organizing our papers and emailing hostels.

But finally the day of our trip arrived, and everything was in order. Our finals were done, our documents ready, and all we had to do was look forward to exploring Bolivia for the next 11 days. We arrived at the bus station; bags packed and ready to go. We waited, and waited, but the bus still wasn’t arriving. Finally, Emma wisely went to ask the bus company if the bus was still coming. We discovered tat due to heavy rains the bus company was going to send us by taxi to a bus terminal an hour away on the other side of Buenos Aires.

Laughing at our luck, we piled into the taxi, along with another bus passenger, who turned out to be a half-French, half-Argentine man who had a strange obsession with “medicinal plants” and loved to hear his own voice. We also noticed a strange smell in the air, something like burning rubber, and smoke hanging over Buenos Aires as we drove along the highway. But after a brief nap, we arrived at the other bus terminal. As we waited for our bus to arrive, I realized all of the TVs in the bus station were broadcasting urgent news about Buenos Aires. Apparently, that morning a dumpster full of pesticides had spilled in the northern part of the city (right next to the bus terminal, might I add) and an explosion had produced a cancerous cloud of smoke. People living in the northern neighborhoods were advised to stay inside and keep windows closed. The subways and trains to the bus station were being cancelled. To our horror, we realized that the smell in the taxi was due to the fact that we had driven through the noxious smoke, with windows down and everything, right after the container had spilled. In the end, all we could do was laugh at our luck and the chaos that can be Buenos Aires.

Four hours and two hungry and slightly crabby girls later, our bus finally arrived, and we wearily got on board. Finally, after everything, we were headed to Bolivia.

The 30 hour bus ride was supposed to boring and tedious, but we made the most of it. I ended up laughing until I was crying as Emma and I tried to “cook gourmet” on the bus by making tuna-avocado crackers on the bus. At night we waited for dinner and by 10pm decided we probably weren’t going to be fed. So we decided to take sleeping pills (the first time I’ve done this, by the way) to help us get through the remaining 20+ hour ride. Just as my eyes became too heavy to keep open, the lights flashed on and music by Jennifer Lopez blared over the bus speakers. We realized it was dinner time. I felt a tray being placed on my legs and didn’t even attempt to eat. Ages later, in what I thought was a dream, I heard Emma laughing as she took my uneaten sandwich and tray from its original spot on my lap, and gave it back to the bus attendant. Needless to say, I got a good night’s sleep 🙂

Finally we arrived the next day at the border town of Villazón in Bolivia. Emma was feeling very sick, but we had to wait in line for almost two hours to pass through border migrations. When we reached the front of the line, we were told we needed to pay the entry fee in U.S. dollars. Coming from Argentina, where U.S. dollars are a coveted commodity, we were a little short on cash. We were sent through to Bolivia to find an ATM. 20 minutes later, we returned to find the migrations office had no change for our U.S. dollars and our bus, with our backpacks, had disappeared. So yet again we illegally passed back in Bolivia to find our bus. Luckily it was only 5 blocks away, and after I shared some not-so-kind words with our bus driver, we had our bags. We went to a change house quickly and returned to the border. After paying, we began asking if the official needed to see our prepared documents. We showed him our vaccine forms, the photos, the passport photocopies, and everything we had prepared. He condescendingly looked at us and told us the requirements were all outdated and we only needed to pay. Emma and I looked at each other in disbelief, and realized all of our hard work preparing our documents in Buenos Aires had been completely useless. Getting our visa stamp and cutting our losses, we entered Bolivia.

Yet despite our overwhelming bad luck, we managed to run into the rest of our group-Simon, James, and Bram-just as they were crossing the border. And in the end, tired, weary, hungry, and frustrated, the five of us piled into a restaurant, and ended up laughing and eating delicious Bolivian food. So finally, after the disaster of preparing our documents, of trying to catch the bus, of driving through cancerous smoke, and of crossing the border, we were in Bolivia.

Making it across the Bolivia-Argentina border

 

From your traveler with a little bad luck,

Jess