Today we went to get our first visas for the trip. In South America, four countries require visas at present for Americans: Brazil, Suriname, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Since Brazil has a consulate in New York, we went there first. We'll do Paraguay next at their consulate, get Suriname in Guiana, and get Bolivia at the border. From the Brazilian website, it is seems that communist Russia advised Brazil on the finer points of bureaucracy, and the consulate didn't disappoint.
To begin with, global warming has come to New York in the form of a monsoon. According to NPR this morning, we could expect "light rain throughout the morning." So, I shunned Tara's suggestion of an umbrella in favor of my Ex Officio Canopy coat that I'll be taking on the trip. The good news is that the coat worked really well despite the sheets of rain falling on it. It was fairly comfortable, and the rain just balls up and rolls off of it. I could take it off, give it a shake, and it was basically dry. The bad news is that everything below my waist was soaked by the 6 block walk to the consulate. Tara fared only slightly better, but she wisely wore her waterproof shoes.
Back to the consulate. It is only open for business from 10am to noon each weekday, so we arrived around 10:20. Upon arrival, we quickly got on the line that everyone else seemed to be going to. This line was overseen by a security guard who, judging from the interactions I saw, wasn't allowed to answer any question unless it pertained to the line. Examples: Woman with question:"Excuse me, I was wondering if you knew if I needed...?" Guard: "Please get in the line." Man: "I just arrived. Where do I go?" Guard: "Please get in the line."
After 20 minutes in this line, we arrived at the window marked "Reception". We told the friendly woman that we needed visas and she started down a long list of things we needed from memory. We replied that we had everything listed on the website and she gave us a number. It was V660 and they were currently on V633. One person servicing these numbers.
So, we sat and listened for an hour to all the other people applying for visas. Most people were rejected because you could only pay with a US Post Office Money Order. No cash, no checks, no Western Union money orders. A few were sent away for not having photos with them, and some were rejected for not having the address of a place to stay in Brazil. (Though the guy was friendly about all of this.) My favorite was when they asked a Chinese student who planned to attend a conference in Brazil for bank statements for the last three months. After a bit of back and forth, he pulled them out! He clearly wasn't new to bureacracy.
In the 27 numbers he called, he processed 3 applications. This left us worried since we didn't have a firm itinerary. Finally, our number came and we ran to the window, because if you weren't there in 2 seconds (sometimes less), they went to the next person. We arrived at the window, handed him our applications and passports along with copies of our flights to and from South America, a rough itinerary, and our US Post Office Money Orders for $130 each (Brazil charges a reciprocal fee because that's what the US charges Brazilians). Amusingly, he didn't even look at the ticket information or itineraries, processed our papers in about 30 seconds and told us to come back Monday to pick up our visas. Normally we could get them tomorrow, but it is apparently a Brazilian holiday. National Bureaucracy Day, I'd guess.