We woke up early, bags packed, breakfast had and high spirits all around. Hitting pavement by 7:30 am, we weren't to be deterred by the traffic delaying our exit from town. I was behind the wheel, swerving through slow cars as much as possible trying to make sure our time wasn't killed by rush hour. Finally putting the city behind us, we burned up the open road, driving as much in the left lane as the right, passing slow trucks and cargo semi’s as often as we dared. Meandering green hills punctuated by exposed rock slowly gave way to rolling high plains. Brilliant blue skies were dusted with marshmallow clouds and free roaming llamas lined the two lane highway.
We ended up fording rivers in a 20 year old Toyota Corolla, racing cattle dogs, being passed by entire families on motorbikes and generally just relaxing to take in the gorgeous scenery. We stopped in remote towns we would have otherwise never found, and had to just trust ourselves to find the right way.
Just when we were sure we might never find the road to Puno, we came to a freshly paved brilliantly smooth fresh black asphalt road. We had made it perhaps two kilometers when the road was completely barricaded to any traffic. Asking what was going on, the police officer at the front let us know the president was giving a speech, and we could expect to be delayed at least an hour, if not more. So of course we all bundled up and hopped out of the Nugg (our communal nickname for the car,) ready to see the Peruvian president up close and personal.
He was just concluding a moving speech and the crowd was entranced by his charisma. The town was a small Puebla, earthen bricks dominated the construction and traditional Andean garb was seen on the men and women. Buzzing with adrenaline, we watched the president accept gifts from the locals, tasting yogurts, milks and thanking the community for their support.
He climbed off the stage ready for his exit and the crowd surged towards him. Naynay and I dove in head first hoping to catch a closer glimpse of the man. As the churning masses cycled up the road, we suddenly found ourselves face to face with him. He shook our hands and kissed our checks in a traditional South American greeting, eyes betraying only the slightest hint of surprise at the two light eyed fair skinned women in his path. As soon as it happened it was over, and we breathlessly panted at the side of the road, unable to believe what had just transpired and wishing we had photographic evidence.
We all met back at the car and breathlessly shared what had happened, head still spinning from the surreal nature of the day thus far. We soon zoomed through Puno, stopping for just a light bite before booking it for the border which was close enough to feel at this point. Feeling that nothing can stop us, we stomped out of Peru, ready for the next phase of the adventure.
As we arrived at the border our spirits were only slightly dampened at the obnoxiously long line at the Bolivian immigration office. We filled out our papers and waited, ready to cross and get on to La Paz.
The first hint of trouble was apparent when NayNay went to the office to declare the car to customs. She came back shaking and almost unable to tell us what happened as twilight deepened. The line has barely moved and with the dipping of the sun behind the hills, the night began to cool off exponentially at the high altitude. We reassure her that we would appease the guard, and decide to finish our current task before worrying about the getting the cars papers in order..
In the meantime, we finally made it to the front of the line. Dark has completely fallen outside, and we were trying to make a quick game plan about the car underneath the sickeningly flickering florescent lights of the immigration office. Bolivia charges for a visa, and we didn't want to pay it if we weren't going to be able to bring the car inside. We decide to just go for it and as we try to pay for the visa, they reject the majority of our bills. After demanding we pay in US dollars, they decided the ones we have aren't good enough and tell us to come back with new ones.
The only ATM in the entire area is located in Peru, so we cross back over the border to pull money from the ATM, hoping that the bills are acceptable. They accept mine and Michelle's, and then reject every single one of Joe’s, even though some of the bills are ones they gave me as change. Frustration is mounting at this point and we try to remind ourselves that there is a strong anti-American sentiment in Bolivia. However with rare luck we find aid in not only the police officer who is keeping people from cutting the line but also two Peruvians who are waiting to have their passports stamped and are able to scrounge enough bills to appease the customs agent. As we finally all get our visas, we step into another line to get stamped, and the guard there rejects us since we don't have copies of every stamped page of our passports. My jaw literally drops as I try to figure out if it's a joke or not. They then demand we go get copies, and are escorted to a nearby photocopy place to make them and return, finally getting stamped and trying to decide what to do with the car.
After trying to get the cars’ papers a second time we are told that the only way to get our vehicle stamped is to produce a notarized authorization from the owner, awkwardly the owner also needed to be present, this was even more awkward as the owner of the car was in California.
As getting the proper paperwork seemed all but impossible and we were already technically over the border we made the (somewhat questionable) decision to just drive into Bolivia and see what happened. Minutes out of town we ran into a checkpoint that promptly asked for the cars papers. This quickly turned into a back and forth exchange with the military officers where we tried to convince them to let us pass, and they denied us. We frantically called the owner of the car, hoping to get the missing paperwork we needed to clear customs, hoping that we might still make La Paz, and finally admitted defeat ultimately checking into a border hostel, fortifying against fears of bugs and filth with Pisco.