The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Tag: border crossing

What Do I Look Like, A Drug Lord?

When Jorge, Kelli, our friend Sam and I began packing up and shipping out of Argentina, we opted for the night bus between Mendoza and Valparaiso. About 9 hours long, it’s an easy way to save a night’s expense at a hostel, though you do miss some of the stunning views by day as you ascend the craggy, rusted mountains of the Andes.

Being that it was a full moon the night of our trip, we were able to catch ghostly glimpses of the terrain. And with our bottle of wine, the four of us had a fun time chatting, sipping delicately out of the world’s tiniest plastic cups, and planning for the upcoming days in Chile.

andes mountains

Here’s a shot of the Andes during the day, from a border run in late 2013.

A few hours into the ride, we knew the aduana, or customs control, would be happening soon. The typical steps of a land border crossing, at least between Argentina and Chile, are as follows:

  1. Approaching the border, a border official will board the bus to inspect things. He usually leaves after a quick once over.
  2. Fifteen minutes later, you’re at the actual border. Enjoy the frigid mountain air.
  3. Everyone must get off the bus, line up in front of two windows, and get their passports stamped/attended to.
  4. Linger outside for awhile, buy some Chilean sandwiches, wait until your bus pulls up to the next customs door.
  5. All the luggage is offloaded from the bus onto a conveyor belt, where it is automatically X-rayed.
  6. Passengers must line up in front of two long tables, where we place our hand luggage in front of us. Dogs sniff up and down the tables a few times.
  7. Our hand luggage is then scanned through the same machine. Anyone who didn’t pass the screening has to open their luggage so it can be inspected by an official. (And if they don’t pass the inspection…well, they don’t cross the border!)
  8. Re-board the bus, and try to catch a few more hours sleep until you arrive in Valparaiso!

Los libertadores border crossing

“Los Libertadores” border crossing; every Mendoza-Santiago bus route runs through here, high up in the Andes. [Photo Credit: Soy Chile]

Fairly straightforward. Getting INTO Chile is often more difficult than getting INTO Argentina because their import rules are much stricter. They do not allow any fruits or vegetables of any kind to be brought into the country, and most loose food is confiscated.

So around the time we knew we’d be approaching customs, we collectively realized we still had a crapton of chocolates leftover from our impulse purchases earlier that day at the Mendoza bus terminal. And nuts! We had so many nuts and chocolates.

TIME TO EAT. We began scarfing chocolate, unwilling to let Chilean officials confiscate our hard-earned candy. They were gourmet, for god’s sake! I’ll eat myself sick before I hand these over just so they can be tossed in the garbage.

Our bus shuddered to a stop at the first control (step 1) while we were mowing down. The official boarded the bus as normal. Our bus was oddly empty, only about ten people on the 2nd level with us, where normally it could fit up to 60. The official didn’t have many people to assess before he made it to us.

He paused at our seats. After a curt assessment, he asked if he could see all of our hand luggage.

I nodded and grabbed my backpack, still popping chocolate almonds into my mouth. He began to rummage, one by one, through our bags. We exchanged confused glances as he did so.

He hadn’t asked anyone else on the bus for their hand luggage. And in my ample border crossing experience, on this exact route, the most I’d ever been asked to show was my passport.

As he rifled through our belongings, I offered him some chocolate. He curtly declined.

“What is this?” He held up Sam’s lip gloss, which was in a spherical pod.

JUST LIKE THIS LIP BALM, except without the pineapple, the floating face, and the HILARIOUS ENGRISH. Take care of that crackle with this adorable lip balm.  [Photo Credit:]

“Just lip balm,” she said, as he opened it up and examined it against the lights of the bus.

After he’d inspected all of our hand luggage, he told us to get off the bus. “Bring your hand luggage with you, we need to get your bags out from the bottom.”

Now this was really weird. Wordlessly, we followed him off the bus, sending wide-eyed looks between each other, wondering why we were being singled out. At the side of the bus where the luggage is stored, the border official and the bus employee pulled our bags down. They laid them unceremoniously on the side of the highway.

