Started out to tick those bureaucratic tasks off my list this morning. My desire to deal with the US Embassy relates to renewing a passport. So I made the leisurely walk this morning down Borges, across Santa Fe, past the professional dog walkers who are led by a pack of dogs sometimes numbering 20 or more through the parks and down the streets. It’s amazing those dogs all get along.
I get to the embassy, pass through the first security screening. Then I have to pass my belongings through an x-ray. My cell phone must remain in security. I throw my sunglasses, keys and my money clip into a little bowl not unlike we do at airports and shove it onto the conveyer as two security officers stare intently at the monochrome monitor as my stuff whisks by.
How This WorldRider Carries Cash & Credit Cards
It’s important to note that instead of a wallet, I carry a money clip. I find that wallets tend to be magnets for junk – receipts, business cards, handouts and credit cards you neither need nor ever use. So I’ve simplified and gone minimalist. My clip is a strong spring-based metal clamp that features two hinged wings that when folded back provide the leverage to open the clip. The Money Clamp: It’s simply the best-designed, most functional and smartest way to carry cash and credit cards. Today I made the stop by the ATM in forethought to withdraw sufficient cash to pay for my Brazilian Visa. An unusually large amount of cash, about $360 pesos (about USD$120) was securely wrapped around the small leather business-card sized pouch that holds my identification, ATM and American Express cards. (see pics below)
I thought for a brief second when I dropped it into the bowl, but no problem, the clip, leather mini-wallet and all the cash was returned to me after its journey through the cavernous unknown of the x-ray machine.
inside the embassy I was told I needed an appointment in order to speak with a representative responsible for assisting US-citizens with passport issues. I made my appointment, browsed the various bulletin boards in the building with various warnings, news and political postings and then made my way back yesterday’s criminal rip off by the cab driver, I decided it would be prudent to stick to my original plan: take the Subte, then grab a cab to the consulate. So I walked again pass the dog-walkers, across Santa Fe and walked into the underground world of Buenos Aires subway system, secured my ticket, passed the turnstile and waited for my train.
When it did arrive I was taken back. This was the first time I’d seen so many people inside all of the cars. When the door opened, I had to squeeze through and past a claustrophobic crowd of eager and in some cases, smelly subway riders. Standing room only. And these trains take off and stop rather abruptly, so I reached for an overhead rung to hang onto. Mindful of my cellular phone in my pocket, I kept the other hand wrapped around it. At the first stop more people pushed and jammed their way into our car. I sought refuge of the corner near the doors. But this very large gentlemen with a protruding belly that surely prevented him from looking down and seeing his own shoes pushed against me hard. I was uncomfortable, but still hung on to my phone and the handle above my head.
By the time the train came to the next stop, I decided I’d seek refuge deeper into the car, so I moved, all along keeping a watchful eye at the people around me and with my hand wrapped around my phone. It still was a sardine train. After another 3 stops I moved my way to the exit and at the 4th hopped out. I was still several blocks from the Brazilian consulate so I flagged a cab at the nearest corner. When we pulled up in front of the building the fare on the meter read just under five pesos (USD$1.50).
I reached into my front pocket, watched the hectic commotion of people getting in and out of cars, entering and existing the building and pulled out my money clip. When I looked into my hand my head spun around. There wasn’t a bill wrapped around the leather mini-wallet. Yet the clip and my credit cards were still intact. “Ladrones,” I bellowed with a tinge of astonishment and disgust in my voice, using the spanish word for thieves. I had no money. I couldn’t pay the taxi fare. And I found myself out more than USD$100.
A sense of panic took over as I tried to explain to the taxi driver what had just happened. Illustrating with my hands that somehow someone on that subway train reached into my pocket, removed my clip, liberated me of my pesos, replaced the clip and returned it to my front pocket. A magician couldn’t even do this without me knowing. But there i was, sitting in the back-seat of a Buenos Aires taxi cab, on the busiest street in town without a peso in my pocket and an awaiting cabbie looking for payment. I noticed a bank a block down the street and suggested that I could go to the bank, get the fare and return. The cabbie explained to me that there are “malo gente” in Buenos Aires, but there are “bueno gente” as well. He told me not to worry about the fare, but added a subtle suggestion: be careful. I thanked him and walked into the building.
