It was still freezing when we woke up and getting out of our sleeping bags that morning was an incredibly difficult task. Fortunately, we were headed to our last border crossing before Brazil, and our heightened spirits made the cold that much more bearable. We grabbed our Clif Bars – the supply running low at this point in the trip – and were well on our way before the sun even came up. We were especially eager to cross the border and get that much closer to the Cup, and were thrilled to see only a few people standing in line at the customs office. We arrived just before six, so we would be right at the front of the line when it opened. Or so we thought. The office, it turns out, did not open until 8:30… almost three hours later. Now we know why the line was so short. We weren’t too thrilled about a three hour wait in the chilly Peruvian morning, so we climbed back in the car, pulled up the hoods of our sweatshirts, and shut our eyes as the sun began to rise on the lake.
The nap was a great way to pass the time, but by the time we woke up, the small cluster of people waiting for customs to open had turned in to a long line the snaked well around the side of the building. By then, roughly 100 people were in line to enter Bolivia, and dozens of locals were milling about selling coffee, breakfast, and exchanging Peruvian Nuevo Sol’s for Bolivian Bolivianos. We scrambled out of the car and jumped in line at 8:05. We still had some waiting to do, but people were streaming in and the line was growing steadily longer. Thankfully they opened a bit early and Peru didn’t much care how or why you were leaving their country, so the exit process was a quick stamp and little more. The line quickly moved down the building and we were in and out in under twenty minutes. Not bad. We were through migration by 8:35, but naturally the aduana wasn’t open until 9:30. Despite the presence of two or three officers inside the office, we had to wait even longer while they did god knows what to open the office. We wandered to a small restaurant and sipped on some cafés to kill the time and exchanged our remaining Nuevo Sols for Bolivianos and went back to the customs to badger them to let us through. The large line we had been in the middle of to leave Peru was forming the even larger line to enter Bolivia, and we were already hours behind schedule.
The line to enter Bolivia was not only massive, but horribly disorganized. It snaked back and forth outside before doing the same inside the building itself. We obligingly went to the end and waited. The vast majority of the people in line were clearly either Peruvian or Bolivian nationals. The talked with each other quietly in fast Spanish and waited patiently, clearly used to this type of government inefficiency. The line was dotted with other foreigners, though. There was a German couple, the woman wearing a pink parka, that were clearly having a fight over something the boyfriend/husband had done. We saw what we guessed were a few Eastern European guys, speaking what sounded like Russian, and wearing shorts and t-shirts in the 40 degree morning. It was there in line that we met a couple who were traveling throughout South America playing music and chatted with them for a bit. Aimee was from Argentina and was traveling with her boyfriend John who was from, get this, Durham, NC! He hadn’t lived there in quite some time, but had graduated from UNC in 2005 and knew the area. He commented on the Carolina sticker on the back of the car, and we made small talk until their line wait was over, and we waved as they headed on their way. Excited by the North Carolina connection, we were able to make it through the horrific line and finally get our visas. A few photocopies and an incredibly picky examination of our payment (nothing but crisp, mint condition twenties were accepted) later, and we were finally (legally) in Bolivia. In total, it took us close to 6 hours to get into Bolivia. We rationalized that the wait included a two hour nap, so in all, it wasn’t too bad. But little did we know, Bolivia was just getting started.
The ride from the border was gorgeous. We were still in the mountain plains we had crossed in Peru. Snow capped peaks lined the distance and small mountain towns and llamas spread across the countryside. As we headed down from the mountains however, the country began to change. We hit La Paz that afternoon, and after failing to find wifi thanks to some horrible construction planning, we gave up and continued east. Slowly. Roads in Bolivia range from “questionable” to “awful”. For every 100 miles of relatively well-kept pavement, there were 75 of mud and gravel. The highways would not have been called such in the States. The border process had taken 4-5 hours longer than we had expected, so we were pushed to make up time. We had planned on making it to Buena Vista, just outside of Santa Cruz, but that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, we identified a national park on our map near Cochabampa, Bolivia, about 5 hours driving time closer to us than Buena Vista, and decided to aim for that. It was slow going to say the least, but we finally made it into town just after dark. Surprisingly, it was one of the nicest towns we had seen on the entire trip! Well maintained roads, minimal construction, and nice shops and restaurants were a nice change of pace from what we had experienced in Bolivia so far. Unfortunately, we had no time to stop and enjoy the city, and as soon as we had entered we were already climbing a hill outside of town to camp for the night. We made it half way to the park on our map before deciding to pull off on the side of the road instead. It had been a long day and we were too tired to go any further. We had peanut butter and jelly tortillas for dinner that night and enjoyed the city lights below.