Well, it was bound to happen sometime. Over the years, we’ve done a fair amount of travel and I’d say we’ve had some pretty good luck along the way. It seems our luck ran out, at least for a day, and we had what can probably best be described as a craptastic day.
The plan was simple enough. Get up at 3:30am for a 4:00am transfer to the airport in Iguassu. Then a 1 hour flight to Sao Paulo International airport where we would meet an overland transfer to Paraty, a small coastal town that has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1958.
Soon after we started the drive to the airport with Eduardo we saw the first signs of trouble, it was awfully foggy outside the car. Still, we got to the airport without incident. We said goodbye to Eduardo, cruised through check-in and security, got some coffee and tea, and settled in to await our flight.
As the minutes ticked by, the sun rose outside and we could see just how foggy it really was. But, not much we could do about that, so we waited and watched the flight information board. Eventually our scheduled flight time came and as we hadn’t heard anything Katy went to ask someone what was going on. As she did this, the flight board changed and the guy told Katy to “come with him”. Turns out our flight had been cancelled.
We were put on another flight that would take us to Curitiba – we hadn’t heard of it either, but apparently it is a city of 1.9 million – and then we would connect on to Sao Paulo. This flight would put us in Sao Paulo around 10:00am which meant we would miss our 9:30 land transfer. We knew they had another transfer scheduled for 3:30pm, so we hoped to catch that one.
Meanwhile, we’ve been trying to reach the company we had made the overland transfer booking with, Rio Bookings. Seemed simple enough. Just needed to call the number that comes with the statement “in case of delays”. Unfortunately nobody was answering the phone.
Eventually I went to the TAM desk to try and call again. The girl at the desk told me I might want to wait, as she didn’t know what time we would be arriving in Sao Paulo anymore. Turned out our new flight had also been delayed to the point that we wouldn’t make the connection in Curitiba. She put us on a new connecting flight. Great, except it would land at a different airport in Sao Paulo. The other alternative was a connecting flight that went to the right airport, but that arrived after 3:30pm.
These tidbits made the prospect of making the transfer, any transfer, rather tricky. Better call the transfer company. Oh, but they still aren’t answering the phone.
The good news was that flights were now leaving Iguassu. So, not seeing any other options, we got on the plane. At least it was progress.
Now in Curitiba we went looking for a TAM desk. We were happy to find that the TAM staff in Curitiba we more helpful than those in Iguassu. With their help we quickly found an earlier flight (1:30pm) that would take us to the right airport in Sao Paulo. Obviously, that still put us in Sao Paulo long after our originally scheduled morning transfer. Next we found ourselves in the back office of TAM making long distance calls on their dime. I’m not sure if they were really that nice or there was some miscommunication, but we were grateful either way.
Our first call was to try Rio Bookings again. The first few times we could accept that it was really early so if we were calling an office so it would be undstandable that nobody answered. Now it was 10:30 in the morning and we had been calling for 4 hours. We were ready to officially declare them useless. A tip, if you’re going to Brazil, do not book anything with Rio Bookings. They’re garbage.
Our second call was to PC Financial Insurance to find out if any of this would be covered. While we were able to get through, they wanted to call us back. This wasn’t really an option, so we decided to try them again in Sao Paulo.
With a few hours to kill until the next flght, but not enough time to see the sights of Curitiba, we paid for some wifi access – free wifi is rare here – and tried to figure out how it was we were going to get from Sao Paulo to Paraty.
We emailed Rio Bookings to find out if we could get on the 3:30pm transfer – and questioned them as to why they didn’t answer the phone. Surprisingly, they responded to our email only to tell us the 3:30pm was full and that maybe we could try and negotiate with a taxi driver. In case you’re wondering, it’s 300km to Paraty from Sao Paulo, so essentiallly he was saying we were on our own. We also looked into buses, but there are only a couple that make the trip, at least that we could find, and they were all full.
With little resolved it was time for our flight to Sao Paulo, so we got on the plane. When in doubt, getting on a plane seemed to be a common tactic.
