Traveling through central and south America has been relatively easy in terms of the bureaucracy of crossing borders, securing paperwork for the motorcycle and communicating in a language I’ve by now have a good grasp. But now things change.
Enter Brazil (actually Brasil here outside English speaking locales).
Though I don’t have to face it yet, I’m a bit apprehensive about crossing the border into Brasil. Because once I kiss Uruguay goodbye I will step back in time and once again become a five-year old. That is, five year old in terms of my communication and understanding of the Brazilian Portuguese. Back in September 2005 when I crossed into Mexico, I had a handful of Spanish words. My vocabulary and grammar improved as I traveled south. But once again, I will be back to square one. Sure, many Brazilians speak Spanish, even English. But that’s not the point. One of the rewards of this journey is the joy of learning a new language and communicating more than just numbers and restaurant orders.
The second problem that Brasil poses is a visa. As the only country in the Americas, even in the western hemisphere that requires a VISA for visitors from North America, this includes Canada, Mexico and the United States of America. It’s not cheap, $110 dollars for US citizens, and the process to secure one is fairly difficult.
At the beginning of my trip and then during my recovery period in the USA after breaking my leg in Bolivia I enquired about securing a VISA. Unfortunately the Brazilian consulate in the USA requires citizens to show proof of travel to and exit from Brazil. This can be in the form of transportation tickets — airline, bus, boat or other. Secondly, the VISA’s they issue must be validated, meaning first date of entry, must be within 90 days of issuance. So securing the VISA in the USA was not an option for me.
So my plan all along was to secure the VISA once I arrived in Buenos Aires. Little did I know what an adventure this would be.
Why not visit both the US Embassy and the Brazilian Consulate the same day. Tackle the minutia of government officialdom in one day. I’d visit the US Embassy, a short walk from my hostel in Palermo and then take the Subte (subterranean subway) toward the Microcenter for a visit to the Brazilian consulate. I took a leisurely morning enjoying the complimentary breakfast at my hostel, then a walk to the local bookstore for another espresso and a some free wireless before walking through Plaza Italia to the US Embassy.
Arriving just after noon, I notice a leggy latina stepping out of a European sedan. The guards obviously know here and in a few minutes she’s issued a pass and moves through the locked gate, through security and onward up the path into the building. A couple young 20-somethings are standing by waiting to be escorted to the library. But me? Nope. The embassy closed at noon.
Closes at noon? I’m amazed. Many places don’t even open before 10-am in this city. But my embassy is closed for business at noon. Okay. Earlier start tomorrow. The security guards are very accommodating. They look up the address of the Brazilian consulate and make a call to find out their hours. That’s service. Brazilian consulate closes at noon.
I estimated time to get to microcenter and figure that I could be there before 1pm by catching the Subte and then catching a cab at the stop closest to the consulate’s office. So with a brisk gait I hustled toward the Subte station just a couple blocks away. That’s when a cab driver rolled next to me and offered to take me where I was going for just a couple pesos (about sixty-six cents). I shrugged him off and walked faster. He continued to roll and repeated the offer. “Anywhere?” I asked? I suggested that I was going pretty far. He said get in.
I couldn’t refuse. A deal too good? Perhaps. When I handed him the address, Carlos Pellegrini 1363, he looked disappointed. Then he pushed the meter on. I shoulda said something then. But he seemed nice enough and we chatted in Spanish at length. He had a motorcycle when he was younger. And currently his 32 year old son owned an Africa Twin. He looked at me through his review mirror as I sat in the back seat. His eyes right into my eyes – through the mirror.
Traffic was a bit heavy. But he didn’t pull the typical cab driver play on tourists – take the longer route to up the fare. We were still talking when we pulled up in front of the building. The fare on the meter read eleven pesos and change. I joked about how hey offered this ride for two pesos. But inside I just wanted to be fare and give him the true value of the fare.
We were exchanging goodbyes when I handed him a 20 pesos for the nearly 12 peso fare. As our conversation ended I was instructing him to just give me 8 pesos change back as is normal to let the taxi driver just keep the loose change. Faster than I can shift gears on Doc he showed me in his hand a 10 peso bill. I was taken back, slightly confused and at 5 minutes before 1pm I was tongue tied. The fucker. He pulled the big switch on me. For a second I wondered. But I was sure I handed him a 20. With the clock ticking and too tired to argue, I just gave him a two pesos and blasted out the cab. There’s no question I gave him a 20. But I couldn’t believe this guy and all his friendly bullshitting and then to pull that. The value of the fare in US dollars was $3.75. I gave him a total of $7. So he ripped me off for $3.25.
I didn’t follow my golden rule when handing anyone money — verbally express the amount of the cash you are handing a cabbie, cashier or anyone. But this guy looked in my eye, shared motorcycle stories so my guard was down. A valuable $3.25 lesson.
The elevator to the Brazilian Consulate has to be the slowest in Buenos Aires. When I got to the 5th floor the guard wouldn’t let me into the office. I could see a few stragglers inside standing at the VISA service windows. He simply handed me a paper that explained the procedure, office hours and fees.
Damn. Strike two. I guess today’s exercise was simply an exercise, practice. Tomorrow is another day.