The official pulled me aside as he opened my big backpack. Wearing gloves, he pulled out my personal items and handed them to me to hold as he searched–my sandals, a Little Mermaid towel, piles of clothes. At the same time, another border official, who had already searched through some of Kelli and Sam’s things, grabbed my hand luggage and began searching through it again.

“Who’s is this?” His voice came out gruff, angry.

“Mine,” I told him, arms piled high with my crap as his colleague continued scouring my bag.

“Come here.”

I looked helplessly between the two officials. How was I supposed to go through two of my bags at once? “Uh…I don’t–…um, what do you–? It’s already been inspected!”

He grunted and pushed it aside. Then he motioned to Jorge to follow him behind the back of the bus. The official searching my bag finished, and told me I could put everything back inside. Then he disappeared to where Jorge and the other guy were.

All I could see was Jorge’s face as they talked. Serious faces; occasional nodding. Intense glances. They were fucking questioning him.

My belly flopped. Was this about to be a problem, like a real, honest-to-god IMMIGRATION PROBLEM? [Cue horrifying flashback to Bolivian Immigration problems.] My mind started doing somersaults as I waited for some word from them, or my husband. Kelli, Sam and I huddled nervously as we waited.

Finally, the officials motioned us over. “Get back on the bus.”

THANK GOD. We re-boarded the bus quickly, settling into our seats with something like delirious relief pulsing through the air.

“What did they say to you?” I asked Jorge as the bus rumbled to life once more. The passengers at the front of the bus side-eyed us, probably wondering what we had done to warrant such a search.

“They were looking for weed,” he said, and went on to explain that the officials were looking for marijuana in all our bags–all the way down to Sam’s lip gloss. Convinced that we had it stashed somewhere, that we had been smoking it somewhere. Behind the bus, the officials had tried to bargain with him–if you guys have any on you, just let us know and we can work something out for you. We’ll make you a deal. Just admit it.


We gaped at him, incredulous, horrified, totally confused. Why on EARTH would they suspect us for SMUGGLING AN ILLEGAL DRUG INTO CHILE?

Clearly, they didn’t find the treasure they were looking for, because we don’t smuggle illegal substances across international borders. 

Of all the passengers on the bus, they chose us. And why was that?

Was it because we were foreign? Maybe because of my dreadlocks? Was it because we were three American tourists, lost in a conversation in our own language, trying to be nice by offering chocolates?

Who knows. We sure don’t.

The incident weighed on us, hanging somewhere between astonishment and fear. What if this had been a different country, a place where cops bribe people to confess something, while they plant a drug in their belongings? What if this had been a situation where not finding anything in our luggage didn’t matter, and we’d be carried off to jail anyway?

Those places exist in the world. And oftentimes, it’s up to luck about what happens to you on the road: what society you’re traveling in, what border official is looking you up and down, what night of the week you happen to be traveling.

Once we made it to the actual border and our luggage was offloaded again to be X-Ray’d and sniffed out, none of the dogs noticed us, our backpack, or Sam’s “questionable” (yet adorable) lip balm.

It’s times like these that make you wonder all the ways that things can go REALLY wrong! Have you guys ever had a touchy situation like this traveling abroad? I want to hear about it!

Bolivian Border Bronca: Part Two (Or, My 20 Hours as an Illegal Alien)

Warning: This post contains graphic content involving border crossing failures. If reading about illegal aliens makes you squeamish, please read no further.

Jorge and I rolled into the Aguas Blancas border crossing right on time, around 3AM. I’d just managed to snag about two hours of sleep, and like all nighttime border crossings, the unexpected call to activity was unwelcome. However, I rallied quickly, knowing I had some negotiating to do.

We breezed through the Argentinian side of border control. I got my exit stamp. We re-boarded the bus and moved toward the Bolivian side of the border.

