BOlivia has never been high on my global trip plans. But since flights from Argentina to Peru (which are high on my global trip planning) are cumbersome and expensive, I decided to travel by bus through Bolivia to get to Peru. In addition, this is in theory a good opportunity to get acquainted with another country in South America.
But in practice, Bolivia is a culture shock to me and stressful in many respects. It starts at the border crossing. In La Quiaca you can cross the border on foot. Perhaps I shouldn’t have experienced it on a Christian holiday: for while Argentine border guards are plenty, Bolivians seem unwilling to work on Easter.
So I stand with 30-40 other people who want to leave the country for more than two hours in the scorching afternoon sun at 3,400 meters in front of the Bolivian border. At the time, I didn’t realize that waiting was part of everyday life in Bolivia.
Unexpected problems at the border
At some point, fortunately, a visibly surprised officer appeared from the rush. She was not in a particularly good mood, she carefully checks all the required documents: passport, passport copy, travel health insurance including Covid liability, negative PCR test, full corona vaccination and completed entry form. But even this is not enough.
Duplicate copies of all printed documents are required. However, in the end, she gently stamped the simple execution of documents at a crooked angle from her mouth and handed them to me. Unfortunately, she forgot to tell me that I then had to go back to the Argentine border control to get an exit certificate there. When I then try to cross the border without this smudge, Bolivians take me back without knowing what I’m really missing out on. After some asked, I finally found out.
Crossing the border is more complicated for my friend from the US. Missing printed visa application. So he must return to the city to print and fill out the appropriate application downloaded from the Internet in a copy shop. Upon returning to the border, he was sent to another office where he would theoretically have to pay a $160 visa fee. Although many sources on the Internet expressly write about the US dollar, the Bolivian border guards do not want to accept the US currency.
So I have to go to a bank in the Bolivian border town of Villazon so that my friend withdraws the money in the Boliviano. With money back to the border. There he can finally pay the entrance fee to enter one of the poorest countries in South America. By the way, entry is free for Germans.
The entire stay at the border lasts approximately five hours. This is not just the case for us, but for most travelers. The few Argentines who want to drive to Bolivia in their car are still negotiating with border officials when we head to the bus station in Villazon, completely annoyed, dry and starving. Ironically, on the border bridge, we see Bolivians walking unchecked across the dry river bed of the Río de la Cuyacá to Argentina. Of course, this also saves time.
Bolivia is one of the most amazing countries in the world
From Villazon, continue on a minibus to the city of Tupiza, 90 kilometers away. I know such minivans from Southeast Asia. It is packed with people, luggage and more baggage. After all, the ride only costs the equivalent of €2, so I endured the bars pushing through the seat to my ass for two hours.
After all: the fact that Bolivia is one of the most landscaped countries in the world can be guessed on the first trip. The sunset bathes the barren mountain landscape on one side in a sea of purple lights, while the full moon shines incredibly bright on the other.
Upon arriving in Tupiza, my first association was: “It’s like Nepal here!” It’s teeming with three-wheeled rickshaws everywhere, which, along with the traffic of buses and trucks, makes the air as bad as in Kathmandu. After all, the honk isn’t as loud here as it is there.
Hungry I wish I could find a restaurant open in the evening. Not realizing that Tupiza is nicknamed “Tupisa”, I came across a surprisingly good pizzeria. Otherwise, Bolivia is not exactly known for its culinary specialties. On almost every corner there are so-called “Broasters” that serve up foil-fried chicken or breaded meat with rice. So I can consider myself lucky with a pizza.
When I want to go hiking the next day, I quickly realize that conditions aren’t ideal. The sun burns mercilessly at 2,800 meters above sea level, even sunscreen with SPF 50 doesn’t help much. It’s dusty and dry, my lips are chapped for several days and my nose doesn’t like dry air either. Plus, I can’t sleep well at these altitudes.
Will we be friends with Bolivia and I in this life? I’m curious to see if things will improve on my next stop, the world’s largest salt lake.
Read more parts of the “One Way Ticket” global travel series here. The column appears every two weeks.