Saturday, April 07, 2007

Reaching Manaus

Finally managed to get to Manaus, but it turned out to be trickier than I expected.

After writing my last post, I bumped into two Australian girls at the internet cafe. They´d both just come up from Rio to Venezuela, so I started asking them about the trip since my plan is to get to Rio at the end of this month. They told me there were two problems I was going to face - a return ticket and yellow fever vaccination.
The return ticket was something I knew I could manage. But the yellow fever vaccine was going to be a big pain.

The main problem was that I needed a certificate of the vaccine. If I didn´t have one, then apparently the immigration officials were very strict about it. Two British guys overheard us talking about it and said one of them had a hard time. He was refused entry till he got the proper vaccine. I asked if it was possible to get a vaccine at the border, and they said yes, but that´s not enough. The vaccine takes 10 days to set in, so one has to wait for 10 days after that. I asked the hotel manager about it, and he suggested that I go to the local hospital, get a vaccine and bribe them a bit to get it predated. There was no way I´d be let in without the certificate, he said.

I went off to the hospital, and they said they didn´t give the injection at the hospital. They did it at the border only. It was also Easter weekend, so my chances of finding anything open weren´t too good. I decided the only thing to do was to just head to the border and see what happens. Packed my bags, told the hotel guy that I might be back and took a shared taxi.

I went in to the immigration office, and saw two offices - one for passport control and the other for the yellow fever vaccination. Venezuelans and Brazillians don´t need visas to travel between the border, and a national ID card is enough. I managed to get my passport stamped and then walked to the vaccination office. There was a problem though.

The vaccination office refused to predate the certificate, and I realised that trying to bribe them in front of about 50 other people waiting in line would probably land me in jail. So I decided to not get the injection which led to a problem. Since my passport had the exit stamp, I had to leave, but with no vaccination certificate, the Brazillian immigration guys wouldnt let me in. I was sort of in no man´s land. I decided to just walk across the border and see if I could somehow work my way around it.

Walked for about 5 minutes along the highway connecting the two border points with my backpack, and get kept trying to come up with some excuse. Thought about lying and saying that I got it in Paris for the visa interview but lost my certificate while travelling. But I didn´t think it would work. Anyway, I walked slowly and tried to see if I could just keep walking without getting stopped. Realised that nobody really cared, but I also knew that without an entry stamp, I was going to risk deportation if I was asked for my passport sometime later.

Went to the immigration office, filled out the form, and after a couple of questions, they stamped my passport. Somehow they didn´t ask for the certificate. But I´d been told that the certificate is normally asked for by the customs people. The customs office was a bit further down the road, and I knew I had to somehow bypass that place.

In the road between the immigration and customs offices, there were a bunch of shops and a few taxis. Saw a family of three talking to a taxi driver, and went closer. Realised they weren´t speaking Spanish, so they had to be Brazillians. I knew that for a shared taxi, the driver always looks for 4 people to fill up the car and so the family was probably looking for a 4th person. I noticed that taxis weren´t stopped by the customs officials as they were carrying people with minimal luggage. It was the buses and private cars which were getting stopped. I also realised that Brazillian citizens shouldn´t need a certificate, so my best bet was to get in with them, and hope that the customs guys would think I was Brazillian.

There is only one road from the border all the way to Manaus, so I told the taxi driver to take me to Boa Vista, which is the first major town along the way. I hopped into the taxi, and kept both backpacks in the trunk so that I didn´t look like a tourist. The taxi went past the customs guy, slowed down for a few seconds and then got waved on.

I was still a bit paranoid that there would be another stop, but there were none. The taxi went straight through and 3 hours later I reached Boa Vista, bought a ticket for the overnight bus to Manaus and reached here in the morning. The two Australians had given me a lot of tips for Manaus, so I managed to find a nice, cheap hotel and will head off on a trip to the rainforests soon.

One more victory for me against immigration officials. Am heading out tomorrow for a 5 day jungle trip.