When we decided to go to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, we knew it would be an unbelievable sight. And it was. Spanning the borders of both Peru and Bolivia, you can visit reed islands, inhabited by indigenous Peruvians, or you can hike along the coast of the Isla Del Sol, the mythical birthplace of the Incas.
Looking back now, it was my behavior that wasn’t so beautiful.
Arriving in Puno, Peru, we made plans to take a day trip into Bolivia. As Americans, we needed visas to enter Bolivia and they were expensive, costing $675.00. But that didn’t matter. We still wanted to go and were willing to pay the price.
Boarding a dilapidated bus, full of locals and European backpackers, we headed toward the border. Halfway there, a bus company employee approached us….
Are You Americans and Do You Speak Spanish?
Speaking up, as I’m the only Spanish speaker in our family, he explained that he could help us enter the country for $200.00. I realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t saying he could get visas for $200.He was talking about a pay-off. We were being asked to pay the immigration officials instead of a paying for a legitimate visas.
How Do I Justify This?
If I agreed, I was going to contribute to a culture of corruption that I detest. On the other hand, if I didn’t agree, how did I know the officials wouldn’t just pocket my money anyway? Would I rather give these jerks $200 or $675?
Confronting Your Morals and Ideals Head-On Can Be Painful, Especially When You Don’t React Like You Thought You Would.
After discussing the options and consequences with Mr. Wanderlust, I nervously agreed, feeling guilty about what I was about to do.
Arriving at the Peruvian border, the bus employee and I approached the immigration building, while Mr. Wanderlust waited outside with the kids.
Entering the building, I noticed a short paunchy guard, dressed in a wrinkled green army uniform with a large gun strapped across his chest, pacing back and forth. The bus employee greeted him and began whispering. Looking me over, the guard gave an unsmiling nod and escorted me to a window where a middle-aged government employee sat.
Clumsily hiding the money between the passports, I handed it to the official. With a smile, he took my money, telling me to return to his office later that afternoon.
That seemed pretty easy….And soon we were walking under an arch, crossing into Bolivia.
After repeating the same process on the Bolivian side, the bus employee left us. We toured the Isla del Sol and crossed the border again that evening.
And that’s when I made a BIG mistake…. I did what the Peruvian official told me to do…I went back into the Peruvian immigration office.
This time, I walked into the building alone, but before I could make it to the window, the armed guard stopped me with a serious look on his face…..
“The Bolivians Called, They Said You Didn’t Pay for Your Visa…”
What??!!! A million questions flew through my head.
Was he trying to get more money? Was I going to jail? Could I make a run for it? I knew I could outrun this little runt, but I didn’t know if I could outrun a bullet from his gun. Did I understand him correctly?
I hemmed and hawed, trying to figure out what to say.
“I paid. I paid. Uh, we did….” I stammered along until I said the right thing.
“We paid them the same we paid you…the same amount.”
His face softened and he nodded his head slowly. My panic subsided…
THAT’S what he wanted to know??!!!
He Wanted to Know if the Bolivians Got the Same Amount of Money!
Yes, Mr. Guard…They. Are. Just. As. Corrupt. As. You.
Disgusted, I turned and walked out of that grungy office, not looking back.
What would you have done?