Bolivia requires a Visa for US citizens, mainly because the US requires visas for Bolivians. And since the US makes Bolivians (and lots of other countries) jump through lots of hoops, Bolivia does the same thing for US citizens. As such, for each piece of information I needed, I encountered the following:
- - US Passport valid for 6 months. - No problem, got this.
- - Completed visa form. Hmmm....not too much of a problem. During the course of getting everything lined up, I found that there is both an Embassy and a Consulate for Bolivia in Buenos Aires, and they're in different locations. While at the wrong one (the Embassy), and discovering that I needed to go instead to the consulate, I was able to snag a copy of the necessary form, and had it filled out and ready to go this morning.
- - Proof of sufficient funds to survive and exit Bolivia. Well, I didn't have a copy of my bank statement, and I asked for some help for the lovely person who is house sitting for me, and while she was able to do much of getting that to me, eventually I decided on making photo copies of my credit card and bank cards with ATM statements, hoping that would be good enough. It probably is.
- - Proof of a hotel reservation, or letter of invitation from someone in Bolivia. Ok. Had to make a hostel reservation and guess at the date, which I did, and maybe that will work, but I'll probably cancel it when I figure out the real dates I'll be there.
- - Proof of transportation out of the country. Turns out a plane ticket out of South America is good for this, so I bought my return trip from Lima, Peru to Seattle, and made a printout of it. This printing, by the way, required that I go find an internet cafe and print this info. This is also where I got a photocopy of the credit cards as well.
- - 2 Passport Photos. This is where it got tricky. I had been told that there was a place that would do this, I did a lengthy hike only to find it closed. Then I read that you get your photo taken at the consulate. When I went there yesterday though, there were hundreds of people waiting in line for various things, and the office for photo taking was closed, with a sign that indicated this was a permanent situation. Ultimately I found passport photos at a Kodak developing convenience store, the proprietor took some photos of me with his digital camera and gave me 6 copies for a 25 pesos, or about $7 USD. A much better deal than Kinko's in Seattle.
- - $135 USD. Oh boy. It is currently near impossible to get US dollars in Argentina unless you're converting from some other currency beside Argentinian Pesos. I tried tons of ATM machines, all of which said "we disburse in US dollars" but never did. I tried several Cambios, or exchange houses. One of them would only sell US Dollars on Monday through Friday, from 10am to 5pm, and I had to have written proof of where the pesos came from. Eventually I found someone who explained to me that an ATM receipt was not sufficient proof, that it was Argentinian law, and that the only way I could do it is if I had the receipt from when I changed my Uruguay pesos into Argentinian Pesos. Of course I don't have that any more, I tossed it a long time ago. So I was SOL on this. Fortunately I had $20 in my wallet from Seattle, and I had gotten a $100 bill in Montevideo when I was trying to make some of the ATM machines in the airport work (only 2 did, and one stopped working immediately after I finished with it). At the last minute, last night, another American (who is motorcycling from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to the very southern tip of South America), gave me $20, at a reasonable exchange rate. Technically that might have been illegal for him to do. Either way, I finally ended up with the right amount of money, although there's a small possibility I might have been able to pay with Argentinian pesos for the visa, especially considering the difficulty of getting US Dollars.
All of these things took me days to line up, and I went to the consulate yesterday, only to find, as mentioned, hundreds of people lined up, and me without a clue as to which line to stand in, and no photo possibilities. I gave up and went back to my hostel yesterday and tried again, which brings us to the current end of the story that I started with the narrative with.
I got up early, left the hostel, and took the subway to the consulate. I had all my stuff, I knew what room to go to, and found only 2 people in line in front of me. The first guy got his stuff taken care of very quickly. The second person had her husband with her, she talked to the official for a few minutes, who then disappeared for 45 minutes, as more people showed up and added to the line behind me. We spent 30 minutes of that looking around trying to figure out what was going on, and eventually the guy returned. The couple finished their business, and it was my turn. I handed him the application form, and the official nodded, asked me for photos. I handed them over. Then the flight info. then the hotel info. then the proof funds, then I pulled out the money and my passport, put the on the table, and the official made a phone call. Now, I don't understand much Spanish, but what it sounded to me like was the official saying, "Say, do we have any visas for Americans left? We don't? Ok, thanks!" and hung up. The official handed every piece of documentation back to me, and said, "you should just get this at the border."
So, after spending 4 days running all over Buenos Aires trying to get this, this was what I ended up with, just get it at the border. In some ways, a little frustrating, but mostly I'm fine. I know I can get it at the border, I just wanted to avoid the hassle in case something was wrong in the middle of a high desert, which is where that tiny shack-like border outpost is. But, I guess everything looked good in Buenos Aires, probably everything will look good at the border as well. Onward I go.
With that taken care of, the rest of the day was great. I did a ton of walking and a lot of exploring, and I have photos from that.
Three more quick stories
1) Lots of younger girls have very casual tattoos on their shoulders. Far more than I would have expected, and it just seems to be the natural thing to do here. We're talking 20's in age.
2) There was a very streamlined, futuristic looking combine on the grounds of the presidential palace today. Not sure why. I took a photo of it.
3) While eating lunch, someone walked in, laid new pens on all the tables, then went around and collected them again. This was an attempt to sell us pens, and surprisingly, the restaurant tolerated this. No pens got sold, so far as I know.
Evita shows up a few times in today's photos.
Jacques at the tomb of Evita, not crying.
And, while in this graveyard, I took the opportunity to shoot lots of the other mausoleums.
The cat did not appear to care that he was sleeping in the graveyard. Didn't appear to care that I was taking photos of him either.
Later, also in the same neighborhood as the graveyard. (the neighborhood is Recoleta)
Iconic representation of Buenos Aires.
This photo doesn't look like much small, but larger it's one of my favorites from the day.
Don't cry for me, Jacques the Travel Turtle!
Ceremony for lowering the Argentinian flag at the end of the day.
The beginning of a street named Diagonal North.
What? This guy is in the wrong order. He should be by other flag lowering guy.
The presidential palace is all lit up purple at night. Seriously looks like something out of Burning Man.