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A wrap-up of all that remains to be spoken of the trip, so I can conclude these promised updates, and allow my blogsistence to move on.

Puno, Peru: Our last stop in Peru – one borne out of necessity than purpose. The bus from Puno would not reach us to the Peru-Bolivia border while the immigration offices on either side were open, which meant that we had to stay over and take a bus the next morning. Puno is a lively small town, visible in its peopled streets, shops and public squares, and their accompanying chatter and banter. Notable culinary mentions include empanadas at the local bakery, and delicious Chinese food at a Chifa (local reference for Chinese food/stall). Many of these chifas seem hole-in-the-wall good cheap eats, in character quite like the (indo)-chinese street food stalls one finds in Bombay.

Copacabana, Bolivia: After a bus-ride tracing the outline of Lake Titicaca that included an interlude of getting off at the Peruvian border, going through immigration, walking the 500+ feet to the Bolivian side, going through the Bolivian immigration, and boarding the same bus again, we reached Copacabana – not to be mistaken with its more famous namesake in Brazil. A visit to the impressively expansive and white basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana was followed by a boat ride to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) – an island off the town that has Incan ruins. The part of the island we visited was unimpressive. The boat ride over the calm waters of the vast water body that is Lake Titicaca, the largest lake by volume in South America, was worth the while. Culinary exploits included trying the Trucha (local trout) and tortilla espanola – spanish omelet made of potatoes and eggs that has little resemblance, except for their circular shape, with the flatbread tortillas that one finds in US supermarkets.

La Paz, Bolivia: As one walks around the witches markets in La Paz, where dried llama fetuses are displayed alongside ceramic figurines of Viracocha and the Condor, charms of good fortune and energy, and beyond into the numerous shops selling everything from yarn and clothing to pirated dvds and cds, one is left with the feeling that the whole of La Paz is one large bazaar. We stopped for a meal at the Star of India, British Indian cuisine we’re told, where if you finish up your full order of vindaloo, you get a t-shirt that says ‘I survived the most dangerous vindaloo’. I went for a half-order, and I am glad I did not take on the challenge of a full one. The first few spoonfuls seem inane, the intensity of spice rising in a gradual tolerable crescendo. It takes a few minutes for the chillies (and I don’t know what kind is used) to deliver their sudden and complete coup d’grace.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia These salt flats of Uyuni are a bumpy overnight bus ride south of La Paz, and by bumpy I mean you-better-have-an-empty-stomach-or-you’ll-puke bumpy. The site is more than worth the pain to get there. Standing on those salt flats amidst a vast white plane of white that extends into the eternity on all sides is an experience that words, or for that matter even images, can hardly capture. Watching the sun set in the distant dark and white horizon is serene, mystical.

Argentina From Bolivia, we crossed over to Argentina, spending a brief half-day in Salta before visiting Cordoba Cordoba is a university town, complete with old buildings, bookstores (great titles, unfortunately for me, all in Spanish), and mostly comprised of students. The town of Alta Gracia is a few hours commute by bus. We made a day trip there, renting and riding bicycles in the countryside which is beautiful except for unconstrained vicious barking dogs, and making it in time to see the Che’s house, now a museum. From Cordoba, we went to Buenos Aires, a capital city that, for want of a better description, quite like the cities in Europe. Most of our time in Buenos Aires was spent wandering about, sitting in cafes, watching a tango performance, in short, just taking it easy. All the backpacking and bus rides left us craving for relaxation, and we found it here. And then we flew back to LA.

That’s it folks, and thanks for your patience through this stretched 3-month long narration of a 2-week trip. Perhaps a rushed description, I apologize. Feel free to comment if you plan a trip and have any questions, and I’ll be happy to respond with what I know. On a related note, a quick bit on the logistics: we made our hostel reservations through hostelworld.com. TACA, LAN, and Aeromexico are some of the key airlines that have flights to South America. I found LAN to have lower prices on the spanish version of their website compared to the English version for the same flight itinerary – quite lame, really, because they have fares in USD displayed on both, and they don’t seem to have any geographical restrictions for either site. In almost all big cities, and most of Peru and Argentina, we found people whose English lexicon was far better than our travel Spanish, so language was not an issue there. Can’t say the same for Bolivia. Knowing the language helps you connect with people, and enhances your travel experience. I quite envied some of the travelers we met that spoke fluent Spanish, and regretted not having given myself enough time to learn the language.

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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.

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