Brazil has always been on our list of places to see in South America. Carnaval, the Amazon, Rio, the Christ the Redeemer statue, and Iguazu Falls are just a few of the things on our list of things to do in Brazil. However, U.S. citizens are required to obtain a visa to enter Brazil and before we could visit Brazil we would need to get approval in advance from a Brazilian embassy.
We also needed a visa to enter Bolivia. We went online and put together the documents required to obtain the visa from Bolivia. We made a quick trip to the Bolivian embassy in Quito, Ecuador, presented our documents, and within fifteen minutes had our visa.
We began the process of obtaining a Brazilian visa at the same time, in October, while we were staying in Quito. We went online to research the items needed for the visa and put a package together. We then took a cab to the Brazilian embassy to present our documents for approval. If this was anything like the Bolivian embassy we would be in and out in no time.
The office was crowded so we took a number and waited our turn. After a few minutes we were called to the counter. We presented our documents to the woman behind the glass and waited for her response. She opened the package and looked through the paperwork. A scowl came across her face.
“The papers are not in order.” She said.
“You must fill out a form online and provide a copy of your itinerary for your entire trip to Brazil, along with financial statements from your bank. We are about to close for the day so you can return them another day.”
We spent the next two days running around Quito trying to get our paperwork in order to satisfy the embassy woman. We made our second trip to the embassy and again presented our documents. This time the woman seemed satisfied.
“You can now pay the fee of $320 US dollars for the visa application. You must pay it at the Brazilian bank and bring the receipt back to me. You should probably hurry as the bank closes in fifteen minutes. Today is Friday so we will be closing early for the weekend.” She instructed.
We quickly headed out of the embassy and ran a few blocks from the embassy to the bank. We paid the fee, obtained the receipt, and darted back to the embassy. A rain had begun to fall and we ran faster.
We made it back to the embassy with five minutes to spare. We handed over our paperwork and the bank receipt and the woman told us we should have a response in ten business days. We thanked her and went outside to hail a cab.
We got in the cab and decided to go get a nice dinner to celebrate making the deadline and to relax after the hectic runaround. After about five minutes I asked Ol for our passports back. He felt all of his pockets and checked the backpack. No passports. He then said that he thought that I had picked them up. I then searched my bag and pockets, no passports. With all the confusion and running around did we leave them at the embassy office?
We asked the taxi to turn around and head back to the Embassy. It was after 3:00 and the immigration office would now be closed. To make matters worse, it was Friday. We would be without our passports in a foreign country all weekend.
The taxi parked and Ol ran back inside. I stayed in the cab panicked. How could we have lost our passports? We have found that our passports are needed for all travel and lodging in South America. They are checked when you board buses, flights, and check into any hotels or hostels.
Just as my mind was racing through all of the horrible scenarios, Ol came back with the passports and our entire visa application packet.
“The embassy was closed, but I was able to convince a security guard to give me our paperwork back. He told me that the embassy retains passports during the ten day review process. He said that when you apply for a visa you must turn over your passport for the entire time.” Ol said.
I was relieved to find out that we had not lost the passports but that the lady kept them. However, there was no way that we could be without our passports for ten business days in a foreign country. So, after a crazy day of getting everything in order, traveling to the embassy, and paying the visa fee, we were now back to square one and out $320.
We decided that we would withdraw our application and apply again when we were in another capitol city where we would be staying long enough to be without our passports. Looking ahead to our travel schedule it seemed like La Paz, Bolivia would be the best place for us to wait out the application process.
When we arrived in La Paz, we gathered our visa application packet and made a trip to the Brazilian embassy. We knew that everything was in order and all that was need was to submit the paperwork and wait.
We entered the embassy (for the third time) and approached the counter. We smiled and explained to the man behind the counter what we were attempting to do. We told him of our concerns about being without our passports but that we were now prepared to wait while we were in La Paz. We handed him our paperwork for review and waited for his response. A scowl quickly came across his face.
“These papers are not in order” he said.
We looked at each other and couldn’t believe it. These were the same papers that we presented to the embassy in Quito and were told that they were fine.
“We have different requirements than the Quito embassy” the man stated.
“But, the application form is exactly the same. You are both Brazilian embassies and we are trying get get a visa to Brazil” I was incredulous.
“You must purchase tickets in and out of the country, your airline tickets from Argentina to the US is not enough to prove that you are leaving Brazil. We must have proof that you have tickets to leave Brazil” he stated. “Also, the background on your photos is not white enough. It looks grey, the background must be white.”
“But all of this was already approved by the office in Quito” I said to no avail.
“You must purchase tickets showing your arrival and exit from Brazil and you must take new passport photos” he said finally. “The good news is that our office can approve your application in two business days.” He offered helpfully.
With that we left the embassy and set off on our tasks. We found a photographer, sat for new passport photos, and searched online for refundable tickets in and out of Brazil. I decided that we could buy tickets to satisfy the embassy official and then cancel them as soon as we got our visa.