By this point, I had fully convinced myself that I would be able to waltz through the border control. Obtaining a tourist visa prior to visiting Bolivia is NOT required for US Citizens (though it is in Brazil), so I figured I’d show up, flash some money, and be back on the bus and sleeping comfortably within a half hour.


I was one of the first through the border control on the Bolivian side (Bermejo). I showed my passport, my immigration paperwork, and smiled hopefully.

“Your payment?” the border control agent asked.

“I have it here, in pesos.” I showed him a fat wad of argentinian pesos.

“It must be in dollars.”

My face fell. “I don’t have dollars, only pesos.”

“And your papers?” He referenced a list behind him. It was the full list of visa requirements for USA citizens. The yellow fever vaccination item sneered back at me. “Do you have all these items here?”

I pretended to examine it, knowing that I had exactly none of the required items, minus the credit cards and passport. We didn’t even have a hostel reservation yet, because we didn’t know where we’d be going that night.

“I have most of these things,” I said, mind racing to figure out how to procure all these things out of thin air. “I have the passport photos, for sure.” Because I did, I always travel with them. Except for that one time in Jujuy when the lady asked for them and they were with my things in a different city.

“They need to have a red background,” he said.

Record screeching. “A red background?!” This was new. And ridiculous. Who has red backgrounds on passport photos? Was he just making this up on the spot to spite me? Red doesn’t even look good with my skin tone, hi.

“Yes, and I need two copies of each of the items.”

Fist in the stomach. “I, uh…I don’t have those. I’d have to make copies. But I DO have these things!” Adding in my head, except the vaccination.

“You can’t pass without these items. Return when you have them.”

I watched him for a moment or two, hoping that I’d misunderstood his very clear and very firm Spanish. I was moved to the side as he continued attending the other patrons on the bus. Jorge and I went outside into the humid night air, plotting. We’d been prepared for this, to an extent. I just had hoped it wouldn’t happen. The bus attendent came to our side and we told him what was up. In a quiet voice, he told us what to do next.

“Tell them you’ll stay here in Bermejo to take care of the visa issue. And then take this taxi,” he gestured toward an idling car in the distance, lights dimmed, “and go to the bus terminal. Take another bus to Tarija, where hopefully you’ll arrive not too long after us. Then you can get your bags and take care of the visa stuff there at the Immigrations office on Monday.”

It all sounded good, except one thing. “So we can’t get our bags now?”

He shook his head. “I can’t unload anything from the bus. You’ll have to pick it up in Tarija at the bus terminal. We’ll keep it safe for you.”

It’s one thing to be kicked off a bus in the middle of the night, but it’s another thing to be stranded without the majority of your worldy possessions. We’d never been to Bolivia before, what did “safe” mean in the middle of a busy terminal? Jorge and I hurried to rescue our carry-on backpacks from where we’d been sitting, but all of our essentials — clothes, soap, etc — was leaving with the bus.

Once the border agent had reviewed the passports of all the passengers, we returned to speak with him. I informed him I’d be staying in Bermejo since I had no way to provide the information he required, being that it was 3am. He allowed this.

And then Jorge and I snuck into a taxi, went to the bus terminal, and hightailed it to Tarija.

Not technically legal, but the only way to really deal with anything given the situation.

We arrived to Tarija around 6am. Our luggage was safe and sound, as promised; we took a taxi to the center to scope a hostel, which we found easily. My first order of business was to procure all the items on the list, all the way down to the freaking ugly passport photos with a red background. I knew the vaccination was a no-go — it was Saturday, nobody would be administering shots — so the plan was to get everything on the list and then go back, begging and pleading to let me through.

A solid plan, I figured. Because Tarija, we soon found out, was not some place we wanted to stay for three full days, awaiting Monday’s chance to get a vaccination and go to an Immigrations office. We had a limited timeline, and Tarija was…well…a bit lackluster.

