rio-cap part two

The day after our epic walk (which, bee tee dubs, NO ONE ELSE EVER DOES!!! We did not pass a single other ‘stroller’ on our mammoth trek; most peeps have the sense to get a bus or drive or get an over-priced taxi, but NOT US!!!!) Rich and I went on a tour of a local favella. Rocinha, Brazil’s largest favella, had just been occupied by the military, so there was a strong police presence and a LOT of big black jeeps and tanks and dudes with machine guns. Reassuring…

When we got to the entrance, our guide gave us a run down: he’ll let us know when we’re good to take pictures (but DON’T take pictures of any people), keep to the right, stay out of peoples way. We were going to make our way to the top of the favella by Moto-Taxi (a motor bike that’s a taxi); after a quick lesson in how to get on and off without burning our legs on the exhaust pipe, and how to stay on (ie. girls can hold onto the driver, guys can NOT hold onto the driver), I was escorted to my bike, given a helmet, and we were off!

The road to the top was windy, muddy, slippery, and congested with buses, jeeps, military vee-hick-ells and other bikes. When we took off, I was quite certain that I would have a heart attack on the way up and/or be thrown from the bike in front of a truck; but guess what? I didn’t, and it was actually amazing and fun.

My guy was the first to leave the ‘depot’ and was a bit of a leadfoot, so we got to the top super quickly. He dropped me off on the side of the road and took off back down the hill, while I waited for the rest of my group to arrive.

We all assembled on a muddy path and our guide gave us another rundown of rules: Stay together. Don’t dilly dally. And he reiterated the “Don’t take photos until I tell you it’s OK” spiel.

So in we went. It’s like being inside a labyrinth; narrow paths snaking everywhere, steep steps built into the side of the hill with low-hanging ceilings (us tall-ies in the group got several warnings to mind our heads…), cats and dogs and chooks all over the place, woofing and eating and rubbing their heads against crumbling concrete walls and pecking about in the dirt. Surprisingly, there are HEAPS of trees around; we spotted a family of tiny monkeys in one, and, in some places, houses were actually built around the tree, like this one:

A bit draughty in winter...

Our first stop was up an uneven, slippery-tiled staircase (with no railings and with quite a steep drop to one side) and onto a rooftop overlooking the favella. The size of the place was pretty mind-boggling, and, even though you’re in the middle of a slum, the view was pretty magnificent… Along with red brick lean-tos, there are rows upon rows of brightly coloured houses, and the scene looks a bit like a big patchwork quilt. 

I was expecting to feel a bit sad and glum being here, but the sense of community was overwhelming. Lots of kids running around, two teenaged boys playing drums on an old bucket and a tin can, singing and smiling. Women making jewellery out of thread and old telephone wire. We walked down one narrow alley that housed a bakery, and popped in for some delicious donuts. Yummo!

Donuts, cakes, pastries...

Our last stop was at the local creche. Up another rickety staircase, and suddenly we were in a room filled with cots and sleeping babies. Splayed out in their beds in pastel pyjamas, legs askew, thumbs contentedly being sucked. Twas super cute, and a lovely way to end the day. We popped some money into the donation box, and headed off into the rainy afternoon.

NOTE: So, you’ve probably noticed that the photos in this post (and the last one) are a bit fuzzy and low res and not that great. Because I am a TOTAL DERBRAIN I didn’t take my camera out at all while we were in Brazil. Why? Who knows… Did I think it would get stolen on a tour? Yes, I actually did. Sheesh… Anyhoo, all these pics were taken with Rich’s Crackberry. Thanks Rich!

rio-cap part one

Eep, it’s been a while between posts… Did you think I’d been mauled by another muddy-pawed puppy? Or mayhaps that my tummy exploded after eating too much mango (or mebbe drinking too much cerveza)? Or that our ‘friend’ at the airline-that-shall-not-be-named tracked us down to our abode in Rio to send us back to Miami to spend just a little bit more time in the airport, standing at her check-in counter, while she did the thing with the eyebrows?

Relax, it’s all good. Except that I slipped into a bit of a laze when we got to Rio and had a little bit of trouble firing up and being a normal human being. In the city of colour and no rules and G-string bikinis and music and food, I spent a fair bit of time indoors reading books. What a bore! But you see what I mean? Trouble firing up…

That said, adventures were had. Even if I didn’t quite realise it at the time.

Last Tuesday, after a lazy start to the day, Rich and I decided to take a short stroll around Santa Teresa, our Rio DJ hood. Santa Teresa (not to be confused with the Santa Teresa we bunked down in in Costa Rica just a few days prior) is a luvverly, rambling ‘burb, perched high on a hill, with winding, steep cobble-stoned streets, and dilapidated (yet STUNNING) paint-peeling mansions with sprawling gardens, and high, vine-covered fences. Lots of little restaurants and outdoor drinking holes and a bookshop and a cinema. Twas a nice place to base ourselves…

Anyhoo, we wandered around the main street and looked in shops and had a coffee and then decided to go a little further afield and follow the trolley-car tracks up the hill, towards Corcovado. AKA the national park that’s home to that O so prolific statue, Christ the Redeemer (note: every time I see “Christ the Redeemer” in writing, or write it myself, I always think it says “Christ the Reindeer” and I imagine the big Jesus with antlers and a well-lit red nose….).

