Category Archives: Canada

Two-Week To Do List

I have a lot to tell you about, but it’s all been jumbled up in my head the last few days, so I think I’ll write a bunch of articles that I will post slowly over the next few days. I should apologize in advance, however, because it’s pretty much all to do with my travel preparations. I figure I might as well record it, because all this nonsense is part of the journey too – and also because if anyone else stumbles on this blog and thinks they might like to do something similar, they can learn from my mistakes.

First of all, I’m leaving in 14 days! People keep asking me if I’m getting excited yet. Actually, it hasn’t really had time to sink in properly because I’ve been so fixated on getting all these necessary details sorted out. In a way it helps the time go by faster…but I have a feeling I’m suddenly going to be on a plane looking down at endless rainforest and it’ll suddenly click in that it’s all happening.

As you could probably guess from my previous posts, I’m pretty big on lists. Here’s my To-Do list for the days I have left. (I started it last week, so some things have been crossed off.)

  1. Obtain Visa
  2. Obtain travel medical
    insurance
  3. Talk to family doctor
  4. Get an International Driver’s License from CAA
  5. Buy a plug adapter/converter (waiting for new shipment at CAA)
  6. Put BlackBerry media software on HP Mini (my travel computer…not sure if this is possible, as it doesn’t have a disc drive)
  7. Study Portuguese (I’m trying, but I haven’t done it every day)
  8. Get confirmations to IICA and host school
  9. Clean up room/put things in storage
  10. Talk to Rogers about transferring SIM and contract to a new phone (I’m bringing mine with me)
  11. Hand in 2nd letter of resignation (I forgot that my teaching job technically has two employers, thus needs two letters)
  12. Figure out how to bank from Brazil – create PayPal accounts?
  13. Notify bank and credit card I’ll be out of the country
  14. Submit OHIP paperwork (for health insurance extension…you have to do this if you’ll be gone for >182 days)
  15. Ask MP about address change on passport (the portion you write in by hand, since we moved recently) and any “Canadian” swag
  16. Take out money and traveller’s cheques
  17. Get Canadian/Ontario brochures and maps from Tourism Ontario

Obviously the list is still pretty long (though definitely not exhaustive)…good thing I still have two weeks, and I’m not working! Also since my mom is off work on vacation, there’s usually a car around to do some errands. Thankfully, I can cross “obtain visa” off my list once and for all, as it showed up in my mailbox Monday morning! I knew there was a good reason for going back to Toronto!

I have to admit, my biggest worry after getting the visa and my plane ticket has always been the travel insurance. I’ve seriously been looking into it since last December, because I had no idea how expensive it would be to insure myself for a year out of country. I thought that I’d found a reasonable solution that would cost around $500 a few months ago, but when I plugged in the numbers last week it came to around $900! I’m already pretty daunted by the number of things eating into my modest travel savings, so another $400 did not make me happy.

So, I did what any frugal traveller should do and started shopping around again. I think I already mentioned that I looked into some organizations which I already belonged to, to see if there were group discounts. I probably talked to about five different companies, and used about 3-4 online quote generators, and things were not looking up. The norm seemed to be around $1000, which I was not going for. The only place that seemed to offer reasonable prices was ScotiaLife, but I did not like the sales agent at all (everyone else had been really nice).

The main problem seemed to be the length of time I’m going to be away. First, the longer your trip the bigger the price-tag. Second, most companies won’t insure you for more than half a year, usually because OHIP doesn’t extend longer than that (unless you get an extension, which I am doing). This was the sticky point for me: it seems that most travel insurance that’s offered is not meant to be long-term. So where do people go for this kind of insurance? There are tons of people out there who are gone for longer than six months!

I was fortunate to get a great piece of advice from a TD insurance agent: she suggested I call the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association’s Ombudservice. I was pretty excited to find out this even existed; after all, who doesn’t want to talk to a neutral body when choosing their insurance provider? So I called, explained my situation to the man who answered, and after a few seconds of perusing some unseen list in front of him, told me, “TIC.” It turns out, TIC is Travel Insurance Coordinators, a division of The Cooperators – and they really did have the best rates around, not to mention would cover me for things like doctor’s visits and hang-gliding (so key, as this is one of my goals!). So TIC it is, and my budget thanks my persistent research skills.

Despite reviewing and adding to my list last night, today was pretty unproductive. I’m going to have to get at least one thing done every day before I leave if I want to finish it all. Happily, the major things are all done, so there are only a handful of things that are crucial (such as contacting the bank and printing and copying my essential documents). What do you think, should I try to relax? Or is there something I’m forgetting?

