Thursday, January 01, 2009

Greetings from Bolivia

"Follow me," said the guard at Bolivian passport control. Or rather, he motioned for me to folllow him. I reclaimed my pen that had just been borrowed by a Swede, leaving him with a half-blank customs form. I followed the uniformed official to a booth.

"135 dollars," said the visa officer behind the counter.

I tore open one of the envelopes I'd sealed at home, the one l'd labelled "Bolivia visa fee," and handed $135 to the man along with my passport. And yellow fever card, which he ignored.

"But the visa is good for five years," he said apologetically, obviously used to American tourists complaining about the high fee. I hadn't even rolled my eyes, having known in advance about the high price of admission to Bolivia.

I thought for a second.

"But the passport expires in 2010. What good is a 5-year visa in a 2-year passport?" I smiled. He laughed in response.

"Sign here," he said, handing me a thick ballpoint pen that bore a large white Viagra ® label.

I signed. Territorially—just as I'd watched the Swede with my pen—he kept a close eye on his Viagra ® pride and joy. I placed it on the counter. His hand snaked out and grabbed it. Pens have a way of disappearing.

"Welcome to Bolivia," said the visa officer, cheerfully waving his Viagra ® pen at me as I headed through the gate into his country.

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