No antlers here...

So off we went, up the hill from Santa Teresa, following the trolley-car tracks. It was a warm day. It was cloudy. It was pretty muggy. It was a perfect day to build up a sweat in a matter of minutes and develop a bad mood. Yes. As with previous bad moods described in this here blog, and pretty much every BM of the past few years, it’s something I’m not proud of, but this particular BM is actually pretty laughable in hindsight.

Due to the mugginess of the day, and the fact that, although we could see Christ the Reindeer, we didn’t really know how far away it was, the BM flailed wildly out of control in a matter of minutes. As Rich strolled ahead, calm and happy, I kicked and huffed my way along the road like a petulant child.

You know what you would think might get Wembolina out of a BM? Maybe seeing a cow curled up on the side of the road might do it? A road that is well traversed by cars and buses and is set in the middle of the jungle (with steep hills on either side), as if the cow had inadvertently entered Dr Who’s TARDIS and ended up here, in a place with, seemingly, no other cows in sight?

No, not even the random placement of a docile (yet kind of terrifying) bovine could do it. Rich laughed when we saw it. I huffed a little more.

Finally, after an hour or so of the twisting, turning trolley-car route, we made it to the entrance to Corcovado.

“We’re nearly there!!” Rich happily declared. I felt my spirits lift (marginally) but they were instantly deflated when we passed a sign announcing it was another 2.5kms to the top. ARGH!

And THEN (and this was the worst/funniest moment of the ‘adventure’) when we were halfway up a particularly steep stretch of road leading up to the carpark, I was struck with a searing, stabbing pain in my ankle, caused by a mother-flipping-GIGANTIC ant that had attached itself to my Achilles and was joyously jabbing its monstrous pincers in and out of my soft and squodgy flesh.

“AARRRGGGHHHH!!!!” I screamed, “GET IT OFF ME!!!!!”

Rich, a few metres away, instantly thought I was being attacked by a rabid monkey (or another orange puppy), or was perhaps being squeezed to death by an enormous boa constrictor. He raced over, eyes frantic, “What is it? What’s wrong??” I pointed down at the big black ant on my foot and cried (with actual tears) “THAT!!!! THAT ANT!!!! GEDDITOFFMEEEEEEE!!!!!”

My knight-in-sweaty-t-shirt-material bravely swiped the beast off my leg with the swiftness of an American football player making a winning kick at the Superbowl.

I cried a bit more (even though it was just an ant, it reeeeeeeally hurt) and then we continued our way up the hill.

You’ll be pleased to know that once we made it to the top and actually saw the majesty of the statue up close (and the view – aye yae yae!), the BM dissipated into nothingness and I was transcended to a state of absolute awe. And I had a big drink of water, so replenished all my lost minerals (read: sweat) in a matter of minutes. And then we saw a weird cat/monkey/tapir looking animal foraging for scraps near a bin and THAT cheered me up to no end too.

Wowsers...

In the bus on the way back down the hill, I put my head on Rich’s shoulder, apologised for my torturous mood, and thanked him for getting the gross ant off my ankle. He is one good egg.

When we got back to Santa Teresa later that evening, and after we’d rewarded ourselves with several beers and a big delicious dinner, I did a quick search on Google Maps to see how far we’d walked. I guessed around 6kms. Rich guessed 8.4. We had, in fact, just ‘strolled’ 10.5kms. Good training for the Inca Trail, methinks!!

gang of dogs

After the awfulness of the past few days, it’s nice to reflect on pretty much the greatest thing in the world that happened to me when we were in Costa Rica (Costa Rica seems like a distant memory after the hideousness of all the hours spent at Miami International Airport…).

On Tuesday afternoon, Rich and I took a stroll down to the beach. We were staying at a crazy beautiful hotel high up on a jungly hill in Santa Teresa, and a stroll to (and from) the beach was a bit of an epic one. It involved walking down pretty much the steepest, rockiest, slipperiest road in the history of the world**. Asphalt hasn’t made it to Central America yet**.

As we slipped and slid down the road, I noted a house at 12 o’clock (that’s straight ahead, right?) and by the chain-link fence there was a kennel, and on top of that kennel there was a dog. As we made our approach, he put his head up and seemed to make a silent summons to two other dogs, who appeared (as if by magic) at his side on the kennel. And then, all three dogs were off the kennel, under the fence, and running towards us on the gravel road.

The three pooches sniffed our hands, determined that we were good eggs, and joined us on our stroll to the beach. BLISS!

