Sunday, February 9, 2020

Please Let Us In!!

The boys are ready for the wrestling show!

By Kathy
Actual Dates: September 10th – September 13th 2019

When we started planning this trip we had a wish list of things to see and do. There were three big items on that list. The first was to see Machu Picchu.  We thought we would hike the Inca Trail too but we would have to take the other two items off the list to do that because of the cost. The second was to see the Amazon from a canoe and stay in an eco-lodge along the river. The third was to see and hike Torres del Paine in Patagonia. We were successful for our first item on the list and now we are moving right into our next big item, the Amazon! After doing some research we found that seeing the river from Bolivia was the most cost effective. But there was one big hurtle to get over before heading up river. We had to get into the country!

Will we get in?

When we were still on the boat earlier in the year and researching entrance requirements for the countries we would visit in South America they all seemed pretty straightforward except for Bolivia. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Bolivia and what you have heard in the news for so many years? The drug war. Yes, you can imagine the US is very careful letting a Bolivian citizen into the country. The Bolivian government gifts a bit of a  reciprocal hassle back to US citizens that want to enter Bolivia. I read so many blogs about other people’s experiences, combed over the information on the embassy website, fretted over the details and tried really hard to understand how to get into the country. I know there is a much easier way to get a visa into the country but it requires you to send your passport into the Bolivian embassy in the US with your paperwork and $160 and then you are good to go before you ever reach Bolivia. Unfortunately, that was not an option for us. We are always in a foreign country so we always need our passports at hand and there is no way we would trust the island mail service with our passports. So, we were stuck with option two which is to obtain our visa when we arrive. The possible required documents list was pretty extensive. You had to have copies of your passports (possibly multiple copies and color and black and white), new passport photos, proof of departure, proof of lodging, bank statements, and $160 in crisp, brand new US dollars. We were pretty quick to realize what you were asked for at the border really depended on whether you entered by air or by bus and your border police. It also depended on what kind of mood they were in at that particular moment. We had passport photos made before we left Grenada, I made copies of all the documents when we were in Florida, and we made a trip to the bank in Ft. Lauderdale and asked for 8 brand new $100 bills. You read that right….$800 to get into Bolivia for a family of 5. YIKES!! The bank teller was very patient and looked in multiple drawers to make sure she gave us the newest and best bills. We landed in La Paz , Bolivia and watched all of our fellow Canadian, European, and  South American passengers walk right in with minimal effort. The airport facility was pretty nice and probably a lot better than the ones that you find at the border by bus.  After several lines  and some waiting they only got us on two things. First, not only did we have to a copy of our lodging and proof of departure but we had to have five copies! The next thing was they were going to reject one of the $100 bills no matter what just to be difficult. They were perfect bills. But we planned for it and brought a couple of extras with us. After a few long lines and an escorted trip to the kiosk to make copies we were in Bolivia!!!!

The Bolivian Hiccup – It is a big one.

The plan for Bolivia was that we were going to fly into La Paz,  stay the night, and the next day take another flight to Rurrenbaque and get picked up by the eco-lodge to start our river adventure. We also planned a few extra days after the amazon trip to relax in La Paz and catch our breath since we had been going not stop for about 3 weeks. Well…..that is not exactly how it ended up happening.  

Our night in La Paz was pretty relaxing with a nice afternoon nap and a good steak dinner. We woke up the next day and walked to a highly rated empanada counter for breakfast that was a few blocks away. We had just enough time to do this before the taxi picked us up for our flight. While eating breakfast we decided to check to see if our flight was on time. My heart sank when I saw the dreaded word “CANCELLED”! What??? We had a taxi arriving in an hour, we had a hostel booked in Rurrenbaque, and our eco-lodge canoe was scheduled for the next day. We did a quick search and found that the regional airline had a small kiosk in the mall a few blocks away. After some Google translate and a very patient and kind customer service rep at the kiosk we were booked on new flights but the next flight we could get on was three days away AND we would have to take separate flights. I would fly in the early morning flight and Dan and the kids would fly in the evening flight. The other problem was that we had no lodging booked in La Paz, a taxi arriving soon, an apartment we needed to vacate right away, a hotel reservation in Rurrenbaque, and an eco-lodge expecting us for a five day visit. This was one of those take a deep breath moments.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

