Making the Best of a Bad Day in Sao Paulo

It was all planned. We had a mere 24:00 hours in Sao Paulo and planned to make the most of it. Although we wouldn’t have time to explore the city’s museums, we would, at least, be able to get a sense of its history, a feel for a few of its most interesting neighborhoods and architectural styles and sample two (one lunch and one dinner) restaurants. That, at least was the plan.

We arrived at the Sao Paulo airport on time (10:40 AM) from our overnight flight, met a friend with whom we were traveling, got a cab to our hotel and were about to leave for a short stroll along the main street (Paulista Avenue) and the fashionable Jardins district before arriving at DOM, reputedly the best restaurant in Latin America, for our 2:00 lunch reservation.

Than we were to take the subway to the historic downtown area and spend three hours viewing and getting a sense of the history of the city, before walking to the Old British style railroad station and sauntering through the Pinacoteca do Estado museum’s sculpture park. The evening was to be spent walking and having a light dinner in the Jardins district and a morning walk through Parque do Ibirrapuera, especially to see the very interesting (at least from the pictures we saw) Hotel Unique, Monumento as Bandeiras and the Oca do Ibirapuera dome designed by the Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. Then, back to the airport for our early afternoon flight to Iguazu Falls.

Best Laid Travel Plans

It didn’t quite work out that way. One of us managed to lose our passports, somewhere between the airport and the hotel. So, instead of DOM and sightseeing, we spend the afternoon calling the airport lost and found (no luck), waiting at the U.S. Consulate (to get a temporary passport (without the roughly 100 or so visas we had collected in the old one) and then to the police station to report the loss and get a letter that would allow us to exit the country without a visa.

This would have worked fine except for the fact that we were leaving the next day for Iguazu Falls, where we would spend most of our time and two nights hotel on the Argentinean side of the falls, and then fly to Rio for Carnival. This was a problem. Although the police report would have allowed us to exit the country, it wouldn’t allow us to get back in. Since Carnival was the primary objective of our 3.5 week trip, we could not take a chance on missing it (by not being allowed to get back into Brazil. So, if we were unable to get our Brazilian visa replaced, we would have to stay on the Brazilian side of the falls (getting a hotel there), missing the more beautiful and awesome Argentinean side and forfeiting the hotel room we had booked in Argentina.

So, after a number of phone calls, we learned that if we went to the Federal police station at the airport, we might possibly be able to get a visa that would allow us back into the country. The problem was, it was recommended that to do so (with no guarantee of success) we should leave the hotel for the airport by 8:00 A.M. (so much for Sao Paulo’s Parque do Ibirrapuera).

Our Abbreviated Sao Paulo Tour

Although we did miss most of the city, we did see the skyscraper-lined Paulista Avenue, walk though the pretty Jardins district, and even get to eat at one of Chef Alex Atala’s restaurants. Although we never got to DOM, we did eat at his Delva e Dito, a Brazilian restaurant modeled upon his grandmother’s cooking (although I would be surprised if his grandmother cooked Sous Vide).

Our two appetizers (cod cakes and shrimp “Bobo” pie were okay, but certainly nothing special. We had somewhat better luck with our entrees and our wine. The Pig on a Can (slow cooked pork chop and sausage with manioc purée) and the grilled picanha (top cut beef) skewer with maniac flour (with vegetables and pork belly) were both pretty good. The grilled pirarucu (a flaky white Amazon river basin fish) with Brazil nut vinaigrette and root vegetables was much better. We also really enjoyed our Argentinean 2009 Sophenia Reserva Malbec.

Not the day we had planned, but not too bad–at least if we would be able to get the visa that will allow us to get to the Argentina side of Iguazu Falls.

Alls Well that Ends WellKind Of

Things turned out even better than we had hoped. After our 8:00 cab ride to the airport, we decided to take another shot at the airport’s Lost and Found. As we discovered, someone had turned in the pouch in which Joyce carries our passports.

This left us with four and a half hours to tour the airport and drink a lot of coffee and tea.

Recovering our old passports did, however, present us with a number of dilemmas. What should we do when we arrived at border crossings? Should we show both passports (the old passport with the valid visas plus the currently valid temporary visa) and try to explain the situation to Portuguese and Spanish speaking agents) or should we just present one? And which one?

We ended up using our old visas for each of the six South American border crossings we made on the trick. We had no trouble with any of them.

Our problem came when we returned to the U.S., via our entrance at Dulles airport. When we presented our old passport to the U.S. agent, he told us they had been cancelled. When we gave him our new passports, he sent us to the Immigration Department to handle the situation—a fix, that he told us, would be quick and easy.

Nothing, we discovered, is quick and easy with U.S. Immigration—at least with the two agents who were on duty when we arrived. First we had to wait while they handled the issues of about half a dozen cases before ours. These included primarily foreign nationals, including two elderly parents of a U.S. citizen living in Michigan and a boy who was on his way to New York, most of whom could barely speak a few words of English. After watching the agents browbeat and threaten these people (before calls to their superiors forced them to reluctantly let these people into the country), we were wondering what was in store for us.

When they finally called us to the desk, they told us that they had to call Washington. Then, after a couple of breaks, taking a couple other cases, they called. They were told to punch holes in our old passport covers and stamp void on each of the unused visa pages. When we asked how long this would take and whether we would be able to catch our connecting flight home to San Francisco, they told us that we would not make the plane. No problem—just get another flight (doesn’t sound like they fly very often).

After a half hour of waiting, walking out of the office, making additional phone calls and complaining about the need to stamp each page, they returned our passports and we rushed to and managed to catch our plane. Now ALL we have to do is replace our temporary passports with new ones.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.