A young man has a tough time getting to Brazil to see a friend. But he wasn’t expecting the ride he was about to take when he was taken away from his plane. Content edited for clarity.
“During my senior year of college, I was going on my first plane trip ever to see my friend in Brazil. I purchased a ticket with three layovers on the way. It would take twenty-three hours from departure to arrival time and I had no idea what it was going to be like. My travel agent handled all of the ticket and passport requirements for me. Four weeks of vacation never looked so exciting.
I eventually arrived in Rio and followed the crowd. I saw everyone with their passport in hand so I did the same.
When I got the person looking at the passports, he asked, ‘Visa?’
Not having any idea what he meant, I assumed he wanted another form of identification so I started to get my license out of my pocket.
He corrected me, ‘No, visa! Visa and passport!’
I’m sure I looked dumbfounded and he exclaimed, ‘American,’ grabbed my arm, and took me away from the others.
I was taken to another part of the airport and two gentlemen in suits approach and start asking me questions.
They asked, ‘How did you get into this country? Did someone in America look at your passport? Was it a male or female?’
I responded it was a female and they wanted to know exactly what she looked like; how tall, what color of hair, the color of eyes, approximate age. I answered all of the questions. I then asked if I could go see my friend who was there to pick me up and they responded, ‘You can’t stay here,’ because I didn’t have a Visa.
They did let me talk to him on the phone though and my friend asked, ‘Why do you not have a visa? You can’t stay here.’
They radioed the airline that I had just gotten off of from Bolivia and sent me back to Santa Cruz. I didn’t even have to purchase a new ticket. They gave me my baggage claim tickets and walked me back to the plane I had just been on.
I arrived in Santa Cruz and realized I was short one baggage claim ticket. I eventually found the bag in Santa Cruz but it never would have made it to Brazil. A gentleman saw me sitting by myself at the airport and asked what I was doing there. I respond I needed to get a Visa and wasn’t sure where I needed to go. He told me the airport was closed as it was now Sunday and they close on Sunday. He did tell me I would need to go to town to the Consulate to get a Visa. He and his cohort give me a ride to downtown Santa Cruz, secured me a hotel room, and showed me where to go in the morning.
The next morning, it was over ninety degrees outside. I put on shorts and a t-shirt and walk to Consulate to apply for a Visa. I was stopped at the door by an armed guard and he wouldn’t let me in because I needed pants to enter. I went to change into the one pair of pants I brought and went back to fill out the application. I was then told I needed a photograph of myself for the application and they told me where to find a place to get one. Two hours later, I had photos of myself and went back to the consulate and completed the application.
As the lady reviewed the paperwork, she asked, ‘Certificate of application?
I asked, ‘Can I see?’
She showed me a small piece of paper.
I asked, ‘Where?’
She stated back in English, ‘Across from the Post Office.’
I had seen the post office earlier so headed back there to find the document.
Inside the Post Office, there was a sign hanging from the ceiling saying ‘Certificate’ and I start asking if anyone around there spoke English. I got a tap on my shoulder and a gentleman who asked, ‘Does there seem to be a problem here?’
I explain my predicament, he seemed to understand and took me outside. He ran into an acquaintance of his, explained to him what I was looking for, and asked if he could help me. The kid, maybe fourteen years old along with his sixteen-year-old sister, took me across the street and he indicated I needed a shot. After two attempts to get this at the ‘clinic,’ I was told there is no doctor there but they asked if I had twenty dollars.
I said yes and he said, ‘Give me.’
I asked if this was the price for the shot.
He responded, ‘If you want it, it’s twenty dollars.’
A woman stamped the document, signed it, took the money, and I was on my way. The lady at the Consulate took my paperwork and told me to come back the following morning at nine o’clock for my passport.
I visited a travel agency in town to get a ticket back to Rio. Being so close to Christmas, I was told they couldn’t find me a seat for the next day but could for the following day. I said it worked and would back after I secured my passport.
