I noticed a woman sitting on the other side of the window seat who looked rather serious but dressed elegantly. She was gazing from afar and I could sense her thoughts drifting away as she does not seem to care about what’s going on around. Later I would know her as Sandra. Who hails from Campo Grande (Brazil) and lives in Sta Cruz (Bolivia).
I overheard them talking in a language that I don’t understand but sounds familiar. They looked Americans of Middle Eastern ethnicity. We were queuing side by side since from the Immigration of Bolivia and then Immigration of Brazil. But our eyes never met. Nor we spoke a word. We just knew we exist. They are there. I am here. Later I would know them as Paula and Francisco, siblings from Fortaleza (Brazil) who went for holidays in Bolivia.
And there was this slightly chubby blonde girl who’s wearing a tube dress with a flower tattoo at the back of her right shoulder. She approached me and said in strong English: “ticket please!”. Then she talked to the bus driver and afterwards handed back my ticket saying: “time is okay”. Gesturing her right hand with thumbs up. I never knew her name.
“A donde vas?” “De donde eres?” The guy who sits next to me casually asked. I said, pardon, “Habla Ingles?”. I mean, “Voce fala Ingles?” “Yes, I am.” “Where are you going?” “And where are you from?” I answered him. He said, “wow Filipinas?!” He was astonished and looked at me with amazement. His name was Lindon. Who teach mining in Corumba (Brazil) and was going to Salvador (Brazil) for training.
I arrived at Puerto Suarez, the small town in the border of Bolivia at 6.30am (local time). I paid 6 times higher for a standard taxi fare of 5 Bolivianos from Puerto Quijaros bus station.
It surprised me to learn that in this part of the world, the Immigration is only OPEN at a specific time. Like office hours, 8am to 6pm, M-F, S-S. If you arrive after 6pm, you have to stay at the border for a night for your passport to be stamped the next day. Or if you arrive earlier than 8am, like what had happened to me, I have to wait or if I choose to leave I am risking to pay the consequences.
While waiting for the Immigration Office to open, I took a light breakfast at a nearby café – empanada and a hot tea. And then fruit juice afterwards. I left my luggage just outside the door of the immigration as my sign that someone is queuing. I requested the Police to keep an eye to my luggage. “Por favor, (pointing to my luggage while gesturing that I will eat) no peligro?” They nod and said something that I didn’t understand. I left my luggage trusting that it is safe to do so. I decided to spend the Bolivianos I have as I won’t be able to use it in Brazil.
After queuing for around half an hour, I walked past the border of Bolivia and crossed a small bridge with a creek and then headed to the Brazilian immigration. I dropped by first at the Tourist Information to ask for direction and advice about the fastest way to Parana, Brazil. I was relieved to have met an English speaker officer. When my passport got stamped. I walked with the rest of the people heading to the bus stop. I went a little anxious for waiting about almost 30 minutes and no bus was on sight. My days were numbered and I have to move as quickly as I can. Taking taxi will cost 45 BR Real for about 10-minute ride to bus terminal station to get a bus to Campo Grande. Taking a motorbike is about 20 BR Real. And a bus is about 4 BR Real. Almost everyone’s waiting for the bus. Two men strike a conversation with me both talked in Spanish and Portuguese. Am glad that the other can speak a little English so I was able to get by. They were from Paraguay. I suggested we take a taxi and we split the cost. They kept haggling to make it 3o BR Real so each would pay 10. In the end, we took a cab, told me I pay 10 and the 2 will pay 15 each. They haggled and got only 40 BR Real! I told them we can have equal sharing but they insist that I pay only 10. Muchas gracias, I said. While thinking, indeed, nothing is fair in this life. Equality is hardly attainable. Mostly by theory. The cry of feminism has its downsides really.
The Paraguayan kept on talking to me in Spanish and I could not comprehend anything. The taxi driver was about to drop me a the bus station before he send them to the airport. The Paraguayan hand was pointing up, showed me a cross badge, I understood then he was wishing me a safe journey. “God bless” he said in English.
