Run to the Border!
It’s strange to think about it. We ran to the border, crossed over it, then returned back to where we started from. We actually took several busses without a single sprint, to renew our tourist visa. It’s part of our lifestyle, one of those things we just do. And it’s not all bad. Dare I say, I enjoy the ritual?
I admit, living in Peru has been one of the easiest countries to live within the legal restrictions. If you ask for it, Peru tourist visas are granted for 6 month at the border. But you have to ask. And you have to smile, too. (I read that somewhere.)
Within our travels, the only other countries we’ve encountered that granted a 6 month stay was Mexico and Panama. But neither country were we compelled to stay for that period of time. But back to Peru, unlike other countries, if you overstay your visa, you aren’t thrown in jail, banned from the country for 5 years, or escorted back to your home country in handcuffs. You are simply asked to pay a fine for your overstay, equalling one dollar for every day you stayed beyond your expired visa. And you are allowed to pay the fee, exit the country at a border and re-enter the next day, asking for a new 6 month pass, as long as you smile.
Smiling is important, folks!
But whether we have to leave a country every 3 months or every 6 months isn’t really what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to share our weekend journey, and talk about some of the strange things that came up during it.
We took a night bus on Saturday night to Arequipa from Cusco. It was about a 10 hour bus ride. We took one of the most luxurious bus lines called Cruz del Sur, who happened to be having a sale. Our 10-ish hour bus ride from Cusco to Arequipa was 50 soles (roughly $20 a person), with meal, reclining seat, pillow, blanket and a movie (Also, Bingo.). My only complaint on this trip which made it difficult for me to sleep was the heat was turned up just a bit too high. From Arequipa, we took an upright passenger bus to Tacna for 20 soles per person. We sat in the front of the bus and I had the wonderful opportunity to smile at each and every passenger as they got on, smile at all of the vendors who came on the bus to sell travelers their homemade treats and read for several hours.
Once we arrived at Tacna, we walked across the street to the bus which takes you across the border. There we had the only hitch, the only slight problem. We were traveling with a friend who met last year in Northern Peru and we decided to make the border run together. The only difference was that Lorene’s visa had expired in her French passport the day before. Miro’s and my passport had one day to go. So the man who ran the border bus agreed to let us board but not for the normal fee of 12 soles per person. Instead he charged us 15 soles per person over charging us a total of 9 soles. Why? Because he said we might inconvenience the entire bus by making them wait as Lorene paid her whopping $1 fee. We had no choice. We paid. And in actuality, it was kind of humorous.
We crossed through Peru’s immigration, without a problem and yes, Lorene did pay her $1 dollar fee. Then we were granted a 3 month entrance stamp into Chile. We rode the bus to the lovely border town called Arica. It’s interesting to see right away the economical and social differences between Peru and Chile. Knowing before hand that Chile is a wealthier country, I noticed the differences in the fine public roads, green landscape and trees scattered throughout. Even though this was a border town, it seemed quite different. And things were more expensive for sure. Granted, we were in Chile for one late-afternoon, which turned into one night. We managed to walk around the center of town, see a little, but mostly everything was closed on the Sunday night. Then we managed to find a low-end hotel, and paid equivalent to $12 per person to stay in a shared room without a private bath. But it had a bed and I was happy. And tired.
And after a wonderful dinner at a local chinese restaurant I went to bed.
We woke up early the next morning and set out to reverse the process. After a lovely breakfast and an hour search through the local markets searching for bendy straws for Miro (don’t ask) we set back to cross the border back into Peru.
Smile, ask politely for a 6 month stay (183 days) and continue on your way.
The process was painless, and even the 30 something hours of bus rides from Saturday night to Monday were enjoyable. What? Enjoyable? Yes. Here’s why. We aren’t living in a rush. What do I have that’s more important than sitting on the bus, smiling, talking to people, reading, relaxing sitting next to my son, sleeping and eating?
If I was still living the American Dream, weighing inconveniences, measuring the value, distracted by what else I could be doing, I suppose I would have been antsy, agitated, aggravated, bothered and impatient. I was none of those things.
I was relaxed, in the moment and accepting that this weekend border run was just another page in our travel-life adventure.(And another stamp in our passports.)