OK, I’m just going to come out and say it: we’ve been in a slump. After more than three months on the road and being sick off and on for 2+ months, we’ve been exhausted, short-tempered and generally in need of some R&R.
Yes, I know you what you are thinking. How can two people with nothing to do but see the world even come close to complaining? And I agree, it seems ridiculous. But being constantly on the move, never knowing more than a few days ahead where you’ll be sleeping, or if that rumbling in your stomach is going to require you to find a bathroom asap, you can get a little cranky.
Enter Copacabana, Bolivia. But first we had to actually enter Bolivia.
Alex enters Bolivia
After an overnight bus ride from Cusco, we arrived at the Bolivian border with our stack of paperwork and crisp $20s. Bolivia is what some call a reciprocity country; they have attempted to make it as difficult and expensive for U.S. citizens to enter their country as we have made it for them to enter the U.S.
The day before we boarded our bus, I spent several hours online reviewing the entry requirements and reading stories of other U.S. travelers that had successfully entered the country. I nervously compiled the necessary documentation (valid passport, proof of onward travel, proof of hotel reservation, proof of yellow fever vaccinations, proof of economic solvency, and passport-size photos), and ensured we had sufficient crisp, clean, untorn U.S. currency to pay the $135 visa fee. At 9pm we hailed a cab and headed to the bus terminal in Cusco.
The overnight bus ride was rough. Sleep was fitful at best and we arrived at the Bolivian border with just a few hours of sleep under our belts. We got our Peruvian exit stamp without any hassle, then walked across the border into Bolivia.
As we approached the immigration desk, we were shuttled by a police officer to seats reserved for those who needed a visa–us, one other American, and a Russian. While the South American and European travelers quickly obtained the necessary stamp in their passports, we triple checked our stack of documents and re-counted our cash. We approached the window and dutifully handed over each piece of documentation requested plus a check-list of all of the documents (in Spanish!) that we had written the night before.
What we didn’t realize was that, in addition to a valid passport, you need to present a copy of your passport. So I headed next door to the tienda with a photocopy machine to get the necessary copies. I returned to the window, only to be told they needed two additional copies of our hotel reservation email. Back to the tienda for more copies.
“The culture is magic.” The border crossing not so much.
Finally, I handed over the $280 cash for our visas ($10 more than the total cost). The agent inspected every single bill for tears or stains, then replied “falta,” or “missing” in english. Huh?
How could it be short?! We read numerous websites, including those of the U.S. embassy in La Paz and the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C., which assured us the visa was $135 each. Turns out the visa fee increased to $160 each in June. We had only $300 in crisp $20s. I handed over my last pristine $20, then pulled out the worn, dirty $20 that the money changers in Chivay had rejected and informed the agent, “Esta es todo mi dollares (This is all my dollars).”
He looked at my dirty $20 and repeated “falta.” He suggested I try to change it for bolivianos at the booth outside. Close to tears, I left the office a third time and approached the moneychanger with the best of my two ugly $20s. She looked at it closely… and then handed over the Bolivianos. I wanted to hug her, but I just smiled, said “gracias” and quickly walked back into the immigration office and handed over the cash.
Visas in hand, we got back on the bus (where the Europeans and South Americans were waiting) for the last 9km to Copacabana.
Woohoo! Visa in hand
Exhausted, we headed straight to our hotel where we had booked the “superior double suite” the night before because it was the only room left in the late hour when we realized that we needed proof of hotel reservation to get through Bolivian immigration. We hiked up the hill to our room (sucking air at 4,000 meters) and our jaws dropped when we got inside.
Jacuzzi tub, king bed, kitchenette, cable TV, and a million dollar view of Lake Titicaca. All for $50/night, a splurge for us, but what a welcome sight for our tired souls. We immediately reserved four more nights!
We slept the rest of the day and then enjoyed an amazing fondue dinner in the hotel restaurant.
The next day was Sunday and we were psyched to find American football on our cable TV. We watched three games, drank beer, read books and napped. After a short trip to the market, Alex made a delicious sopa de quinoa (quinoa soup), which we ate while watching the Seahawks game. The perfect Sunday.
We spent the next three days sleeping in, hiking, and birding along the shore of Lake Titicaca and the gorgeous Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun).
The island is considered the birthplace of the sun for many indigenous Bolivians. There is a 10km trail across the island that passes three tiny villages, the Chincana (Inca) ruins, Titi Khar’ka (or “Rock of the Puma” from which the lake derives its name) and offers stunning views of the lake and other surrounding islands.
The Rock of the Puma features prominently in the Inca creation story. There are four elongated niches in one end, two called the Refugio del Sol and two called Refugio de la Luna.
According to legend, during the Chamaj Pacha (times of flood and darkness) the sun made its first appearance here. Later, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo appeared here and founded the Inca Empire. Nearby stones contain the Huellas del Sol (footprints of the sun), which resemble footprints and are considered to be made by the sun after its birth on Titi Khar’ka.
After much rest and some opportunities to connect with our beautiful surroundings, we are feeling rejuvenated and reconnected to the joy of traveling. We realize there may still be some bumps in the road ahead, but for now, it feels like smooth sailing.
Bolivia birds: black siskin^, black throated flowerpiercer, giant hummingbird, peruvian sierra-finch, titcaca grebe, andean coot, andean gull^, rufous collared sparrow^, ruddy duck^, black faced ibis, spot winged pigeon, yellow billed teal^, puna ibis^, andean lapwing^, andean flicker^, bright rumped yellow finch, white winged cinclodes, mourning sierra finch, brown backed chat tyrant, white tufted grebe, plumbeous rail, wren-like rush bird, yellow winged blackbird, common moorhen, andean swallow, puna teal^, roufous naped ground tyrant, mountain caracara^ (^ denotes birds seen in other countries previously on this trip)
Hi Alex and Erin,
Thank you so much for keeping in touch with us. We read every word you write. Please continue e-mail us that’s the only form of media we use.
I had chemo yesterday and not feeling too well so will keep this very short.
Know you’re having a wonderful time and once in a lifetime experience. Know how frustrating it can be dealing with other countries rules. My granddaughter, Rachel, has been dealing with some of that for 2 years between Australia and New Zealand.
Thu, 1 Oct 2015 15:06:56 +0000 Lower the Bar for More Fun
I loved your entry regarding hardships of travel and then suddenly when you least expect it, a small piece of heaven. Bolivia!!!
Much more to happen just around the corner,
If not for a little slump, where would be the joy of rejuvenation? Congrats on a few creature comforts just when you needed them! You both rock!
just found out my friend Nancy in California is following your blog.
When we talked/skyped you mentioned your fatigue & being ready to move on. After reading your blog, I realized much more how you’re feeling. You hid it well when we skyped. Sounds like Chile will be a welcomed change. Love you guys.
Your description of the visa process make me want to get on a plane to Bolivia immediately. You exhibited great skill and patience though. Take care of yourselves and get more R and R. Love you, Dad Madden
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