Day 79 – Puno Peru to La Paz Bolivia

(as per usual all conversations are in spanish)

There was a piece of paper on the front desk last night promising breakfast from 6-9. I asked the lady about it and she said it was on the second floor. So, we headed out of our rooms in the morning, wandered the corridors until we found a totally abandoned set of tables and chairs.

I went down to the desk and asked if the restaurant was open. “Yes, but there are no employees.” … They must have a different definition of “open” than I do. So, we go out the front door and one of the guys points to the restaurant across the street saying that they do breakfast.

Inside we find a white guy with a motorcycle helmet in the chair beside him. A few minutes later I lean over and say “desculpe senor. Usted habla Ingles?” “Yes”

Turns out he flew to Bolivia, bought a 250cc Honda trail bike, mounted some kind of tackle box looking thing to the back of it, and got himself the largest backpack I’ve seen that wasn’t for hiking. It was nearly three feet square by one foot deep and he was on his way up to the US. Only two problems: 1) when he left Bolivia they told him he’d have to have the bike back in like 30 days (maybe it was 90) since it was registered there. 2) he didn’t actually have a motorcycle license in the US. I don’t think this will cause any problems in the countries before the border, but he’s just going to have to cross his fingers and hope the US border guys don’t notice.

Also, he’s from western Massachusetts, about two hours from Boston and two towns over from one of the places I used to live. Small world. We gave him a brain-dump on Central America and using Girag to cross the Darian Gap. Somehow he’d manage to totally miss that option.

He kept checking his watch while we talked. He was obviously interested in the conversation but had to go. I’m not sure if he was meeting up with some other riders or what but I kept thinking… “Man, you gotta loose that thing.” ;) I also kept thinking about how much his back is going to be hurting carrying that pack around every day. I hope he finds another solution soon.

When we’d woken up earlier Dachary’s head was killing her. The altitude sickness has been hitting her hard and it’s always worse in the night because your breathing slows down. So, we took it very easy and made sure Dachary didn’t push herself at all, which meant getting to breakfast and out of the room a bit slow.

When I went to put my pannier on my bike i leaned it in towards the bike, as per usual, to get the top pucks in place, but didn’t realize that my bike was atypically vertical, so as I’m pushing, the bike slowly goes up… and over. I’m standing there holding the pannier so i don’t crush my toes watching it heading over and *bam* into Dachary’s, which proceeds to fall over too. My helmet was on the mirror stalk which whacked into the ground and as per BMW design the thing broke off (fuckers). Dachary’s left pannier has a nice long gouge down it now too.

So, we pick them up, which is fucking exhausting at this altitude, and I take each of them out over the bumpy muddy parking area to the street where we pull out our second spare mirror stalk mount and replace it. We now have no spares. Dachary suggested that we should have grabbed some at BMW Lima, which would have been a good idea, but as they didn’t even have the spark plugs for our bikes I’m doubtful they’d have that.

Breathing heavy, practically sweating even though the days high is only supposed to be 50 F we make our way out of the city stopping to get 84 Gasohol with a liberal dose of octane booster. There was nothing better in town, or in the town before it.

Sticker? What Sticker

Lake Titicaca

As we ride we debate which border crossing to take. We were planning on taking the road straight down into Bolivia, but I’d heard that that border might not have an Aduana (not sure if this is correct or not) and this morning Adrian mentioned that he’d crossed by Copacabana and that they had full services, but that it also meant a ferry ride. So, better safe than sorry, and wanting to be able to claim that we’d been to Copacabana (still not sure if it’s THE Copacabana) we went that way, and crossed our fingers that the ferry ride wouldn’t be a big deal.

Suddenly, there was a chain across the road and … wtf?! Is this the border? We’re not to Copacabana yet… Yup. The border.

Take your passport and the little piece of paper they gave you when you came into the country and go to the Policia Judicial. They’ll take the paper and stamp something (not sure if it was in the passport or not). Then go to Migrations, and they stamp you out. Then go to customs, “hey, there’s a bunch of stickers on the bookshelf here…” “I have a sticker too. Is it OK if I put it here?” “yes yes” I run out, and return to do just that while he’s finishing paperwork. I think we’re done, and a couple of adventure riders show up. We later learn that they’re Emrah and Sheknees (probably totally misspelled that). A couple of Turkish DJ’s who’ve been living in Canada and are DJ’ing their way across the Americas.

