This isn’t the “first post” I’d been hoping to write. The first post of the trip was supposed to be about our wonderful time in Rio de Janeiro, doing the sites and maybe hanging out on the beaches, before jetting onwards to Montevideo to start our journey proper. That was the plan.
They say no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
This is particularly true when the plan is flawed from the outset.
We started planning our Big Trip back around March this year and soon settled on Uruguay as our first stop, followed by a roughly clockwise circuit of South and Central America, then Oceania and on to points Southeast-Asian. We checked passport validity, visa requirements, proof-of-onward-travel needs to make sure we were covered.
There are no direct flights to Uruguay from London, so we needed to add a waypoint. The likely candidates were Madrid (which we’ve visited several times) and Brazil (Rio and São Paulo.) Since Rio has a number of iconic sites, we decided to break our trip for a couple of nights there to see them, instead of just changing planes.
We flew British Airways and had a very pleasant flight. Rio was dark and drizzly on arrival but, hey, it’s the start of our great adventure, so we were feeling good. The immigration queue wasn’t long and the guy stamped my passport without a word. He flicked through the pages of Brett’s passport.
And then he flicked through them again, more deliberately.
“Visa?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” we said.
“No visa?” he asked again and then disappeared off into an office.
Well, you can see where this is heading. When adding the stop in Rio, we hadn’t re-checked visa requirements and Murphy’s Law came into play: Brazil is a country which does require a tourist visa for US Citizens.
One of the local British Airways staff explained the situation; without a visa to enter the country, Brett had to get on the next flight back to London. We asked about him possibly going straight on to Uruguay but that wasn’t an option. (I recall something about international transit regulations; you have to be repatriated by the carrier to your point of origin.) Consequently, less than an hour after disembarking the plane, Brett was back on it, heading back to the UK on a full-fare ticket (ouch!).
Having said our goodbyes and seen Brett on his way, I was left with nothing to do but hightail it through the airport, get to our accommodation and try and get him a flight to Uruguay at short notice.
The options were limited. I didn’t want to risk routing him via Brazil again – at least until I checked what impact his repatriation would have on future attempts at entry – so Madrid was the only option. As it happened there was an affordable Air Europa itinerary from Gatwick via Madrid that would get him to Montevideo about twelve hours ahead of me, so I booked that.
The connection was a tight one, though. A flight leaving from Gatwick at 5:30pm is a bit of a risk when you don’t arrive into Heathrow until around 1pm. Things like flight delays, long immigration queues, transport disruption and simply the distance to be covered makes it uncertain.
That said, there was no other practical option, all other flights either took considerably longer or cost considerably more. We were stuck with Air Europa, so I mailed Brett the details, along with a bit of research on transfer options, ready for his arrival in London and finally went to bed.
I didn’t sleep long or well and got up still a bit punch-drunk from the previous day.
I made an attempt at sightseeing, but the weather wasn’t on my side. Although the beach was sunny, Corcovado was shrouded in mist so there was only a dim suggestion of the statue of Christ through the murk.
Once Brett landed in the UK, we were in sporadic contact by Skype, so I was able to follow his progress. It was a dreadful few hours waiting to see if he’d make the flight. As I said; there were no other good options; if he missed that plane, there would be a huge amount of further expense and delay.
I have never felt more relieved than when, sitting in the little café under the statue of Christ, having just finished an unremarkable cheese(?)burger(?), I got the message saying Brett was aboard the flight to Madrid.
Sure enough, he made it to Montevideo as planned and we met up some hours later with the agreement that we should make sure nothing like this ever happened to us again.
Although we were both really dispirited at the time, now it’s all in the past, we see it as part of the adventure; it’s a life-lesson worth learning about attention to detail and double-checking data. It wasn’t a cheap lesson; zig-zagging over the Atlantic Ocean cost us a big chunk of money. Not enough to put the trip in jeopardy, but enough that we will have more limited options in future than we might have liked.
It’s also incredibly embarrassing. As someone who views himself as an experienced and capable independent traveller, it’s a glaring newbie error; a shadow cast on my credibility. I did contemplate not mentioning it in the blog, just glossing-over the fact that Brett wasn’t with me in Rio and picking up in Uruguay, but that wouldn’t have been honest. This blog, dear reader, is as much for me as it is for you; it helps me crystallise my thoughts and remember the details which fade with time. For better or worse, this thing happened and it’s a part of the journey.
So, from the comfort of our hostel in Uruguay, where we are both now happily ensconced for a couple of weeks to relax, the moral of today’s story, kids, is always double check you have the visas you need for entry before you get to the border. You’ll feel really stupid (and a lot poorer) if you don’t.