Departure from Santa Cruz airport was a bit of a challenge. Check in only progressed after our guides took the initiative and it turned out that we did not go through the national gate as indicated, since we were on an internal flight, but through the international gate, it was however a flight that went on to Sao Paulo in Brazil. Only when the internal flight from our gate had left we were guided through a maze of corridors from the international part back to the national part.
The officials at Porto Suarez had their own scam in operation. We all had to pay 10 Bolivianos in order to get an exit stamp in our passport. Carmen, our Peruvian guide, protested strongly and urged everybody not to pay. Some had already gotten the stamp, for free, at Santa Cruz airport. It reminded me of the Belgian writer who wrote a book on his trip by car from Mexico city to Buenos Aires, he also refused a similar scam at some border in Central America and ended up having to drive 300 kilometres back to get the stamp after all. I decided to pay the 10 Bolivianos, some others did not.
From the airport you have to take a taxi to get to the actual border about 7 kilometres further down. The border people from the airport had phoned ahead to their colleagues to make sure that we would pay and one came over in person to see to that, in the end everybody paid. It was only later that I learned that they had threatened Carmen. "Why do you help these tourists, they have enough money. You are not working for them, are you?". As a Peruvian she is not allowed to work in Bolivia. "If you go on we will send you straight back to Peru". Feisty Carmen was not deterred: "Go ahead if you want to" and went on to encourage people not to pay. When I heard all this I felt bad that I had simply decided to pay. At the border itself, after all this was done, it became clear that the Brazilian border, in Corumbá, was only going to open in another two hours. After much toing and froing we got a van and two taxis that brought us to the border office. To our amazement this was in the middle of the city and with still one hour thirty to go, the brilliant idea was born that in that case we could also drop our luggage in the hotel a few blocks down, have lunch, and then go to the border office.
Corumbá, and probably all of Brazil, has an entirely different feel to Bolivian and Peruvian cities. Not hundreds of people selling all kinds of wares on the streets, no shops and stalls open until very late at night, not hundreds of taxis and minibuses honking for passengers, no money changers at every street corner, no internet cafe in every second shop (I actually didnt find one at all). Instead shops close at 6.00 p.m. and then the streets are quiet apart from the odd public bus. It is also much more expensive. Three Boliviano fifty for one reaal, but the numbers on the menu stay the same: 20 for a main dish, 5 for a beer.
Corumbá seems to have fallen on hard times, judging from the deserted waterfront. The view over the Pantanal, as flat as a Dutch polder, however is still majestic.