I’m just about to greet them when the guy from the Policia National waves me over to his office. No clue what this is about… They ask for license (they seem to prefer the international one for some reason) then ask to see my insurance. Not thinking I say. “I don’t have any insurance.” Much talking, some of which I get. Some I don’t. Apparently this is a problem. “But they told me at the border that it wasn’t necessary” more talking, apparently this is an infraction. “What if you had of gotten in an accident?” “Ok. Where is the insurance person. I’ll go buy some.” “No you can’t buy it here.” Eventually, he pulls out a ticket pad and points to the infraction saying that it’s s/. 150. Pulls out some official looking booklet at points to something that I don’t bother to attempt to understand because even if it is true there’s nothing I can do at this point, and if it isn’t my Spanish isn’t good enough to read it in a timely manner or pick out the subtleties to know that it’s not right.

Infraction infraction. They said I don’t need it. Infraction infraction. “See I put your plate number here, and your name here, and…” he’s pointing to all the little spaces on the infraction. “Ok. Infraction. If infraction I pay infraction.” “No no.” “No?” See, I make the infraction pad go away… No more infraction. I know exactly where this is headed at this point. He does me a favor and I do him a favor. No infraction needed. See? Yeah, fuck that. I do not pay bribes unless absolutely necessary, and at this point. It isn’t. I go from mildly dumb gringo to extremely dumb gringo. “Ok. No infraction. I go?” “No. Infraction…” many words, eventually the magic “monies” is uttered. “Ok. I pay infraction.” Kind of a pause, that’s kind-of what they wan’t but not quite. “You give me infraction. I pay infraction.” “No no. No Infraction.” “I’m sorry I don’t understand.” Repeat. Repeat… One of them tries calling his english speaking friend, who appears to have no interest in playing translator….

“Are those your friends?” one of them asks, pointing to the adventure riders who’d just come up. “No. I don’t know them.” No Way I want to get any other adventure riders in this pile of crap. One guy who’s wearing no uniform, but has been there attempting to help (the cop) this whole time goes out and pulls in one of them. They talk, and the guy turns to me and says “ok. They wan’t your insurance, but you’re going to have to lie because we don’t have any ether. ” He turns to helper guy and confirms “insurance right?” then back to me, “Just act like you understand and go get something from your home insurance company in English tell them it’s international”

“Oh yes! Of course. THAT! I’ll go get it…” Nods of understanding and bright ideas and I get up and go out to do just that. It’s a good idea. I start digging for the US insurance coverage sheet, which has been put away for months, send Dachary looking for hers… dig dig. Dig dig. Eventually the cop gets bored of waiting and motions me to come back. I do. I bring along the SURA insurance from Colombia. I tell him that I didn’t get SURA in Peru because they told me I didn’t need it, but I have this… He looks at it. Decides it’s no good for Peru. “Yes.” I say, “It’s good for everywhere.” I intentionally avoid saying “international” in spanish and say “everywhere” with wide sweeping hand motions, to emphasize what a stupidly confused gringo I am. “No no. Not for Peru” Confused look on my face… “What? No…” I start scrutinizing my form. “Yes, is international. It doesn’t say it’s just for the US anywhere on here.” Repeat, repeat. I’m not paying enough attention and I start getting a little frustrated. Stop myself, make a prayer hand motion and say “I’m really sorry. It’s international, but if it’s an infraction I’ll pay the infraction.”

Back to square one. Cop is not happy. This bribe is taking way too long and is far too frustrating. Another cop steps in taps on his watch and the cop’s all “in a minute….” He tries again. I maintain the loop of stupidity. Someone calls in the other adventure rider. She’s been briefed by her husband and me when we were each out there. She comes in, asks me if the insurance paper is for just my bike. I say it is. She tells the guy that yes, this is international insurance for his bike.

