Lessons Learned in Traveling Internationally

Donna and I didn’t initially plan on more than a layover in Buenos Aires on our way to Bariloche to begin our travels, but sometimes you just gotta go with the flow and this time the flow brought us directly to Argentina.  We knew that we needed to be in Bariloche, Argentina, by August 4th to begin our Spanish language school, so originally we decided that we’d head to Rio de Janeiro for about 4 days of R&R in a warm climate with white sand beaches before catching a flight on August 3rd through Buenos Aires to Bariloche.  The allure of seeing Brazil, even if only for a long weekend, was too much to resist!  With this in mind, we flew on Tuesday, July 29th, to Houston, Texas.

 

Why Houston?  Well, it all has to do with the great perk that Donna and I get to enjoy courtesy of Donna’s father.  Harold works for United Airlines and therefore is able to confer on Donna and myself the ability to fly United on “stand-by”, which means that if the plane is not full, then we can get on for usually about ⅓ the price. ( thanks Harold!!! )  Thusly, on Wednesday Donna and I leave our cheap motel and drive to the Woodlands to have lunch with Donna’s uncle James. It is my first time meeting James and I come away with the clear impression that James is one “cool Uncle,” just like my own Uncle, Terry.  At the end of our meeting, James reminds me to “take care of the special cargo” and I assure him that of course my number one priority is to make sure Donna stays safe!  Then Donna and I spend the remainder of the day planning our stay in Brazil at an air conditioned mall where we find relief from the hot and humid Houston weather.  The planning includes myself eagerly booking an AirBnB in the trendy, beachside Leglon district of Rio, where I learn from our good friend, Dan Landers, that we can walk to the beach in minutes and I can surf.  I also purchase the flight from Rio to Bariloche that we’d need that Sunday in order to get to our more permanent destination.  Once the time comes, we take the rental car back to George Bush Sr. International and attempt to check into our flight to Rio…

 

And that is when we learn one very important lesson: always check a country’s visa regulations a few weeks before attempting to catch a flight to a new country!  As usual we are running tight on time, but we made it with all of our luggage to the counter with just over an hour to spare before takeoff. We attempt to check in.  I scan my passport and then a box pops up on the check-in screen saying “visa required: show attendant.”  “What visa?”, I ask the attendant.  “Oh, you don’t have a visa,” she replies, “well you need a visa to go to Brasil… I don’t think you’ll be going today!”  Wow.  Big lesson learned!  I realize now that as an American citizen I enjoy a luxury that is not the norm for most countries, which is the ability to obtain a visa in most countries upon entry.  I have gotten an “official” visa before a trip once before, but this was only because I went to Indonesia a few years back with the intention of staying for more than a month.  Other than that, for all of the dozen or more countries I’ve been to, I’ve just gingerly showed up passport in hand, sometimes paid a nominal fee, and been granted access with a stamp or occasionally a nice visa-looking sticker in my passport.  Brazil, however, has a reciprocity policy that it will require an official visa for citizens of any country that requires an official visa for Brazilian citizens: hence because the United States requires a visa for Brazilians to enter the US, Donna and I would need official visas to go to Rio and obviously we did not have them.  There is no way to get these visas rushed and normally you’d want to go through the process at least 2 weeks before a trip, so we were pretty much out of luck.  And so we quickly developed a plan B…

 

Fortunately for us at the same time that the Rio flight left there was another flight departing for Buenos Aires.  Since we were flying standby it wasn’t 100% guaranteed that we’d get on, but the awesomely helpful United attendant thought that we’d have a chance, so she checked our bags into that flight and printed us some tickets.  This attendant was so awesome that she also allowed us to use their back-room computer to pay the $160 “reciprocity fee” that Argentina requires all citizens of the US, Australia and Canada to pay in order to enter Argentina.  The fee does not go towards the cost of a visa since US citizens don’t need a visa to enter Argentina, but is levied because the US charges Argentinians $160 for a visa.  I am starting to get it now… here in South America, countries like to be treated equitably as those from the US!  Anyway, after paying the fee we hurried to the gate and were told that the Buenos Aires flight was over-booked and we probably weren’t going to make it onto the plane.  @##@@#@ , at this point, after well over 24 hours of traveling and one major setback, I was bummed and frustrated to hear this, but just before the gate closed we got called into 2 seats next to each other, apparently because some other couple had missed a connection and weren’t going to make the flight.  And just like that we were off to start our adventure in Buenos Aires!

 

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