Dog gang

When we got to the beach, I expected to lose sight of our 4-legged friends as they took off in search of old fish bones and remnants of beach barbecues, but no! After a quick run in the surf and a quick sniff of some twigs, they were back at my side. The biggest one (some kind of rottweiler/staffy mutt) leaned up against my leg and stared wistfully out to sea. The littlest one (a scraggly white guy with soft ears) dug a hole in the sand behind my back and curled up in a little sandy nest. The middle-sized one (who looked like Snoopy), sat a metre or so away, gazing along the sandy beach.

The Big One

The Snoopy One

If any other dogs approached, they would woof and run after them, so no other pooches even had a hope of pats or a leg to lean on.

O dogs, how I love thee!!

Beach dogs, doin' their thang

The next day, on a trip back from a big juice and a muffin on the beach, I spied with my little eye… ANOTHER DOG!!! Right near where my gang live!! I wondered if this little pooch was part of their dog gang too. He was a PUPPY! Puppies to me are what young boys are to Kate Ceberano (that song is SO wrong….).

Anyhoo, he was digging around in the road, with his over-sized goofy paws, and one of his paws was covered in mud! What a doofus!! It looked like he was wearing a mud-sock. Bless.

Speaking of doofus? Well, I think that hat can be passed over to moi after what happened next. As Mud-Paw dug around, I crouched down and called him over. And over he came. Bounding, in fact. I patted his little red head, scratched his floppy ears, and bid him adieu. But he would not take my goodbye for an answer. In fact, he did everything in his puppy power to stop me from leaving. He scraped at my leg, leaving a big dirty paw print on my calf. He jumped up, not once, but about 400 times**, leaving big streaks of mud all over my skirt. He bit at my hand, and my pockets, and my ankles. My love of dogs had suddenly TURNED AGAINST ME!!!

Don’t ask me how, but somehow I was able to escape from the demon dog and managed to scramble up the steepest, rockiest road in the world to higher ground/safety. My black skirt was now brown. My legs looked like I’d had an accident with some tanning cream. My love of puppies had somewhat soured**…..

Back at our jungle retreat, I washed my skirt, and wondered how I was going to manage for the remainder of our time in Santa Teresa; I did not want to walk back past that dog and risk more muddy clothes and/or loss of limbs from a puppy-toothed mauling, so how would I get to the beach, or to the supermarket, or to the cafe for my morning juice?

I was also mildly disappointed in my original dog friends. Where were they when this shizz was going down? Not coming to my rescue, that’s for sure…

The following day (aka the fateful day that started with our flight in the 12-seater plane and didn’t end until 56 hours later), our taxi arrived to take us to the airport. We drove past the dog gang house, and Snoopy was back on his kennel, gazing out at the road. O Snoopy… And around the bend, there was the puppy!!! AARRRGGGHHH!!!! He was standing on a slab of concrete, ripping up paper. He was surrounded by a nest of torn shreds, and he happily ripped and tore and chewed and munched as we bumped and rolled past.

I said to Rich “There’s that dog!!!! Why I oughta….” while I shook my fist.

And the cab driver turned around and said “Ahhh, perro!!!”

And I said “Si si, PERRO!!” thinking that I was a great speaker of Espanol.

And then the cab driver turned around again and said “Perro LOCO!!!!!”

And I whole-heartedly agreed. You crazy dog.

** Not actually true.

and then what happened?

So. After we woke up from our nap, and after I’d churned out a blog post, Rich and I headed out onto the streets of Miami for a drink, some food, and to try to figure out what to do next. Our first stop was at ODB – The Other Daiquiri Bar – where we enjoyed NOT a daiquiri, but a mojito. We had two. We were seated next to the marina where I spied with my little eye some kind of finned beast bobbing out of the water; shark?; dolphin?; or too much rum in my mojito?

So our plans. What to do? This whole sitch had really put a dampener on things. Carol at the visa office was apparently sorting things with the Brazilian consulate, but neither of us had much faith that things would work out in our favour. We toyed with the idea of staying in Miami for a week, but were both dead against the idea of being in a city this big and frenetic and Don Johnson-y. Should we go to Savannah? Or San Francisco? Or head back to Central America? Or tweak our plans and re-route our way through South America? The thought of all that reorganisation and cancelling plans and booking new adventures made my head spin.

After a weird and not quite delicious meal, we headed back to our room. We emailed Carol again for an update (we’d had no word from her all day – our travel agent had let us know that she was working on it, but nada from Carol herself). We looked out the window. We wondered if it would be worth booking a room for the following night, given the difficulties we experienced in getting this one.

Then. A call. It seemed that Carol had some magic wand she was able to wave. It was a fella from the Brazilian consulate in Canberra. In a nutshell, he said:

  • We had the correct visas – there was no reason why the airline shouldn’t let us onto the flight to Manaus
  • He was faxing through a document to us on embassy letterhead, explaining this
  • He was also sending documentation through to the airline in Miami
  • Finally, he had worded up the Brazilian consulate in Miami; he had given us phone numbers of his embassy contacts, to be used only as a last resort

OMG. Carol must have a super dooper magic wand!!!

