A long day: Paraguay to Bolivia

My brother lives in Sweden but works in Denmark. He crosses the border every working day, with his personal automobile, during his 20 minute commute to work. If instead, my brother lived in Paraguay and worked in Bolivia, his 20 minute commute would become 4 hours, and he would cry for 30 minutes a day. Here’s why…

We decided to cut our time in the Chaco short – the heat was just too much. Originally we had planned on going the Parque National Tienente Enciso on our way to Bolivia; the park lies close to the route to Bolivia, and is about half way there. However, after experiencing the heat – it’s challenging to do much of anything during the day, and without air conditioning in the camper, it is rather hard to get any sleep – we decided to pass on the park, and drive straight from Filadelfia to Bolivia.

Without the half-way stop at the National Park, we knew it was going to be a long day of driving and crossing the border. We were correct. On the map, it’s only 500km, 300 miles, with all but 70 km, 42 miles, of the road being paved. Pero.

First, we drove from Filadelfia to Marsical Estigaribbia, roughly 120km. Yes, the road was paved, but it would have been much better had it not been. Normally on a paved road in Paraguay, you expect to spend time in the opposite lane driving around pot holes, but it doesn’t slow you down too much.

Typical paved road; just a few pot holes to swerve around

On this stretch of road though, for whatever reason, the asphalt had large holes ripped in it, and the underlying dirt/sand had been gradually removed by the cars and trucks passing down the road to where the road was a collection, at times a continuous collection, of 1 – 2 foot deep pot holes, with very hard edges. There was no way to avoid the pot holes – they were the road. The bad stretch lasted about 50 km, and took us two hours to drive.

Hard to tell from the pic, but this pothole is more than 1 ft (30 cm) deep

But, we arrived at Marsical E. This is where Parguayan immigrations are located and we needed to get the exit stamps for our passports. No problem. We also stopped by the custom office located next to immigration, but they notified us that for personal vehicles, customs is located at the border itself.A little tidbit: Marsical E is about 3 hours from the actual border, so for the last 3 hours we were stamped out of Paraguay, but not yet in Bolivia.

We continued motoring on. In the middle of the day, we stopped along the road to make lunch. There are no towns and/or restaurants along the road, actually there is nothing along the road. And it’s 40C, 104F outside. During our 30min lunch break, we saw three lizards, half a dozen vultures, and one truck, which passed us in the opposite direction.

Finally, we were almost at the border. About 5 km before the border, there was a Paraguayan military stop to check documents, then we were at the border itself. We visited Parguayan customs to hand in our temporary auto permit. Then we walked over to Bolivian customs to get our temporary auto permit for Bolivia. Everyone was friendly and helpful.

It would have been helpful to get everything done at the same location, but Bolivian immigration is not located at the border, it’s another 60 km inland, on really crappy dirt roads.

The road in Bolivia that leads to to/from Paraguay

But, before we could get to immigratons, there was a stop by the Bolivian military, who checked that we did have the temporary auto permit, and they also checked that we were not carrying any milk, meat, or fruit and vegetables. Very friendly folks, though.

Bolivian immigration is located in a very small town named Ibibobo. Fist, let me set the stage here a little: when we were in Asuncion, we had belatedly discovered that Karen needed a visa for Bolivia. Karen went to the Bolivian embassy in Asuncion, where she learned that it would take another day or two to get the visa, but that any, repeat any, border crossing would be able to provide the visa on the spot, given that Karen provided the correct, lengthy, list of documents. We knew we were taking a chance, but we decided not to stay another day in Asuncion, but instead to get the visa, with all of the lengthy, correct documents in hand, when we arrived at the border. Clever readers can already sense that this was not a wise decision.

In Ibibobo, we pulled up to the immigration shack, which looked it might have been part of the set of the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.Inside the shack was the customs official, who, I swear, had a part in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

It was hot, the air was still, we were sweating, he was sweating, flies were circling, the shack was dark, there was no lighting; Clint could have shown up at any moment.

I showed my passport, and he nodded. Karen showed her passport, and stated that she needed a visa. The first words out of Mr. Immigration’s mouth were: “No. No visa here”. Not a good start.

Karen showed the paperwork from the embassy which stated – in Spanish – that here are all the docs required for a visa, and she stated forcefully that the embassy told her directly that any, repeat any, border crossing can provide an immediate visa.

Mr. Immigration chewed on that for a moment, and then asked if we have any Paraguayan currency that we needed to “exchange”. I showed him that we only had 100,000 Guarani, US $25. He then turned to Karen and laid down: “No visa here. No entrada”, ie no entrance.

Karen was getting anxious, and the tears were starting to come. After some back and forthing, Mr. Immigration, did provide Karen with an additional form to fill out, and it seemed that she would be able to get her visa. Pero.

Mr. Immigration then told us that the visa would cost US $145, which we handed over. He closely inspected every $20 bill, and rejected half of them. Which would have been fine if we would have had an unlimited supply of $20 bills. Which we didn’t. We knew the visa was going to be $135 – more on this later – and had brought US $190, nine $20’s and two $5’s, along.

Mr Immigration brought in the evil daughter (wife?, girlfriend?, co-worker?). She was not friendly and used great miming and pointing skills to disdainfully hammer home why our $20 bills were not acceptable: infinitesimally small tears, dark edges, smudges, etc.

"Obviously" unacceptable $20. Note the huge tear above Mr Jackson...

Likewise acceptable. (smudge in lower RH corner)

We explained that this is good ‘ol US currency, brought directly from the home land, and compared to most bills we see, these are some high quality bills. And no, we didn’t have any more US cash, or any more Paraguayan cash, and they don’t take credit cards.

Again, the words: “No entrada” were being used.

But, after some spaghetti western stand-off moments, with me trying to squint like Clint, and a few more tears, we reached an agreement.

They accepted most of our dollars, and we made up the rest with the Paraguayan money that we had. Karen signed a receipt stating that we paid $135 – the visa fee the embassy told us about – even though we had spent 30 minutes haggling over the bills to fulfill a $145 fee. We knew we were getting ripped off for $10, but at this point, as Clint never showed up, we were just trying to get out of there. Finally we did, only to get stopped by the Bolivian military 2 km further down the road. They were friendly and professional though.

Let’s recap the stops we went through:

Paraguay:
Immigration
Customs, who referred us to the customs at the border
Military
Customs

Bolivia
Customs
Military
Immigration
Military

Eight stops, in total probably 3 ½ hours, and a few tears, in order to cross from one country to another. My brother doesn’t know how lucky he is.

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2 thoughts on “A long day: Paraguay to Bolivia

  1. Clint is going to option your blog for his next work-in-progress, I have great faith. But this is a really good indicator of what to anticipate at future border crossings — need some more brand spanking clean monopoly money?

  2. I had a similar experience on the Greco-Turkish border east of Thessaloniki where they tried to make me pay twice for my car . . .

    First law of bureaucracy: the smaller the office, the larger the ego–and they were probably more familiar with the freshly minted $20’s that the narco-dealers flash around. But I don’t think Clint could have handled it any better. Hope the rest of your border crossings are muy tranquillo.

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