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.

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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.