We were still not 100% convinced. We put in a call to the airlines head office – at this point, it seemed like the problem with our visas was emanating not from Brazil, but from the airline! Sheesh! Rich chatted to a fella named Manuel, who confirmed what Julio from the embassy had told us – our visas were fine to travel on. There would NOT be a problem getting onto the next mornings flight to Manaus.

So then it was all systems go. We hurriedly packed our bags, set our alarms for 2.45am, organising a wakeup call for 3am (just in case), then attempted to get some shut-eye. It’s really hard to force yourself to sleep at midnight, knowing you have to get up in just under 3 hours. It was not a very successful venture. Add to this that the night before we had been in the airport for eight hours, with zero sleep whatsoever.

Alarms buzzed and phones rang and we were UP! And we were dressed and ready and outta that room in 10 minutes. In a taxi. At the airport. Straight to the check-in counter. We were not faffing around. I did something I’ve seen other people do (and always mentally strike them down) and I bypassed the queue and headed straight to the counter, seeking out our un-friendly supervisor from the night before.

There she is. I’d know her pinchy face and ‘sympathetic’ eyebrows anywhere.

We showed her our official fax. We explained what we’d been doing for the past 24 hours. We told her there was no reason at all not to let us onto the flight. We were quite jubilant.

And she shook her head and said “This is just a piece of paper. This changes nothing. You have the wrong visas.”

Despite the BRAZILIAN CONSULATE telling us we did. Aaaaarrrgggghhhh!!!! We started to get a bit tetchy then. It was becoming very clear to us that the decision not to let us board was coming from HER, not from immigration, or the Brazilian authorities. I’m not a violent person, but I’ve gotta tell you, I was so keen to flick her on the forehead with the biro she incessantly clicked throughout the duration of our dramaz.

Her eyebrows caterpillar-ing over her face, her forehead crinkling with each refusal to let us board, she finally brought out the ripper “It seems like you are having trouble understanding my English. I’ll get someone else.” And off she went.

Is this too boring? I think I might crack open the nutshell again:

  • A chap called Leonardo came over and he smiled a lot
  • He said he was going to send through our documentation to the authorities in Manaus (which is weird, because eyebrow-face said she’d already done that)
  • He said he was going to GET US ON THAT FLIGHT TO MANAUS
  • He ushered us along to another check-in counter, where a lovely lass tagged our luggage and issued our tickets and made small talk

Leonardo came back, and made a number of contradicting statements: firstly, that the issue was with the federal police in Manaus, not immigration (so how does ANYONE get into Manaus?? Weird); then he said that there wasn’t anyone actually at Manaus Airport at the mome for him to talk to and word up (soooo…. when eyebrows said she’d faxed through our docs to Manaus the day before, and earlier that morning, no one was even there to receive them/tell her that they would deny us entry???); then he said that we were OK to enter Brazil via Sao Paolo; then he said that he could definitely get us on a flight to Manaus, but not this flight to Manaus. The so-called ‘connecting flight’ would get us in the next day. More than 24 hours away.

I took a deep breath and dug my nails into the counter. Rich turned away and I think I saw some smoke come out of his ears.

I’m not even really sure what happened next. Leonardo said there was a flight going to Sao Paolo in a few hours and he would put us in ‘great seats’, but where did that leave us? If we were able to get on a connecting flight to Manaus, there would still be the uncertainty of not being allowed through immigration, even if we cleared customs in Sao Paolo. Boring. Besides which, it would be at least another 24 hours of transit. We called Brad – I’m pretty sure he had smoke coming out of his ears as well. After a hurried conversation, we decided:

Rio. We’ll go to Rio.

Leonardo booked us onto the flight to Sao Paolo. Brad booked our tickets from Sao Paolo to Rio. And that was that. Because the tickets were not being issued by the airline directly, Leonardo explained that we would need to clear customs and immigration in Sao Paolo, get our bags, re-check them, get our tickets, and then get on the flight.

Which would have all been fine, had our flight from Miami not been delayed by an hour. We landed in Sao Paolo at 8.45pm that night, ready to run to immigration and to the baggage carousel and to the ticketing counter.

Then, this happened:

  • The plane sat on the tarmac for 15 minutes after landing
  • Rather than pulling up at the terminal, we had to get a bus from the tarmac. Rich ran down the rickety plane stairs, and I followed suit, except I got stuck behind a 100-year-man being escorted down the stairs by a flight attendant and could not get past. Just as I got to the bottom and was running towards the bus, it drove off. Rich was actually crushed in the door holding his arm out to grab onto me, like he was Indiana Jones or something. I cried “Waaaiiiitttt!!!!!” and all the cleaning ladies about to board the plane to vacuum up crumbs all threw up their hands. The bus did not wait. I had to wait for the next one
  • Ironically, when we got to the baggage carousel, my bag came out straight away
  • Ironically, Rich’s did not. In fact, it didn’t come our for flipping ages

Then we did the unthinkable, and split up. I ran through customs and to the ticketing counter and, after a warbled exchange of attempted Portuguese, I was told that:

The flight to Rio was closed.

