Bolivian Border

Posted From: 

So we finally dragged ourselves away from Cusco in order to head to Bolivia. We'd had a good run there, highlights being heading out to Machu Picchu (of course), staying at Yello River with Andy, Tati and Maya on the way there, winning the Pub Quiz at The Real McCoy (and sharing the bottle of wine we won with Sally, the fine owner and head chef), drinking countless coffees at Jack's Cafe and adding a bit more to our Spanish at Amauta Spanish School. All in all, a good, relaxing time, but all good things must come to an end...

Cusco from the Iglesia de San Cristobal.

You have two options (well, probably three) to travel from Cusco down to Puno, the gateway city if you're going past Lake Titikaka and down to Bolivia. Option one is a straightforward bus, taking you from A to B in reasonably short order and leaving at various times throughout the day. Option two is a tourist bus which, while more expensive, stops at various sites along the way and includes a few free drinks (non alcoholic) and a lunch break as well. Option three, for those that are interested, involves a series of vans (aka collectivos) from town to town, packed full of locals that prefer to sweat away under multiple layers of thick clothing without opening the windows... not desirable. We ended up taking option two, which unfortunately leaves around seven in the morning, leaving no time for the breakfast pancakes at our hostel, Casa del Inca and, more critically, no time for coffee. A dire start to the day, which we ambitiously hoped might be remedied by the free drinks on board, but of course, the coffee was weaker than tea and had less kick than a cuy (guinea pig).

That said, the seats were comfortable so I settled in and did my best to use the non-caffeine based approach to fixing a lack of sleep - sleeping. Not something I'm good at outside of a bed, unfortunately, although I did manage to scrape in an hour or so after our lunch break. The trip stopped off at a few reasonably unexciting spots, Andahuaylillas (where there is a church somewhat ambitiously dubbed the "Sistine Chapel of the Andes"), Raqchi (Inca ruins, but not in great condition) and Pukara, where there is a small museum and some ruins that you don't get to go and see. The only bit of interest was the Abra la Raya, the 4, 338m pass over which we crossed en route to Puno; some very pleasant scenery leading up to and down from it.

The Abra de Raya, 4300m, en route to Puno.

Overall, I would have preferred to sleep in, eat my pancakes and take option one straight there; the most interesting part was the scenery anyway, and that was the same however I got there. We did manage to get a crazy cheap deal on the bus which made things somewhat more appealing to my budget oriented mind though ;)

We eventually arrived in Puno, a reasonably forgettable town that attracts tourists through its convenience as a staging point for trips to and from Bolivia, as well as out to the Peruvian islands in Lake Titikaka. We had a decent hotel though, with the first decent shower since Lima. The cheap hotels in Cusco, recognising that it's pretty fucking cold overnight and that their guests will chew through hot water like it's going out of fashion so they use these gimmicky things that basically attach an element to the shower head so that the water comes out hot... so long as you keep the pressure low enough that the water has time to heat on the way through. I haven't heard of anyone being electrocuted by these things yet, but you know it's only a matter of time... Anyway, despite the odd tingle while I adjusted the pressure, nothing worse than an inadequate shower has happened to me so far. So yeah, good shower, that was the highlight of Puno.

Next day, we again had the exciting option of taking a bus at 7am... Unappealing, and this time the collectivo would make it there just as fast, considerably cheaper and departing any bloody time that we felt like (they leave once they're full, all day long). Instead of seven we left somewhere around midday and enjoyed beautiful views over the lake as we headed down to the border town of Yunguyo. On arrival we transitioned from collectivo to some form of motorcycle based tuktuk ripoff, which struggled up the gentle incline to the border itself.

This is one of the loosest borders I've seen; you can just wander over to the other side and go on your way if you're so inclined. If you want to do things the right way, it's not to go first into the first building which appears, enticingly labeled "Migracion", oh no. Instead there's a run down looking building further on labelled Police (probably Policia, but whatever), in which they tried to discourage me by telling me that June (with a Thai passport) wouldn't be allowed into Bolivia, as she didn't have a visa. They weren't keen on stamping her out, but eventually I convinced them to do so on the grounds that we'd just come back to Perú if they didn't let us in. Turns out that they were half way right... Anyway, I then had to head back to the Migracion building to collect another stamp in the passport and then we were on our way.

The Bolivian side was even less controlled; we probably should have just kept walking past immigration, but I suppose that I'll probably need the entry stamp to get out again (unless the next border is as easy as this one). Immigration for me was no problem (gotta love that Kiwi passport) but they balked at June's. Contrary to popular opinion she did need a visa... but thankfully we could collect one there. Unfortunately the cost was 360 bolivianos (AU$50ish), which we thought was a little savage, so we sat down and argued with them for a while. It wasn't particularly fruitful and at one point June quietly pointed out that there was a policeman standing right behind me, so, discretion being the better part of valour, we paid up and got out of there. Later research is inconsistent; Thais do need a visa, but they can get one on arrival and I see prices online ranging from free to 20 bolivianos but no instances of 360. The visa that we ended up getting does have 360 B/s marked on it though, so who knows. We'll check it out in La Paz if we need to extend our visas (they only gave us 30 days, even though their own paperwork in the office says Kiwis get 90), but I don't hold out much hope for a refund.

Moving on we took a private taxi (the waiting collectivo was empty, could have been waiting hours) down to Copacabana along the dodgiest road I've seen here, at one point passing a sign designating it a military area and expressly forbidding entry. Didn't concern our driver, nor the driver of the large bus coming the other way... Apparently it's a temporary route while they build/upgrade (my Spanish wasn't up to distinguishing between the two) a new/better road which will be complete in four months.

We're dropped off almost to the door to the incredibly pleasant Las Olas where we settle in to enjoy the views and finish off the last of our Mainland Vintage Cheddar with an AU$4 bottle of wine that I grabbed from the shop down the hill.

Looking down on Copacabana from Las Olas as the sun goes down.