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Filed under bargain hunting, Brazil, Canada, crazy like a fox, mail, travel documents, Travel Insurance

Mission Accomplished!

Note: I wrote this post yesterday, but due to internet issues I couldn’t publish it until now.  Enjoy this post, a day late – I’ll try to write something else for today later.

I did it – I submitted my visa application, glitch-free! Well, I say glitch-free, but as you know there was a lot of work and worry that went into getting me to that point.

I met up with my professor last night, and she signed my visa papers with no questions asked. I had a little chat with her about what I’ve been up to the last year and where I’m going, and also what she’s been doing since TESL. It was really nice talking to her, because she’s also a graduate of the same program as me about 7 years earlier, so it’s cool to hear her successes, too. Right now she isn’t teaching TESL, but is managing the ESL-equivalent English program at the college’s main campus. She said that the ESL classes are pretty much taking over the program, even though the classes (Communications) are mandatory for everyone. We also talked about the availability, or lack thereof, of ESL jobs in Toronto. Pretty much none of the school boards are hiring, and some of the larger centres have gone through restructuring recently, meaning that those with seniority (and I’m talking like 20 years’ experience) have jobs, while newer staffers (<20 years) are being let go. However, my prof assured me that there are jobs to be had for those willing to work multiple part-time gigs across the city. Basically, the situation is about what I thought; but it does go to show that only people who are creative and flexible are going to find work, which is good to know. I left my professor with a little Starbucks gift, and headed back downtown to meet my sister for some amazing frozen yogurt.

Anyway, that brings me to today. I woke up early, around 7:30, with the intention of getting to the consulate at a good hour in case I needed to do more running around before they close at noon. I took the subway two stops over to Bay station (too nervous to walk all that way) and went to the TD which happens to be on the ground floor of the same building to get a bank draft. When I checked the website this morning to verify the cost of the application, I anxiously scanned the other document requirements, praying I hadn’t left anything out. Well of course there was something that had been overlooked, because the internship people didn’t tell me everything. I also needed to prove residency in the Consular jurisdiction. Fortunately a quick word to the bank teller got me a printout with my name and address, which was acceptable.

Okay, well it's scarier on the inside.As I said, the Consulate General of Brazil is in the same building as the TD. For anyone who knows Toronto, this is on the corner of Bay and Bloor; and yes, it is a giant high-rise. 77 Bloor is a scarily corporate building, with a lobby, a front desk, and two types of elevators for different spans of floors. I had to go in the higher one. I was sweating bullets already, and it had nothing to do with the 38 degree temperature outside (yes, it’s 38*C in Toronto. I was here six months ago and it was literally -38*C).

On the eleventh floor, I entered a long, quiet hallway of tall, opaque doors. I entered the correct one hesitantly, to find a room like a fishbowl with a bunch of other nervous-looking people milling around. I found the window for visa requests, and fortunately there was nobody there, so I stepped up.

The woman I spoke to was nice, but didn’t really crack a smile (perhaps she was just naturally mimicking my demeanour, as I’m sure my fear was projecting as seriousness). She rifled through my documents, commenting that the photos were the wrong size (I had the other size too – no issue), my application was two years out of date (not my fault! It was sent to me by IICA!), and worst of all, she noticed the one signature was not an original but a copy. I remained quiet as she examined the page, then offered a copy of my email correspondence with IICA where I asked them to send me the originals and they told me to figure it out because there wasn’t any time.

Luckily, the woman told me I could just fill out the correct application on a computer in the corner and she’d print it out for me. She cut the photo I had down to the right size and gave me a gluestick to put it on myself. She collected everything, took my passport, and then told me I’d be able to pick up my visa…next Thursday!

What a relief! What did I say about my crazy attention to detail paying off? I can now officially say that I am for realz going to Brazil in 20 days!

(Oh God, I hope that wasn’t premature; I don’t have the visa in hand, after all. Let’s ignore that and celebrate my success, okay?)

The only thing I had left to do was run down to the post office across the street and pick up an ExpressPost envelope so she could send it to me. Much as I love Toronto, I don’t really know what I’d do for yet another week with no money, no AC, and no bed (still on the sister’s couch). So I’ll stick around here for another day or two, then mercifully head home to enjoy the beach and use of my parents’ car for another two weeks 😀

Add cachaca to crushed ice, muddled lime, and sugar. Stir and serve!

