I didn’t have time before my trip began to get my Brazilian (visa, not wax), but I figured with all this time in Sydney, it was sure to be a breeze. Then a few days ago, I went online to find out to my horror that no, it would not be a breeze in fact. First, you have to gather a list of things a mile long (application form, passport photo, bank statements, money order for $208, and verified itinerary) and then make an in person appointment where you will deliver all of these items AND turn over your passport for a minimum of 15 days. I thought I would just make it in time, when I noticed that the first available appointment to book was weeks away, AFTER I was to leave Sydney. And the website contains a lot of very strict language about how they will not expedite shit, for nobody, no how. So I started to worry a bit and thought that perhaps I would have to re-route myself somewhere outside of Brazil. But before doing that, I thought what the hell, I would give them a call. In case you are thinking of doing the same while here in Sydney and in need of some Brazilian service the consulate provides, let me save you some time: don’t bother. There is no human being you can talk to on this line, I must have pushed every button in the damn phone tree. My final option was to send them an email, which I thought totally laughable. I have never gotten prompt or good service via email from any government organization anywhere in the world. But it was my last shot, so I sent them an email explaining my situation and asking them to bend their very strict rules. I thought my chances were between 0.0 and 0.0137 percent.
Are you sitting down? About an hour later, I received a reply telling me to come to the consulate two days later with all the items mentioned above and they would indeed expedite my request. So I carefully gathered and printed all the things they had asked for in the attachment to the email, and made my way to the consulate this morning, and asked for one Mr. Geraldo referenced in the email. After about an hour of waiting, he finally saw me and looked over all my documents and told me there were two items still missing, the email itself printed out (who knew I would need that as well) and a special mailing envelope to send me my passport. Wait, I asked, “Why can’t I just come pick it up?”. Apparently you can only pick up if you go through the “normal” channels. The expedited process requires mailing. I helpfully pointed out that this seemed counter intuitive, but Mr. Geraldo was in no mood to discuss workplace efficiencies, so I ran out and returned 40 minutes later (and $20 poorer) with the final two items. I am glad I saved the tracking number from the express envelope, because I will be able to track it online. And apparently, they have already processed and sent it off, because the tracking shows it was received by the post office at day’s end.
So very soon I should have my visa, and apparently they have changed rules in the last few years and the visas are now good for 10 years (instead of 30 days). For all the hassle, this was easier than the last time I did this, I guess. By a smidge.
Well, after equal parts subterfuge, sweet talk, and dosh, I finally have my visa to go to Brazil. My (very rough) plan is to leave BsAs (alas) next week, head to Uruguay for a few days, then on to Brazil. My cousin Josh is going to meet me in São Paulo on the 16th and we will go to Rio from there, and I don’t want to retrace my steps more than necessary so I will probably head north to Salvador, stopping in some places along the way. But who really knows? Like most times, I will just play it by ear. Anyone in the know out there have any suggestions of things not to miss in Brazil?
So that’s why Gilliam named his movie “Brazil”.
My trip to the Brazilian consulate this morning was an exercise in frustration, and didn’t really make me feel encouraged to visit the country. I arrived with what I thought was proper documentation: My passport, filled out form, photos, vaccination, bank records and loads of cash to pay the visa fee. The pinched woman behind the glass (bullet proof glass it seemed, and after dealing with her I can understand why) asked me where I would be staying in Brazil. I told her that I didn’t know precisely, but that I hoped to visit Sao Paulo, Rio, and Salvador. She then asked to see my proof of transport into and out of the country, and I informed her that I wasn’t sure exactly when and where I would be entering the country, but that it would be near the end of November, leaving near the end of December. She then informed me that without this information, she would not even submit my visa application to be processed as it would surely be refused. Bewildered, I asked if it didn’t strain credibility just a little to think that no one ever enters Brazil without having this precise a plan? Is there no room in the bureaucracy for some leeway in planning? I am on vacation after all. She pursed her lips, said “No.”, and pushed my docs back under the glass.
So I am a little unsure of what do do now. I can probably come up with an address of a friend in Brazil to fill out the “where are you staying” part of the application. But the ticket in/out is a little harder. It would mean that I would have to make a decision about those dates exactly right now, which I am loathe to do. I realize that part of the reason this exchange had me somewhat annoyed is that it touches on one of the things I find problematic with modern life: The obsession with planning and precision. It sucks most of the joy out of life, especially when related to travel. It leaves nothing to chance or the imagination, and is the sterilized, pre-packaged world we increasingly live in. This world is increasingly estranged from the possibility of appreciating a changing and organic life experience.
This is odd. Upon checking the visa requirements for my upcoming trip to South America, I realized that I would need a visa for Bolivia and another for Brazil. These requirements are basically to punish the US for the cost and hassle that citizens of these countries must undergo to come here, and I think they are right to do so until the US changes its visa requirements. Anyway, I dutifully got my passport photos and filled out the forms I had downloaded from each respective embassy’s website. I made my way to the Bolivian consulate yesterday, where they told me that they had “run out of” visas for the foreseeable future, and that I could just get mine when entering the country from Peru. And when I called the Brazilian consulate today to ask about the exact visa fee, I was told that once obtained, the visa must be used for the first time within 90 days of issuance or it would expire. That means it would be worthless to me, and so I will need to get my Brazilian visa when I am in Argentina. Aren’t you glad I am here to share these valuable travel tips with you all (both of you)?