Did you feel the earth move, ever so slightly, around 11am AEST yesterday? Mayhaps you thought it was a little earthquake? Nay, it was me, banging my head against the ground in Sao Paolo.

Tired and weary, we left the airport in search of a hotel with a restaurant. It was after 10pm, neither of us had eaten since the night before, so a hotel restaurant, however was revolteh, was essential. We arrived at a Comfort Inn by shuttle bus, just in time to see a VERY buxom broad (clothes two sizes too small, lots of boob on display, denim hotpants – that can only really be described as denim underpants – and sky-high heels. And… was she wearing a blingin’ lettered necklace that said ‘TRASH’ or were my tired eyes playing tricks on me?) exit the lift with her goon boyf (or p to the i to the mp?) to meet his goon friends in reception. Nice place.

I’m not going to tell you what we had for dinner last night. But if you think about what’s likely to be left on a buffet table at the end of the night, I’m sure you’ve got a pretty fair idea. As I opened the lid of each of those stainless steel servers, a little part of me died…

But that’s enough wallowing. Because guess what? This mornings venture through the airport, onto the plane, and into Rio was SMOOTH SAILING!!! We are here. The weather is warm. The dogs are woofing. The streets are bustling. And… there’s no need to set the alarm tomorrow morning… Bliss.

pear-shaped

Things have been running very smoothly in The Adventures. Rich and I were discussing this just a few days ago: our flights have all been on time, there has been no incident of lost luggage, neither of us has come down with any nasty bugs or bites or rashes….

I don’t really believe in jinxing things just cos you say something’s going well. I do believe that we have just experienced some ol’ fashioned bad luck.

We left Costa Rica yesterday. A taxi collected us from Santa Teresa at one o’clock in the afternoon and we drove for 50 minutes along the dusty, windy, pot-holed road towards the airport in Tambor. The airport in Tambor is a shed, a fridge, a portaloo, and a runway. O – and some scales. We had to weigh our luggage (no surprises there), but then WE both had to stand on the scales as well! When our plane came into sight, I understood why.

It was a teeny, tiny, 12-seater.

And two seats up the front for the pilots.

I said to Rich “I wonder if they’ll serve snacks on this flight.”

We took off down the runway and lifted up into the air above the beach, over the coast, above idyllic islands, and over the mainland. Through clouds, through turbulence (but not much – phewf!), and 25 minutes later, into San Jose International Airport.

Today’s the day we head to Brazil, via Miami.

I asked the lady at the ticketing counter if she could check our bags through to Manaus. She gave me a puzzled look and said “You need a visa to go to Brazil.”

I said “I know – we’ve got them.”

She looked at our passports more closely and said “These visas are not valid. I can’t check you or your bags through to Brazil”.

I got a knot in my tummy and a stinging pain in my eyeballs, but remained calm.

“OK – as long as you can put us on the flight to Miami, we can sort it from there.”

So. Our bags checked, our tickets issued, we headed through security and off to have a late lunch. Sandwich ordered, we put in a call to our travel agent.

“So they’re saying that our visas aren’t valid”, Rich explained.

Our travel agent hmmm-ed and said he’d call the Brazilian embassy in Canberra and get an answer from them. This sounded promising. A few minutes later, Rich’s phone buzzed and it was Brad, informing us that it was all fine. The consulate had confirmed that our visas were valid. Sweet.

At 5.30pm, we boarded our flight to Miami. I enjoyed a can of lemonade and ‘Mr Poppers Penguins’ without the sound. That movie looks quite bad. But I’m a big fan of penguins, so watching their jaunty, CGI-ed adventures helped passed the time. I told Rich a funny joke about penguins, but he didn’t find it as funny as I did… (the joke I told involved a backyard full of penguins, not a truck. And they were all wearing sunglasses in the second part, which I think adds a certain joie de vivre to the joke… Anyway.)

We landed in Miami at 10pm last night, went through immigration, customs, got our bags. The terminal was pretty empty – one of the most depressing things in the world is being in an empty, fleuro-lit, over-air-conditioned airport when all the shops are closed… A few peeps were bundled up in pretzel-like formations on oddly-shaped seats, attempting to get a bit of shut eye. Others just looked at us bleary eyed as we walked past. Airports in the middle of the night are actually kind of a little bit like The Road; nomads and families alike wander aimlessly, pushing their luggage-laden trolleys, a wild look in their eyes…

Fortunately, no one resorted to cannibalism and murder last night.

The check in counter for our flight to Manaus didn’t open until 2.30am, so we had a good few hours of:

  • walking up and down the concourse
  • reading
  • playing Scrabble
  • drinking water
  • attempting to sleep

Good times.