I got all the paperwork in order, we napped, we ate, we changed money to dollars, and then we took a bus BACK to Bermejo (a three hour ride). I was prepared, confident, and ready to get my visa.

We arrive to Bermejo around 10pm that night. I waltzed into the border control office, laid down my passport, fanned out my dollar bills, and provided two neat sets of paperwork.

“I was here early this morning but didnt have these papers ready, so I’m here now to get the stamp because I have all the paperwork now.”

A different border control agent eyed me warily and proceded to review the paperwork. I waited in thick silence as he reviewed the material for a few minutes.

“The only thing missing is your letter of invitation,” he said, finally.

Bronca level: 4.

“Letter of invitation?” I was truly puzzled.

“Yes, from someone inviting you to come to the country,” he explained. I was shocked. Who was going to invite me to Boliva? The thousands of Bolivian best friends I didn’t have? One of the millions of Bolivian families I didn’t know? The freaking President of Bolivia, perhaps??

“I’m just here for tourism,” I said. “We’re going to be traveling here one week. I don’t know anyone in Bolivia. I don’t know how to get a letter of invitation.”

He resumed quietly reviewing the material. “And where did you guys come from just now?”

My stomach sank. “From Tarija.”

He looked up at me, eyes narrowed. “And why did you leave Bermejo?”

“Because our bus left us here last night and took our things to Tarija. We went there to pick them up, and then came back here to finish the paperwork.”

A policeman appeared from nowhere; a hulking man, armed with a bullet-proof vest and plenty of guns. “You went to Tarija?” He sounded incredulous.

I told him why we had done that. He shook his head angrily. “If you didn’t receive the stamp this morning, you should never have been allowed to come into Bolivia.”

“But we were left here to finish the paperwork…”

“And the fact that you left the territory of Bermejo to go to Tarija is unacceptable,” the policeman continued. “That is absolutely not allowed and you cannot return to Bolivia until you have the visa.”

“But that’s what we’re here to do,” I said, panic rising within me. Both of these men were incredibly stern and incredibly unhappy with me. I felt trapped. “They told us we could stay here last night to finish the paperwork because when we crossed it was 3am–“

“No. You should never have been allowed to come into Bolivia. They should have sent you back to where you came from.”

The border agent was even less helpful. “I can’t give you the visa without the letter of invitation.”

Stonewalled. “So what do I do?” At this point I was nearing hysterics. I needed a solution, and they weren’t willing to give me one.

“You have to leave Bolivia,” the policeman said.

Bronca level: Infinity.

Shock rushed through me in a hot and fast wave. I couldn’t believe my freaking ears. “But all our things are in Tarija,” I explained. “I’d have to go get-“

“Not my problem,” the policeman said. “You have to leave. Without the stamp, you have to leave. You cannot reenter Bolivia.”

Record screech, scene change, anvil dropping, cold rush of blood. I was being ejected from Bolivia with exactly none of my belongings. Work computer, all my clothing, books, every worldy posession was in Tarija, 3 hours away. How would we inform the hostel? How could I get my stuff? The guard wasn’t even willing to let Jorge back through, because he’d left his passport at the hostel (not thinking he’d need to present it, as a legal tourist accompanying me on my trip). So we’d just…leave? Me with my wallet and passport and the jacket on my back?? Jorge with only his wallet?? And then what? Go to Argentina, spend days scouring the countryside for the paperwork to come BACK to Bolivia, to find that the hostel had re-possessed our belongings and everything had disappeared by the time we made it back??

I felt all sorts of things swirling inside me — panic, fear, doubt, confusion. And another very specific feeling….a nervous poop.

I had to go to the bathroom, and now.

“Is there a bathroom I can use?” I was pacing the room, head in my hands, unable to really focus on what my next step should be other than running to the ladies room.

“They’re closed,” the agent said. “They’re only open during the day.”

“Is there anywhere else I can go?” More panic now.

“No.” The policeman gestured toward the back of the building. “But you can go back there if you like.”

