I spent July 7th to August 3rd, 2011 in Bolivia. The ridiculously complicated visa application process, which I call the “Great Bolivian Scavenger Hunt,” was well worth the delay in Paraguay. This is what the Bolivian government wanted from me:
- Visa application form.
- Passport photocopy.
- Paraguayan visa stamp photocopy.
- Hotel reservation (and I never book hotels in advance).
- Transportation reservations exiting the country (which is impossible if you don’t know how long you’re going to stay and tickets are generally bought on the date of departure).
- Photocopy of credit card.
- A hand-written note stating my intent to travel to Bolivia to see the salt flats, to mountain bike down the “Death Road,” and to see Lake Titicaca.
- A passport-sized photo with a RED background. (I travel with passport-sized photos because I know that many countries require that for the visa. But only Bolivia requires a photo with a RED background. Thus, I had to get more photos taken of me, which required more time, money and effort than was reasonable for such a trivial requirement.)
- A notarized document from the police department saying that I hadn’t murdered anyone, committed any larcenies, raped people or committed other heinous acts in Paraguay. (Yea, believe it. This took two trips: One to the police department and one to the notary office. More money, time and effort required on my part because mine is, of course, limitless- along with my patience.)
- Yellow fever vaccine. (This required a little bit of finagling in order to get a physician to write a note saying that I had my yellow fever vaccination eight years ago when I was in Peace Corps Zambia. I almost didn’t go to Bolivia because of this last requirement, but I came up with this solution and it worked- thank goodness!)
Furthermore, an act of God was required at the border crossing to come up with the money to pay for the visa because the border control wouldn’t accept a wrinkled 100 USD bill! I almost had my baggage thrown off the bus and I was almost abandoned at the Paraguay-Bolivian border had it not been for the kindness of a stranger who lent me the last 120 Bolivianos (17.42 USD) that I needed to pay for the visa.
Because the border control guards wouldn’t accept my $100 dollar bill, I had to exchange it for Bolivianos at a rate that will almost certainly guarantee the cholita woman a one-way ticket to hell. (I traded it for 600 Bolivianos when I should’ve gotten 700 Bolivianos, a $10-dollar profit on her part and $10 loss on mine.) I begged everyone on the bus to lend me the difference, and at the moment when they were about to throw my baggage off the bus and proceed without me, a stranger lent me the money. That guy will probably end up in heaven.