Journey to the Moon and the Zoo and Brazil Three Times


This blog entry about the events of Thursday, January 08, 2004 was originally posted on January 10, 2004.

DAY 82:  Before I left New York in October 2003, I didn’t have any visas — as an American, I can freely travel to most countries, in the tackiest clothes if I choose.  Brazil is one of the few countries in South America that actually requires a visa for Americans, and with Rio de Janeiro’s famous Carnivale coming soon, it was about time I got one.

My Aussie roommate Tim planned on knocking on the Brazilian embassy’s door for an application and so I tagged along with him.  He informed me that I needed a photo — he already had one — so after an early breakfast I paid the 18 bolivianos for some instants at a photo shop.  We walked our way down to Sopacachi, where all the embassies were centralized, and eventually found the Brazilian one in a modern building with a bleak feeling to it that most government buildings have.  Tim tucked in his shirt to look more presentable, and I wore my glasses to make myself look smart.

Stepping into an embassy technically is stepping on that country’s soil, and after a stop at security, the door opened and into Brazil we went.  We waited in the waiting room until our numbers were called.  A man gave us an application and a laundry list of things to bring back with it — some of which I didn’t have ready or didn’t have at all yet.

Basically what Brazil does is play a little game with foreigners trying to get in.  This game is in the form of a scavenger hunt — like CBS’ The Amazing Race — and with the embassy closing at 1 p.m., we only had 3 1/2 hours to rush around for stuff. 

Easy enough?  On your marks, get set, GO!

9:31:  The first item in the scavenger hunt was a ticket proving you will leave Brazil.  I only planned to leave via bus, with a ticket I would only buy the day of departure in Brazil, so I had to use the loophole I used on Day 1 at Newark International Airport:  buy an outbound ticket which I could get refunded later.  We left the embassy and searched for a travel agency.  A fancy Radisson hotel was nearby and I asked the concierge for an agency — there was one right in the lobby.  I bought a refundable flight from Rio to Buenos Aires for the last day of February for $350.  The woman charged it to my credit card and told me to return in an hour to pick up the actual ticket.

9:56: Most of the documents that we had to provide needed photocopies, so we went searching for a copy shop.  There was one right across the street and we had the attendant copy our passports, our international health cards with proof that we had yellow fever vaccinations and our credit cards to prove we had our own money to finance our stay in the country.  Tim had his onward ticket copied as well.

10:08: Applying for a visa requires a fee, and the fee is dependent on nationality.  Australian Tim had to pay $35 USD while I, the American, was faced with a note on the bottom of the scavenger hunt list:

The visa on U.S. Passport is free of charge.  A processing fee of $US 100.00 is being charged in reciprocity for the $US 100.00 fee paid by Brazilian citizens who apply for visa to the United States of America.

Damn, I thought, but fair is fair.

The method of payment is to walk uphill about eight blocks to the Banco de Brasil with your payment slip and pay the bank teller.  Tim showed me this slip as we made our way up the hill.  “Where d’you get that?” I asked him.

“From the guy.  You didn’t get one?”


We walked back down the hill, through the doors and into Brazil again.  I waited for my number to come up and then asked for the slip.  The man either forgot or was just trying to play a cruel joke with me.  I got the slip and left Brazil again.

10:29:  We trekked up the hill — in the rain — from Sopacachi into Lower Prado and looked all over for the bank.  The main road was divided by a grassy barrier and after analyzing the numbers, we realized we had gone too far up on the wrong side.  We eventually found the bank and I paid my fee in cash with a $100 note I had on me.  We thought that maybe there would be an ATM there for Tim to get his payment,  but there was none.

10:38: Back into the rain we searched and found an ATM that would take Tim’s card and didn’t have people loitering about.  The machine wouldn’t dispense US dollars, so Tim just withdrew enough bolivianos, hoping they would take the local currency.

10:45: There was a line at Banco de Brasil now, so Tim had to wait on queue for his turn.  He eventually got to the teller, who accepted his bolivianos.  Both of us now had proofs-of-purchase to include with our application.

11:04: Back down the hill in Sopacachi, we went back to the Radisson to get my ticket — it was ready by the time we got there.  After the woman made an imprint of my card, we went back to the copy shop to get a duplicate.

11:11: With all of our fees paid and required documents photocopied, we now needed to fill out the actual applications.  We found a cafe to sit in, where we filled out our papers over coffee, tea and salteñas, the Bolivian Hot Pocket filled with meat, chicken or cheese.  The application was fairly straight forward — mine had an additional page for Americans asking if I was involved with terrorism or if I was involved or a descendant of the Nazis.  Uh no, just let me in jerks.  Please.

