The Chaco and My Bolivian Visa
Villamontes Travel Blog› entry 67 of 84 › view all entries
Unfortunately the journey to Bolivia didn´t start off so smoothly as I arrived at the bus terminal in the morning and all the buses to Bolivia don´t leave until about 8pm at night. After figuring out that I could get on the buses to Bolivia in Mariscal Estigarribia I decided to take a bus there at 2:30pm, the earliest one, and then I would have a break after that 8 hour ride and also I would get to see some of the countryside by leaving during the day. Of course the bus had aging tinted windows and I could see hardly anything. Then when the bus arrived at 11pm at night in Mariscal Estigarribia the town was spread out over several miles of the road with nothing much open. I talked to some of the people who were waiting where our bus stopped and they told me that I needed to wait for the Bolivia buses at the immigration office, all the way on the south end of town. This guy offered to take me there on his motorcylce for 15,000 guaranis and I managed to bargain him down to 10,000. We showed up at the immigration office at almost midnight to see a bunch of guys hanging out drinking beer some form of small caliber rifle propped up against the wall. The immigration officer said it was fine for me to wait there until the buses to Bolivia started to roll through town at around 2-3am. Soon after, the guys seemed to finish all their beer and departed, leaving me to wait outside in the most uncomfortable wooden chair.
Finally at around 2:30am a Rio Paraguay bus pulls up and after talking with the driver I arranged for them to take me to Villamontes, the first real city in Bolivia since they had space. Everyone went through immigration and we got back on the bus and after moving about 50 meters a guy, I think a customs officer, comes on the bus asking for everyone´s ticket, then a Paraguayan police officer comes on the bus to talk to one guy. Then outside the bus we could hear the customs officer, the bus driver, and bus attendant arguing. This went on for about 20 minutes and they were on their cellphones and no one could really hear what they were saying but it was something about how they weren´t allowed to pick up passengers en route. Luckily I wasn´t the only one as they had picked up two other people as well, but I really didn´t want to have to get out and wait for the next bus to come by. They seemed to resolve the situation somehow and our bus continued to move towards Bolivia.
I managed to sleep a little bit but just after dawn I awoke to the bus traveling through the heart of the Chaco, a dry thorny medium-density scrub forest with few if any signs of civilization. At least the road was paved, contrary to the information in my guide book. There were all these tracks runing off the road, old routes that people probably use for smuggling. At around 8am we got to the official border between Paraguay and Bolivia. They seemed to check the luggage inside the bus but never actually boarded the bus. Then once we crossed into Bolivia the pavement ended. A few kilometers in we reached a Bolivian military post, complete with a absurdly ridiculous mock castle, something resembling a giant version of what you would find a mini-golf course. Here a military officer boarded our bus and checked everyone´s documents. I showed him my passport and he seemed to check it out off on his list, I have no idea what he checked off since I wouldn´t have been on any list but I didn´t ask any questions. In what seemed to be an hour later we arrived at the Bolivian immigration post at Ibibobo (great name). Everyone got off the bus. I showed the military officer my passport and he asked if I had a visa, I played dumb and said no, then asked if I needed one. He said yes and I asked if I could get it here. He said that I could if I had all the proper documents. He said I needed more or less the same things that the embassy in Asuncion needed, I told him I had all of it, he was really friendly about everything and gave me the form to fill out.
After filling out the form I came back in to talk with him and show him my documents. Do you have a ticket into Bolivia, well I´m taking that bus out there to Bolivia so yes. Ticket out, I showed him my e-ticket back to the US, but not from Bolivia, good enough, check. Yellow fever vaccination, check. Hotel reservation, no, no problem. Proof of financial security, I have credit cards, some guaranis and reais and dollars, check. $100 visa fee, check. Then he started pasting the visa into my passport and signed all the appropriate documents. When he finished he told me that the visa was good for five years, and then he said that he had one last question as he was about to hand my passport back, "Do you prefer Obama or McCain?" I answered Obama and he smiled and put out his hand and said, "Excellent, welcome to Bolivia!"