Finally, the check-in counter opened. Bajillions of Brazilians, with ridonkulous amounts of glad-wrapped bags on trolleys, lined up. People in Miami really love glad-wrapping their luggage. Rich and I, cool as cucumbers, followed suit (minus the glad-wrap). A fella in a red jumper called us up, and we handed over our passports.

“Hmm”, he said “I don’t think these Visas are valid.”

“They’re OK”, I explained, “We actually had a similar issue in Costa Rica a few hours ago, and we called the consulate and they confirmed that they’re fine to travel on”. I said this really confidently. Because I was. Super confident.

“I’m sure they’re OK too,” Mr Red Sweater Fella agreed, “I just need to fax these visas to the consulate to confirm that you can get on the flight.”

So Rich and I went back to our funny dog-bone shaped seat and waited. And waited. And waited. Until finally, Mr Red Sweater approached, with a trolley carrying our luggage.

This does not look good.

“Unfortunately, the consulate is saying that you cannot enter Brazil on these visas. I’m very sorry.”

[To fill you in on the boring details: you need a visa to enter Brazil. Der. In June, about a month before we left on le world tour, we applied for our visas through a company in Melbourne who obtain visas for peeps for pretty much every country in the world. The visas we got are pretty stock standard: visitors, multiple entry, valid for 90 days. The problemo the airline has with us is that they are saying our visas are valid for 90 days from the date of issue. Our travel agent and the Brazilian consulate in Australia are saying they are valid for 90 days from the date of entry into Brazil. No one can agree on anything.]

OK. So while Mr Red Sweater was shaking his head and apologising for something clearly out of his hands, I asked what we could do. He suggested we go to the airline office to rebook our flight for the following day, then go to the Brazilian consulate in Miami and explain our situation, and see if they can reissue the visas. Then we’re OK to fly.

Except. Today is a public holiday in America and the embassy is closed.

So if the embassy is closed, we can’t get a new visa and can’t get on the next flight to Manaus in the morning. No flights go to Manaus on the weekend, so we couldn’t leave until Monday. So that’s a bit of a quandary.

We called our travel agent and gave him the latest, hoping he had a magic wand he could wave and make this all a-OK. He suggested we call the peeps who issued us with our visas. Did we have the number? No. But wait! When they returned our passports, they put a sticker on the back cover with their website and phone number. Genius!

But… in the course of our travels, with the many ins and outs of pockets and bags our passports have been through, all the text on the sticker has worn off.

Our travel agent googled them and got their after hours number. Good one.

So then we called and spoke to a lady I’ll call Carol. Carol said “That’s ridiculous!” when we worded her up. She said “They’re wrong!!”. She said “Put a supervisor on the phone. We’re going to SUE THE AIRLINE!!!”

And then… Rich’s phone died. We scrambled through his bag, found a power point on the other side of the terminal concourse, and waited a few minutes while it charged. When it had enough juice to handle another call, we rang Carol and tried to flag down a supervisor.

Except. The supervisor, aware of our situation, decided that the matter had been dealt with (ie. we were not allowed on the plane) and declined to come to a counter to help.

Clutching at straws, we waved down another staff member and said “We REALLY need to speak to the supervisor – our Visa contact in Australia said she’s going to sue the airline.”

That got the supervisor out. We got Carol back on the phone, and what transpired was really a comedy of errors. She appeared to yell at the supervisor (yelling at someone rarely helps anyone, especially when neither Rich nor myself had done any yelling or shown any frustration or aggression at all!), the supervisor had no idea who she was or where she was calling from, and continued to shake her head, say “No no no, the visas are NOT valid” and then hung up.

This was at 5.30am .The flight to Manaus was leaving at 5.50am. We were not getting on this plane.

So. I cried. I was so ashamed of myself. But I couldn’t help it. Having been awake for nearly 24 hours, knowing that we had missed out on a jungle adventure WITH A TAPIR, and just the whole confusion of the matter got me all welled up and mental. So I sat on a chair and did a weird squealy cry and Rich consoled me and then I pulled myself together and was OK again. Not many people saw. It wasn’t too bad.

SO! We decided to call it a night and check in at the airport hotel. We needed access to wifi to get this shizz sorted, we needed a bed to get a few hours of sleep, a shower to, well, shower, and just a bit of a time out.

We carted our luggage up to the hotel and were informed that they were fully booked. And that nearly every hotel in the vicinity of the airport was fully booked. This was confirmed by every single hotel I called on the wall of phones in the information lounge at Miami International Airport.

At this point in the morning, we were delirious. Rich got a wild look in his eyes.

“Let’s just get in a cab and head into the city and get a hotel there.”

The traffic controller at the taxi rank asked where we needed to go, and we said “Take us to wherever there are hotels” and he flagged down a cab and informed the driver to take us downtown. Our cab driver looked like Omar from The Wire, and I’m pretty sure had eaten about a kilogram of speed before we got in the car. The drive downtown was so hair-raising I was sure we were about to be killed.

