There Aren’t Enough Letters in the Alphabet.

Trip Start Jul 28, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Mato Grosso do Sul,
Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The only part of the day that goes according to Plan A is breakfast at 6. Over brekkie, Patrick checks the weather forecast for Santa Cruz, Bolivia and gets two different forecasts.  The AIS, (Aeronautical Information Service) METAR and TAF reports show visibility at 3.1 miles and 20-25 mph winds gusting to 35 -- a bit windy, but doable because the wind is blowing in the preferred direction.  The online weather services are predicting 50+ mph winds for the next two days, not good.  What are our options? Plan B – identify alternate airports enroute that are not windy where we can land if necessary.  This is a bit problematic because they are likely to be in Bolivia, but not international airports.  Plan C – take route that will take us around most of the wind.  It is a long flight and the weather pattern suggests that the winds decline later in the day.  This could be challenging from a fuel perspective.  Plan D – stay in Cuiaba until the winds pass. 

We opt to go to Santa Cruz and head to the airport.  Greg and Cathryn complete the forms for a Bolivian visa while waiting for Patrick to return from the flight planning office.  Patrick returns and announces, "There are not enough bloody letters in the alphabet".  Temporarily the Cuiaba airport is no longer an international airport, despite the fact that international commercial flights are scheduled.  Nonetheless we can't exit Brazil from Cuiaba and are now flying to Corumba, 2.5 hours south, to exit the country.

Patrick needs to contact Bolivian permitting to change our permit request once again.  Unusually, his Blackberry can’t send or receive.  We have come to appreciate and depend on his Blackberry.  The one advantage that Blackberry has over all other smart phone is that it is not dependent on WiFi or a cellular connection to send and receive email. 

We take off in grey skies flying over uninteresting land a bit frustrated with the way things have gone so far.  Patrick’s Blackberry vibrates.  There is a message from Bolivia that was sent earlier in the day.  To fly to Sucre we need an 'Altitude Endorsement’.  We have no idea what that is.

As we are complaining about the inconvenience of bureaucracy, we enter the Pantanal a large alluvial plane. It is an area with endless lakes and streams.  We have the wind at our back and are making good time.  Suddenly we are thanking our lucky stars.  The land below is brilliantly green, the water sapphire blue.

The Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world.  It is home to more than 263 species of fish, 122 species of mammals, 93 species of reptiles, 1,132 species of butterflies, 656 species of birds and 1,700 species of plants. Greg reads from his Brazil book that during the wet season the animals congregate on the few patches of high ground and during the dry season the caimans scurry about looking for water.  It is the middle of dry season and we strain our eyes in search of scurrying caimans.   He looks out the window and to tweak Cathryn says, “Those squiggly trails must be made by a very large snake.”  As if cued-up, through our headsets we heard the air traffic controller say, “Yes, sir, you are correct.” 

There are few houses in the area and those that we see are only accessible by boat.  Seismic peaks rise from the wetlands on the right side of the plane.  People come from around the world to see this natural wonder and it took a series of changing plans for it to show up on our radar.  Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

Heading into Corumba we discover that there is an international airport in Bolivia right across the border.  This day may turn out a lot better than we thought.

The Corumba airport is not busy when we arrive and Leonardo, the official who comes to meet us at the plane, is extremely helpful.  There are no immigration services at the airport and we would normally need to go the border, get a stamp and then return to the airport to leave.  It is lunchtime and the border office is closed until 2:00.  Leonardo calls Pedro, a border official who will break from lunch to help people.  He arrives at the airport, and is professional courteous and efficient as he purposefully examines all of our paperwork.  How lucky we are. We have to leave by 1:30 because we have a 4.5-hour flight to get to our permitted destination in Bolivia.  Thanks to Pedro we are 90% done.

Unfortunately, things are not going our way today.  We are on the runway, engines running, ready to take off without much time to spare.  When the tower says Bolivia has not issued the requisite permit to enter the country.  We are now in a void.  We have officially exited Brazil and we are unable to officially enter Bolivia.  Does this mean we will have to sleep on the plane?  No.  The benefit of being in a small community, they tell us to get a hotel and return in the morning. 

We were curious to see the town.  In the mid 1800s, it was the largest river port in the world and was the home to consulates from 12 countries.  Railroad construction caused the port business to radically decline.  Today, two story tour boats line the waterfront and many of the original buildings of the waterfront are under restoration. The Brazilian Government is supporting the restoration project and when it is done the area will be quite charming.
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