Don't be alarmed. In the end, things worked out for the better. I got a new extended visa for Peru, I didn't have to pay the entrance fee, and I learned about the boarder crossing protocol for US citizens, and how easy it may be to visit Bolivia in the future. I plan on returning to Bolivia in June for a proper visit, not just a boarder run as I am eager to visit the place and realize that the boarder regulations does't necessarily represent the sentiment of the general populace.
“Excuse me. What are you guys talking about?” chimed in a soft, polite voice behind me. We explained that Yellow Fever Vaccinations were required but we were pretty sure you didn’t need them. And… you weren’t at risk of contracting the illness unless you went to the lower regions of Bolivia. “Oh, I don’t have mine,” she said, her smile turning into a blank contemplative thought.
We waited in line for about an hour and turning the corner it became clear why: one, single agent sat in a booth, checking people’s passports and stamping them through. Easy, I thought. The Swiss couple went up, and one after the next were stamped and waved through. I motioned for the Japanese girl behind me to go ahead. Same as the others, passed without problems.
My turn. I walked up greeted the agent kindly, sliding my passport through the slot. Seeing the country name printed on the front she lets out a audible scoff. “Tus documentos,” she was asking me for my documents.
“Disculpe Señora, tu ya tienes mi pasaporte,” Excuse me mam’ you already have my passport.
“Tus documentos,” she repeated weakly, not looking up from her blank stare nor explaining what she was talking about.
“Señora, Qué más necesitas?” What else do you need? I asked.
Mumbles in Spanish, something about a bank statement, something about a photo, more mumbles in Spanish, “fiebre amarillo,” more Spanish mumbling.
“Senora, tengo solo mi pasaporte y yo sé que tengo que pagar una entrada pero no sabía que tu necesitas tantos documentos,” I say, still speaking calmly I add, “Y porqué todo los otros no necesitan algo más?” Why didn’t the others need anything else?
“Todos los pasajeros necesitan sus documentos,” she completely avoided my question. At this point she slides my passport back through the slot in the plastic barrier and looks up, but not at me, I follow here gaze to a boarder guard behind me.
“Okay, Okay, lo entiendo.” I get it, I said as I backed away from the booth and exited with the guard.
Back in the hall, it was just me, the guard, thirty or forty curious onlookers, and the door. “No papers, no enter,” the guard recited, in a practiced but broken English, reiterating what I already knew.
“Ya, clarisimo,” I replied in Spanish, there was clearly no arguing at this point. Walking out the door I added, “Prefería quedarme en Perú de todos modos,” I’d rather stay it Peru anyways.
I met up with the bus attendant and explained what happened, clarifying that I needed to collect my bag from under the bus. Humorously, we then walked through to the Bolivia side of the boarder were the bus awaited. I strapped my pack on and considered the irony of just being denied entry to Bolivia, but now standing in Bolivia, without anyone caring what I did next. Head into Bolivia anyways? The thought certainly did cross my mind.
At this point in my travels I am unfazed by such occurrences. What may have been an incredibly nerve-racking experience years ago, in the early days of my traveling, now is just part of the fun. I don’t mean to sound crass or ungrateful, but confident. I feel safe and self-reliant in my travel abilities. I have faith in popular sentiments as well as the public transportation system – super convenient; it’s unpredictability and unwavering tardiness made up for with incredible frequency. There is no schedule but you can almost always get to were you’re going and in a reasonable amount of time, emphasis on the almost.
So this is where I stood: on a dusty, chilly street corner in a country from which I was verboten. I lingered a while and watched the others board the bus, a few looked my way, a few offered me luck. “Buena suerte,” good luck. The Japanese girl came over, a look of worry on her face.
“What are you going to do now?” She asked.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “It’ll all work out just fine.” I was convinced myself, but the worry didn’t leave her face. She was genuinely concerned and I felt touched about that. “There are buses back to Puno, I saw them on the way in,” I said, even though I had been sleeping and saw nothing. “And besides,” I added, “I’ve been in stickier situations.” Her worry was unwavering, she opened her mouth to say something, but the bus revving up cut her short.
“Bye,” she said with an awkward wave.
I turned and walked away, not caring to see but hearing the bus start onwards towards La Paz. Walking back past the Bolivian checkpoint, bicycle bells rang out as young boys toted unchecked cargo back and forth across the boarder. Back in Peru, I could only assume as there were no markings, I prepared the Spanish words of my story on my tongue. The boarder office was now completely empty, as all the early morning buses had already passed through.
Explaining to the Peru boarder agent that I needed re-entry, I tried to lighten the mood by cracking a few jokes. Before long both the previously stone faced boarder guards were keeled over with laughter yelling to someone in that back to come listen to what I was saying. I didn’t say anything quite that funny but my attempts at humor mixed with my very imperfect Spanish and the fact that I’m making such jokes about a supposedly serious situation, all at the expense of Bolivia of course, was perhaps the recipe for a hysterical culmination.
My fingers caressed a large bill in my pocket that I was prepared to offer if need be, but the guy just shook his head still chuckling, stamped and wrote what from a glance looked like “60” but when he slid my passport back across I saw it was actually ninety. Awesome! I tried to conceal my inevitable grin. “Gracias Señor, Muchas Gracias.”
I was now back in Peru, legally, with three more months and a lot more cash in my pocket. As I walked towards where I assumed the busses to Puno would be I left my grin release to its full form as the thought occurred that things had actually worked out for the better.