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There is really one key pre-trip essential. It is often ignored in the process of planning the trip, and in our case, was put off till the last moment – visas. Two reasons why doing so is a bad idea – they take time, and they cost money. If you are not located close to a city, and one that houses a consulate at that, then will have to send your passport by mail. This takes at least a week at minimum counting 3 days for processing and a day each for overnight shipping back and forth. Three countries and you are looking at a minimum of 3 weeks to get the visas alone. Visas can be expensive – the visa for Bolivia costs a hefty $135 (more about this later). If you are an Indian passport holder, yes, you require a visa to visit most inhabited spots on the planet outside of des, with a few welcome exceptions. Friedman’s world may be flat, mine most definitely is not. There are unanticipated advantages, though, and I shall prolong the suspense a tad bit longer.

If you live close to Los Angeles and intend to visit Peru, Bolivia, or Argentina – the three countries on our list – you are in luck. The consulates are all located on one street – Wilshire Blvd. in LA. You may want to call up the consulate and check what documents they need, how long it would take them to process the visa, and whether one needs an appointment should one decide to show up in person. The list of documents needed for visa to Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina are listed below, quoted from memory and therefore prone to omissions:

  • completed visa application form
  • passport
  • work authorization in the US
  • 1-2 passport sized photographs
  • proof of employment
  • travel reservations
  • hotel/hostel reservations
  • last 1-3 bank statements.
  • proof of yellow fever vaccination (required only by Bolivia).

As regards visa fees, the visa to Peru is $30. Argentina waives its visa fees for Indian citizens. So does Bolivia, which waived the $135 fee for us. It is important to note though that the Bolivian consulate requires a proof of yellow fever vaccination (you can get one at the clinic where you get your vaccination). In addition to the discomfort of being pricked by a needle , the vaccination at ~$110 that is not typically covered by insurance, does burn a hole in your pocket.

We showed up at the Peruvian consulate first. We were asked to turn in the documents and pay the fees, and come back after 2 hours to get our passports back. Next we stopped at the consulate of Argentina. Since we had not made an appointment (we were unaware we needed to), we were asked to turn in the passports and paperwork and a self-addressed pre-paid envelope. We got our passports within 5 days. Since it was too much to make another 4 hour trip to LA from San Diego, we mailed our application to the Bolivian consulate with a self-addressed pre-paid envelope, and it was promptly returned with the visa stamp within a week. All in all a relatively hassle free process for us, though you don’t want this to cut to close to your travel start date.

Moved to San Francisco from San Diego earlier this month, after an 8-hour/500 mile drive – most of it on the straight stretch of the I-5 freeway that is faster but far less impressive than its scenic alternative, the 101. The distance is not the only thing that separates these two cities – they are as different as two cities can be that lie on the Californian coast. San Diego perhaps fits the stereotype one may have about California – sun, sand, beach, and the kind of near-perfect weather that would make your local weatherman or woman break into odes of joy. The place where I moved to in San Francisco is 7 blocks from the ocean. I braved the cold one morning to jog up to the beach. It was like a black-and-white movie shot of a beach with cold winds that make you draw the hood of your sweatshirt over your head, and fog that envelopes the ocean as if in wait for an ominous ancient ship to break through it. The city has other charms though that are good on their promise. There’s the famed Golden Gate Bridge – yes the red one, which is impressive. My favorite is the Golden Gate park – a vast rectangular escape into nature that runs horizontal from west to the middle of the SF bay – akin to Central Park in NY except that this one is not ‘central’. More updates shall follow as I embark on explorations of the city.

Among other interesting developments, a buddy and I will be backpacking in South America – specifically Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. I won’t be carrying my laptop and will not be able to update on the go. If memory and patience hold me good once I get back, I promise detailed posts. I do intend to document some of the pre-trip preps on this blog before I leave Saturday morning, for the benefit of anyone embarking on a similar journey, has an Indian passport and needs to figure out the formalities – a topic on which information on the web is inadequate.

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