challenge: a to z of travel

I visited my luvverly friend Bron’s blog a few days ago, and found this (via Andrew Petcher) and I thought “Holy A to Z Batman, I’M gonna do that too!!!”.

So here it is! My A to Z of travel:

A: Age at which you went on your first trip abroad

I would have been about 11. My folks took me to the UK for a 6 week jaunt through the countryside. I remember one night when we were staying in a B & B (a converted barn near some woods – very quaint!) I couldn’t sleep because something was plaguing me; I got up, went to see my parents (who were enjoying a glass of red wine by the fire) and asked “Does Santa Claus really exist?”. They were a little drunk, and didn’t hold back on the truth… Sadface.

Something else I remember about this trip was having a glass of orange juice on the flight between Singapore and Heathrow and throwing up all over myself. There was a group of high school kids on the plane on an excursion and one of them made a tiny fluffy toy koala for me, to make me feel better. It really helped…

B: Best foreign beer you’ve had and where

ANY beer in Asia is the best. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s the worst beer ever, there’s something refreshing and thirst-quenching and delicious about an icy beer on a sticky, humid afternoon. It’s even more delicious if you’re on the beach, or in a hammock, or both.

C: Cuisine

The most memorable meal we had on our latest adventure was probably at Robinson’s in Croatia. The only way to get there is by boat (or 4 hour hike) and it’s on the most amazing rocky beach… There’s no electricity, so everything is cooked either on a BBQ or in a wood-fired oven (somehow they keep their beers and wines cold, which were equally delicious in the hot afternoon sun!); tables and chairs are set up under the trees overlooking the water. You order your food (freshly caught fish, crabs, prawns, mussels), order your drinks, go for a swim, then you’re called in when your lunch is ready. It was SO delicious and so flipping beautiful…

Our lovely friends Sarah & Ben, waiting for lunch

Some bobbing swimmers

Fish, squid, prawns: nom, nom, nom

D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite, and why

Iceland is definitely up there with the favourites – I’ve never been to the moon (does that surprise you?) but I kind of imagine it to be like Iceland. No trees, just rocks and moss and crazy bubbling pools of mud. The peeps are friendly and wacky and hilarious (and super styling too), and their sense of culture blew me away – I loved how knowledgeable everyone seems to be on their ancestry (so many Icelandians have VIKINGS as distant relatives!!).

Least favourite… Hmm…. Umm… I would say Caracas, and I would say that as a copout. We didn’t actually leave the airport, but had to spend a few hours there on our way to El Yaque. We had NO local money on us, there were no ATMs in the terminal and no money changers (though a LOT of people came up to us, whispering ‘Cambio? Cambio?’. We later discovered that Venezuela has two currencies – the official currency and the black market currency); I hadn’t eaten all day, was hangry and tired and on the verge of a major hissy. After trudging around the terminal we FINALLY found an ATM, got some cash, but when we went to get food, THERE WAS NOTHING VEGETARIAN!!! I settled on a packet of chips and a ginormous cup of lemonade and that tided me over.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”

We arrived in Oslo on a rainy, cold Sunday afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we went for a walk to get some lunch and our bearings. After a salad and a  coffee and a weird pastry near the central train station, we walked further up the hill, turned a corner, and were suddenly in front of a church surrounded by a sea of roses. I’ve never seen so many flowers; the ones closest to the church were brown and withered, while the ones nearest to the street were vivid shades of red, yellow, white. The bombing and shootings at a nearby island had taken place a few weeks prior; I’d had no idea we were staying so close to where the bomb had gone off. Seeing the flowers, the written messages to lost loved ones, the Norwegian flags, the open displays of grief, made my jaw drop. I had to spend a few moments alone after seeing this; it was an absolutely devastating sight.  F: Favourite mode of transportation

Riding a camel through the Saharan desert is pretty incredible. A bit bumpy and terrifying (you’ve definitely gotta trust your camel!!) but amazing when all you can see for miles is red sand and your camels shadow.

camelwalk

G: Greatest feeling while travelling

The greatest – and most terrifying – feeling I felt was not knowing what was around the corner. You get on a plane or a boat or a bus to somewhere you’ve never been (and often somewhere you know very little about) and when you get there, and you see the sights and smell the smells and hear the language and the voices and the laughter – even the cars honking – and it’s really exhilarating. And you’re kinda in the hands of the Gods most of the time as well – you get sick and you miss flights and you can’t find accommodation – and learning to let go of the need for organisation and heaps of planning and all the jazz, just going with the flow, is what makes you a traveller and not a tourist. Don’t you think?