11:40: Tim and I had one hole in our applications:  an address of a place to be contact in Brazil.  Neither of us had the Brazil section of the Lonely Planet book on us — I only tear out the pages I need as needed — so it was off to find an internet cafe, which wasn’t too hard at all.  I looked up a hostel on Bootsnall — the gracious hosts of this here Blog — and got the address of Casa 6 in Ipanema.

11:50:  Everything was in order.  I had my outbound ticket, we paid our fees,  had our documents photocopied and had all the information needed for the application.  Great, right?  But one thing remained:  glue to paste the photo to the application.  We scrambled around for a stationery store and, using Tim’s handing electronic translator, managed to ask for pegamento after much confusion with the girl working there.

12:01: Back on the soils of Brazil with less than an hour to spare, we sat in the waiting room.  We were the only ones there and the guy awaited our things.  We hustled to complete our applications and glue our pictures.  One by one the guy inspected our documents and took them in.  He told me to come back in four days and Tim to return in five. 

“I wonder why you get yours on Tuesday,” Tim asked me.

“Probably because I paid more.”

12:32:  Tim and I walked back up to our side of town in time to meet Lara and the Dutch pair, Wouta and Claudia, by exactly 1:00 p.m. like we planned.

A race to Brazil and back three times, all before lunchtime.  We hoped we’d win the “prizes” in a couple of days.

THE SUN SUDDENLY CAME OUT — as if the morning rain was purposely meant to make our scavenger hunt more of a hassle — and Tim, Lara, Wouter, Claudia and I hopped on the public bus No. 11, which took us down the hill, out of the city and into the suburbs.  I thought that maybe the Bolivian affluence I had seen so far might be contained in the city until I saw the nice parks, rich mansions, condominiums and golf courses of suburbia.  But I thought I was in a “Third World” country…

The bus went farther out, up and through the mountains and dropped us off at the Valley of the Moon.

The Valley of the Moon was more moon than valley (picture above).  Geologically considered “badlands,” the “valley” is a huge maze of eroded mud canyons in the shadows of tremendous pinnacles that jutted out of the earthI, along with Claudia, Wouter, Tim and Lara, walked the paths around the badlands, careful not to slip on the wet, eroding parts over cliffs or into what looked like bottomless pits.  With more than enough people, Lara and I had the opportunity to do the silly “YMCA” pose that we wanted to do at the Tambomachay ruins in Peru, and made like the Village People of the Moon.

THE OTHER “KICK-ASS” attraction in the mountains outside of the city was the Mallasa Zoologico, the “world’s highest zoo.”  Lonely Planet actually called it “kick-ass,” and we went to see just to see how kick-ass it was. 

Despite the mud and the rain, the zoo was fairly impressive, with animals from South America and some from Africa, including llamas, rabbits, condors, bears, snakes, jaguars, and the old zoo staple, turtles having sex.  Being a zoo, I was bound to run into the Danish family again — 12-year-old Sarah and 4-year-old Daniel ran to greet me when they saw me in the distance like I was an uncle or something.  I said my hellos to the parents and told them to check out Sopacachi.  “I’ll probably see you again,” I said, figuring it was bound to happen. 


The family went their way to see Sarah off to go horseriding.

BACK ON THE NO. 11 BUS, we rode the thirty minutes back into the city.  We stopped off at the Burger King for a snack before walking it off up the hill to the hostel.  The Dutch pair went off to watch Lord of the Rings in a theater, while Tim tagged along to fulfill Lara’s and my mission to find a tub of ice cream and some Oreos to make homemade McFlurry’s back at the hostel.  The cookies and cream goodness was a nice end to a long day, but for me it was not over yet.

BLOG READER MOMAN TIPPED ME that traveling Aussies Gabrielle and Marni, whom I crossed paths once before in Lima, were in La Paz, and using Yahoo! Messenger, I contacted them on their one night in the Bolivian city.  I met them for a light dinner and drinks to catch up on the 22 days since I’d seen them and to swap tales.  The most noticeable change with the two in the last 22 days was that Gabrielle had fallen in love with her Colca Canyon guide Raul, who had been traveling with them since. 

We had dinner at a mediocre pizza place that Raul had heard of, with a married Argentine couple — both of them doctors.  The woman claimed that one of her elderly patients was also a patient of Che Guevarra when he used to practice medicine in Buenos Aires before the revolution.

