A day in Tabatinga (Brazil)

The last couple of posts have been heavily charged with anger and frustration. On the bright side the day I spent in Tabatinga was mostly pleasant.
I took a lancha from Santa Rosa (Peru) to the Brazilian town of Tabatinga on the 3-way border. I asked where the immigration office was and they said it was far and I should take a taxi. I could immediately feel the change of countries – signs were in Portuguese and people didn’t speak Spanish. Amazingly, we were only a short boat ride from Peru.
A helpful, local guide hauled a taxi for me and in a few seconds a motorbike stopped in front of me. ‘Surely, this can not be the taxi!’ I thought. ‘ How am I supposed to get on this thing with my bags?’. Everything pointed to the slightly unnerving reality though – it was the taxi and I was getting on it. Surprisingly I didn’t fall off of it and I rather enjoyed myself.
We reached the immigration office and two friendly officers greeted me in broken Spanish. I handed them my passport and they looked at it in confusion. They didn’t know whether a Bulgarian passport required a visa. I knew I didn’t but let them do their thing, going through folders, feeling powerful. They started the registration process when they saw I didn’t have the Peruvian exit stamp and said they couldn’t give me the entry stamp before I got it. I explained that the office was closed and that I was going back for it later. They advised it was better to get it first and then go back to them.
The taxi driver was waiting to take me to the hotel. We got there and a mellow lady told me the price. I couldn’t believe it as it was more than double the price listed in the guidebook. I asked whether there were any cheaper places, they said no, I said it was too expensive, she gave me a discount and I took it. Meanwhile the taxi driver offered to go check the boats’ departure schedule. Depending on it I’d either spent the night in Tabatinga or leave. He came back, saying the next boat wasn’t until tomorrow, so I prepared to spend the night. I was desperate for a shower and a bed. I freshened up and went out to find some food. It was January 1 and most shops were closed. I stumbled upon one of those ‘per kilo’ restauranrts so typical of Brazil. I was excited to try it out as I have read about it before. I got my food and headed to the counter. I was surprised when it came up to a staggering $8 as I thought it a cheap option. $8 for a budget traveller is a lot of money, particularly when an average meal costs $3-4. That’s Brazil for you!
After lunch I headed back to the hotel for a short nap. I had arranged to meet the taxi driver at 2pm s he could take me to Leticia (Colombia) where I could exchange money and later get my passport stamps sorted out. I went out to meet him but he wasn’t there. The host lady explained he had been there, waiting for me but had left. I asked what time it was and she explained the 1h time difference. Despite the close proximity of the countries, Brazil is 1h ahead. From there on everytime I asked for the time, I would also ask whether it was Brazilian or Colombian time. Same story with the money: $R/.1 = $C/.1,000 pesos and they use them interchangeably. Can get a bit confusing sometimes.
All money exchange kiosks were closed but I managed to find a cash machine. I took out a staggering $C/.200,000 pesos which only equals to about $90.
I was then off to Peru again to sort out my exit stamp. I found the immigration ‘officer’ – a boy of about 20, dressed in casual whites – sitting on the stairs in front of the office. He asked for a piece of paper I had thrown away, thinking I wouldn’t need it. I had never needed any other piece of paper and nobody had said anything. The only one I got rid of. The guy said it would have to be re-produced at a fine of $10. I didn’t mind too much as I used one of the fake $20 bills and he gave me a good $10 bill back. While processing my passport the guy asked how was my New Year’s celebration and I told him about the robbery.
– I apologise foryour troubles – he said as I was leaving.
The Brazilian officers gave me 60 days, then asked if I wanted 90, I said OK and they scrapped the 60. They also gave me advice on plane and boat travel. I then walked around town in search of teh harbour where I could get more info about tomorrow’s departure. By the time I was done it was dinenr time. I thendid laundry and went to sleep. I got up at 6am the next morning and headed to the harbour. I had to be there at 7am to buy my ticket. I was expecting a crowd but I was the only one there at 6.45am. There were about 10 people when the ticket desk openedan hour later. I wondered why I was told to come so early but I realised why when people who went at 9am could hardly get tickets. I then got some breakfast and headed back to the hotel. On the way there I came across the local market and headed straight to the fish section. They had many that looked like piranhas but I wasn’t sure so I got close and personal with them looking for sharp teeth. I left still unsure until someone confirmed my suspicions later that day. I thought that was one of the coolest market visits ever. Soon after lunch it was time to pack up and head to the harbour for boat #3.
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