And because I’m anal retentive and have already bought, packed, and planned almost everything else I need for my trip (with some exceptions…you’ll get details later, rest assured), I can fully enjoy some catch-up time when the Third Musketeer, my friend Breanna, comes home in a week or so. I picked up a bottle of cachaça the other day and am very much looking forward to testing out some caipirinhas prior to the real thing in Brazil!

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Filed under Brazil, Canada, crazy like a fox, Excited!, mail, red tape, Toronto, travel documents

The Sticker Picker-Upper

I’m sitting on a bus on my way to Toronto, which means I got my criminal record check this morning! It was a little hectic, as I had to drop my mom off at work, stop off at my work (to deliver a notice of resignation), and then go to the police station all before 9:30 am. I was hesitant to go to the station, because the woman I’d been talking to had done me a great favour already, and this was the second time I’d be showing up without waiting for her phone call. I approached the customer service window with a sheepish look, but fortunately she had the envelope right there waiting for me! Bingo!

I called my dad to confirm that I could come with him (he is doing business in London today), then rushed home to pack. As I was rushing around triple-checking I had all my relevant documents, my grandma shuffled downstairs in her nightie and handed me a twenty. I asked her what it was for, and she just replied, “For being a good girl.” Adorable. It’s going towards my subway fare, as I don’t have any cash on me, but at this point $20 is a big help towards not dipping into my travel savings before I leave!

I also sneaked in a quick email to my prof, notifying her I’ll be in town. I’m hoping I can meet with her today, so I can go straight to the Consulate tomorrow morning – and thus have time to deal with any potential problems before the weekend (here’s hoping there are none).

Have you ever seen the TV game show “Minute to Win It”? It’s a pretty new program, but the concept is really simple: teams of contestants perform challenges with props made of household items in a series of minute-long rounds. Each round brings the team closer to the ultimate prize of one million dollars. I don’t usually watch it, but my grandma does sometimes. The other day it was on, and I watched one team compete in a challenge for $125,000. Their task (or one girl’s; only one person plays at a time) was to hold an egg on a tray and roll it around to pick up these little red stickers without letting the egg roll off – in under a minute. It took her two tries, but she did it and won the $125,000.

This may sound like a stupid challenge, but when you’re standing in front of a studio audience with spotlights and there’s that much money at stake, I can imagine it must be pretty nerve-wracking. In fact, I’m pretty sure I can relate. It’s like I am that egg rolling around on a tray, trying to pick up elusive stickers on a timeline. Strategy goes out the window, and so many times you think you’ve got one of those suckers when in fact, due to the natural curve of the egg, you missed it entirely. I feel about as vulnerable as an uncooked egg too; my emotions are stretched so thin that if all of this falls apart (and I metaphorically roll off the tray), I’ll crack for sure. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen – or if it does, that I have a lifeline like the girls on the show and get a second chance!

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Filed under Brazil, Canada, cheesy metaphors, IICA internship, red tape, Toronto, travel documents

I Booked My Flight!

Woo!!

After A LOT of hassle with my credit card, I finally managed to confirm this morning that my flight booking with STA went through! I’ll be leaving from Detroit Metropolitan at 3:20pm on Wednesday, August 10, arriving in Miami International at 6:25pm. I will then sit on my luggage for approximately ten hours overnight, and then check into my international flight direct to Manaus,

Like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, I'll probably take a shower in an airport sink.

departing at 7:40am and arriving at 12:45pm on August 11. I ended up booking these flights separately because the Miami-Manaus return flight has moveable dates with minimal fees, and I’ll have to move the return date eventually. The Detroit-Miami flight is one-way, and has some steep penalties for changes (i.e. it wouldn’t be worth it), so I really hope I don’t have trouble with the Consulate later this week, or I’m screwed!

I’m also kind of glad that I only have one connection instead of two, like I would have with the original cheap flight. I will be carrying all my worldly possessions with me (okay, the ones I need to survive in hot weather and be able to teach, so not really all), and I am decidedly uncomfortable with the possibility of lost or delayed baggage. Even the travel agent girl who was helping me book seemed to think that American Airlines would be a more reliable choice than US Airways. Any thoughts on this?

