This happened to me not very long after the start of my trip so cumulatively, I think I have already told this story to many people. But I am still going to retell it again here for those who haven’t heard about it yet or in case I had missed out some details while I was telling it.
I was about to cross the border from Brazil to Uruguay with this Swedish girl Linda whom I was travelling with for about a week. We were planning to cross via Chuy, a crossing seldomly used by foreigners, in order to reach Punta del Diablo, a quiet surfing town in Uruguay along the Atlantic coast. The journey was frustrated by so many events that I couldn’t help but think: Does Uruguay really dislike me so much?
Frustration No.1: Exiting Brazil
After 15 hours on a bus from Foz do Iguacu to Porto Alegre and another 8 hours from Porto Alegre heading in the direction to Chuy, we were both wrecked from the long bus journey. Just as the bus was about to arrive in Chuy, it stopped in front of a shop for a short toilet and snack break. Actually, at that point the bus had already exited Brazil but no one told us about it until we got off the bus to stretch our legs and the driver spotted us. Apparently, all local Brazilians need not pass through any passport checks when they visit neighboring countries, so normally the bus wouldn’t stop for passport checks unless a passenger requests to do so. As soon as the driver spotted us, he became a bit concerned and arranged for a car to take us back to the local police station inside the Brazilian border, where the exit stamp was given. Hmmm… what would happen if we didn’t get off the bus during that break?
Frustration No.2: Missing the last bus
The bus finally arrived at Chuy at about 9:30pm and we went to a bus company to ask about the bus schedule to Punta del Diablo. The guy at the bus company told us that the bus would leave at 11:00pm. There was still plenty of time left so we went around the town to find some food to eat. At 11:00 we went back to the bus stand, but was told that the last bus had already left. We looked at the clock on the wall and found out that it was already 12:00 midnight… we didn’t realize that there was a one-hour time difference between Chuy and the rest of Brazil! We didn’t want to stay at Chuy for the night, so we decided to catch a taxi for that ride…
Frustration No.3: Uruguay wouldn’t stamp my passport
I have two passports, Hong Kong and Canadian. I used my Hong Kong passport for Brazil because I didn’t need to get a Brazilian visa with that. But for Uruguay, it’s visa free with my Canadian passport. We were at this tiny immigration booth at the Uruguayian border with just one officer working inside, and I showed them my Canadian passport. The officer flipped through my passport a dozen times trying to look for my Brazilian exit stamp. So I showed him the exit stamp on my Hong Kong passport. He gave me a frown and at last, refused to give me an entry stamp – by sole reason that he had to see a Brazilian exit stamp on the same passport! That was bullshit. Being a Canadian citizen, I was supposed to have the right of entry into Uruguay without a visa anyways, whether or not there was an exit stamp from the previous country! The guy was just checking his to-do list mechanically without considering the overall picture. After some asking and begging, it was still a strict… NO.
Linda had no problem getting the entry stamp, yet we were in the middle of nowhere after 12 o’ clock midnight with just one taxi waiting for us outside the booth, and I didn’t want to bother with Linda’s plan. I had no other choice. So we hopped back into the taxi, and while the officers weren’t watching, drove straight through the border, with me curled up and hiding underneath the windows.
I sneaked into Uruguay! At that moment, I couldn’t believe what I had done. I was trembling with both fear and excitement.
Frustration No.4: Car wheels got stuck in the sand
It was pitch dark in Punta del Diablo with no streetlights. Being a beachside town, most streets of Punta del Diablo were not paved but covered with sand. While the driver was driving round and round looking for our hostel, he accidentally drove into this sand-filled ditch on the roadside and the car’s back wheels got stuck in the ditch! We got off the car to help push it out of the ditch but to no avail. The wheels were turning but the car was not moving. The whole town was asleep late at night and we were left with no help. With no other choice, the driver called up his friend at Chuy for help, and so we sat on the roadside for over an hour waiting for his friend to arrive and bring us to our hostel.
Frustration No.5: OK… so how should I exit the country?
So I entered Uruguay successfully, but now what? I still needed to continue on to Argentina! And I wouldn’t be able to enter Argentina unless I got an Uruguayian entry stamp! So as soon as I arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, I visited their immigration office to see if they could fix my problem. Turned out that the immigration office was quite a run-down building in the city center bearing a doorsign with some letters dangling or fallen off. I was brought into this office on the top floor, apparently the office of the head of the department. With a super desperate look on my face, I told the officer what happened to me at the border (with a bit of exaggeration), coupled with a few drops of tears rolling down my cheeks. The officer then went off and I was left alone inside the room.
The room was completely silent. All I could hear was the clock ticking one hour, two hours… and my stomach screaming from hunger. When will he come back? Will he put me into jail or kick me out of the country? Finally the door opened and the officer came in with a bunch of papers. “Sit down here,” he told me while pointing to a chair opposite his desk. I sat down, my heart beating faster than ever. “We have been discussing for a long time. Normally we could only ask you to leave the country immediately in this situation. But we are going to make an exception and give you the stamp, but you should leave the country within three days.”
Biggest sigh of relief.
Moral of this story is: (1) Unless you have no other choice, stick to only one passport. (2) Even in the worst circumstances, everything will turn out fine at the end. (3) Sometimes, tears work wonders!