We crossed the border into Brazil at Foz de Iguacu. It was really chaotic to drive through the main street to the border patrol and when we arrived at the border the traffic just came moving and nobody stepped out to pull us in. Before we knew it we had gone through and were into Brazil. We knew we needed to get our tourist visas and vehicle permit so I asked a cop where we were supposed to go for immigration. He stopped the traffic and pointed us back across the border where this time we pulled in ourselves and found parking. It was such a strange set up. We actually had to go looking for someone to stamp our passports and then find someone to process the vehicle permit. Luckily the guy spoke English. Everyone told us that Portuguese was very similar to Spanish and that we would have no problem understanding. Not true, I couldnít understand a word they were saying, it sounds completely different. However, they can understand my Spanish which is a little help. It took over an hour to process the permit. In the meantime we met an elderly English couple who were going the opposite direction in a huge motorhome. They have been travelling for eight years all around Europe, Australia and South America. They are now heading to Ecuador where they are going to ship the van to China and drive back to England from there! Wouldnít we love to have the money to keep going like that! We finally got our vehicle permit and there wasnít a word said about Francieís paperwork so we drove on through into Brazil, our last country and last border crossing with the van and dog. We were feeling really excited and happy that we had got through all the border crossings along the way but were also feeling sad that the trip was coming to an end. It has been such a fantastic trip of a lifetime that we donít want it to end.
Nevertheless, we headed into Foz de Iguacu and went to the tourist office. We were delighted to find out there was a campground near the waterfalls and got directions for it. The campground was perfect and we had to laugh that finally near the end of our trip we found a proper American style campground in South America. We were even able to plug into electric, something we hadnít done since Panama! It was also a hostel, so there were lots of backpackers staying there too. We were in our element, wifi, hot showers, electric, swimming pool, communal kitchen and plenty of space for Francie to run around. The Iguassu waterfalls are on the border of Brazil and Argentina and both sides we were told were worth seeing. We didnít want the hassle of doing two more border crossings into Argentina and then back into Brazil as it would have meant more vet visits for Francie. So instead the hostel was running day tours to the Argentine side and we booked ourselves on the tour for the next day. We left at 9am and it was such a great feeling to let someone else do the driving and battle with the traffic and crazy drivers. When we got to the border, our driver took everyoneís passports and went inside to get our stamps. We couldnít believe it. We didnít even have to get off the bus. No van to worry about, no dog and no three hours of waiting to get paperwork. Backpackers really have it so easy these days but I still would rather travel the way we have done it. We were brought to the Iguassu national park entrance then and had five hours to head off and do what we wanted. The Argentine side of the falls is really well set up and there were many different hiking trails we could do to get different views of the falls. We hung out with an Australian girl Ann and German guy Uva for the day and picked out the main trails we wanted to do. The weather was perfect, blue skies and fantastic views of the waterfalls. Every corner we came around there was another amazing view. Itís not just one big waterfall but a whole series of waterfalls. It was so perfect that it felt like we were on a prebuilt movie set for Jurassic park or something. We had a brilliant day out and were chauffeured once again across the border back into Brazil without even having to get off the bus.
We met a few lads from Dublin at the hostel and a couple from Chicago. So on the 4th of July we had our own celebrations in the bar by the swimming pool. One of the lads from Dublin played the guitar. His name is Rory Bradley and he is only nineteen. He sang us songs he has written and I swear to God it gave everyone goose bumps. Brilliant stuff, watch out for him, he is definitely going to go places. We played a few tunes for everyone as well and the session went on until five in the morning. Needless to say it was another day before we recovered enough to go and see the Brazilian side of the waterfalls. It was handy to get to; a public bus from the end of the road brought us right to the entrance. The view from this side is completely different but still as gorgeous. We were closer to the falls on the Argentine side but the Brazilian side gives a more distant view.
