Border runs are simple: you cross the border into a neighboring country, get stamped out of the old one and into the new one, then turn around and come right back and get another 3 months. This plan normally works a few times in a row before Peruvian officials start to get suspicious, and if they ask questions apparently you just tell them you're dating a local and are trying to get the paperwork in order for your marriage and they smile, wink, and let you through. The situation is made a bit more difficult if you're an American. Well, not difficult - but definitely expensive.Peru is bordered by 5 countries - Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile
. From Cuzco, the closest country is Bolivia ($135 visa fee), then Brazil ($100 visa fee), then Chile (free! But about 20 hours to get there). Luckily, since our company likes us, they were willing to pay for the Bolivian visa fee, so we happily took off late Wednesday night for our nearly all-expenses paid vacation to La Paz.Normally we would just cross the border and turn around and come back, but since Aaron needed to get his Brazilian visa for when he goes to work at Carnaval in Rio and since my next tour isn't until March - they put us up in Hotel Kamana near Plaza San Francisco in downtown La Paz.As soon as we navigated our way to the hotel, threw our stuff in the room, and made our way to the Brazilian embassy, it was about 3:30 on Thursday afternoon. We thought we might be cutting it close because often embassy hours are shorter, maybe only open until 4 or 5. Boy were we wrong. The Brazilian embassy's hours are - and I kid you not - 9am-12:45pm. So basically, the hard working Brazilians have to put in a solid 3 1/2 hours of work each day. Must be nice. So applying for the visa was out for Thursday and we would have to try again on Friday.So for the rest of the day, we enjoyed city life. We've been in Cuzco for over 3 months now - but it lacks "real city" qualities such as streets so packed you can barely breathe, more than two types of beer, movie theaters, and anything other than burger or pizza restaurants. One problem that we did not anticipate was the upcoming election all over Bolivia on the upcoming Sunday. When normal countries have elections, people go to the polls, vote, and go home. In Bolivia when there's an election, everyone is required to vote so most businesses are shut, there's absolutely zero transportation available so that nobody goes to the next province over and votes twice, and no alcohol is sold for three days prior. Doesn't impress me as a country that has a lot of confidence in their vote. But who am I to speak?So, realizing that it would be our last day to purchase any alcoholic beverage, Aaron went from shop to shop to find the best deal on alcohol. I left him to do his work solo after about 6 shops. Apparently, in La Paz, the shopkeepers don't know a good spirit from a bad one. Aaron would ask each owner the price of, say, Johnny Red and get answers from 60 Bolivianos to 200 Bolivianos. Basically they sort of guess a price, watch the customer's reaction, the bargain accordingly. All was going well for Aaron until the shopkeepers started asking him to hang on a minute and went to take polls of what the other owners were selling it for. At any rate, he picked up a nice bottle of rum and we joined the other revelers in the last night of alcoholic freedom.We arrived at the Brazilian embassy early the next morning to get Aaron's application in first. Aaron tried to sweet talk the embassy worker into getting the visa finished for him by that afternoon, but you don't sweet talk embassy workers. They have way too much to do and only 3 1/2 hours to do it! So the earliest it would be ready would be Monday morning - and even that wasn't a guarantee.Well, what could you do? So now we had at least 3 more days in La Paz, so we decided to see the city. We walked through endless markets, including the famous Witches Market where they sell stuff to make potions and spells - seriously. There was all sorts of mysterious powders, llama fetuses, dried toads, and other unrecognizable objects. We walked around the nice parts of La Paz and Aaron even got some work done and ran some errands for Tucan while everything was still open.I was most excited for that night. I have this serious addiction to sushi, and living in Cuzco you have just about zero options for this delicacy. There is one place it is available, but hardly in our budget. So I had picked out a sushi restaurant in La Paz called Wagamama's and even called ahead for reservations. But my problem is that I wanted to absolutely gorge myself on sushi. Well, that's not the problem - the problem is in order to do this, I decided I should starve myself all day in order to hold the greatest capacity of sushi. And even then, the real problem is that I get a bit grumpy when I'm hungry. And, uh, I was sorta hungry all day. I did pretty well, but I couldn't have lasted much longer than dinner time. And then, when we did order, it took an hour for our food to come out. So Aaron and I were like one of those old couples you see just staring at each other at Denny's - nothing to say or else one of us would snap. But then the food came out, we stuffed ourselves silly, and all was well with the world.Saturday was by far the most interesting day. Every year in late January, Bolivians celebrate an Ekeko festival. Not really sure what it means - but it was extremely entertaining. The idea is to buy whatever you want to accompish this year in miniature, then get your little thing blessed by an Aymara priest, and it will be yours within the year. So on Saturday, every single street was absolutely crammed with people selling miniature houses (like, straight from the Monopoly box), miniature cars, there were minature pigs and cows, minature babies and money, miniature diplomas - even miniature US passports! Then there were guys on the street dressed traditionally, lots of incense surrounding them, blessing these people's objects so that they could be ensured it would be theirs legitimately. I'm not sure how these poor Bolivians - who can barely even afford to buy the little marked-up miniatures - came to believe in this, but it made wandering the city quite interesting.The Bolivian vote was known as the Referendum because the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, has been working on a new constitution for years and it was finally being presented to the people. Aaron, however, could not get the word correct. Whenever he wanted to talk to people about it, he called it the "reclamation", "reformation", "reinstallment", or my personal favorite - "the resurrection". It caused some confusion, but people eventually caught on. So the streets went from chaos on craziness on Saturday to ghost town on Sunday. No vendors, no traffic - only every single little Bolivian kid riding his scooter through otherwise clogged streets. One of the hostels we found was having an Illegal Beer Party that day, so we headed to the Adventure Brew Hostel and spent a good part of the afternoon and evening drinking their microbrews and talking to other rebels.I left early the next morning for a flight to Rurrenbaque and Aaron was able to pick up his visa on Monday morning and head back to Cuzco that afternoon. We didn't have the time to do a lot of cool things that La Paz has to offer since it was technically a work holiday, but now we know exactly what to do when we come back for our next border run.
As any good traveler knows, you can only stay in the country you've entered for the length of your visa - in Peru's case, 3 months. So after 3 months and a few weeks, Aaron and I headed out of Cuzco to do our first (of many) border runs.