Until yesterday the sum of my experience in the world of International travel bureaucracy was limited to the standard questions from a US/Canada customs agent – “Where you going; how long; business or pleasure?” – and a handful of trips to Caribbean countries where passport inspections were handled on “Island Time” but at least you knew that everything would eventually be okay. I did make a quick trip to the UK/France/Netherlands in 1998 but unless something I did on that long week-end in Amsterdam has permanently damaged my brain, I don’t recall any travel snafus.
My rather utopian view of the whole subject was quickly shattered with one visit to the Brazilian consulate in Toronto.
Brazil is the first country on my route that requires Canadian travellers to have obtained a Tourist Visa prior to arrival. As I truly am a tourist and have no – make that few – skeletons in my closet, I figured it would be a simple matter of filling out a form, handing over my passport and perhaps some fresh passport photos, and then picking up said visa on a second visit to the consulate. It’s a bit of a pain, especially when no other South American country requires Canadian tourists to obtain a visa, but how difficult could it be?
After completing the online application you are instructed to print and sign a copy, affix a new 2×2 passport photo, and take said form and your valid Canadian passport to the nearest consulate. Before 1:00 pm. I arrived at 11:38 AM to find 17 people jammed into a tiny waiting room with seating for 6. There was no “take a number” system but this didn’t seem to be an issue as everyone was well aware of who arrived when. You couldn’t help but be aware – you were practically embracing that person in the sardine can of a waiting room.
At 12:50 I was summoned to approach the single clerk. She eyed her watch and drummed her fingers as I explained that while I didn’t have the required hotel info for my stay within the country, I would be arriving from Argentina as part of an organized trek by the UK company Dragoman Tours. I showed her the itinerary, including the approximate time and exact location of the border crossing, the receipt from Dragoman showing that I was booked and paid, and then waited while she perused the documents for all of three seconds.
“Not enough, she hissed.” You must supply ALL documentation. Come back when you have it all. All! Next!”
While waiting I’d heard stories of people making their fifth visit to satisfy this woman’s attention to detail. And apparently there is only one clerk; she’s there every day. So I remained calm and polite and asked what specific info she required so that I might not take up too much of her time.
She barked, “How you get to South America?” When I explained that I would be travelling overland to Los Angeles, flying to Peru, and likely Easter Island and Santiago de Chile before taking a night bus to Buenos Aires where I will hook up with the Dragoman crew, she snapped, “Go away. You have lots of time. Bring me all details when you have them. Neeeeeeext.”
After a few more calm and polite questions I was resigned to the fact that the Witch of Brazil wants to see my complete itinerary with every detail of my travel from Canada to the Brazilian border, plus an onward plane ticket. I understand the onward ticket part but what business does the government of Brazil have with how I travel to Peru, Chile or Argentina as long as I can show when and how I’ll be arriving and leaving Brazil? Well, apparently they make it their business and if you want to spend money in their country you will play by their rules. Or “her” rules, I suspect.
Welcome to the full-time job of the RTW traveller.