He caves. I don’t think he necessarily believed her. I think he was just sick of dealing. But that’s just my bike. I go back out. Dachary doesn’t have a coverage sheet like i do but she has the insurance card from Progressive. So, I take that back and the “helper” guy is at the door, looks at it, ponders it… I tell him it’s different insurance companies, pointing to the logo’s… so hers is different. I think he’s gotten the message to say fuck-it, and we’re free.

I go back to the bikes, start shoving things back in panniers, and another rider shows up, but this one from the Bolivia side of things. Emrah and I walk up to the guy and he’s pissed. Turns out the Bolivian customs guy has been fucking with him for days now. He bought his bike somewhere in Peru (I think) and when he comes to Bolivia they tell him the paper’s missing a Notarization of some sort and he needs to get it in La Paz (Bolivia) before they’ll let the bike in. But it’s a Saturday and all the Notaries are closed, so he stays in La Paz until Monday (without the bike being legal), gets the notarization, comes back, and “Oh, you need to get it notarized in Peru too…” so he checks out of Bolivian Imigration, in to Peru, gets the notarization, checks out of Peru, goes back to Bolivia, and now the guy is bitching that he was in bolivia for three days illegally. It’s not clear to me if he did the immigration into Bolivia, but not the bike, or he did neither, but one assumes he wasn’t so stupid as to not do the immigration. Anyways, the guy won’t let him in and the biker has become his own worst enemy by getting pissy with the customs man for jerking him around like this.

There’s no doubt he has a right to be pissy, but you absolutely do not get pissy with customs or immigration people. They are, for all suits and purposes, gods. He rides off back into Peru in a huff, hoping that the other border crossing will let him through. Honestly I don’t know why he didn’t try that days ago, and while I hate bribes, there are times when it’s simply the best way to deal with the situation, and had he been able to keep his temper he could have said to the guy “Is there some sort of fine I can pay?” wink wink….

After that the DJs offer for us to have lunch with them. “Under normal circumstances we totally would, but we want to get out of here before something goes wrong. We’ll see you in Bolivia.” Cards are exchanged, and we’re gone.

In Bolivia Dachary handles the border crossing stuff and I make nice with a local cop standing nearby and try and determine if insurance is required or not. I fail, and later we fail again with the customs guy. They all try to assure us that we really should have it, but that we have to go to La Paz to get it. Logically if it’s obligatory we can’t drive to La Paz, but logic and borders are frequently not good bedfellows.

Inside it’s pretty typical border stuff, except that US Citizens need to pay $135 US each for a Visa which is good for five years, regardless of how many days they give you to stay in the current visit. The guy there tried to get $1 per visa application form from Dachary, but she didn’t have any $1 bills and somehow the requirement disappeared. We suspect he just wanted a couple bucks for his pocket. When it came time to pay for the visa itself he inspected every bill and rejected any that had tiny rips or other signs of wear. So, make sure you’ve got crisp bills fresh from the ATM.

Sheknees jumps

Sheknees and I end up chatting away while Dachary and Emrah are handling the paperwork. But time is moving, and as they inform us, we’ve just lost an hour. Damn…

Smiling at the border

I suspect that THE Copacabana is the one in Brazil but just in case…

Copacabana

Copacabana

We say our goodbyes, pack the papers away, and ride. This morning was chilly. The border was warm. Now it’s back to chilly, and for some reason it appears that we’re riding through Italian wine country. We’ve just got rain liners in but it’s not too bad. Oh look it’s the town with the ferry “I wonder what we… oh.” Lined up along the shore are three “ferries” which are large flat boats with one open end, a bunch of loose planks, none of which are nailed down, with lots of holes to stick your foot through, and an outboard motor. 20 Bob per bike (about $3 US) and two minutes and one Jeepish thing later and we’re headed for the far shore. Backing off was interesting. One of us would guide the other while they tried to keep the bike on planks and not step in holes.

On the ferry we found out that the guy in the Jeepish thing had been to Ushuaia, and we chatted about that, the weather down there, police corruption, insurance, and things like that. It was nice, and we were happy to have been able to communicate as much as we did.