I ran out of the office and behind the building. It occurred to me that crapping in the back yard of the border control office might be a perfect resolution to the visa debacle. You won’t let me in, I poop in your yard!!

But no, fate was not to let me shit in their lawn. The few moments of fresh air and separation from the situation calmed me; I felt ready to return to the horror show, and rejoined Jorge and the two angry Bolivian men in the office.

Something happened while I was away. I don’t know what. But the border agent was on the telephone with the agent I’d spoken with that morning when we crossed, apparently trying to verify the information we were giving them. We were told to wait outside.

So we did.

We waited horribly, nervously, gut-achingly, sickeningly, silently. Jorge and I had Plan B ready — I wait at the border control while he took the 3 hour bus back to Tarija, collected our things, and came back to get me. I’d while the night alone there, probably sitting by myself on the cement sidewalk, maybe dying of cold in my calf-length leggings.

Then we’d walk back to Argentina if we had to. And go to Chile, or fly to Peru, or anything to avoid going through Bolivia.

We waited almost an hour there. Finally, the agent called me in to talk.

“Can I see the copies of your papers?” I gave them. “And your passport.” I handed it over.

“You’ll need to fill out this paperwork here.” He handed me a sheet that said APPLICATION FOR VISA FOR U.S. CITIZENS. I almost cried. I ran outside to begin filling it out, still unsure if this meant I’d be turned away or not. I was too scared to ask. I filled it out quickly, handing it over like a proud kindergarten student.

I was ushered toward another border agent, a lady, off to the side. She took my application, looked things over, and then asked for $135. I opened my wallet, trying not to breathe too hard, in case it would cause either of them to review the list of requisite and notice that I didn’t have the yellow fever vaccination.

I handed her the money. In my head, I’m urging her along, the whole process along, so that I might get the stamp and run away before anyone figures out that I’m vaccination-less. She examined each bill carefully, holding it up to the light, spending an inordinate amount of time looking at each one.

Finally, she slid a $50 bill to me. She pointed to a tiny number in the upper left hand corner.

“This is Series B2,” she said. “I can’t accept it. Do you have another $50 bill?”

I stared at her, slack-jawed. I’m traveling South America, I do not maintain American currency, and you want me to produce an EXTRA $50? “No. It’s my only one. I have some other money here…” I showed her a handfull of 5’s, a 20. “This is all I have.”

She explained that the series B2 in Bolivia tends to be counterfeit. The non-acceptance of $50 bills only applies in Bolivia. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of this. She looked at my other money and exchanged some bills. I still wasn’t sure I was in the clear — maybe my potentially-counterfeit money would be the final blocade to me entering the country. I felt like the Bolivia trip was doomed.

Finally, she made a phone call to someone. They discussed the situation quietly. Then she informed me she could take the rest of the money in bolivian pesos.

I handed it over eagerly. She slipped the money between the pages of a novel she was reading — quite formal, to be sure — and then delicately applied a tiny visa sticker into the pages of my passport.

She handed it back to the first official, and I nearly crumbled to the ground with relief when I heard the loud smack of the stamp in my passport.

“That’s all,” the border agent said, handing me my passport. I watched him a moment, unsure if this was really happening. Beyond the door, I saw the policeman gazing off into the distance, smoking a cigarette. The storm had calmed.

I said thank you, hoping the full force of this word penetrated his expressionless demeanor, and ran outside.

Jorge and I were on our way back to Tarija in record time, breathless with disbelief, residual anger and, above all, immense relief.

Legal, at last.

Bolivian Border Bronca: Part One

WARNING: This post contains graphic content involving border crossing failures. If reading about illegal aliens makes you squeamish, please read no further.

When Jorge and I arrived to Salta, Argentina last week, the very first thing we did was buy our ticket to Bolivia for May 30th at 10:30pm. Bus timetables can be limited (sometimes only one crossing per week for some companies!), so we wanted to be sure to have this important step taken care of since our itinerary is quite full and short on time.

