The problems started when I sat down in my assigned seat on the bus from Tilcara to Aguas Blancas.
It was one a.m. I was tired. I was ready to recline, and threw my body into the seat.
BAM. I collided with the unmoving seat back like a bird slamming into a picture window.
“Lame.” I said to Jared. “This seat is broken.”
Seven hours of trying to sleep in a chair that was frozen at an 80 degree angle stretched in front of me.
Jared sighed. “Switch me. Go on, switch me.”
After a few feeble protests, I agreed.
Just after eight a.m., we rolled into Aguas Blancas, a one-horse town if there ever was one. I was tired, but not exhausted, which is more than can be said for Jared, who’d spent most of the journey contorted in an inhuman position between the seat and the window before finally moving to an empty seat in a different row.
“Where’s immigration?” I asked. “And a bathroom?”
The bus was parked on a dirt road next to a kiosk. There was no sign of a terminal, and no sign of a border crossing. We collected our bags and charged blindly towards a row of trees at a T-intersection that looked like they might be on the banks of a river.
We knew that the Argentina-Bolivia border was divided by a river, so it seemed like a good start.
“Is that…immigration?” Jared asked, tentative. To our left was a squat building with an official seal on the front. As we drew closer, we saw a sign.
Immigration. Open at 10:00 a.m.
Okay. An hour and a half to find a toilet and come back. This was doable.
A woman and her husband asked us in Spanish when it opened, and we told her. She nodded her head, unsurprised.
Puente, she said, and signaled us to follow. We tailed them to a taxi and the four of us stuffed ourselves inside.
“Oh,” I said. “The bridge!” There was an alternative route, a few minutes away by car. We were on the right track, and I mentally patted us on the back. Even if I still had to pee.
“A dónde van?” The woman asked me. Where are you going?
“Los Estados Unidos,” I said, pointing to myself, “Y Australia.”
She humored me with a smile, and it was a few minutes before I realized that she’d asked where were were going, not where we were from. There was no more conversation after that.
At Argentinian immigration, the taxi pulled to the side and waited for us to get our exit stamps. Our passports were processed without much hassle, except when a tour bus appeared and all 40 of them were given instant priority.
Next up was customs, where we paid the taxi driver (8 pesos – less than $2) and bid our guardian angels goodbye. We walked under the gate, past the building, and no one even batted an eyelash.
And that was customs.
On foot, we strolled across the official border, a multicolored bridge. The Argentinian side is painted blue and white, abruptly changing halfway to take on the green, red and yellow of the Bolivian flag.
This was when I started to get nervous. As a U.S. citizen, I’m required to have a visa to enter Bolivia. I’d done online research, and everything indicated that I’d be able to get a visa on arrival, but I knew that it would come down to one thing: