Avoiding the tourist buses, we decided to do the border crossing into Bolivia on our own. We took a bike rickshaw to the bus station, a bus to a town near the border, and an auto rickshaw to the actual border crossing a few miles further past the town of Kasani. We marched into the immigration office prepared to part with the 135 US dollars a piece it costs for an American to get a Bolivian visa. What we weren’t expecting was the imaginary ‘processing fee’ that the man controlling the stamp charged us, or to find forty US dollars some how missing from our stash when we went through our things after we got out of the collectivo in Copacabana. This may have been the only time in our travels that we wished we were part of a tourist group, mainly to avoid the corrupt border crossing officials. The little bit of extra money we could have paid for the direct bus would have saved us the pain of taking four different modes of transportation from Puno to Copacabana and losing money to a few jerks in uniforms who had nothing better to do than figure out how to scam us.
Copacabana is a relaxed town with not much going on except for boat tours to the Bolivian islands on Lake Titicaca. There are lots of stalls selling tourist nick-knacks and cheap sweaters and the streets are filled with traveling hippie types trying to sell people baked goods from Tupperware containers and getting temporary jobs touting for tourist restaurants. We’ve found that as a general rule of thumb the dirtier the backpackers are in a town and the more billowing pants they wear, the cheaper the accommodation is. The first hotel we stopped in proved our hypothesis by offering us a room at 30 Bolivianos, or $4.25, without even bargaining. It even came with some Argentinian neighbors who asked us if we had mushrooms and wanted to listen to the Doors on our iPod.
We followed our stomachs around town for the afternoon eating bunuelos and api in the market and trying our first silpancho (a fried egg on fried beef on white rice) in a crowded restaurant as traditional pan pipe music videos blasted from the ancient T.V.
As cute as Copa was, it felt like a town set up only for tourism and Andy and I were anxious to delve deeper into Bolivia. We passed on the island tours, having just visited the Peruvian islands, and bought tickets for a bus leaving the next morning. La Paz is only a few short hours away and the bus ride is one of the most beautiful we’ve taken. We had amazing views of Lake Titicaca as well as the glacier covered Cordillera Real and at one point had to take a boat across the lake while the bus was loaded onto a ferry and brought across the water separately. Soon enough we were passing through the streets of El Alto and looking down on out first glimpse of La Paz.