I reached the station 45 minutes past 10am. There was a bus to leave to Campo Grande at 11am. I have 15 minutes to settle everything. I bought 2 tickets, Corumba to Campo Grande (6 hours) and Campo Grande to Foz do Iguazu in Parana (~14 hours). The 2-decker bus was about to leave when I boarded. But not long all the passengers suddenly get off. I was wondering why and asked what’s wrong. They’re talking to me. But I don’t understand them. A woman walked towards me and speaks in English. “We have to change bus because the aircon is not working.”. That was Sandra. The woman whom I’ve thought doesn’t care about what’s going on around was the only one I could speak to in English. While waiting, I grew a little impatient because it’s going to be 12nn and we have not make a move. I told her I have a next bus to catch at 6.30pm. What if we didn’t arrive and I miss my bus? Not only it is going to be a waste of money but time. I have limited time. The end of my 1st South American journey is about to end so soon.
We left at around 12 pm without knowing what to do if I miss my next bus. I kept requesting Sandra if the bus driver can guarantee that we will be able to reach at least before 6.30pm. I saw her talking to them occasionally. But no guarantee. Sandra asked for my ticket and volunteered to call the bus agent where I bought the ticket. She told me if I miss my bus, the bus company assured that am not going to pay anything, I will have another ticket again and I can take the bus for the next day. Oh my God! I am running out of time!
In one of the restaurant where the bus stopped, the look like American siblings and me were locked inside the bus. We could not go out because the driver locked the door while the rest of the passengers were gone to the restaurant. Francisco could not speak English so he introduced me to her sister, Paula who am glad can speak English! She told me she over heard about my situation. Since they are flying to Fortaleza the next day at 3pm. She offered me to join them in the hotel where they are going to stay for a night at Campo Grande and told me not to worry they will guide me to find my way. I was deeply touched though I was not sure how I was feeling, whether am I happy or frustrated. I mean, wow, I thought, I will get to know another city and will make new friends. Cool. But then, I might not have enough time to explore the next place I am about to visit. Worse comes to worst, perhaps I will fly from Parana to Sao Paulo.
The guy next to me (Lindon) started a conversation in Portugese or maybe Spanish, where I only pick the word “donde” which means ”where”. Am glad that he speaks English. He keeps asking too many questions which to be honest I was not so much into having some friendly conversation at that time because I was worrying about my trip. I am alone. And I don’t know the place where I am going to. Plus, I don’t know anyone there. Lindon was kind enough to give me ginger candy (lots of) he said it’s good for my throat. Yes, I must be coughing loudly (I had on and off fever and cough after visiting a place as high as 5 thousand meters above sea level).
The surroundings started to get dark and we’re still on the road. I don’t know exactly where. Am just certain we are not any near the city yet. The slightly chubby blonde girl wearing a tube with flower tattoo at the back of her right shoulder approached me and asked for my ticket. After talking to the driver she headed back to me and told me, “time is ok” while gesturing her right hand a thumbs up.
I fall asleep. Thinking, maybe when I wake up my worries will all be gone.
Suddenly, I was awaken by someone calling my name. It was Sandra. She walked towards my seat, she told me, “Mafey I called them again, the bus company. Do not worry. Keep calm. You will make it. We are late. But they are late too. They will wait for you. I will be getting off soon. Just take care ok. Foz do Iguazu is a region where people are coming from different places and drug dealers are everywhere. So take care ok“. We hugged each other. I grabbed her hand and thanked her. She added, “I talked to Paula (she was at her back), she will accompany you. You will have to go to the ticketing station and then to the belt where you will take your bus. She only has one request. Please speak slowly so she can understand your English”. I said, “thank you so much Sandra. I.WILL.SPEAK.SLOWLY”. Sandra and Paula burst into laughter.
I started to get emotional when Sandra left, I can’t explain how am I feeling. I feel like crying. Tears of joy maybe. For finding kind-hearted people in the unfamiliar territory. In about 30 minutes we reach the city terminal bus station. Lindon extend his hand and said nice meeting you and wished me a safe and enjoyable trip. He gave me more of the ginger candies he said I can take with me as it is herbal and effective to cure sore throat problems.
After we get our luggage, Paula and Francisco walked with me. Paula told me to follow her. After everything was settled, we said our goodbye, we hug and kiss and wish each other the best for the rest of our journey.
I left Campo Grande past half 8pm. Anxious. Excited. Nervous. Eager for my next unknown adventure.