We purchased our ticket successfully. Before we left the office, I asked the ticket guy, “And the reciprocity fee I have to pay?”

“Oh… right….” Realization dawned slowly across his face. “You’re American.

For those that aren’t aware, several countries in South America have begun what is known as a “reciprocity fee” specifically for citizens of the USA. The visa procedure for visiting the US is notoriously strict and expensive — so some countries have implemented this fee, AKA “You did this to us so we’re doing it to you” fee. I’ve paid it in Chile, in Argentina, and I knew it was waiting for me in Bolivia.

The employee suggested I pay this fee in advance, since our bus would be crossing into Bolivia around 3:30am. He mentioned the Bolivian consulate was just down the block if we wanted to try to pay there. Fair enough. We left the terminal, went to our hostel, and I began investigating how to take care of this tiny detail.

Try searching “Reciprocity fee Bolivia” in google (or, if you’re so inclined, “Tasa de reciprocidad Bolivia”).  The results? All about the Argentinian reciprocity fee. Not helpful. Furthermore, no website where I could pay the fee in advance, like what I did when I visited Argentina.

I began searching for personal accounts of how to take care of this fee. No dice.

I looked around my hostel for other Americans. Zero.

This is where the first hints of bronca crept in. Bronca is an Argentinian word meaning ‘anger’. If you’re pissed off, you say “Me da una bronca tremenda”. And my bronca level was about 2 of 10 at this point.

We decided to go to the consulate. We walked ten blocks to get there, a pleasant late morning stroll through Salta. We showed up, crammed into a tiny hot room full of Bolivians, Jorge and I easily a full head taller than everyone else in the room. We waited for about 40 minutes there until we were attended.

The Consulate employee helping us didn’t, at first, understand what we wanted. He had to call a different consulate for information. We were eventually turned away without a solution, since their office lacked a specific stamp necessary for the payment process. He did, however, mention we go to the consulate in Jujuy — a city over 2 hours away. But he assured me that if we crossed into Bolivia, I could probably handle the paperwork aspect at the crossing there.

Bronca level: 4.

We left with more questions than answers, and I began to feel deeply concerned that crossing the border might not be so easy.

Two days later, Jorge and I went to Jujuy. Our bus left that same night, so we figured we’d spend the day in Jujuy, take care of the fee, and then come back to Salta to catch our bus to Bolivia. Such a great idea! To be even more prepared, we called the consulate in advance, just to make sure they could help us. We didn’t want to love 4 hours of travel only to find out they couldn’t receive the payment like the first consulate. They told us to show up with my passport, the payment in dollars, and my yellow fever vaccination.

Wait, what?! Yellow fever vaccination? I had seen mention of this as a requisite for entry to Bolivia, but hadn’t thought much of it. A friend of mine had traveled to Bolivia within the past year and she didn’t have the vaccination, though it had been a requirement then, too. They said if we went to the hospital we could get the shot and then get the visa. Great, sounds easy.

After almost 2 and a half hours in a bus, we arrived to Jujuy and headed straight for the hospital. Sorry, they said. We stopped giving those shots years ago. Oh really? Because we were told to come here. They suggested the Ministerio de Salud. We walked several more blocks there, to be told that they only gave shots until 2pm each day. I looked at the time. 2:30pm.

WELL, FINE. Around this time, I started to get really angry. If I had known that the yellow fever vaccination was an actual necessity, I would have gotten it during the ample amount of free time I’d had in Salta. Now it was down to the wire and my bus left in 5 hours and I had no vaccination and no way to get it.

We walked about 13 blocks to get to the Consulate, and as we rounded the corner, we noticed a surprisingly dense crowd of Bolivians waiting at the front door. Oh crap. Turns out it was election time in Bolivia, and all these people wanted to vote. The employee sent me to the end of the line, about 30 people deep. Funny, considering we had only 2 hours before our bus returned to Salta, and then onward to Bolivia.

