Monday, January 17, 2011



All that stood between me and the giant peacock bass of the Amazon Basin was a baffling visa officialdom and endless airport hassles. The wonder is that I actually made it to the 18' boat to battle through the endless casting for the tough joy of landing one of those beautiful fish.
There we there on the giant tributaries feeding one of the world's mightiest rivers, so remote that all we saw most days were a few of our fishing party, and the conversation often turned to how irritating travel is today, especially to Brazil.
After all, it is the fifth largest country in the world, a goliath just beginning to flex its muscles, yet a simple visit has so many Mickey Mouse touches,  you wonder whether red tape will hinder it as the BRIC club of Brazil, Russia, India and China push their way into the world economy once dominated by the U.S. and Japan.
I was leaving the northern city of Manaus, in the home stretch of the gauntlet between sweaty van and a TAM airplane filled with brats, when I ran into an unexpected snag. I had already stripped and kowtowed and done all the humiliating stuff we do these days just to fly for costly and tedious hours.
But some woman was telling me to wait because no immigration officials were around. At least, she tried to, and I didn't understand, until a bored American holding up a wall explained they were all off having lunch. I wondered why they couldn't do that in shifts. He laughed, saying he had to come every few months as he tried to build a cement plant, and you had to get used to the nonsense.
The officials finally wandered back after 40 minutes, still masticating, and I managed to get to the final checkpoint run by the police. The one cop there questioned a woman for 15 minutes, then processed a family for another 10, while the line grew and grew. It all took nearly two hours.
But hey, that was quick. Getting my visa took three visits to the consulate at Bloor and Bay in Toronto, after a fruitless search in the phone book for a number or address. I started phoning businesses with Brazil in their name, and one woman volunteered a number that was never answered. Finally I tried the Internet and found an address along with some confusing information.
I asked in the consulate for the form. Nope, you can only apply through the Internet. I said what about all the people who don't have computers?  Why isn't the consulate listed in the phone book? Man said I had to obey Brazilian rules and this is the way "we do things."
Return home. Study the Internet info for hours. Finally figure it out and fill out a form. Go get two photographs. Return to consulate. Stand again in line. Submit material. Woman asks for $80.40.  I offer Visa. Nope, she says,  has to be money order or certified cheque. Get mad. Why are you so angry and red faced, she say? If you want to come to my country, you have to be obey our rules. I explain that I just visited nine countries with zero passport problems.
Go to nearest TD Bank. Smiling clerk says they do a lot of business with angry consulate customers. Return to consulate. Woman says the amount is actually $81.40.  She takes pity and says give her a dollar. I only have a $20. Man swoops in and demands I get the money instrument in exactly the right amount. I return to the smile at the TD. She said she expected it had been the wrong amount but then none of the visas seem to cost the same.
I return 11 floors up. Woman says I can find out on the Internet when I can collect my document. Three weeks later, I return. Line up. Thirty minutes later, new woman asks for my receipt. I say I didn't know I needed it, pointing out that all she has to do is look at me and then look at my visa picture and she will know I am who I say I am. She says we don't do business that way.  She finally accepts my driver's licence and I escape before new problem arises.
I tell my story to our fishing party led by Walter Oster, the head of the Canadian National Sportsmen's Shows. Group is a collection of successful A type personalities, including one of the best photographers around, Dick Loek.
It turns out that I paid less than most. Some paid $120 or $160.  Confess that maybe some of it was my fault because I found most of the application info to be incomprehensible. Relieved when Doug Kasko, an assistant Crown, said he found it confusing too (and he has handled murder trials.) Oh yes, he paid more.
You're fortunate I left out some problems or this column would be as long as War and Peace.
Occasionally my guide had to chop a way for the boat through flooded jungle with an enormous and very sharp machete. Just the thing, I thought, for getting through the red tape of Brazil a helluvalot quicker.

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