Our bus was supposed to drop us off in a small Bolivian town by Lake Titicaca.
So, why was it pulling away while we were still getting our visas at the border?
Along with my wife, Carrie, and a dozen other passengers, I had booked an international microbus ride from Peru to Bolivia.
The trip started as any other; and, after two hours, all passengers disembarked at the Desaguadero-Kasani border crossing.
We needed a Peruvian exit stamp and Bolivian entry visa before we could get back on the bus.
Stamps for forms…
Upon arriving in Peru 10 days earlier, Carrie and I received immigration forms that needed to be stamped before leaving the country.
That stamp was waiting for us in a small one-room cement building in Desaguadero; courtesy of a very bored immigration officer.
And stamps for passports…
Next, we queued up behind several busloads of backpackers and locals to hand in that form and get an exit stamp in our passport.
The process was easy; once we got to the front of the line.
Nomads on International Roads
Without a valid stamp in our passports, the only place we were legally allowed to visit was the small strip of “no-man’s land” between Desaguadero, Peru, and Kasani, Bolivia.
So, we huffed and puffed up a steep road in international territory, crossed a time zone and soon found ourselves at the Bolivian immigration offices.
Guessing that we might need a taxi upon arriving in Copacabana, I exchanged a few Peruvian Soles into Bolivian Bolivianos.
Thank goodness I did!
Thou Shalt Not Pass! (without an expensive visa)
When we reached Bolivian immigration officer, he informed us that as American citizens we needed a $135 visa to enter. Plus, two photocopies of our passports.
Brushed off to the side, Carrie and I joined a handful of other Americans filling out their visa forms next to the immigration desk.
Meanwhile, the officer continued to quickly stamp and process everyone else.
This experience made us wish we were going to Sri Lanka instead – after a fellow traveler told us how he got a visa to Sri Lanka for $89. It was quick, easy and prepared beforehand…. a way more enjoyable experience than this!
Furious Driver vs. Immigration
Although our forms and money were ready a few minutes later, the immigration officer seemed uninterested in the extra work involved in processing American visas.
While he was busy servicing everyone but us, a man I never had seen before came barging into the office and began yelling at the officer.
“Hurry up! Give them their visas! These are the last two people on my bus!”
This finally got the officer to pay attention to our group of Americans; but, each visa required special paperwork and a handwritten sticker in our passports.
Furious Driver vs. Greg Goodman
With each passing minute, our new driver became more furious. Unable to further yell at the now-working officer, he instead pointed his anger in my direction.
“What do you want me to do? We’re going as fast as we can,” I foolishly snapped back!
Why, oh why, did I not keep my mouth shut?
As soon as I said those words, I saw the driver storm out of the office and up a hill towards the bus.
He had found his scapegoat.
Two minutes later, we officially were in Bolivia… and our bus officially had abandoned us.
My pulse raced; as fury, fear, helplessness and a desire for revenge consumed my mind.
There Carrie and I were; on the side of a road, eight kilometers from our destination with heavy backpacks and a quickly-setting sun.
Every car, truck or bus we saw was heading towards Peru; as the Bolivian border had just closed for the night.
I huffed and puffed.
Four-year old Gregory came out and had a full-on temper tantrum.
But, in the end, those things did nothing.
A Rusty Ray of Light
It’s amazing how these things happen.
Mere moments after I finally calmed down, the universe rewarded us with a friendly microbus driver who was heading back to Copacabana.
I don’t know where he had been hiding, but his rusty old bus was empty and he was happy to give us a ride into town… for a small fee; of course.
Looking back on the situation, I do wish I had a different reaction.
However, I also see it as another reminder to trust in the universe and believe that everything will work out.
Because it always does.