We had new flights and now it was time to vacate our apartment and set up shop in the coffee cafe in the mall next door to figure out next steps. The taxi was cancelled and emails were sent to our hotel in Rurrenbaque and the eco-lodge. We were crossing our fingers that we could change our reservations. In the meantime, we were hotel-less. No place to stay in La Paz. We found a few options online and many questionable ones. One of the hotels was a bit out of budget but pretty close by so I decided to walk and talk to them at the front desk while Dan, the kids and the luggage stayed at the mall. This is when our lemons started turning into lemonade. We ended up with one of the kid’s favorite hotel rooms (an actual hotel and not a hostel) complete with big breakfast buffet and a cheap minibar. How often do you get to tell the kids “Have whatever you want in the minibar”? The Rurrenbaque hotel had no problem moving our reservations to three days later. Remember those extra days we added to our time in La Paz after the amazon trip? That small decision ended up allowing us to move our whole river adventure to accommodate the cancelled flight and the new flight date. It may have been a bit of a hassle to get into the country but Bolivia was very flexible with reservations and the businesses really wanted you to visit and have fun in their country. I can only imagine what a nightmare it would have been if the eco-lodge was located in the US. We would have probably lost the entire reservation or would have had to pay a crazy change fee. Now that everything is settled and we are in our nice hotel room and ready to do a little exploring of La Paz as we wait for our flights.

Around La Paz

We had planned for a few days in La Paz and had already started looking at things to do since we would not have connectivity on the river. We just did them a little earlier than expected.

We loved the vintage buses around La Paz

We found a great Argentinian steak house in La Paz. A little glimpse of good steak before we get to Argentina  

We haven't had steak in ages!

The Sky Train

La Paz is a BIG city. When you see it as you are leaving the airport you feel like you are entering a large bowl full of little buildings. With this kind of landscape getting around in a vehicle can take a long time. The streets are small, lots of traffic, and you have to deal with going up or down as you drive around the city. But they had an amazing set of sky trains around the city. They were all color coded so it was pretty easy to figure out even if you could not speak Spanish.  It was a tourist attraction just to ride the sky train in a complete circle to get an aerial view of the city. We took the tour of the city and stopped by one of the big local markets. They had everything from food, toiletries, auto parts, used clothes and shoes, etc.

We didn't get a great picture of the "bowl" of La Paz city but you can see lot of buildings as we climb the hill

Ready for our Sky Train ride!

Flying around the city!

This was a super cool colorful neighborhood we went over

We made it to the market. You could find some seriously used auto parts

Lots of carts like this walking around selling a certain type of item. This cart was full of matches.

The corn looked amazing!

A little glimpse of the market street

Some of the vendors had a sense of humor with their displays

The market was huge!!

Cholitas Wrestling

If you look up things to do in La Paz, the Cholitas Wrestling show is on the top of the list. What is Cholitas Wrestling? It is women wrestling in traditional Bolivian clothing. Sound cheesy? Yes, it is absolutely cheesy and staged but that is the attraction to the show.  It was just like the staged wrestling shows that you see on TV but these ladies have to wrestle in poofy skirts, blouses, and dress shoes. It looked so uncomfortable. It was as dramatic as  you can imagine with throwing, jumping, hitting, spitting, and a corrupt referee.

Time to start the show!

A boy, his popcorn, and a bottle of coke waiting for some wrestling

All of the boys got masks!

Sometimes the fights continued out of the ring

There was even around where the men wrestled

Yes, you are seeing this right. One of the wrestlers is about to leap from ring and jump on the other one. 

But the one in the yellow skirt took her down

Everyone is friends in the end!

The Drippy Cauldron

We were not expecting to find the wizarding world of Harry Potter in Bolivia. But that is what we found. We almost missed this little Harry Potter café when the translator listed it as the Drippy Cauldron instead of the Leaky Cauldron. It was located in a pretty old building that had the kids attention right away with their signs as you walked in. Inside we found a cute restaurant with an upstairs area that had costumes, statues, and movie memorabilia. We mixed our own potion in a small cauldron and you cannot go to a Harry Potter café without trying the Butterbeer.

Anything that has a 9 3/4 sign is promising!

The kids are ready to explore this restaurant

Lots of potions and books along the walls

And some movie memorabilia 

They had a huge hippogriffe flying out of the ceiling

Sam and the house elf

Emma dressed as a Beauxbaton student 

Emma picked Ravenclaw and Sam picked Hufflepuff

And Jack is playing the part of a Slytherin student

Sam channeling his inner Harry!

Time to make our cauldron of potion. You can see all of our ingredients we are about to add to the cauldron.

It turned out pretty tasty!

You also have to try some butterbeer!

Sam is having a lot of fun in the costume room

They even had a set of wands that were used on set in the movies

Now it is finally time to take our flight to the Rurrenbaque for our river adventure but I am debating about what to write for our next blog. I know the natural sequence would be to write about the river trip and I will but we just finished an unbelievable holiday season and I really want to write about the holidays in the islands. It is top of mind right now because we just said see-ya laters to a big group of our cruising friends and when we leave Antigua next week it will be another set of see-ya laters. Cruisers never say “good-bye” it is always said that we will meet again. So for the next blog post I am not sure what will happen….stay tuned!!

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