In Sao Paulo, we waited forever (really about 45 minutes) while they bags were unloaded. To be honest, after that many flight changes, I was just happy, and a little surprised, that they made it at all. Then it was off to see if there was a way to make it to Paraty.
Our first stop was at one of the tourist information desks but the kid there (yeah, I’m old) was of little help and pointed us to a travel agency in another part of the airport. So we schlepped over to the tourist agency. We might as well have been asking for options to get to Mars.
We then asked the taxis what it would cost. They laughed, we choked on the price.
In a bit of desperation, I went over to the other tourist desk. It was about 50 m from the other desk so I’m not sure why there were two, but man are we glad there were. The girl behind the desk, Camila, was very nice and incredibly helpful. She tried calling bus companies for us, suggested local hotels if we needed, and even helped us get the pay phone working. She even found another company that does transfers to Paraty, which got our hopes up. But they were quickly dashed when we found out they were more expensive than the taxis.
I probably spent an hour speaking with Camila. While I knew she was helpful, that was about it. Meanwhile, I turned my back on Katy for two seconds and she had her life story. This wasn’t the first time Katy proved she could learn more about someone in 5 minutes than I can in a week.
In our two hours at the Sao Paulo airport, tyring to find our way to Paraty, we had managed to reach PC Insurance again. Even this was a bit of an ordeal as the number they gave for collect calls wouldn’t accept collect calls so I ended up just paying with my credit card. They said that our insurance would cover alternate “economy” travel to Paraty. As the taxi was the only travel option open to us, taxi it was. We’re hoping that we’ll get some reimbursement. If not, it will leave me wondering what we pay for when we get travel insurance.
Finally, in the car and heading out on the highway at dusk, the driver reached for the radio. I knew what was coming, a little pick-me-up music for the drive. Maybe a nice samba to keep us rocking all the way to Paraty, because there’s no Paraty without party, right? Wrong! Instead we got the days final kick in the balls:
– Because you loved me – Celine Dion
– Don’t want to lose you now – Gloria Estefan
– When words get in the way – Miami Sound Machine
– Honey ( I miss you and I’m being good) – no, I don’t know it either, but trust me, it fits with the rest of the mix.
It went on from there.
Our cabby didn’t exude confidence in his navigational skills outside of Sao Paulo, so we were trying to keep an eye on the signs to make sure we were going the right way. However, at this point it had been a long day so we were both a bit drowsy. At one point I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was in the French Alps! Seriously, that’s what I thought. I had no idea that Brazil would have steep winding roads like those in the alps. Add to that a very thick fog and it could easily have been a stage on the Tour de France. Also, these were clearly not the driving conditions our Sao Paulo city driver was used to, you could see the sweat dripping down his face.
Finally, after several gas station stops to make sure we were going the right way, we arrived in Paraty. As we entered town, we stopped at more gas stations and flagged down random people on the street to try and find our Pousada. As we got closer to the ocean in the historic part of town, the roads turned to the bumpiest cobblestone I have ever seen. At this point I thought three things would happen: the driver was going to lose his mind, the taxi shocks were going to give out, and Katy (a little punchy by this point) would burst out laughing.
After bouncing around for a little while, we knew we had to be close so we told the driver to just stop and we would walk. He stopped but being a professional, he wanted to make sure we got to our destination. So he started wandering, ringing random doorbells and knocking on every door. Eventually two semi-intoxicated sailors walked by and asked where were going. The taxi driver, seeing an out, told them and then told us to follow them off into the dark. It’s 10:30 at night. We’d been traveling for 19 hours. We figured, what the hell. We said our goodbyes with the driver who was no doubt very happy to see the back of our heads and wandered off with the sailors.
Despite their initial confidence, they were asking for directions from the people we passed all the while trying to sell us on a boat ride for the next day. We pretended not to understand and, against all odds, found the hotel. As you might imagine, it wasn’t long before we were asleep.
Not a fun day, but we were able to roll with things and got there in the end. Remember, if the travel gods seem to have it out for you, just find the kid play area for a little pick-me-up.