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.

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One thought on “pear-shaped

  1. Pingback: challenge: a to z of travel | The Adventures of Wembolina

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