Let me tell you about something tremendously stupid I did over the weekend. I flew to São Paulo, Brazil without a tourist visa, a document U.S. citizens are required to have if they wish to traipse around that beautiful country. Why did I do this? I was under the false impression an amnesty was occurring. During the Rio Olympics, Brazil waived tourist visas to encourage more traffic to the games. That was in June. I had no clue the policy had been reinstated in September. I thought it was relaxing until January 2017. It’s been a while since I’ve been this wrong about something so important.
I never blamed anybody but myself for this debacle. My brain just atrophied on confirming in the absolute anything beyond my passport. That said, the Brazilian pal who was picking me up from the airport Sunday morning also hadn’t been aware of or concerned with a potential visa problem. That made me feel better. Furthermore, as I was apologizing for my bold stupidity to the Latam employee who was helping me get back to the States, she countered: “No, it’s our company’s mistake. We should include this information in our booking procedure.” Couldn’t argue there.
So this is what happens when a U.S. citizen arrives in Brazil without a tourist visa: they let you stand around customs while they take your passport into a back room (where I imagine they run the numbers on the off chance you’re a known fugitive); eventually customs officials turn you over to a representative from the airline you flew in on, who makes you sign a document saying you understand why you’re not being allowed into the country; then, after going through security, the rep leads you to one of the gates so you can wait with some other airport official while the airline gets you on the next available return flight; once you’re rebooked, you may roam around the airport, thinking about what you’ve done as you wait for takeoff.
All I got to see of Brazil. Carnaval!
This entire episode stretched over six hours. Everyone I encountered at São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport was as personable and professional as you’d expect airport folk to be in the sunrise hours of a Sunday morning when suddenly presented with an out of bounds idiot like me. The worst part, aside from the all-consuming embarrassment, was how badly I had to go to the bathroom while they were reviewing my passport in their office. To be honest, there’ve been far more dreadful mornings for me here in Florida.
So what happens now? Well, in the same breath as her apology, the Latam Airlines employee said the company would make up for their error by flying me back to Brazil for free once I obtain a visa. Fantastic, right? Getting this visa, that’s the new problem. Unless you want to pay exorbitant fees for the help of a third party online service, you must apply for and obtain a tourism visa in person at your local Brazilian consulate. Orlando got Disney, Orlando got the Magic, but Orlando ain’t got Brazilian consulate. The nearest one is half a state away in Miami. Good thing I love adventure.
Remember, friends, when planning a jaunt abroad, take a gander at a dot gov website or maybe this Wikipedia page to make sure you’re not about to fuckin’ bone yourself. Also, watching The Blues Brothers with Portuguese subtitles will not give you enough handle on the language to communicate properly with Brazilian customs officials. No one will care that you’re “on a mission from God” or that you “traded the car for a microphone.”
UPDATE: Following a week and a half of truly Grade F customer service, Latam informed me they would not honor their employee’s promise of free passage back to Brazil. The writing was on the wall before that, though—literally, on Latam’s Facebook wall, an endless stream of customer service complaints. Reading through them, I feel lucky. Some people have stuff in writing Latam won’t honor. Some folks have been waiting for hundreds of days for resolution. So, you know, fly with them at your own risk.
Would have dropped this update sooner but it kinda depressed me. Then I momentarily forgot what life was after the presidential election.
– my roommate acquired a secondhand copy of this game recently and invited me to play it “whenever”; this is a dangerous thing to say to an underemployed freelance writer
– for all of GTA V’s realism and expertly rendered landscapes it’s still just a dumb video game, something outlined clearly when you want your character to jump a fence but it’s too high so his gangly body just slams against it like a fish out of water (another good example: get enough cop cars chasing you and the game becomes The Blues Brothers in terms of police vehicles soaring through the air and recklessly slamming into things)
– every in-game radio station plays the same five or six songs over and over and over again, which is very true to life
– GTA V uses the T.S.O.L. song “Abolish Government/Silent Majority” on one radio station, but considering the objectives of the game maybe they should have gone with “Property Is Theft?”
– I’ve never been to L.A. so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the game’s Los Santos facsimile; it seems legit, but at the same time certain portions appear to be modeled after specific blocks or areas in other lesser celebrated cities, which maybe the designers did on purpose re: hometown pride?
– the coolest auto I have grand thefted so far is a lifeguard’s pickup truck, which is the closest GTA V comes to offering an Ectomobile (yes, I know there are codes/mods you can put in to make an Ectomobile, but come on, I’m a thirty-five year old ex-gamer who dipped before Super Nintendo came out, I’m lucky to have figured out what all the XBox buttons do)
– according to this game there are vicious mountain lions waiting just off the California freeway, desperate for their next taste of human flesh; if they ever make GTA Connecticut they’re gonna have to change that to deer ticks
– one thing you definitely cannot do in GTA V is throw it all away to become a dancer; you can go into the strip club but you cannot climb up on the stage to show everyone your stuff a la Magic Mike, which is total fucking bullshit and forces me to give this game a C