Waiting to go

Chatting on the ferry

Just off the boat

Tired, just off the boat

A smudge of rain

Once again, we’re off… Ride ride, pass some hotels thinking “nah, we should make it to La Paz before dark.” Massive, fucking storm on the horizon. Huge, black, lightning and part of it is between us and La Paz. Fuck. Warm gear. Quick roadside pee. And on we ride. The storm is amazing. More lightning strikes than I think either of us have ever seen in a storm. We’d both like to stop and take pictures before we’re actually under it, but it’s getting darker, from the storm and the setting sun….

It’s dark. It’s raining, we’re on the outskirts of La Paz and all we can fucking find is Dentists, Pharmacies, and Welders. I swear to god. We ride. We get behind slow things, and ONCE attempt to pass, but almost get squshed owing to an oncoming driver with no lights…. hmm… slow works. Yeah… Slow is good. More oncoming cars without lights confirm this. We can’t see for crap because of the dark and the rain on our visors. People don’t use lights, driving is somewhat crazy in Bolivia, and we don’t want to die.

Eventually, we see a hotel sign. We pull over. 200 Bob? Sure. I have no idea what that works out to be but I know it’s not too bad (it’s about $30 US). I’ll take it. Oh look nice room too. But damn. Third floor? I go out to tell Dachary and…hey! The DJs are pulling in. I walk up, tell them the price and that they have secure parking. They decide to attempt to talk them down because that’s more than they want to pay.

Much loading of gear up stairs (the elevator is broken). Totally exhausted and panting hard by the process. I go back down, and we wait for the other guys to finish so we can all be lead to the parking. Dachary informs me that she’s started coughing (another serious symptom of altitude sickness), is feeling dizzy, and would i mind terribly taking care of her bike. Of course not. I tell her how to find the room.

Eventually the security guard decides I don’t have to wait for them and leads me around the block to the place. I pull one bike in, then the other. On the way back he starts asking some stuff I don’t get then utters another magic word “tip” or, the spanish equivalent which I’m blanking on at the moment. “Oh. Tip! I have no money. My girlfriend has it all.” “Back at the hotel then.” I make no response because, oh look, it’s Sheknees coming around to park her bike. Sorry dude, you’re going to have to go unlock the door for her….

He asked for a tip from them too it turns out. When they asked him where they could find food (i’d already pointed out to them what he’d told me earlier) he told them he’d tell them if they paid his tip. We’re all agreement. We don’t mind tipping for someone who actually does something. But when you don’t do jack shit besides walk around a corner and unlock a door, and you’re already being paid to do that… no. No tip.

They start bringing up their stuff and ask us if we’d like to go get food with them. We say we’d love to but Dachary is feeling ill so I’m just going to bring some food back. I run off, come back with food, and they’re about to head out. Noting the loveseats in the area between rooms we say “Hey, we were thinking about maybe eating out here if you’d like to join us.” So, they run off, come back, and we all eat out there, until about 10:30 exchanging stories of low speed drops and other travel anecdotes. Somewhere along the way we discover that they met Joe and Vern in Peru!

We had a great time chatting with them, and are now proudly sporting their stickers on our panniers. The food, and sitting still, seemed to help Dachary a little, but I’m still pretty concerned. The altitude is hitting her way harder than I’m comfortable with and it’s getting worse not better.

About Kay

An old-school geek, addicted to travel, with a love of programming, writing, Esperanto, and starting businesses. -- @masukomi on Twitter.

3 Comments

  1. have you tried cocoa leaves apparently help remember reading it some where but dont know if possesion of cocoa leaves is illegal

  2. Hey!

    I just read about the major landslide in La Paz that occurred yesterday.
    I hope you are all right and were out of the area when it happened.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you two as you travel (as well as with those affected by the quake/mudslide in Bolivia).

    Stay safe and post soon, so that we all know you are safe.

    -Rita

    1. Thanks for the concern, Rita! We left Bolivia a couple of days ago and are now in Chile. Just having trouble finding a net connection to update the blog. But we’re fine and details coming soon!

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