This story goes back a few years to before a new highway replaced the “death road” from La Paz to Coroico. I was traveling with my mum through Peru and Bolivia and our trip was winding down in Bolivia. We had a few days left and just had to make it to the Bolivian rainforest to hang out with river dolphins, crocodiles and every other awesome creature in there. The bus ride from La Paz to the national park area took 26 hours, including two breakdowns which were fixed by duct tape and rope. We also passed rescuers pulling up bodies from the last bus that went over the cliff.
To get the most out of our last days we planned to rent a jeep back to La Paz and fly directly to Lima. Here began our race against time to make our flight from Lima to Toronto.
We arrived back in town in the evening after spending a few days in the jungle. The next morning we got up early and looked into hiring a jeep to fast-track our ride back up Yungas Road (“death road”). The driver in town had just arrived from the 14 hour drive from La Paz and was not in the mood to get back on the road. We continued our search but somehow, friends from our jungle trek had convinced him to make the return trip! Score 1 for us! The ride back up was way faster in the jeep, even if it felt like two wheels were hanging off the cliffs. He also made us sing karaoke for the last 4 hours so he wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel.
14 hours later we made it to La Paz! We go to a travel agent to check for flights to Lima. The two foreigners in front of us literally bought the last tickets! It was a holiday weekend so the airlines were busy. Score 1 against us. One day remaining. The agent suggested we cross the Peruvian border by bus and try to buy a flight in Juliaca.
Guess what? Since it was a holiday weekend the border was “closed”. “Closed” meant there was no one working at the border and buses were free to drive straight through! This sped up our trip to Juliaca nicely. We boosted to another travel agent who promptly informed us all flights were full. She did at least find a flight from Arequipa to Lima which would land 90 minutes before our international flight home. The flight from Arequipa to Lima left the following afternoon and there were no buses to Arequipa that evening so we hit the sack. The next morning we got up early for our 5 hour bus ride to Arequipa. We had a 4 hour safety margin in the bus ride so we were happy.
Naturally, our bus broke down about half way along the trip in the middle of the mountains. This one could not be mended by duct tape and rope. To make things worse, for the next two hours every bus that passed was filled to the brim. Everyone from the broken bus was trying to get on passing buses and I knew we wouldn’t make it with our bags weighing us down. I told my mom to force her way on the next bus and box people out until I came running with our two large packs, huffing and puffing in the high altitude. Somehow it worked and we were back en route!
Our flight to Lima was uneventful and we planned our strategy to make our flight home.
In Lima airport we snatched our bags as quickly as possible and ran to check in for the flight home. Rejected – we need to pay the airport fee. We run to an ATM and run back. We checked in but we had to bring our full bags through security before checking them in.
Off we ran to security/customs. The officer took one look in our passports and insisted that we would not be able to leave today. Due to the “closed” border crossing, we were not legally in Peru! We never received the exit stamp from Bolivia and entrance stamp to Peru. Where could we get such a stamp? The following day downtown Lima of course. 20 minutes of running around to different people and with the help of one really kind airport employee we found a guy we could pay off to stamp our passports. We ditched our bags and got to the gate with just a few minutes to spare. I turned to my mum and said “I’m going to have mental scars after this one”.