I then found a business where I could make a phone call to my parents back home, there were no cell phones at the time. I told them I would get a ticket out the next day and I was doing okay.
While waiting in the lobby for nine o’clock to come the next morning, the travel agent poked her head in and asked if I wanted to leave that day.
I enthusiastically responded, ‘Yes!’
I picked up my passport at the Consulate and proceeded to the travel agency. My flight left mid-afternoon so I needed to contact my friend and let him know when I was coming. I went back to the business and tried calling him but realized I either had a wrong number or misdialed. Either way, I couldn’t reach him to let him know I was now into Sao Paulo.
I headed back to the hotel to get my things and eventually found a taxi. As I entered, someone called my name and when I turned around, it was the gentlemen from the airport saying he was there to give me a ride to the airport. I asked him how he knew and he said he made a few phone calls to find out about my status. He had married an English woman so therefore he spoke very good English. He was my guardian angel during my time there.
I boarded the plane, which was almost completely empty but still the nicest plane I had ever been on. My stomach finally settled and I realized I was starving. I didn’t eat during the fifty-hour stay in Santa Cruz. I asked the gentlemen ahead of me after seeing he’s reading Business Week magazine if he spoke English and could help. He said yes and I told him I had a phone number for my friend but he had no idea I was arriving.
We were in line for Immigration and headed towards Customs where they scanned the baggage.
The gentleman from the plane tapped my shoulder and asked, ‘Who is that?’
I looked and saw a fourteen-year-old girl holding a large sign above her head with my last name on it. I told him I didn’t know who it is nor had I ever seen her.
He said, ‘Someone must know you’re coming and that you’re here.’
As I approached the girl, another man intercepted and said, ‘Chris, welcome to Brazil. I’m your friend’s uncle.’
I asked him how he knew I was going to be there to which he responded, ‘Sarah called three times yesterday, three times today and she will call you tonight at ten o’clock.’
She was my travel agent in the United States. She called, said she was sorry for everything that has happened, connected me with my family, and let us talk on the phone on her dime.
Four fantastic weeks later, I was leaving via my original ticket from Rio. I told the lady at the counter what flight I was leaving on and she asked, ‘Did you confirm your flight?’
I responded, ‘No?’
She asked, ‘Didn’t your travel agent tell you that you need to confirm your flight seventy-two hours before departure?’
Again, I responded, ‘No?’
She said, ‘Sorry, but we are way overbooked and there’s no way you’re getting on this flight without confirming.’
My friend then intervened and, in a loud voice, spoke Portuguese to her to the point everyone around us could hear.
After he was done speaking, she looked at me and said, ‘Oh my goodness, you’re the one?’
Yep, I was the one who got kicked out last month and caused the airline to be fined for letting me in and they just found out it was me. A man with the airline who was eavesdropping said, ‘I’ll help you find a ticket and get you out.’ He found a direct flight to get me to Miami and I was happy I didn’t have to go back to Bolivia again. It cost a bit more than my original flight but the guy said, ‘You give me a hundred dollars, I mark paid in computer. You just can’t tell anyone in the United States I do this for you.’
I didn’t care and paid him the hundred dollars and was on my way home. The day after my arrival back home, I went to my travel agent’s location and found she was not at her desk but several other ladies were.
The girl next to her desk asked if she could help and I responded, ‘Yes, I’m Chris and I just got back from Brazil last night.’
She responded, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s Chris from Brazil. We’ve all been worried about you and thinking of you.’
I found out Sarah was pregnant and had her baby several weeks premature. I was afraid she had been fired. I came back a week later, saw Sarah, and the travel agency paid for my out-of-pocket expenses, which was less than three hundred dollars if I recall so they got off pretty cheap.
The experience was beyond scary as I didn’t know anyone nor knew where to go and what to do while in Bolivia. It’s an experience that’s embedded in my memory thirty-two years later and one I’ll never forget.”