H: Hottest place you’ve travelled to

Like Bron said, Melbourne gets pretty hot (it was 47 degrees a week before our wedding a few years ago); Morocco gets pretty boiling. New York summers are pretty revolteh hot too!

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and why

Definitely Abel and JC and all the porters on our Inca Trail adventure. Their gift of the gab, kindness, hilariousness, bag carryingness, cake bakingness (not to mention all the other incredible meals we had each day), and (gulp) the whole ‘carrying me down the hill’ thing was really above and beyond.

J: Journey that took the longest

Ha. Definitely the Inca Trail. That counts, right? 42 kms up and down, through sickness and health, hot days, cold nights, squat toilets, bruised toes and ALL THOSE STEPS it was definitely the most epic journey I have EVER been on!!!

K: Keepsake from your travels

Probably this blog. Awwww. And maybe this tattoo on my wrist, that I got on a trip to London when I was 23. I had just broken up with a boyfriend and was having my first ever overseas ALONE trip (I started in Japan, then had a few weeks in London, then had a week in Barcelona – with minimal skillz in Espanol); I decided I needed to document the trip (this was before the days of blogging), so popped into a tattoo parlour in Soho. I met an artist called Dingo, who flat out refused to tattoo my wrist. He held my wrist up to me, like I’d never seen it before, saying “No! I won’t do it! I won’t mark this lily-white skin…” (yes, he actually said that) “… what about your job? What are they gonna say if they see a tattoo on your wrist??? What if you want to go to the RACES???” (I’ve never been to the races in my entire life, and I don’t plan on going anytime soon). I finally wore him down, explaining that it would be inconspicuous, it wouldn’t be garish or bright or over the top, and he agreed. Before he started, he looked at me and said “Now listen darl, if you want to yell and scream and call me a motherf****r, that’s OK. You won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last”. He was a nice fella.

No need for name-calling

L: Let-down sight, where and why

The Amazon. BECAUSE WE DIDN’T GET THERE!!! Does that count?

M: Moment when you fell in love with travel

My first trip with Rich cemented how rad travelling is. My solo sojourn mentioned in K was great, but I struggled a bit on my own (more out of loneliness than any actual struggle). Travelling with Rich has always been easy and fun and having someone to share the sights and food and cocktails with, for me, is the bees knees.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

Rich and I had a super lah-di-dah trip a few years ago to the Maldives. It is SUPER cray, yo. Over-water huts, white sand, clear water… you get the drill. We were picked up from the airport in Mali at around midnight, then got in a speedboat (that smelt like frangipanis) and were given refresher towels THAT WERE ACTUALLY TOWELS AND NOT BABY WIPES and bottles of water, and then we sped out into the black night. After about an hour of sailing the high seas at high speeds, the lights of the island came into sight. We were met at the jetty by a man in a golf buggy, who drove us to our hut (which was actually bigger than our house… and then some). There was a plate of antipasto on the table, along with a bottle of champagne and some flowers. Neither of us are hugely into champagne, but we guzzled that baby back, despite the fact that it was after 1am and we’d been flying for over 17 hours. After our champagne and antipasto feast, we took a moonlight swim in our own private SEA GARDEN under our hut which was amazing (but a little bit scary). During the day, puffer fish and baby sharks bobbed around in our sea garden (hence the whole ‘fear’ thang). The staff were divine, the food was amazing, and the digs… well…. I don’t think we’ll ever stay somewhere that fancy ever again, but it was so bloody amazing!!

Are you a postcard? NO! You're a photo from the Maldives!

O: Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking photos of when you travel

Dogs and cats. Hands down. I have hundreds of cat and dog photos. One dog, eight angles.

