I expected to get to the border and be stamped out of Argentina, walk through some sort of customs or immigration check point, pay for my visa into Bolivia, get my passport stamped and enter the country. You know, like most border crossings.
This is not quite an accurate picture; so let me set the record straight. The border crossing was a bridge that I had to walk across. Before stepping onto the bridge, I was directed toward the window of a small building. Here, the Argentinian border patrol stamped me out of the country. That was easy enough. Then I headed onto the bridge and made my way across.
When I was clearly on the Bolivian side, I looked around for another small building with another window for getting my passport stamped and paying for my Bolivian visa. There was no such building. Confused I looked around on both sides of the street, noticing money exchange kiosks and the hustle and bustle of the city around me. But nowhere to say “Hi Bolivia, I am here, and I am here legitimately”. Confused, I found someone who looked official and in my broken Spanish asked him where I go to get my passport stamped.
Apparently there was a second window, right next to the first one in the small building across the bridge that I was supposed to make a stop at. I completely missed that and walked right into Bolivia. If I had been a less honest person, I could have just said “fuck it” and kept on with my day. Instead I walked back into Argentina, which also seemed to be of little concern to any member of the border patrol party.
This time, I made it to the window that would allow me to enter Bolivia. I fully expected to have to pay for my visa at this point. I did not expect the man with my passport to tell me that I had to pay in Bolivianos and they would not accept credit card payments. I explained to the man that I did not have Bolivianos yet because I had not yet entered the country.
“No problem,” he tells me in Spanish, “there is an ATM 4 blocks up the street”. And he points back over the bridge. I looked at him, like, “seriously?” to make sure he wasn’t toying with me. He wasn’t toying with me. He handed me back my passport and let me walk right back into Bolivia without having my stamp or visa. He just trusted that I would go to the ATM and then walk back into Argentina (again), and take care of business. Which I did. But it took me a while to walk with all my bags up a hill and find an internationally-friendly cash register. I spent a good hour and a half as an illegal in Bolivia, which apparently is completely ok with the people in charge.
And that is my first impression of Bolivia. As soon as that weirdness was sorted out, I made my way to the bus terminal and bought a seat on the next bus to Tupiza, about 2 hours north. I only spent 1 day in Tupiza. It is a busy but small city, and one in which there is not all that much to do for visitors. The main reason to go to Tupiza is for the Jeep Trek. There are 3 and 4 day Jeep treks throughout the Southwest of Bolivia that start from a couple of different cities. I had heard from other tourists that starting from Tupiza was much less expensive than starting from San Pedro, Chile. The tour ends in the City of Uyuni. Uyuni also offers 3 day tours, that end back in Uyuni.
So I chose Tupiza for my starting point. It was less expensive and a day longer, meaning I would see more sites. If you are not planning to do the Uyuni Jeep trek I can’t really recommend this city as a travel destination. Unless you really love pizza. There are a lot of greasy pizza shops.
I spent my day preparing for my trek, and wandering around the city taking pictures. I really enjoy seeing the traditional clothing that the women (mostly older women) wear: flowing skirts, stockings, sweaters, an apron and a hat with two long pig tail braids at their backs. I was also was lucky to be there on a day they had a street fair, which was great fun to walk around, mainly for the people watching.