Omar pulled up outside a HUGE downtown hotel, dropped us off, and sped off in a screech of burning rubber.

Do you know what happened next? Of course you do. The hotel was full. Yup. A 400-room hotel with not one room available.

I nearly collapsed in a heap of jelly-legs and exhaustion. I pictured us hauling our bags to a park by the river, falling asleep, and then waking up inside the jaws of an alligator. And I really wanted a shower. And… well…. modern ways, I really just wanted somewhere with a wifi connection so I could start sorting some of this shizz out.

A parking valet outside the hotel directed us in Espanol to the nearest coffee-shop-that- shall-not-be-named-with-free-wifi and off we went, in a dazed, wobbly stupor. Tummy aching… Eyes drooping… Spirits deflating.

And then… Like an oasis in the desert, a hotel appeared out of nowhere (clearly it didn’t appear out of nowhere, it was there all along, but it totes appeared to us like an apparition!! Twas like seeing the Virgin Mary in your burnt toast). Rich was deflated too, and said “I don’t have a good feeling about this; I’m going to wait outside” and by saying this, THEY HAD A ROOM AVAILABLE!!!! Suddenly it was like Christmas day. I said to Sheona, the lovely lady on reception “You’re a lifesaver!!!” and she smiled at me like I was an idiot. Or on crack.

But I didn’t care. Because we had finally had a ray of light! A room! A bed!! A shower!!! Hallelujah. Praise that burnt toast apparition. Break out the champag-….. zzzzzzzz………

Right now we’re in a state of limbo. We’re in Miami for the next little while. I don’t think we’ll be getting to the Amazon (and more importantly, I won’t be scratching that tapir on the nose-flap….). Trying to figure out what the next step on the Adventures will be… I’m hoping that it will involve a manatee – fingers crossed.

crocodiles, continued

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would ever trudge through a marshy jungle in Costa Rica wearing thongs (that’s Flip Flops to you, Northern Hemisphere). Nor did I ever imagine I would stomp defiantly through knee-high grass, weeds and prickle bushes in only a pair of shorts (again, with aforementioned thongs on my feet). And finally, I never ever expected to find myself pulling my bare feet (thongs had been removed by this point – too hard to walk in) out of ankle-deep mud while batting away bird-sized mosquitos, trying to maintain my balance/keep an eye out for snakes/not walk into a giant cobweb.

The day after we almost eaten by a pack of hungry crocodiles at the beach, Rich and I did the obvious. We went on a crocodile tour and jungle hike.

Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean

Collected from our hotel bright and early on Saturday morning, we were introduced to Big Tortuga (I thought “Wow, this guy really knows his stuff, if his name is Big Tortuga – that means Big Turtle, right?”), which I later discovered was actually Victor Hugo. Not Big Tortuga. But Victor Hugo is still a pretty great name for a bona fide crocodile tour guide!! I imagine in his spare time he writes poems about crocodiles on the streets of Paris in the 1800s, selling their teeth for 10 francs… singing on street corners…. getting hustled into a life of crime and/or prostitution… “Don’t you fret, Monsieur Crocodile….”

Hush, brain!!

We tumbled out of his early 90s aqua Suzuki Vitara (yes, my Grade 5 dream car) on the banks of the estuary, scrambled down a leafy hill, padded across the sand, and climbed aboard his 8-seater covered boat. Twas just me n Rich on the Crocodile & Estuary Tour, so we got prime position at the front of the boat. The narrow boat. The “my elbows are very very close to the crocodile-infested estuary” boat. The “this seems light has a crocodile ever leapt out of the water and tipped it over” boat.

Victor Hugo started up the engine and, as they say in the classics, we were off!

First we putt-putted along the shore for a while, as Victor Hugo pointed out various birds. One quite striking yellow-eyed, grey bird was immediately shunned as “bad bird – very bad bird”. Victor Hugo explained that this “very bad bird” arrives in Tamarindo in late-October and sticks around for a few months, with this sole purpose of eating BABY TURTLES AS THEY HATCH FROM THEIR EGGS!!! I agree with Victor Hugo that these guys were bad birds indeed.

Further along, and after moseying to the other side of the river, we saw it: our first crocodile! Quite a biggun, but apparently still pretty young, Madame Chomp-Chomp was sunning herself on the sandy banks. Victor Hugo brought the boat quite close to the bank, and as I scrambled to get my camera, said Croco opened one pre-historic eyeball and appeared to give me stink eye. Her teeth were very big. I was glad when the boat reversed and we were putt-putting away.

Hola bishes!!

Until… Oh Em Gee!! We found ourselves NOT continuing up the wide and seemingly safe river, but into a thin corridor of mangroves. The trees hung low over the water, their snake-like roots pointing down to the water and scraping along the roof of the boat, like an upside-down Medusa on a bad hair day (“Who forgot to get the conditioner??? Sssssssss!!!!”)….