We would have loved to stay a few more days at the campground but we had to start making tracks to Santos and find out more about the shipping procedure. For the last four months I had been emailing shipping companies for prices and Wallenius Wilhelmsen seemed to have the best price from Santos to Galveston in Texas. However this guy Felipe I am dealing with is completely incompetent. He shouldnít be in the position he is in as he is no help whatsoever. It has been like drawing blood from a stone trying to get information from him. He sends back one line answers to my emails and wonít give me definite procedure protocol or any information to help us. We have to hire a customs broker to get customs clearance for the van before it is allowed on the ship but Felipe said he didnít know any and we should just find one through google! Problem was when I googled custom brokers everything came up in Portuguese. Finally I found one company that had a website and emailed them asking for someone that could speak English and knew how to get the customs clearance. They emailed back and said no problem; we could meet them at their office in Santos, which is about 80km from Sao Paulo . It took us three days to get from Foz de Iguazu to Santos and the price of gas in Brazil is not good, almost $1.20 a liter! We were actually on our way to Sao Paulo to Felipeís office as we were led to believe we needed to go there until after a series of emails he finally told us we could do everything by email and there was no need to drive into Sao Paulo. This was a relief as we had no real interest in seeing Sao Paulo and it is supposed to be a nightmare and dangerous city to drive around. Santos is a bit like Miami. It is right on the ocean with one high rise apartment building after another and full of swanky hotels. All the rich from Sao Paulo come here for the weekends and holidays. As it was Friday and we couldnít meet the customs until Monday we went to the next town Guaraja which was a little quieter.We got parking beside a hotel that was under construction and hung out there for the weekend. We spent a day walking around asking hotels if they would accept pets as we needed to start organizing accommodation for after the van leaves. Most said no, some said yes until they looked out the window and saw the size of Francie. We even tried to find out about renting an apartment but the language barrier was a big problem. Not many people speak English at all. As a last resort the hotel we were parked at said we could stay with the dog no problem so at least we had a back up plan.
We headed into Santos early Monday morning to meet the customs broker. It was July 13th, the ship was due to leave on August 4th and we were told we didnít have to drop the van off until August 2nd which would give us another three weeks to go to Rio De Janeiro, Salvador and a few other places in Brazil we had wanted to see. Julio, our broker wasnít there, but his boss Luis was and he spoke good English. It was just a one room dingy office and both his daughters worked there also. After a half hour of talking we realized that Luis hadnít a clue about the customs clearance. Julio seemingly has just got his license and has never done this before. Then Julio finally showed up and he only spoke about two words of English. I had specifically asked in the email for someone who spoke English and knew what they were doing and somehow we ended up with a guy who couldnít do either. And this was only the start of what was to follow. Our backs were against the wall though and we had no idea where else to go and nobody to help us find a decent customs broker. We wasted the whole day going to the customs building with Julio so that he could find out what he needed to do. I had to tell him he was probably going to need the title of the van, copy of passports, etc ,before that he hadnít even asked. Then we couldnít get straight answers from them about price or drop off date. One minute they would say they needed the van on July 20th and the next minute it was July 31st. ItĎs like talking to Rodney and Dell Boy. Then Jimmy had to go off to some other building with Julio to apply for some kind of identification card for the port. They told us we had to come back the next day to sign something. We left with splitting headaches and completely confused about everything. That evening I sent Julio an email with questions he needed to have answers for the next day or we werenít going any further. It seemed to work. The following morning I had an email with his price which was what we expected and then the bad news was we definitely had to drop off the van at the port on July 23rd. Apparently the customs clearance doesnít begin until the van is in their possession. We were really upset and annoyed that Felipe had not told us this two months ago. All along he had told us two days was sufficient and now we were going to be rushing the last bit of our trip when we could have planned things differently. We went to Julioís office again and signed whatever paperwork he needed. Jimmy went with him to pick up the ID card but it wasnít ready. He wanted us to waste another day waiting around for it until I asked him could he not pick it up for Jimmy. It turned out he could and we finally got out of there at 4pm and started hightailing it to Rio De Janeiro if we wanted anytime there at all.
It took us a day and a half to get to Rio de Janeiro. We said before the trip that once we got to the famous Cristo Redentor statue in Rio that that would be the last landmark of our trip and would be sign that it was time to go home. Needless to say when we saw the statue driving into Rio I was really emotional. We were only allowed to drive so far up the mountain and had to get a bus the rest of the way and walk the last few steps up to the statue. We walked up holding hands and gave each other a big hug and a kiss when we reached the top. One year, five months and 42,000 miles we had reached our goal safe and sound. What a trip! We couldnít have planned it better or wished for it to work out as well as it did. The view of Rio from the top was fabulous and was really a perfect sight for the end of our trip. Francie wasnít allowed up with us but we had got him to Rio and that was an achievement in itself. Everyone told us we were crazy bringing him and to leave him behind but we would do it all over again. It wouldnít have been the same without him and some of the people we have met and places we have ended up are because of him. We walked back down to the van in silence. It was time to head home.