We managed to explain my unique situation — we’re traveling to Bolivia today, the other consulate told us to come here, I want to pay you, please help me — and they told us to wait until the appropriate person showed up. Apparently, she was negotiating a hunger strike in a different part of the city and was detained.

In her absence, we communicated with another employee about the payment. “Can I pay in pesos?” I asked. “Or should I go change the money?”

“Pesos is fine,” she reassured me. Score! We walked about 6 blocks to find an ATM so I could take out the remainder of the necessary money. In Argentina, finding dollars is hard — exchanging for dollars is even harder, because the rate is so crappy when you want to buy them.

Upon our return to the consulate, the appropriate employee had returned and was ready to help us. We walked up to her desk, all smiles. I showed her my passport and explained what I wanted to do.

“And your passport photos?” she asked.

“Excuse me?”

“Your passport photos.” She showed me a form, titled APPLICATION FOR VISA FOR U.S. CITIZENS, where it called for a passport photo at the top. “When you called earlier you were told to bring these.”

“Nobody told me that,” I said. Because nobody had told us that.

She sighed. “Well, your proof of economic solvency?”

Again, record screeching. “I’m sorry?”

“Your proof of economic solvency. Do you have copies of that, along with your passport, and your hotel reservations?”

I couldn’t stop my jaw from hanging to the ground. “I’m sorry, I was just told to show up and pay the fee, I had no idea I would need–”

“It’s 135 dollars.”

“I have that! Here.” I showed here the pesos.

“It can only be in dollars.”

Again, jaw to the ground. Bronca level: 9. “But, the other lady just told me a half hour ago that….”

“Sorry.” She shrugged. “They’re the prerequisites. You can go take dollars out and make the copies of all this information and come back and then we can process it.”

“I can’t, though. Our bus leaves in an hour. We won’t have time.”

Another shrug. Jorge and I looked at each other in disbelief. I fought the urge to crumple the form in my fist and throw it in her face.

“And how was I supposed to know all of this beforehand? We were told at the other consulate to just try crossing. Furthermore, why isn’t this information publicly available? If all of this information is needed to get into Bolivia, it should be dispersed.

And truly, by this point, the “reciprocity fee” situation had fully snowballed into a “get your visa before you go” situation, and at no point in my research had I seen any inkling that showing up at the border wasn’t an acceptable way to travel.

I was really angry — it felt like secret information. Most every country has “technical rules and regulations” but most aren’t regularly enforced. For example, it’s a technical rule to prove economic solvency for any visa to any country, but never in my travels have I ever been asked for it. The only time in almost 10 years of travel was when I applied for a student visa in Mexico and they wanted to know how I’d support myself while studying abroad. (AHEM, parents!)

What added to the bronca was the fact that this bullcrap only applies to citizens of my country, and I had exactly one friend who had recently traveled to Bolivia, and she didn’t have to do ANY of this rigamarole.

We left Jujuy feeling discouraged and confused. We talked over our options — cancel the bus ticket? Go back to Chile? Fly to Lima direct? — and once we had discussed our situation with the bus company employee, he came up with a specialized solution.

“Here’s what we can do,” he explained to us around 9:30PM that night, only an hour before our bus was set to depart. “You guys get on the bus and travel to Bolivia. You’ll hit the Bolivian border at around 3 AM. Depending on what official is there, he might not make any trouble and you’ll go through fine. But if, god help you, you don’t get through, you can hitch a taxi to Tarija (the city the bus was traveling to), and then do your migration paperwork there in the city on Monday. Plus you can go to our office in Tarija and ask for a refund for the part of the trip you didn’t make with the bus.”


We boarded the bus that night at 10:30 PM. I was 99% certain that everything would work out fine. After all, tons of Americans travel to Bolivia, and with how hard this information is to find out in advance, I felt it was certain that a lot of Americans were showing up to the border without all the paperwork and vaccinations. I’d be fine.

Totally fine.

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