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Warm welcome in La Paz

Crossing a border is for me always a bit stressful, even if it's only a formality, even if it's straight forward. I don't know why...And this time, leaving Peru was a bit more stressful because my 60-days visa had expired, only one day but... I had to cross the bolivian border very quickly.

So from Arequipa I went to Puno in the cheapest and most dirty bus ever. It was 8 hours I had to block my nose (the smell was unbearable, a mix of sheep, shit and poor body care smell), remove all the clothes I could, sweating and suffocating (no window would open anymore), and close my ears from the extremely loud and bad action movie showing in front of me. To sum it all, after 5 hours through the pampa, we heard an explosion, we were in the middle of nowhere, the tire had exploded. We stopped and the drivers put a "new" tire that was in such a bad shape (one third of the gum had been taken off...) I still wonder how we made it through the 3 remaining hours...

From Puno,I took a three hours ride in an overloaded mini bus and I was there, near the border. In front of me, a dozen of rickshaws parked randomly, their drivers shouting at me, I was completely overwhelmed, tired, I couldn't hear anything and I couldn't answer to all this noise. But they were extremely pressing around me, I was the only white around and I guess they smelt the good deal. It took me a few long minutes to wake up and listen to one of them. "To the border! To Bolivia! 1 Sol! 5 Soles! Me, me, me!". They were all shouting the same and fighting to get me on their vehicle. I had no idea which one to choose, no idea if I should bargain. I chose arbitrarily one that looked "good" to me (the most humble and nice looking..) and I didn't bargain. I'm overloaded with my luggage, a big bag of 18kg, a small one (of at least 7kg), a plastic bag containing my lunch/dinner (fruits and bread), my sweater, and a big bottle of water. Too many usual... And while trying to climb on the rickshaw, everything fall on the floor, I'm pressed by the crowd still hopeful that I will change my mind, I rush to get everything back into my randomly chosen rickshaw, I hope nobody had time to get any bag before me... I give a quick look around, ok, I'm fine, let's go.

We arrive at the first checkpoint. It's the general pushing and shoving everywhere, rickshaws cross each others in a seemingly complex but elaborated dance, sellers shout, passengers weave through. It makes me dizzy. My driver shows me the hut where I will receive my exit stamp from Peru. I get down trying to take all my bags with only 2 arms, and 2 shoulders. It's a disaster. The driver is nice, he doesn't laugh... but reassures me and tells me to leave everything on the rickshaw, he will wait for me. One second I hesitate, thinking he could very easily go away with everything I have, but it would be so troublesome to carry it all... I accept. No risk no gain...
I enter in the small and dirty hut. The silence that reign here surprises me. Everything is grey and calm inside, everything is colorful and loud outside. At the end of the small room, two bored officers look down behind their sort of crumbling kiosk. I queue up, there are a dozen people in front of me, all seem locals beside a russian girl who looks more lost than me. In my head, stress, "Will he bother me for over passing the date?", stress, "Where is my bag, still there with the driver?"... I look out, he's still here, waiting. It's my turn. The officer couldn't care less about me, he eats a biscuit. Then, without even glancing at me, he takes my passport, does a few moves, stamps it loudly with a large gesture and hands it back to me. Like that? So simple? Cool!
I run to my rickshaw (in case he decides to flee last minute...) and my driver, I will call him Roberto, informs me that, if I want to change money, I have to do it now. I start to like Roberto, he's the clear head I’m missing... The change "offices" are ahead, a line of small boxes basically furnished with a table and a large calculator. Once again I have to leave all my belongings on the rickshaw. I hand my 400Soles to the first change officer. How much for one Sol? 2.48 (Bolivianos) he shows me on his big calculator. Ok, change it all. Thanks. Bye. Speaking looks like too much of an effort for him, he didn't say a word...

Hop, I jump into my vehicle and off we go to Bolivia. We cross an overcrowded bridge, the people jostle each others, Titicaca lake is here underneath our wheels. Roberto does strange noise to make his way thru "Trang trang", "Boum boum", "Beep beep", "Pasa!", it makes me laugh, but it works pretty well. I have a bit of time to relax and watch around me. I'm the only gringa around it seems, I watch the colorful crowd of passers-by and sellers, the women are wearing their traditional outfit: a large, fluorescent and shining skirt, their hat, too small, laid on their ebony hair, two long black plaits joined and thickened by black wool. They remind me of russian dolls, I feel like I'm arriving in a new world.

Roberto wakes me from my day dreaming, we are at the bolivian border. He shows me the window where I should get the paper to fill up. Everything has to be fast. I fill up and hand my passport to the office number 24. I'm the first one in line, a stamp, here it is, done. But I take some time to ask how many days I can stay in the country. It seems to annoy the officer who didn't intend to speak that day either... He answers a "30 days" very dry and stretch out his hand to the next in line to send me away. Ok, I understand: "Welcome to Bolivia!", I leave and join my friend Roberto...

Last step. He brings me to the bus "terminal" from where I will leave to La Paz. Files of taxis and buses clog the road up, it's an organized mess, the bus terminal is in fact...the road. Roberto asks me "Taxi or bus?", I mumble without thinking: "Well, bus...". He directs me to the next bus in "line", everything goes very fast again, I don't have time to realize that my bag is in the bus. We take off 3 min later after I made sure I paid Roberto very well.

I'm in La Paz after 4 hours of a beautiful mountain road and 30min of dirty crowded streets.

La Paz is an interesting city, already very high (it’s the world highest capital) the houses made of brick are spread over its mountain slopes. And from the city center, if you look up at night, you don’t see stars but colored city lights.
The buses of another age, wearing pastel colors and Christian or revolutionary messages, and the chollitas (indigenous women) with their shining dresses, give beautiful character to this city.
The problem of La Paz is its people. I’ve never experienced so much racism and aggressive attitude than here. Indigenous people are very tough and almost every day, trying to buy at the market, the chollitas either don’t want to sell to me or refuse to give my change or just ignore me, and all that with a disdainful look and harsh voice. It really pisses me off. Am I responsible for all what has been done to them by the colons?
I understand now why Evo Morales has been elected, people here have a very strong identity and are very much involved politically. And many of them hate gringos...


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About me

About me

Travelling to learn, learning to travel.