We drove back down through the city and pass Copacabana beach. Luckily we got parking in a 24 hour parking lot right in the city overlooking the Sugar Loaf Mountain for $7! We went to check email and Julio had emailed us with some good news. His sister has a holiday home not far from Santos and he said we could stay there with the dog while the van is gone. We were over the moon. We could spend a few more days in Rio now and not have to worry about finding accommodation. A few beers were had that night! The next morning Jimmy put on his Offaly jersey, we dug out 2 hurls and the sliotar and heading off walking to Copacabana beach with Francie. This was a dream of Jimmyís before we left Chicago. He wanted to play hurling on Copacabana in his Offaly jersey and that he did. We were having a puck around and the hurls were like an Irish magnet. Before we knew it we had a group of Dublin lads and a couple from Clare over chatting wondering how the hell we got a dog and hurls to Rio. They couldnít believe it when we told them we drove all the way from Chicago via Canada and Alaska. We had a great day hanging out on the beach. For the most famous beach in the world it was everything we had pictured, really gorgeous pristine sand and clear water. Because itís winter time here though we didnít see as many of the beautiful Brazilian women that people rave about. It was roasting hot for us, so I canít imagine how hot it gets here in summer. There were only a handful of women wearing the skimpy Brazilian bikinis. The men seemed to be the bigger posers showing off their muscles and parading up and down the beach. It is a great people watching place so I would say summer time would be cool when the place is thronged. We were delighted to be there, winter or summer. We spent two more days in Rio. A day wandering around the city center, Lapa and Santa Teresa. Itís a lovely city with a mixture of old and modern buildings. We went to a market in Ipanema which was excellent. They had some lovely handicrafts and souvenirs and we bumped into the lads from Dublin again. We wanted to do the cable car tour to the Sugar Loaf Mountain but the last couple of days were cloudy and rainy so it would have been pointless. We would have loved to stay longer in Rio but we had only three days left with the van so we needed to get back to Santos.
We drove back to Santos in one day and went to Julioís office the following morning to find out about his sisterís house. He said there was a slight problem; her house wasnít available at all. I could have strangled him. We were dropping the van off in two days and now had nowhere to stay. Luis called some hotel that said we could stay with the dog but it was $45 a night which we could not afford for a month. Then Julio made some calls and said there was an apartment for rent in his sister-in-laws building for $20 a day. We drove over to have a look. It is a bit of a dump and a complete rip off, there is no bed, just a mattress and we have to bring our own bedclothes, no table and chairs or couch, no TV. The only good thing is there is a cooker and fridge so at least we can save money that way because Brazil is too expensive to be eating out all the time. We had no choice but to take it because we didnít have the time to look elsewhere. The next catch was it isnít available until the 27th which left us four days in limbo. We ended up driving back to Guaraja to the hotel that is under construction and the owner agreed to let us stay there until the 27th. Of course his price went up $10 as well.
Once we had that sorted out we got working on packing up the van. Jimmy got plywood and boarded it all up like he did in Panama. We walked for three hours around the town trying to buy rucksacks; $150 was the cheapest for one bag until we stumbled onto a street market and got them for $17. Then we discovered a leak in the van the night before dropping off! All the wood under the mattress was completely covered in mould and we had to pull everything out, clean it all up and dry it out. The morning we had to go to the port we asked for the keys of the hotel room so we could leave our bags and Francie there. They had given the room to someone else! So we had to wait an hour while they sorted out another room for us. We followed Luis and Julio to the port and it was relatively painless. Jimmy drove the van into a holding area where it will be kept until it clears customs and then the ship actually docks just across the street so they just have to drive it over and then lift it on. The guys there were really nice and we felt happy that the van is in safe hands. We just have to trust Julio now that he does everything he needs to do in time. We have made it clear to him that heís not getting a penny until our van is on the ship and has left Santos. So at the moment we are in the crappy hotel in Guaraja waiting to move to the apartment. It hasnít stopped raining for four days now and there is water pouring down through the ceiling of the room. Itís only been a few days and we already really miss our van, we were more comfortable there than in this room and the apartment put together. But hopefully if the ship leaves on time we wonít have too long to wait. We havenít booked flights yet until we know the ship has left. Looks like we will fly direct from Sao Paulo to Houston with Francie and try go to the port in Galveston the same day to pick up the van. So fingers crossed the next blog I write we will be back in the good ole USA with our van and dog. Until then, slanÖÖ.