After much research, we couldn’t find a bus company that would sell tickets on the internet that crossed both borders. Flight costs were expensive and non-refundable and I wasn’t confident enough in the Brazilian visa process to make the purchase.
I finally found a private car company, that would pick us up from the city of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, drive us across the border into Brazil, and drop us off at our hotel. Ciudad del Este is located at the intersection of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. Tourists can come and go from the various countries by crossing the “Friendship Bridge.”
The same company would then pick us up from a meeting point of our choice and drive us across the border into Argentina. The driver would stop at immigration on all sides and make sure we were stamped in and out of each country. The tickets weren’t refundable, but with 24 hours notice I could change pick-up locations and times. The car service cost less than half of one plane ticket. I booked it hoping that it would satisfy the picky embassy official.
The next day we made our way back to the Brazilian embassy for the fourth time. Again, we had our papers in hand and presented them. The clerk gave the application a cursory review, grunted, and said they appeared to be in order.
“The application fee is $320” the clerk stated.
“But we have already paid the fee. Here is my receipt from the embassy in Quito showing that we have paid it” I protested.
“The fee doesn’t transfer from one embassy to another. You will have to pay $320 to the embassy here” he said. “You can request a refund from the Quito embassy.”
I refused. It felt as though we were being extorted. We had already paid $320, I was not going to pay the fee again. I’d rather skip Brazil than to be taken advantage of like that.
However, we were now stuck with tickets that we had purchased from the private car service that was to pick us up in Ciudad del Este and take us across the border to Brazil.
I made an executive decision, we would bypass Brazil. I contacted the car service and though the tickets were non-refundable the company agreed to have a driver pick us us and take us to Argentina instead. The trip was a bit more difficult since we couldn’t make the simple drive across the “Friendship Bridge.” The driver would have to take us on a little used ferry that crossed the river between Paraguay and Argentina. The company told us that they only had one driver that knew how to make that trip.
We boarded a bus in Asuncion and made our way to the rough border town of Ciudad del Este. The town is well known for it’s trade in pirated and knock off name brands. The town was also rumored to be a hideout for Osama bin Laden prior to the attack of 911.
We spent the night at a hotel and our driver met us in the lobby the next morning. We got into his car and drove along the river. We could easily see Brazil on the other side. We made our way to a small ferry and waited for it to fill with cars. We were on the bank of the river in Paraguay, but just across the river was both Brazil and Argentina. We could see the bridges that connected the countries.
The river was swift, but it was a quick crossing despite the current. We rode along the shores of Argentina and Brazil and admired the tropical jungle. This looked like it was as close to Brazil as we would get on this trip.
The ferry from Paraguay docked at a small wooden dock in Argentina and our driver walked us through customs. The process took less than ten minutes. He then drove us through the town of Punta Iguazu, giving us a brief tour and pointing out his favorite restaurants in the busy little tourist town. He dropped us off at our hostel and we checked in.
It wasn’t quite noon, so after getting information from our host we decided to pick up a picnic lunch and make our way to the falls. There are shuttle busses that run every fifteen minutes and the cost is only a few dollars.
Iguazzu Falls is one of the great natural wonders of the world. The waterfalls are on the Iguazu River on the border between Argentina and Brazil. Together, they make up the largest waterfall system in the world.
Before we knew it we had arrived at the Iguazzu National Park visitor center. We entered the park and boarded a small train through the jungle. The train takes visitors to the trails to the falls. The weather was perfect and the sights were breathtaking.
In an amazing feat of engineering, Argentina has created a series of galvanized walkways over, around and through the rushing waters that lead to the falls. Roaring streams and rivers raced under our feet as we walked across the platforms.
The walkways took us so close to the falls that we were sprayed with mist. We gave up trying to talk over the thunderous roar of the falls. We were greeted with rainbows at every turn.
It takes about five hours to walk all of the trails in the park. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu. The river flows mostly through Brazil, but eighty percent of the falls are on the Argentine side.
As we walked through the different levels of the falls, we were stunned by the beauty and power of mother nature. The surrounding jungle and abundant wildlife enhanced this water filled paradise. Beautiful colored butterflies filled the air and we spent hours watching monkeys and raccoons playing in their natural habitat.
Birds were also abundant and beautiful. We saw colorful toucans, parrots, and birds so striking that we just stared in awe. We enjoyed our afternoon so much that we decided to return the following day.
When we got back to our hostel our host told us that there was a Brazilian consulate just down the street. She said that we should try to get a visa to visit the other side of the falls. Ol and I just looked at one another in disbelief and laughed. We both decided why not. Maybe fifth time would be the charm.
The next morning we headed off for the Brazilian consulate to see what the rules would be in this office. The office was just around the corner and it was very small. There were no lines.
We were greeted by an older man who looked over our paperwork. He scowled.
“Your paperwork is not in order” he proclaimed. The signature on the form goes outside the box and your middle names are not listed on the form.”
“Thank you!” I replied. “It looks like we won’t be visiting Brazil anytime soon.”
We turned around and walked out of the office. Oh well, the falls are much more beautiful from Argentina anyway.