So for the last six weeks or so I have been planning and prepping for a trip through Mexico, Central America, to Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, with plans to loop back around through Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The stars sort of aligned for me here and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get out of country and do some traveling. Some general thoughts so far:
If you plan on going anywhere in less than three months, go ahead and shell out the extra $100 for expedited service. The $100 you spend now to expedite, will save you at least quadruple that in expediting fees elsewhere, peace of mind and numerous other minor headaches. When you consider how much traveling costs, and how long you will keep your passport (10 years!), $100 really isnt much.
Unless you’re only going to central america or the EU, you’re going to need some sort of wacky-ass visa, which means (if you’re lucky and live close enough) you have to drive to the consulate office and have them process your visa (which requires them to physically have your visa from anywhere from 24 hours to 18 business days). Brazil in particular is a PITA right now because they just got selected for the 2016 olympics and are processing a ton of applications by buisnessmen who are forging deals on construction, tourism etc right now. Brazilian Visas pretty much have to go through an agency now, and they have a minimum of 4 days processing time.
Paraguay and Suriname are both kind of PITAes, Paraguay’s consulate office is in Los Angeles (although they will do same day turnaround visas if you overnight them your passport) and Suriname only has their consulate office in Miami. I am going to see if I can get a Paraguay visa while in Brazil, if not, well they’re landlocked and not really on the way to anything. Suriname is right off the list; they’re out of the way, and inbetween two other countries that are hard to travel in (The Guyanas).
Apparently if you travel in Panama, everyone is going to want to see your yellow fever vaccination, which apparently in Texas costs $155 no matter where you go. They gave me prescriptions for malaria ($10 for a 3 month supply!) and a few other things. Brazil will let you in without a yellow fever vacc, but only if you fly straight from the US. Travling through Panama and several other countries, they’re going to want to see that paperwork.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the people processing paperwork are really bad at it. The agency that is currently expediting my passport accidentally marked me as “female” instead of “masculinto” or whatever male is in Portuguese. So I had to correct that and they had to redo a bunch of my paperwork. The lady at the yellow fever vacc place accidentally spelled my middle name wrong. Not a huge deal, but not the kind of drama I want to have to deal with for three hours at a border crossing at 4 in the morning while you wait for their superior officer to wake up. So I guess my advice on that is to simply triple check everything you sign, make sure your name, destination and everything else is in order before you sign off on it. Someone somewhere made a mistake and you might have to pay for it later.
I’m still looking for the cheapest flight from Panama to South America. $550 USD seems to be the magic number online, although I was told to look at some local carriers and see if they can match/beat that.
The last piece of the puzzle is getting my travel pack and actually filling it with the items I need. Mostly that’s just shirts socks and pants. I picked up my netbook yesterday, and I’ve been working out the kinks on that. Right now I am dual-booting XP and Ubuntu 9.10, but I need to sort out my broadcom drivers on the ubuntu install.