Lake Titicaca Police Bribes

I made a huge mistake during my visit to Lake Titicaca. From La Paz, I bought an organized day trip including transportation to and from Copacabana, lunch, and a tour of Isla del Sol. That wasn’t the mistake. The mistake was not spending a night there.

In 2009, I visited the Peruvian side of the highest navigable lake in the world. This time, I wanted to see the Bolivian side.

I was picked up just after 7am from my hotel in a large bus. We made a quick stop at the bus terminal in La Paz to pick up more passengers and started the nearly three hour journey to Copacabana. I took advantage of this time to get some more sleep.

At around 10:30am I was woken up by the driver and asked to get off the bus. We were in a small town on the shores of the lake called San Pedro de Tique. Because the part of Bolivia that Copacabana is located in wasn’t connected to the rest of Bolivia (it’s connected to Peru), we had to float the bus on a barge across a narrow part of the lake! The rest of the passengers boarded small motorboats and reached the other side in ten minutes.

Bus barge at San Pedro de Tique, Bolivia

Bus barge at San Pedro de Tique

Passenger boat at San Pedro de Tique, Bolivia

Passenger boat at San Pedro de Tique

I was on the third and last boat to cross the lake and arrived just after the bus did. The other passengers from the first two boats boarded the bus. Half of the third boat was also on their way to boarding the bus when a customs officer came out of nowhere and started checking passports. I only had a copy of mine and thought it was sufficient, but I was wrong.

“Señor, where is your passport? This is a problem.”

“It’s in my hotel. Why is it a problem? This isn’t a border. I haven’t left Bolivia.”

The other passengers had their passports checked and boarded the bus. I was taken into a tiny guardhouse.

“Señor, are you Bolivian? Do you have family in Bolivia? Are you working in Bolivia? Are you staying illegally in Bolivia?”

I answered no to all questions and showed him my trip voucher. He smiled and asked me again why I’m in Bolivia.

“Hmmmm. It would be a big problem to interrupt your tour. But if you give me a small gift, I can let you continue.”

I was afraid this part was coming. I reached into my wallet and pulled out a 100bn bill (about $13). He inspected it, smiled, and thanked me. At this moment, the two Brazilians from the Death Bus trip ran into the guard shack to warn me that the bus driver was threatening to leave without me. We quickly ran to the bus and were on our way to Copacabana.

Continue to Part 2

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