Victor Hugo explained that we were in the mangroves (not mangos). The wind rustled gently through their leaves, the birds tweeted, and a strange snapping sound surrounded us.

“What’s that noise?” I asked Victor Hugo, obviously thinking that the snapping sound was one hundred crocodiles, hidden amongst the roots of the trees, limbering up their jaws for a good ol-fashioned tourist eating fest.

All the wrongs of all the Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunters the world over will be made right by this delicious feast of Australian flesh, I was sure the crocs were thinking…

But no. The snapping was actually clams, who hang out deep in the mud for a few hours a day, and snap their shell together when they’ve had enough. Apparently clam gathering is a very dangerous pastime for the locals, because to get them, you need to plunge your hands into the mud, feel around for the clam, and avoid getting your finger pinched by their snapping shell-jaws. Victor Hugo explained that many a clam-hunter has lost the top of their fingers in such ventures…

Open....

SNAP!!

Victor Hugo was keen to introduce us to a family of howler monkeys, so we moored the boat in the mangroves and disembarked on the sandy bank. He said “We will hike for five or ten minutes until we find the monkeys”.

45 minutes later, we emerged from the jungle, having seen two monkeys high in the trees. For the entire duration of our monkey hike, Victor Hugo frenetically shook an old Coke bottle (filled with rocks and sand that he had craftily hidden inside the trunk of a dead tree – I imagine there’s a lot of sand-filled, bottle theft in these here parts), and shouted and howled and yelled like a monkey to attract the simian beings. In between howls he gave us helpful tips like “don’t touch this plant or it will sting you with its prickles and it feels like you’re on fire” and “it’s much easier to walk barefoot in the mud” and “I hope you brought some insect repellent because there are a LOT of mosquitos in here” (there were… bajillions, actually).

I had one of those great moments of making an observation, and then being instantly crippled by said observation: in this instance “Hey Rich, look at that funny tree covered in ginormous prickles” and then, literally one second later, stepping on one of the ginormous prickles IN BARE FEET – it got me right in the heel. I cursed like a sailor, but like the intrepid traveller I am, I pulled that prickle right outta my foot and kept on walking. In bare feet. In the mud. With the snapping clams and the boa constrictors (yes, really) and various other terrifying creatures.

Thank heavens for pre-travel tetanus shots…

Anyhoo, after espying our little family of howling monkey friends, we were back in the boat, in search of MORE CROCODILES. Around a corner, literally metres from where our boat had been moored, we spied two toothy beasts, nestled in the grass on the bank. These fellas were bigger than the first lady we saw, and we were ALL reluctant to get any closer…

Around a bend and into a covered grove, we were greeted by a big splash and the sight of a crocodile tail disappearing into the water. I gasped and Victor Hugo said “O, THAT was a big one!” which, of course, meant that he stopped the boat and decided that this would be the perfect spot for a mid-morning snack. In a narrow, shallow estuary with a monster crocodile under the boat. Victor Hugo sliced up a pineapple (which I stupidly thought was for the crocodile and was about to throw overboard) and we ate the sweet fruit with muddy fingers and fear-filled bellehs.

To make matters even more comforting, Victor Hugo thought this would be a great spot to rinse off his muddy feet, so sat with his legs dangling in the water above Mister Sharp-Tooth’s very sharp teeth (and, no doubt, watching beady eyes…) as we motored the boat back to the beach.

Post-pineapple escape

So in all, we saw five crocodiles. Along with the three bigguns, we also spotted two babies in the mangroves (mums not in sight – very reassuring) and we both felt that it was money well spent and an interesting lesson in biodiversity and prehistoric monster-toothed beasties.

Back in the clear blue salt water of our starting place, other tour boats bobbing around, and a bunch of fellas doing some washing in the shallows, I saw something strange floating in the water. It’s unusual to see brown, spiky buoys – all the other ones are bright blue and bright red and smooth. And… wait… is it a log? Or a cluster of coconut husks floating on the surface?

No. It’s a mother-flipping crocodile. Just bobbing along. Smiling at us as we pass within inches of its scaly, spiky, avocado-skinned body….

“Very good luck, very good luck” Victor Hugo said, pointing to the croc.

Very good luck not to get eaten by him, I say.

for aimoh

Hi Aimoh,

I know you’re an avid reader of The Adventures of Wembolina. So I dedicate this post to you, and your new-found fear of all things lizard. I spotted this mammoth beast yesterday when we were wandering back to our house from the beach. I’m not sure this picture does it justice: He. Was. Flipping. GINORMOUS!!!! And brightly coloured. And he had a mohawk of spikes all down his back.

I thought of you as I took this photo. And I thanked my lucky stars we don’t have these guys in the trees in Edinburgh Gardens.

Love from Wembolina xxx

"I love you, Aimoh!!"