Thursday, 2 August 2007

Call of the Jaguar - Day 1: "Holidays not for us"

The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Sao Paolo Guarulhos on time. The immigration queue was long and slow and when we were finally at an immigration desk, the officer thumbed through Stuart's passport back and forth and eventually asked: “where is your visa?” We looked at him puzzled "do we need a visa"? He said to me: "you, no. He, yes".

"You are saying Americans need visa to go to Brazil?" He said "yes".
Then he waved his hand and said "wait" and came back a few minutes later with another officer-someone obviously senior and spoke good English. He explained that there was nothing he could do but to send Stuart out -Americans are now required visas as it is a reciprocal policy, apparently installed since a couple of years in retaliation of US immigration making it hard on Brazilians entering the US.

Clearly ordinary Americans are suffering the consequences of their government’s foreign policy. Funny that myself holding a European passport, do not need a visa but my husband does being an American!

Stuart felt resigned and said he will return to London, but I quickly got to work trying to find a way to get Stuart a visa and the best was for him to go to Buenos Aires and try to get a visa there. We might have to make changes to the travel plans that Peter Craws has spent months deciding on, which is to travel down the rivers in his little boat to gain the best chances of seeing a jaguar. But now we could only decide what to do once Stuart gets to Buenos Aires and get to the Brazilian embassy to find out his visa status. I did whatever I could and left him in the hands of the British Airways personnel. Although still worrying about him there was not much else I could do for the moment.

I was able to catch my own flight 3804, happy that I will now arrive in my destination Cuiaba on time where I would be picked up by Peter Crawshaw. The flight did not leave until an hour later, and it also strangely lasted 1 hour 30 minutes instead of 40 minutes as indicated on my schedule. At least I made it to my destination, or so I thought!

After disembarking, after all the luggage on the belt was picked up, mine were not there!? I hastened to the officer nearby and he looked at my tickets and started to talk to his colleagues on his walkie-talkie- I thought he was trying to get my bags from the my plane which was about to depart for Brasilia. Then he said to me in a combination of Portuguese and English: "come quickly, the plane is waiting-you need to go to Brasil, this is Cuiaba". NO, I am here. This is where I need to be", I said. "This is Cuiba, you need to go to Brasilia for Corumba.” He said in Portuguese, which I imagined I understood somewhat, but I was confused as I heard him as if saying “this is somewhere but you need to go to Brasilia to get to somewhere!" However I obligingly followed him and boarded the same flight that I came from, and welcomed back by the same hostesses!

I showed my ticket to one of the hostesses-a very pretty dark haired girl speaking fluent American English, who looked confused for a minute-since the duration indicated on my flight schedule was different from reality. Any way, I needed to head to Brasilia and then head to my destination Corumba-not Cuiaba! I now recall that Peter had specially warned me not to get confused by the two similar sounding places when I made my booking. I had only time to hastily fire off a couple of smses to let Peter know that I ended up in the wrong place, before the plane took off which actually did not reach him as I sent to the wrong number in haste. I felt so guilty since Peter has a celebration party planned by his colleagues for his 30 years of jaguar research today not long after my supposed arrival time!

Well I have certainly missed the only chance to reach Corumba today as there is only one flight a day. I am also wondering if the tigers are sending me protest messages.....

I only got hold of Peter when I landed in Brasilia-the capital of brazil-telling him I decided to make an aero tour of Brazil’s cities. Peter told me my bags were safely in Corumba and this is the first time my luggage arrived in the right destination ahead of me-while I myself got lost in the deep blue sky of Brazil.

In Brasilia, I was given first class service by TAM officer Dacil. I told him it was my fault to not to get off at Campo Grande to make the change but he kindly put me up in the hotel with all expenses paid by TAM. I did not expect that, especially since I got used to the poor service by SA express which just abandoned its passengers on a flight between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town where Stuart and I ended up driving the 1000km overnight last year. TAM instead got me chauffeured to my hotel and I did not have to worry about anything except searching for a shop to buy mini-dv tapes for my digital video camera, since my tapes went to Buenos Aires with Stuart. I needed to buy them to film just in case Stuart could not make it into Brazil in time. Just when I was getting desperate after searching two shopping malls in vain, I saw a few loose tapes lying around in the corner of this tiny photo shop. I grabbed all four of them even though they were sold at such inflated prices -images and memories of this jaguar search trip is of course at the heart of this whole trip!

I tried to call Stuart a few times and smsed him but still no news and his phone was off. Just when I turned on CNN watching that British Airways has been rated the worst European carrier, he called. And the news from the embassy was not good-it takes at least 3 days and up to 15 days for him to get a visa to Brazil. So it only makes sense for Stuart to head back to London for work again

Another Chinese saying: good things have a lot of obstacles! Fingers crossed that I do see a jaguar!!!