As I waited in line for the busy and slow elevator I tried to piece the events together and solve this mysterious riddle. While pissed, astonished and frustrated I couldn’t help but manage a smile when I thought of the contrast of the cab drivers yesterday and today. Not much other than pleasantries were spoken between me and today’s driver. Yet he let me walk out on a decent fare.
Then there are the pickpockets that I’ve heard of, been warned and told stories of so many times. Whether it’s New York City, Bogota, Lima, Rome, Buenos Aires or Paris, they are everywhere. I’ve traveled to all of these cities and have never been victimized in years and years of travel. And how classic. I get ripped off on a subway. Duh! After 30,000 miles and over a year of traveling on my motorcycle, where do I get ripped off? On a subway.
More people warned me to be careful with my cell phone when in Buenos Aires. Thieves will swipe them off tables in cafés. They’ll wrest them out of your hand while walking down the street. Cameras, too. I’ve been told dozens of stories. So my concern on that subway was focused on the phone. Why wasn’t the money clip and the phone in the same pocket. Perhaps stupidity. Perhaps I was worried that the friction of metal and LCD screen would damage my phone. I’m not sure.
But they thief returned the clip, credit cards and mini-wallet to my pocket. How is that possible?
I’ve related this story to several folks and inevitably people can’t believe it. They assume that I lost the money somewhere else. Maybe at the US Embassy? Nah. In the cab? Not a chance. I watched that money wrapped and clipped tightly around my mini-wallet/pouch emerge from the x-ray machine and I put it securely into my pocket. I never removed it until it was time to pay for the taxi fare.
Accessing the money or credit cards requires you to fold back the clip and squeeze it to loosen and open the clamp.
To slide the clip off you need to pinch hard on the “wings” of the clamp, slide it off and remove the dinero.
Chalk one up for the thieves and big-city reputation for rip-offs. A little red ink on my bank account. The cost of this visa for Brazil increases daily.
Back to the Consulate
If it wasn’t enough to get ripped off, the red tape at the Brazilian consulate was wrapped tighter than my money clip. Peering over the glasses precariously perched, the grey-haired woman in the fading blue dress explained I needed to have proof that I’d been existing Brazil, a date that I would be entering and leaving the country and I must provide an address of where I’d be staying in Brazil and I needed to pay 330 pesos.
“But I’m riding a motorcycle and I will exit Brazil through a land border,” I explained. Appearing a bit annoyed and aggravated, avoiding my eyes while doodling notes she said, “You’ll need a sworn statement then.”
“I don’t know where I am going to stay and I certainly don’t know when I’ll cross the border to enter or leave,” I reasoned using the best of my persuasive and charismatic skills I could pull out. “You need to know,” she said sternly. Then she lifted her head and looked at me. “Anything. Just any hotel and reasonable dates.”
Okay. So it’s a bit of a game. Unlike the consulate in Los Angeles, seems the Argentina office just needs to have the blanks filled on the VISA application. Unfortunately, the operation means returning another day to provide the extra details.
So I did a quick search on the internet and came up with a hotel in Foz de Iguazu. I figured that I’d be in Buenos Aires for a couple more weeks, so I provided a window of time I’d enter the country. In my sworn letter I explained that I’d leave Brazil within the 90 days they allow on a typical tourist visa. So with this info in hand I made my third trip to the Brazilian Consulate. I completed the application, handed over my passport and prepared to pay the fee.
No. You must go to the back to pay. This time a younger woman took care of my documents. And you can only pick up your passport with your new Brazilian VISA on Tuesdays or Fridays from 9-am – 1-pm. And you must bring a receipt from the bank showing you’ve paid the fee. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t get my passport returned.
It would take me four trips to the Brazilian Consulate, one trip to the Itau Bank (a Brazilian bank in Buenos Aires) and I would finally be granted to permission to enter the largest country in South America.
I picked up my passport Friday. Wow.