The Aussies and Raul called it a fairly early night — they had an early bus to Cusco, Peru in the morning — so I just went back to the hostel to turn in.  After traveling to the moon and the zoo and Brazil three times, I was exhausted and had no problems falling asleep.

Next entry: Coca Puffs and Llama Fetuses

Previous entry: Making Peace With La Paz

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Comments for “Journey to the Moon and the Zoo and Brazil Three Times”

  • First!  woo hoo, ok now I’m going to read your blog :D

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/10  at  08:48 PM

  • No fair Rina!

    Who knew that obtaining a Brazillian Visa would make the perfect “Detour” chalenge for the Amazing Race?! And you did it in a pair, just like the show! To bad there was no “Fast-Forward!”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/10  at  10:46 PM

  • Erik, your visa fiasco prompted me to research what hoops I would have to jump through to gain entry into Brazil. (Yes, I know?. But what else would I do with my time on a leisurely Sunday night?)

    It turns out that I would have to march down to the Toronto consulate with much of the same documentation and photographs as you required. In addition to round trip or onward air tickets, I would also have to bring a certified cheque for CND$72. All of this before 1pm as well!

    Incidentally, the website also mentions that the visa for American citizens is free, however there is a small processing fee of CND$180 which corresponds to US$141.40 at today?s exchange rate.

    It seems that the only travelers that the Brazilian government doesn?t fleece prior to arrival are citizens of: Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Morocco, Monaco, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Surinam, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay, Vatican, Venezuela.

    On that note, Erik, there will be no need to watch for pic-pockets in Rio because the Brazilian government already has stripping North American travelers of their dollars down to an art!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/11  at  12:06 AM

  • I’ve listed your blog as a “Cool link” on my yahoo profile and got at least one other person to start reading it(she’s been to Bolivia).
    If you ever have the time, do you have any suggestions on how to raise money?  I’m hoping to do some traveling at some point(probably Asia), and have no clue how I’m going to come up with the cash.

    Posted by Alyson  on  01/11  at  12:35 AM

  • good blog erik.

    Alyson: one way to raise money (erik’s way) is to get laid off at your current job to collect severance.

    seriously tho, just save up.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/11  at  02:43 AM

  • Hey kewl you met up with the Aussies again, Bro! I have a VERY good friend in Sao Paolo Brazil who’d love to show you around if you have the time!

    Keep Living Large….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/11  at  03:35 AM

  • wow. those rock formations are incredible. it does look the the moon surface, at least like what pictures NASA has taken. those pictures came out awesome. and now i want a mcflurry, even though it is like 10 degrees outside.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/11  at  02:16 PM

  • Hey Erik,

    My brother and sister in-law live in Brasil (locals spell it with an s for some reason).  They just picked up and moved there, my sister in-law lives on a huge 700 acre farm in Belo Horizonte.  I’ll email you the info in case you are in their area.


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/11  at  03:17 PM

  • Luiz

    I just got back from australia so I have only just started checking the blog

    I don’t know if you responded to me about your friend

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/11  at  03:43 PM

  • Erik: I just read on the BBC that Brazil has retaliated against the US decision to photograph and fingerprint foreign visitors by doing the same to US citizens arriving in Brazil.

    Just thought I’d give you a heads up.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/11  at  08:18 PM

  • Wow that badlands area was awesome! And how can you go wrong with humping turtles?!

    Hey did you catch my idea about naming your backpack a few days ago? I think it’s a winner!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/11  at  10:47 PM

  • WARREN:  What region is Belo Horizonte?  I may ride a boxcar train like a hobo into Brasil and cut across the middle west to east…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/12  at  12:55 AM

  • ALYSON:  Yes, a severance does help, but in actuality, my severance brought me to my target amount without having to quit.  If I didn’t lose my job, my plan was to work the extra three months before quitting…  the severance merely made that happen earlier.

    The key is to save money whenever you can… I used to be an avid DVD buyer in LP’s “unholy trinity” weekly shopping sprees, but I cut that out at the beginning of 2003, after “The Decision.”  Bringing lunch helps too.

    Thanks for the cool link!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/12  at  12:59 AM

  • TD0T:  Yeah, I heard from Cooper—a new minor one day character from today—about the fingerprint things.  Thanks for the heads up!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/12  at  01:00 AM

  • shiet….yup…that’s right they are gonna fingerprint and photograph you….and me too!....

    WHEAT: we gotta do visas now b…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/12  at  03:08 PM

  • turtles doing it…hmmmm….might be my new buddy icon grin

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/12  at  03:13 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Coca Puffs and Llama Fetuses

Previous entry:
Making Peace With La Paz


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