16 – 17 February
The day has come – the last day of my trip through South America. It feels unreal and I have very mixed feelings but it is time to say goodbye to this wonderful continent where I spent the past 12 absolutely amazing months.
Our bags are packed, most of the souvenirs bought, the flight-tickets printed and our last Brazilian money spent. Knowing that the way to the airport involves a bus, two metros and finally a tram, we just put enough credit on our pre-paid public transport card to cover all these modes of transport. Everything works according to plan and it seems to be a smooth trip – until we get on the tram. While in most countries people would probably not even bother to pay for these two stops, we immediately run into a lady checking the tickets. In these beautiful, brand-new metros that Rio de Janeiro is very proud of, it simply is impossible to take advantage of the transportation system without paying for it. Thus, as soon as we manage to drag all our luggage on board of the tram, we pull out our public transport card to pay for the ride. We swipe the card once – with success – and a second time, resulting in a red light and an unpleasant sound. Something seems to be wrong and since the ticket inspector stands right next to us it does not take long to find out what the problem is. The lady informs us that everyone using the tram needs an individual transport card, other than in all metros and buses that we have been using the past one-and-a-half months where one single card with enough credit is more than enough (for two or more people). While the lady explains us that we will have to get out at the next stop to buy an additional transport card we try to kill time by pointing out that we were not aware of this rule (which is true), that we do not have any Brazilian money left and that we are willing to just transfer the money at a later stage. Successfully, we end up discussing not only with her but with an additional colleague until we arrive at the final stop, the airport, a few minutes later. Therewith, for us the problem is solved and we get out, followed by one of the inspectors. Whereas the lady seemed to understand that it was a misunderstanding her colleague starts talking about a fine out of a sudden. He pulls out a ticket and wants us to sign something in Portugese saying that we agree to pay a fine of about US$70. Since we obviously do not agree and have a flight to catch we refuse to sign the paper and simply walk away…
To digest this experience we treat ourselfes to some Sushi at the airport and use the spare time before boarding to buy a nice bottle of Cachaca in the duty-free shop. After a short flight with some stunning views we land in São Paulo where we only have one hour to catch our next plane – to Europe. Before we can board the plane though, we have to pass security again and run into trouble as the bottle of Cachaca is not sealed in one of the duty-free shopping bags. After some discussion and thanks to the receipt indicating that we just bought the bottle in the duty-free shop in Rio as well as some goodwill of the security guys we may finally pass and keep the bottle, for now. The next point on the agenda is the immigration checkpoint. Whenever I arrive somewhere I feel a little excited and hope that the immigration guy does not give me a hard time getting into the country, whereas I always feel very relaxed and comfortable when leaving a country – until now. This time, however, there seems to be some sort of problem with my passport. Out of a suuden, a second guy walks up to me, takes my passport and asks me to follow him, in German. As a result of the discussion about the bottle of Cachaca we are running out of time and only have a few more minutes to catch our connection flight so the least we can use right now is a problem at immigrations. When the officer finally asks me if I am aware that I am staying in Brazil illegally I am really getting nervous. He explains me that, as a tourist, I am allowed to stay for 90 days (which I am am aware of). Due to the fact that I had already spent some time in Brazil before I visited Iguazu Falls and crossed into Argentina for a couple of days, it turns out that this very day is day 91, meaning I was supposed to leave one day earlier. Fortunately, this one day is not too big of a deal and the officer believes me that it was not my intention to overstay. Nevertheless, I will have to pay a fine – of about US$2!!! The second fine within 24 hours. This time, I agree and sign everything immediately without any further discussions and we just manage to catch our flight and thus leave South America as planned.
Eight hours later we touch European soil in Portugal, where we have two hours to catch our final plane to Germany. That should give us enough time to deal with immigrations, security checkpoints and all sorts of other unexpected challenges. While I can basically just walk through immigrations this time, Sami has to join the massive line of people with non-European passports. We wait… and wait… and wait (Sami on one side of immigrations and I on the other) until we only have 20 minutes left before our plane departs. At this point, I decide to make my way to the gate to tell them that we are still waiting for a passenger who is stuck at immigrations, hoping that Sami will somehow find a way to bypass this massive line of people. After a sprint through the airport I end up at the security checkpoint where they take a very quick look at the bottle of Cachaca before announcing that it will not be possible to take it on board without a sealed plastic bag and a registration code attached to it. I sense there is no further need for discussion and figure that I rather not miss my plane than wasting precious minutes discussing with the security guy, so the bottle stays with the Portugese security and my sprint through the terminal continues. Hungry, thirsty, tired, exhausted, stressed and frustated I realize, a few hundred meters further down the terminal, that I forgot my jacket at the security checkpoint, so I turn around and head back. Back there, I do not only reunite with my jacket but with Sami as well, who magically managed to bypass the line of people at immigrations – just on time to board our flight to Germany as the final two passengers before they close the gate.
Once I calm down a little bit, I look back at these hectic 24 hours with an exhausted smile on my face, since, even though we got two fines and almost missed two flights, everything worked out well in the end. Sitting on the plane back to where I started pretty much one year ago makes me not only look back at these past hours but at these past months as well and I happily conclude that I
Spent TWELVE months on the road,
Crossed ELEVEN borders,
Took TEN different modes of transport,
Used NINE currencies,
Visited EIGHT amazing countries,
Checked out SEVEN capital cities,
Experienced SIX types of climates,
Made new friends from FIVE continents communicating in FIVE different languages,
Passed through FOUR time zones,
Saw THREE wonders of the world (two of the new and one of the natural ones)
And even though it took TWO shots (due to a bad accident in Colombia)
I realized this long dream of mine and had ONE awesome trip
with HUNDREDS of wonderful experiences…!