O hai cat!

Wass that?

Just chillin'

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where

I got a fancy e-passport just before we embarked on le world tour, but I still have a pretty nifty collection of stamps – from the start of my p-port to the back, we have: Indonesia, UK, Iceland, somewhere called Dobova, which I think is in Slovenia and I think we got this on the train, Norway, Singapore, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Croatia, Brazil, Turkey, Canada, Peru, MACHU PICCHU, the USA is in there somewhere too (but I can’t find it – yikes!).

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where

Blood Manor.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience

Hmmm…. The White Night Hike in Iceland is definitely a must (provided you’re there during summer). Strolling around in the daylight AT NIGHT is definitely rad, not to mention eating soup and cake and drinking wine in your bathers in a hot spring. Do it!

S: Splurge – something you have no problem forking out money for when travelling

I have no problems at all forking out cash for an experience you couldn’t have anywhere else; riding a camel and camping in the desert, learning how to make ceviche in Peru, going for a hike at midnight in broad daylight – spending money on things you couldn’t experience at home is important, I reckon.

Ceviche. I MADE THAT!

And. Food and beer. Not all the time. But I think you’ve gotta have at least one amazing meal in each place you visit, and you definitely need to try the local brew (or wine, or cocktail – whatever takes yo fanceh!!).

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

I feel like it’s kind of impossible NOT to do touristy things in New York. The city that never sleeps is the perfect place to take cheesy photos, eat ridiculous food and immerse yourself in BEING A TOURIST rather than a traveller. Hire a bike and ride around Central Park (and stop to watch some beat-boxers or break-dancers or a weird dance troupe who seem to rely on flexing their pecs and psyching out their minimal audience with intense stares and glares); go to Serendipity3 and try to finish an icecream sundae (you can’t); go to Rockefeller Plaza and pretend you’re Liz Lemon; eat a slice of pizza in Greenwich or a bagel from a street vendor; revel in the accents (“I think that baby lady done want her some SOO-SHI”, said a man handing out fliers for a Japanese restaurant in Times Square, when Eva went to take a pamphlet but decided against it…). NYC is the greatest place in the world to be touristy. Yay!

U: Unforgettable travel memory

We had a stupid amount of fun when we were on le world tour, and I’ll treasure every single second it (even the annoying times were unforgettable), but my absolute favourite travel memory is definitely my birthday in Slovenia. It made my love for Rich multiply by about 80,000 (which I didn’t even think was possible but IT DID!!!!).

V: Visas – how many and for where

Just one. For Brazil. And look where that got us.

X: eXcellent view and from where

When we climbed onto the roof of an art gallery (that had a tree growing through it) in Rio and looked out over the favella, my breath was well and truly taken. In a sea of mostly brown and grey square, squat dwellings, there were blocks of red, yellow, purple and green buildings; I’d liken it to a magic eye puzzle, but I feel like that lessens its awesomeness. I’d also liken it to a patchwork quilt, but I feel like that makes me sound like a derb with no skillz for adequate descriptions.

Y: Years spent travelling

32 (age now) minus 2 (age started) equals 30. From those long drives as a kid to visit family in Queensland to my first time riding a horse on the New South Wales Central Coast, to visiting Beatrix Potter’s house in England (clad in my knitted “people finger” gloves), to espying a tank of baby turtles at a market in Tokyo, to moving to Canada to further my career in the film industry, to moving home again because I was too in love with Rich, to the Maldives and Bali and the Philippines and Vietnam, to…. the world tour. Travelling is definitely in my blood. I’m happy to stay put though… for now.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

I feel like Y & Z should really be reversed, because Y is kind of a nice point to finish on. And because the only sports fans I encountered were at a baseball game in Toronto, and… well… I was expecting WAY more out of control fandom and I just didn’t get it. Short of singing their teams song, hand on heart, balancing hotdogs and beers and giant tubs of popcorn on their knees, that was about as passionate as they seemed to get…

Do you wanna have a go? You should! Epic list, BUT FUN and a great way to remember past trips… Woot! Let me know in the comments if you do it on YOUR blog!

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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!!

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.