South to Bolivia

Desaguadero - a 'wild west' border crossing

Desaguadero – a ‘wild west’ border crossing

Thursday 6 March saw us travel to Bolivia, and the city of La Paz, something we have been excited about for a while. From Puno in Peru, we had decided to take a coach that would get us straight to La Paz after crossing the border at Desaguadero, with no need to change coaches. We were set to pick up a coach at Puno at 11.15am, run by the reasonably well known and well regarded firm Ormeno S.A. That should ensure we could be in La Paz by around 5pm, and we were looking forwards to watching Bolivia pass by through the window, and in particular the drive into La Paz via El Alto.

ORMENO coaches are SHITE!!! So we are at the coach station nice and early, only to be told the coach (from elsewhere in Peru) is running 30minutes late. Hmmm. 30minutes later we are told it now won’t be in Puno until around 1.30-2pm! It shows up at 1.40pm but hangs around until 2.00pm before leaving. We get on, the seats & floor are filthy, the toilet is a stinking disgrace, the people on it (only half full) look shattered. The air-conditioning has a mind of its own, the video screen speakers emit an irritating buzz, and the 2 small windows rattle incessantly and cannot be fixed open or closed. Yuk!

We settle down and allow the stunning scenery of the Altiplano to distract us, with Lake Titicaca on our left, mountains to the right. Around 5pm we reach the Peru/Bolivia border at Desaguadero, and all get of the coach to clear Peruvian immigration. It is dirty, dusty and now cloudy & cold, there are many people moving back & forth across what must be the border, or just hanging around. It is a bit edgy here!

We gather we have to cross into Bolivia and our coach will join us there…so we walk the 100m into Bolivia, where there seems to be little or no ‘control’, nor order, nobody asks to see our ID? In fact we miss the immigration area/office completely and are wondering WTF we are supposed to do? Luckily we suss it out and join some fellow passengers in filling out a form and getting our passports stamped. Phew! The coach crosses over too amidst the border crossing chaos, we are all ready to get on, and off we go. Then someone tells us Bolivia is 1 hour ahead of Peru, so its now 6.30pm, and we will be lucky to make La Paz before 8.30pm.

By 7pm it is dark and raining and we can’t see a thing outside. After an hour we see a mass of city lights ahead in the distance, and soon we are passing through what we know is El Alto – a mass of poorly lit, bumpy, crowded streets, loads of rubbish everywhere some on fire, shadowy figures by there thousands moving about. It feels like some sort of post-apocalypse setting. Then we se another mass of city lights bellow us and we are driving down into La Paz at last!

The streets are rammed with vehicles, and people, but the coach gets to the Terminal Terrestre and we aren’t in the mood to hang around. Quick fag outside, then into a cab and through the chaotic streets to our hostel. Dump our bags, go eat, have a quick walk about the centre, and off to bed. Hello La Paz!

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