10 February 2011

crossing into bolivia

Crossing into Bolivia by land is a memorable experience, even if nothing amiss befalls you. For example, maybe you took a bus from Tucumán to the northernmost point of Argentina and then walked to the river crossing, where vendors advertised their boats with sweet hand-painted stalls.

It seemed you just had to pick your favorite boat painting, and you would end up in Bolivia.

So, you examine the boats (and see what other people are getting), buy your ticket and then follow the people in front of you through some tree-covered paths into an opening, from which you discover a river that looks almost wade-able.

But, for just a few cents, you can keep yourself and your belongings dry.

So, you board one of these small boats and figure even if it doesn't quite make it all the way to the other side, the river doesn't look too dangerous.

You sit on a U-shaped bench with mostly female travelers, and without incident, you cross the Argentina-Bolivian border.  

The Welcome to Bolivia sign says Su ingreso es gratuito (your entrance is free), but that isn't entirely true.  You take a look back at the Argentinian side and then head into Bolivia, where, unlike most other countries, there are no immigration officers greeting you. 

Instead, you have been told you have to find someone to stamp your passport because if you are caught without the proper stamp, you will be forced to pay a hefty fine (about US$100, which goes a long way in Bolivia).

So, you ask around (in your excellent Spanish) until you finally find a taxi who will take you the nearest town, and he takes you to the bus terminal.

You are pointed to a small office, but it's still pretty early in the morning, and you are told they open at 8am.  So, you sit and wait, watching the occasional passerby, until the office finally opens.  After a while (and US$135 less for your Bolivian visa), you walk out with your passport stamped, hoping officials will ask to inspect your passport.  Often.

You hop into another taxi and tell him you'd like to go to Tarija.  You notice his modified car seat and think it would be great in the summer for air flow.

You like that you get a scenic tour of the area, and you find it more colorful and lush than you expected.

You hit a little rock avalanche, but are able to get by without too much delay.

You continue on, until your driver goes to a creek to fill his water bottle.  This tells you the water in Bolivia is really clean (or else he has a strong digestive/immune system).

You may not get your camera ready in time, but you pass some beautiful horses:

And lots of rocks with EVO on them in blue.  

You've heard a little about President Evo Morales, and the reviews sound pretty mixed.  Apparently, he is loved for being indigenous and passionate, but it is unclear whether he is really pushing the country in a positive direction.  You decide to enjoy the scenery instead of trying to figure out yet another complicated political drama.

You pass through another small town and marvel at how similar it looks to so many other small towns around the world.

The town wishes you feliz viaje (happy travels), and you continue on, past more beautiful scenery, more blue Evo signs and a young family, all in hats.

Finally, you start to approach Tarija and notice the buses and trucks are quite colorful.

And then you're entering a town that feels like it could be almost anywhere in the world.

Except for the statues...

And the local dress, which is 100% Bolivian.  

You'll find some overlap in other Andean countries, but because I saw the full skirts, long braids, bowler hats and colorful cloth shawls/baby wraparounds here first, they will always be Bolivian to me.

Up next, more of Bolivia.

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