We arrive in Chuy. A little town close to the border of Uruguay and Brazil. It has just as much charm as any other border town here in South America. But this one appeared to be a true mecca for tax free shopaholics. On every spare square meter, a shop was squeezed in. they were then filled up with useless stuff and the windows decorated with over the top advertising in Spanish and Portuguese.
“Sorry sir, but do you maybe know where the buses to Brazil leave from?” I ask a man in a sports shop. “Oh, it`s just on the other side of the street sinora. Do you see that tall building over there? That is the bus terminal.” With a smile and a “gracias” I show him my gratitude and signal to Grant that we need to walk further.
In the main hall of the bus station there is a gigantic counter protected by jail bars. It quickly appeared that these jail bars were here to protect the customers against the bitchy sales women. A true killer-bee ready to sting. It became clear very quickly that she felt she was way too good for this job.
“Excuse me, but what time does the next bus leave to Brazil?” Grant asks politely. The killer-bee breathes heavily and points with her long witchy nails to the signs above our heads. The next bus appeared to leave in about an hours’ time. “Do you know where the immigration offices are for Brazil and Uruguay? We still need to get our passports stamped.” I ask her. “Oh, the immigration office for Uruguay is very close. Just one block down and you will find it at the corner. To enter Brazil, you`ll do this after you get on the bus. The border is about 4kms from here.” Grant and I look at each other. We both decide that we have enough time to get an exit stamp for Uruguay. Grant turns himself to the killer bee and says “Ok, two tickets for the bus at 4.30pm please.”
We walk down to the corner and as soon as we reach the block that the lady directed us too, we take a good look around. Apart from the tax free shops there is nothing too be seen, let alone an immigration office. I walk into one of the shops and ask the girl and ask “I`m sorry sinorita but do you maybe know where the immigration office is?” The girl looks back at us with full amazement. “The immigration office for Uruguay? That`s quite far. You can`t walk there. At least a few kilometers out of town.” A deep anger stirs inside me. I realize now that the killer bee at the bus terminal just wanted to sell us the tickets and couldn’t give a dam if we were able to catch the bus or not. I turn to Grant. “What should we do now?” But Grant stands still and doesn’t say a word. His face is pale. “Come on Grant, we have to hurry up. The bus is leaving soon. We have to think quickly now.” Grant looks back at me with the look of a dead man. “I think my visa for Brazil just expired a couple of days ago.” He says softly to me. “What do you mean expired?!” I ask. “Come on, show me your passport.” We take a look at the passport. Valid until 28th of May, it says. “Shit.” We say at the same time. “What do we do?” “Ok, let’s just go back to the bus station, talk to the wicked witch and call out that she lied to about the distance of the migration office. Maybe that way she will give our money back or change them to a later time.” Grant suggests. “In that case we can grab a taxi to both offices, that way we have more time to organize the paperwork.”
With a big frown, the wicked witch looks back at us when I tell her that the immigration office isn’t one block away, it is in fact 4kms out of town. I considered it would be best not to mention anything about Grants expired visa. For sure this evil spirit would take advantage of any weakness that we would show. So, I blamed it all on the fact that we didn’t have enough time to stamp out of Uruguay as the office was so far away. The sales lady raises her eyebrows sky high, looking extremely unimpressed. “Listen honey, do I look like a border control officer to you? I am selling bus tickets here. So just to make it clear, your problem isn’t my problem.” Without giving us any more attention, she turns to the next customer. “Next!” We decide that any further effort would be a waste of time and the best thing to do would be to chance our arm at the Brazilian border. A formula one taxi drive and two Uruguayan exit stamps later, we rush back to the bus. The bus driver signals for us to come over and asks for our passports and paperwork. “Just to speed up the process, I’ll fill in the migration forms for you.” He says friendly. Grant looks at be nervously, but I give him a casual wink as if to say `it`ll be fine`. We hand over our passports to the bus driver. “Oh, Australia.. Do you have a visa?” He asks Grant. Grant, as cool as a cucumber, replies “Yeah, of course amigo. Todo bien. All good.” The bus driver gives a look of satisfaction and walks to his office, leaving us behind, knees trembling. After a couple of minutes he re-appears from his office and hands us the immigration papers and our passports. Grant and I give each other a quick smile. Step one of the illegal entry – accomplished!
The bus stops in front of the immigration office. The bus driver, realizing that we don’t speak a word of Portuguese, decides that it’s best to accompany us. The immigration officer is watching the local soccer game on the TV with his black army boots casually resting on his desk. With one eye on the TV and another on us he reaches out his hand as a sign for us to hand over our passports. I decide to hand over my passport first which is free of any need for Visas to enter Brazil. He quickly types some of my details into the system and grabs the big `entry` stamp and firmly presses the stamp on page no 60. One down, one to go.
Grant confidently slides the passport over the counter. The officer repeats his previous ritual and again grabs the big entry stamp. Then, something on his computer screen catches his eye and he puts the stamp back down. He grabs Grants passport and gives it a full examination. Meanwhile, Grant and I are pretending that we are interested on the local soccer game. Just at that moment the local team get a red card. Grant slams his fist on the counter and shouts “puta madre, that isn’t a red card!” The officer turns to the TV and is obviously just as frustrated as Grant acted. After watching the players, coaches etc complaining about the red card that was dealt, the migration officer turns back to Grants passport, gives one last look and shrugs his shoulders. With his right hand he reaches towards his big green entry stamp and says “Bem vindo ao Brasil.” We are in! As cool as eskimos we leave the office. As soon as we are out of sight, we jump into each other’s arms. Grant gives me a big kiss. “Let`s celebrate tonight baby!”
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto