Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Final Countdown

Let me start out by saying Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays! I know I'm a bit late for Thanksgiving, but the last month has been a blur!

I've been making final preparations and purchases for the trip to the other side of the earth. It is a daunting task, but I do not expect to have everything in order. 2009 is only a week away, which means I only have 7 days before there is no turning back. A few minor victories in my preparations include securing my Brazilian visa in Atlanta, GA and battling my Sony Scamcorder for the still images I had been taking. First, let me explain the camcorder (a.k.a. Scamcorder).

The Sony HDR-HC9 that I invested in for this project records high definition video on Mini DV cassettes. It also captures high definition still images and stores them on a memory stick. I purchased an 8GB Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo from someone on eBay that listed it as NEW. I received it quickly, though without the typical packaging you would expect from a new product. I began taking still photos and it seemed to be working properly as I could review the images on the camcorder perfectly. It wasn't until I tried to transfer them to my computer that I ran into problems. I tried to define these problems to the lovely folks a Sony (a.k.a. Phony) and they told me to send in my camcorder for their techinicians to have a look. I politely told them that their assistance was worthless.

Here is an example of the problems I had with still images. As you can see below, this is an almost stunning image of a rainbow in Asheville, NC. I could not recover any of the images I had taken over the last month. They all turned out like this:

I suspected that my memory stick was to blame rather than the camcorder or computer. After purchasing a NEW memory stick from a local retail store (about an hour ago), the problem was solved.

So, I have no pictures to share from my trek into Charleston last month, my trip to Atlanta two weeks ago to secure my visa, or my visit to Asheville where I received a crash course in video journalism and interviewing skills from some friends that are fanatical about films. I can, however, show you my visa since it is in my passport and my NEW memory stick actually works. Brilliant!

I don't know why, but the Brazilian visa takes up two entire pages of my passport. I'm ok with that, though, because those two pages let me explore all the wonders of the largest country in South America. Big country, big visa.

Why did I have to go to Atlanta to get the visa? Well, the requirements to obtain a Brazilian visa are fairly strict. I could have sent all my materials (including my passport) in the mail, but I did not want to surrender my passport to the US Postal Service so close to my departure date. I also have a 90 day window from the time the visa is issued until I first enter the country. Therefore, I could not have applied for my visa too far in advance because I would not have been able to enter Brazil in time, and my $130 visa would be worthless.

That is another point I want to make. Brazil, along with Chile and Bolivia, have a reciprocity policy, which means they charge U.S. citizens the same amount that the U.S. charges its citizens to obtain a visa. In other words, the U.S. charges a $130 visa application fee to all Brazilians. The reason we have to pay so much just to get into Brazil (and other countries with a policy of reciprocity) is because our government charges such an excessive amount. Thanks Uncle Sam.

For those interested in going to Brazil, my suggestion is to find the requirements on the Embassy's website, get all the necessary materials together, and then schedule an appointment with the consulate or embassy that serves your jurisdiction. The info on the website states that applications can be turned in on Monday and picked up on Friday. This is deceiving. I arrived at the consulate in Atlanta on Monday to drop off my application and was told that I needed an appointment. The next opening was Wednesday, and I envisioned being forced to stay in Atlanta far beyond the original week that I had planned. While I ended up falling in love with Atlanta and the incredible people that hosted me during my stay, I was not prepared for such a delay. I suppose these delays are something I need to get used to since "mañana" ("tomorrow") is the prevailing philosophy throughout most of Latin America.

As it turned out, after a brief (and rather enjoyable) interview on Wednesday morning, I could pick up my visa the following day. In spite of all the red tape, I managed to emerge victorious.

I'll stop here for the sake of blog brevity, but I could write a book on what the last two weeks of traveling taught me. Perhaps I'll get to it in another post. For now, it should suffice to say that Atlanta reminded me of the unforgettable human connections that arise from being an independent traveler, and Asheville reminded me that those human connections endure regardless of distance or time.

Where I Am and Where I've Been