O.K. so we weren’t at the Copacabana per se, but we were in a Copacabana. It was our first stop in Bolivia. And what a welcome we received… I guess more accurately it was a poor farewell from Peru.
Let’s start there.
There we are on the bus, so confident and ready for our next border crossing. We’ve just had a lovely drive down the coast as the sun slowly began to descend behind the horizon. Luckily I suppose, it hadn’t completely disappeared yet as we were going to need that tiny bit of sunshine.
The bus pulls up to the border crossing where everyone was directed to disembark. We all hop off the bus and head in various directions. Many had to pee, exchange money, grab snacks, etc… but not us! We were prepped and ready to go. All we needed was a few stamps and we’d be on our way. We were even second in line!
“Should we wait here, or check out the other guard?” I wondered. “Bah, we’ll be fine.” we both agreed. So, Rach rocks up to the border guard, “Buenos dias señor, como estas?” she says. To which she receives the ever faintest wave of the hand and some sort of unintelligible grunt…uh oh…
After a few moments the guard finally says something, but it was in Spanish and fairly quickly. Neither of us caught it. With the looks of confusion still fresh on our faces the guard tosses her passport at us and says, “You pay.” As you might imagine this was not what we were expecting to hear. After about 15 mins of arguing in Spanglish/Charades this is what we learned:
- Rachel was only given 30 days in Peru upon entry. (I was given 90)
- Because Rachel had “over stayed” her welcome there was a fine to pay.
(We had not stayed over 90 days in total so this was also annoying)
- We could not pay the fine with the guard, rather we had to take a taxi 15 mins back to Yunguyo in Peru and pay at the only bank in town. (Seems convenient)
- Only upon returning with proof of payment of our arbitrary $36.25 fine could we then properly exit the country.
- There is nothing the guard can do and he will not help us in any manner.
- The Bank may or may not still be open when we get there, no one knows.
- If we do not pay the fine we cannot exit the country. (…which would mean it would cost more to exit at a later date and if we can’t pay that, then we cannot exit the country, which would mean…well you get the idea.)
Outside we go, pretty flustered and still not entirely sure what to do. The list above is only what we gathered was the case, since our Spanish is just terrible! I tried to get some help from the bus driver and his partner but all that did was notify them that we had a problem with our paperwork. Then they proceeded to take our luggage off of the bus. Whoa, whoa, whoa Mr. Busdriver que pasa? Apparently since we have a problem with emigration they couldn’t wait for us and also offered little to no help. So they dumped our bags on the side of the road and washed their hands of the idiot gringos who might delay their bus.
So we grab a taxi and try to make it to the bank in time. The driver was not anymore certain of the bank’s hours. As our old bus crossed the border and continued on it’s way, Rach and I were headed back into Peru in the opposite direction with fingers crossed. (Keep in mind we are incredibly pissed off at this point, confused and probably a little scared.)
Well, we finally get to the bank and it is still open! Luckily there are only 45 people in line…but the line moves fairly quickly and Rach was one of the last few people let in before closing. So she pays the stupid fine, comes out with the receipt and we have a pleasant conversation with the cabby on the way back to the border crossing.
Now I say “stupid fine” with good reason. Can you imagine what happened when we returned to Emigration? If you thought absolutely nothing happened, then you would be correct. The border guard we had dealt with was long gone and another guard remained. He greeted us with a smile, briefly looked over both of our passports, stamped us out and sent us on our way. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Oh border crossings, you’re always up for a laugh aren’t you?
Rachel had intentionally not mentioned the “fine” and kept the receipt in her pocket. We wanted to see what would happen the second time around. Sure enough nothing happened, nothing at all. We were furious with relief. If there can be such a feeling.
As it turns out, there was plenty the first guard could’ve done to help us. Like say, not be a giant bastard. He had his heart set on being a pain in the ass and was very happy in doing so. Thank you border guard, you are a real peach.
So now we have our exit stamp, about 15-20 minutes of daylight left and no bus since being abandoned. Up the road we go and we cross the border on foot. Hopefully things are a little better for us with Bolivia’s border guards because at this point there isn’t much patience left in the tank.
Well let me tell you, the Bolivian border guards were perfectly fair. They were absolutely, positively adequate. We had just learned a new lesson and were eager to apply our knowledge. So we tried to make certain that we both received 90 days, clearly written, in ink on both passports. More good news…this would not be possible at this particular border crossing. If we wanted to extend our stay to 90 days we would have to go to the Migration Offices in Bolivia’s capital city, La Paz.
To be fair, the guards were friendly in giving us this information. We were free from Peru and now legally in Bolivia for the next 30 days. (After reading horror stories about Bolivia’s Migration Offices we were not excited to have to visit them. When we finally did make it there, we were in and out in 15 mins with 60 more days on our passport. The only hiccup was that we required photocopies of our passports, entry stamps and immigration cards which we took care of just up the street for about .30¢.)
Well here is the boring conclusion to our ridiculous border crossing. We head out of our last government building with all of our paperwork finally in order and try to figure out how to get to Copacabana. We are pretty much in the middle of nowhere at this point and need to get to a hostel. The sun is gone by now, leaving just enough twilight to know we can’t see anything. Throughout the entire ordeal we kept hearing from various people that the cab from Bolivia’s border to Copacabana would only be 3 Bolivianos. ( ≈.60¢ CAD) However this was the cost per person to fill up a van, if a van was available. Obviously there was not a van available.
We were presented with an opportunity that I don’t regret, but often wonder about. There was a group of Argentinian travelers sharing a VW Beetle and VW van but they appeared to be crossing into Peru and not Bolivia. A combination of exhaustion, fear, lack of Spanish and shyness kept me from approaching them for help. So we paid the 20 Bolivianos the solitary cabby was asking for and got our butts to Copacabana.
I did see the Argentinian group later in town and wondered what might have been. I guess they were headed into Bolivia after all. Hindsight is 20/20.
*Hot Tip – Learn Spanish
*Hot Tip – Always double check your entry/exit stamps. Even if you’re doing a 4 a.m. border crossing. ESPECIALLY if your doing a 4 a.m. border crossing.
*Hot Tip – Once you know Spanish, use it to meet incredible Spanish speaking travelers.
*Hot Tip – Trust your gut.