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Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Book III ~ Chapter 3 ~ Crash & Burn


The next part of my journey should take me across the Atlantic Ocean. Flying via São Paulo to Johannesburg, my goal for today (or rather: tomorrow) is the city of Cape Town, where I plan to spend the remainder of my time until my eventual return to Germany at the end of the month.

So, for one last time, I am heading towards the TTU…

…and from there take the bus towards the airport, along the same route that I took to get to the Parque das Aves just one week before.

At first I have to stand, but eventually I manage to grab a seat, and thus can lean back and relax, enjoying my final bus ride though this rural region of Brazil.

Interestingly, I note that there's quite a lot of horse farms around, and we even pass a rider riding parallel to the road. Makes me wonder whether it's recreational, or if horses are actually a viable alternative for cars around these parts.

Either way, taking the bus is still clearly the faster way of getting to the airport, and thus I soon enough arrive there with over four hours to spare…

…which turns out to be a good thing, since there's a queue spanning the entire length of the terminal in front of the security check in front of the check-in counters.

Getting through there is the easy part. That just takes time. It is the next part that I worry about as usual, since I am by now used to the giving me trouble. However, it should be today that my check-in experiences should go from "bad" to "utterly catastrophic and devastating".

What happens next is going to need some exposition. Brazil is classified as a country in which Yellow Fever is endemic, so you need a vaccination for travelling from Brazil to certain other countries, such as South Africa. I am aware of this, and while I think it's somewhat over the top of imposing a nation-wide rule on a country bigger than small continents, I can understand why they have to do it this way. I am aware of this rule, and also confident I have this vaccination since I specifically asked my family physician to give me all the shots I might need for my trip around the world. However, I can't be certain since my vaccination pass is about as human-legible as Fortran. With that being said, the first level of fail should not come as a surprise. They check my vaccination pass very thoroughly, even making calls, and eventually arrive at the conclusion that I do not have that vaccination. Imagine how that does make me feel, having trusted my physician that he gave me the vaccination against this potentially deadly disease, only to find out that I did not have it after all after having spent four weeks in an endemic area! Fun!

So, what happens next? One might think that they would have a contingency plan for this sort of situation, since surely I can't be the first person this happens to. At this point I am sort of expecting to be put in a quarantine area, given a vaccine and being kept in detention until it's certain I'm not infected or something. Or maybe they'll give me the address of a doctor where I can get the vaccination and re-book my flight to a later date. What sort of help would you expect if you found yourself unexpectedly in a precarious situation like that?

If your answer included any kind of assistance, then you're wrong already. At first I am just told to wait, which I do patiently, very, very patiently, still being used to the Japanese way of thinking, but still getting increasingly more nervous as the hours go by and the people at the check-in counter just proceed to deal with the incoming people while I wait right next to them. I am desperately trying to keep my cool, but I can feel my PP gradually depleting, and also think I'm in the process of developing and entirely new kind of travel phobia: the airport-check-in-phobia.

Over two hours later – it is 11:15 by now, and my flight departs at 12:40 – they finally send me away with a very vague idea of where to go to get the vaccination, and the information that I have to wait 10 days after taking it. No word about my flight, and any attempts to get anything out of them about it fail as well. So here I am, lost and alone, stranded at this airport with no idea what to do, and at my breaking point too. All this travelling around, and I still can't handle situations like this.

The worst part of it all is probably how they handle, or mishandle my flight booking. Being at a freaking international airport, you might expect that they would be able to contact the airline and tell them that I am unable to take my flight and re-book it, or at the very least re-fund it. At this point I'd even be happy about a partial refund, but do you think I have any chance of getting to talk to anyone who can help me with this here? At an international airport?

If you think I do, then think again! Although "international", this place is actually pretty small, and I figure the only international flights it serves are to Paraguay and Argentina, both of which are next door. My next resort is trying to call the flight company – although I figure this is going to be expensive – with my World SIM. However, fate appears to be conspiring against me today, since my World SIM, which served me just fine before, choses this very instant to abandon me, and every attempt to connect with any of the displayed networks fails (that is, takes forever, then fails, and the time is ticking away).

It is now quarter to panic, and my head is playing the Critical PP Siren Blues, but I am as of yet not out of options. Calling on the help of ancient technology from the last century, I procure a phone card from one of the airport kiosks, and attempt to call Expedia (over which I booked my flight) via the only number I have (which is in Germany), via one of the card phones, the instruction for which is in Portuguese, and which require the number to be dialled in some strange format that I am unable to figure out without resorting to help from the information (tick, tock…).

It goes without saying that the measly 40 Reals on the card (enough for 80 minutes, according to what it says on the card) fizzle out before I even get through the obligatory hotline phone menu, and even if it had not, there would have been no way in Dragon that I could have gotten any help even if I had managed to talk to a person. It is now five to panic and my vision is starting to get just a little bit blurry.

Having participated in a bit of this train derailment by now (yet unable to help me in any meaningful way), the ladies at the information eventually take pity on my plight and give me access to their WiFi (if you've thought that an international airport would have public WiFi, think again… again), which at the very least enables me to contact my father in Germany via Telegram, and quite fortunately, he replies almost instantaneously. I ask him to call Expedia for me and explain the situation to them for me, and at this point I am run haggard enough that I can simply beg him to help me in any way possible, even asking him to have them re-book my flight to take me straight home to Germany, because that's just how ruined my nerves are at this point in time.

And he does manage to contact Expedia, but if you think that the travel agency over which I booked the flight would be able to help me in a situation like this then think again again… again. Anyway, between all this back and forth, time runs out, and my plane departs without me at 12:40. Not that there would have been any chance of me still getting on it, but the departure time would have been the time by which I would have had to settle this with the airline, because obviously that is not a thing that trained airport personnel could have done.

What now?

What now indeed? One thing that's for sure is that my travel plans for today have been, aggressively, cancelled.

Fortunately, there is one person relatively nearby that is able and willing to aid me in this crisis, and that is Joao, my Airbnb host in Foz do Iguaçu. Since I now have internet access again, I can at the very least communicate with him via WhatsApp, and after I explain the situation to him he immediately offers to help me out, saying I can come back to his place and he'll help me get the vaccinations and make arrangements for me to stay the ten obligatory waiting days. After all I've been through in these last four hours, this level of helpfulness and compassion almost makes me cry, and it is something I am not ever going to forget no matter how long or short I'm still going to live.

Either way, this one branch is enough for me to grab and hold on to, stopping my spiralling descent into a panic attack, and avoiding calamity this one time. This little branch is all I need to catch myself and re-plan my steps from here on out. Shaken though I am, I walk out of the terminal, and force myself to walk to the bus stop from where I arrived a several hours earlier…

…and then take the next bus back downtown.

Despite my original plans, and against my will, it would seem that I am yet spending some more time here in…

Salvaging the Situation

6-Mar-2019 – 17-Mar-2019

[To be continued…]

Day Trip ~ Of Beasts and Buddhists

Distance: 6,0km
Ascents: 50m
Duration: 2,5h

The Flair

The Road Ahead