The One About The South American Dream

Paraguay was hectic. The two weeks we spent there flew past. We were constantly on the move, meeting new friends, drinking lots of beer. We were sure that once we entered Brazil things would return to the pace we are used to. With such a simple border crossing from Paraguay to Brazil, needing nothing more than our passports, we should have known that’s where the easiness would end.

Don’t get me wrong, Brazil has been awesome. It certainly has been an experience like no other we´ve had thus far. The Workaway we had planned did not work out. After all the volunteering we have done it is not really surprising that one might not be as great as the others. We valued our time more than working in some stoners garden. I´ll leave it at that. Plans change frequently when travelling. Not having a Workaway fast-forwarded us to Rio de Janeiro. Here we would spend some time with a friend I had met 9 years ago on a Kibbutz in Israel. What was meant to be 3 days turned into 6. Beers, beach, Sugar Loaf mountain and of course Corcovado- the big Jesus.

We were sad to leave Rio and our friends but we had bigger plans. Plans. Unless it is a big flight that cannot be missed, plans while travelling simply seem to be a direction. We were booked for a costly 24 hour bus to Campo Grande, a city midway in Brazil that is the doorway to The Pantanal. Many like myself have probably never heard of the Pantanal. Let me just say that it is the largest wetland in the world offering all of the animals people travel to the amazon to catch a glimpse of. As with any trip, the closer it comes to an end, the tighter the budget gets. Organizing a tour from Brazil to access the Pantanal just seemed to costly but we were prepared for this. Our plan was ultimately to use Campo Grande as a connection until we could get to the town (a further 7 hours away) that bordered Bolivia. Yes! We absolutely adore Bolivia and figured there would be no better place to end our trip in South America. And what’s better we knew it would be far cheaper to arrange tours to both the Pantanal and the Amazon from Bolivia, almost half the price.

Leaving Campo Grande and heading for the bordering town of  Corumba was when our most stressful week of travelling began. It is important to note at this point that the buses in Brazil are infamously expensive especially by South American standards. The plan was as follows – sleep in Corumba the first day, get a PCR Covid test the second day in the morning, wake up on day 3 with negative Covid test results and be through the Brazil/Bolivia border before lunch time. Ha, I scoff writing that realising how naive we were. Although Bolivia currently requires a PCR test to enter, the best the bordering town can offer is a PCR test with the result in 7 working days…. 72 hours is the cutoff time, the only place to get the test in time for travel was in Campo Grande. We found this out at 11am. By 1pm we were back on the bus for another 7 hour stint to Campo Grande. This really annoyed us as this sort of information is not readily available online in Brazil and now it felt like we were just throwing money to the wind.

Another night in Campo Grande and another morning running around trying to find PCR tests. We found them easy enough in the big city but it took us going to 5 different companies before we could have the test done. The first 4 companies all required online bookings and payment, however in order to pay you need a special Brazilian identity number that is linked to your bank card. Well last I checked we are not Brazilian and don’t have the number, nothing anyone tried could help us. By the way this goes for all of Brazil. Most online purchases, even bus tickets require the identity numbe and if you don’t have one you simply cannot make the purchase. Eventually we found a laboratory where we were able to pay for a PCR  test by credit card. 3x the normal price but results in 6  hours.

You guessed it after the test we were back on the same 7 hour bus. We had our results by the time we rechecked in to our Corumba hotel. This time we were ready for Bolivia and more excited than ever to leave. We didn’t mind spending the extra bit of cash on a taxi to get us to the border. We were leaving. Passing Brazil immigration went smoothly. No documents required, just a stamp by the usual unfriendly official and we were one step closer. The first thing we were greeted by in Bolivia was the long immigration queue. For me it requires a bit more effort to enter Bolivia. My amazing South African passport needs a visa on arrival provided I have my file of supporting documents, Emma needs a stamp. Luckily I got chatting to a friendly police officer who decided to make it his cause to help me through the bureaucracy while Emma joined the long line for her stamp.

No number of friendly faces could have made the news any easier. In order to enter Bolivia 6 months is needed in a passport. This rule can often be overlooked by officials at the border at their discrepancy. However when you require a full page visa its not that easy. On the day of crossing my passport had 5 months and 26 days remaining. Yep the dream of returning to Bolivia on this trip would remain just that… a dream. Finding Emma in the queue was crushing, explaining the situation was worse. The changing of plans and making decisions on the spot is part of the fun right? Feeling absolutely defeated we headed back to town. Its safe to say this was the lowest point of our entire trip and we were ready to call it done. But not until we saw the Pantanal. Heck we made it this far we deserved it. The last minute tour we booked for the following 3 days was incredible. Everything was included at a lodge and we happened to be the only guests, it was the exact mental break we needed. After an awesome experience we were mentally ready for the 7 hour bus ride again. Two days later followed by a 24 hour bus ride back to Rio.

Our flights home are booked and we are ready to leave South America. Plans have changed hundreds of times in the last week and until we are on the plane I am certain they will change again. Our next adventure is around the corner and we couldn’t be more excited.

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