Anyway, thinking about lost baggage got me to thinking about travel/medical insurance, and now that’s next on my list of things to conquer. I did some research last night (of course! Do you think I would take a break after accomplishing one goal?), and came up with a few providers that might work for me. STA travel actually provides travel medical at a reasonable rate, but when I asked an agent about it this morning he seemed to think it would be too expensive for me for a year, arbitrarily quoting around $700. Realistically, this isn’t that bad for a year, so I don’t know why he didn’t bother to get me a true quote. But I’m determined to shop around; I don’t want my flight savings to get eaten up by insurance!

I decided to check out providers who are linked with companies and associations I’m already a part of, for instance: my alma mater association, my teaching association, and my banks. I dug out the welcome package from my travel credit card (I have a TD Platinum Travel Visa) and read through the schedule of benefits. Boy, am I glad I did – and doubly glad I didn’t give up on charging the flight booking to my card when I could have used debit! Apparently, as long as I book my travel using the Visa, I have all kinds of travel insurance when on a “Common Carrier,” i.e. plane, train, boat, or rental car. This includes accidental death or dismemberment (ew) up to half a mil, up to $1000 for lost or delayed baggage for >6 hours, emergency flights home, cancellation, and I will never have to pay for car rental insurance again. This is all super exciting, and well worth the $99 annual fee I pay for my card.

Then I checked out the benefits with my newly-purchased ISIC card (shhh! They don’t have to know I’m no longer a student, especially since my college ID has no dates :D). The travel agent who gave the lazy quote also mentioned that the ISIC has basic travel – are you kidding me?This card cost $22 US! So for like $20 Canadian I’m getting some extra coverage on pretty much everything I mentioned with the travel Visa. Saweet!

I still have some following up to do on the alumni association insurance, but I have a phone number to call for another day. Additionally, I left a message with an agent from City Insurance, which is linked to ING (my other bank). And just a few minutes ago I got a tip from a friend who studied abroad recently – apparently her cheapest rate was with ScotiaLife, so I’ll have to look into them, too. That would really be ironic, as I used to sell Accidental Death for ScotiaLife as a telesales agent while I was still a student (hey, gotta make a living somehow). My last option would be to wait until I get to Brazil and buy insurance through the school when I get there, which might work out. My only problem with that would be that any contact with the insurers would be in Portuguese, which I don’t yet speak; but at least the contacts are in the same country as me if something goes wrong. Clearly I have some decision-making to do here.

As you can see, I am clearly anal retentive when it comes to planning trips – but I am crazy like a fox! (Hey, that should be a new blog category!) Between credit card points, thrifty but practical airfares, and shopping around, I bet I’ve already saved myself nearly a grand – which is a substantial portion of my savings, and almost enough to fly back home for Christmas with. I am quite pleased with this progress! On the other hand, I am still freaking out about my upcoming visit to the Brazilian Consulate. Now that I have my flights booked, I feel like everything is carved in stone. If I have visa (the legal document) troubles, I really don’t know what I’ll do, and all that savings will be for naught.

I didn’t get a call to pick up my Criminal Record Check today, so hopefully it’ll come in tomorrow and I can head to Toronto the same day. I’ll keep you posted as always, but in the meantime…wish me luck!

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Filed under bargain hunting, Brazil, Canada, crazy like a fox, Excited!, fear, Flights, immigration, red tape, Travel Insurance

Nothing Worthwhile is Ever Easy

Contrary to what you may think, this has nothing to do with Brazilian bikinis. And you're gross for thinking about it.

You’d think this (the title) was a lesson I’d learned during my undergrad…alas, it is one that I will likely need reminding of my entire life.  It was a pervasive theme throughout all the other mini lessons I learned today.

After last week’s craziness, I decided to put the stress out of my mind for the weekend and get back to it on Monday. So, today was round three of my pre-departure errand marathon. Rather than bore you with the specifics, I decided to make a list of lessons I’ve learned in the last day or two, and in the course of things explain how I learned them.

Lesson 1: Nepotism Works for Me

I found out once I’d received my documents package that I needed a criminal record check, which was a huge piss-off because I could have gotten one done while I was waiting. Luckily, my sister had to get one a few weeks ago, and when my mom went to pick it up for her she got to chatting with the Police secretary. It turns out that she knows my grandma from when she worked at the police office ~12 years ago! She encouraged us to notify her if we needed police services again…well, just three weeks later (last week), I went in with my own police record request. I popped in today to check on the status, as I hadn’t asked her how long it would take. She informed me that she’d put it in as soon as I’d brought it to her last week, and it would be ready likely tomorrow! This is great news, as it’s now the last piece of information I need other than the signature from my Humber professor. Which brings me to…

Lesson 2: Keep in Touch with your References

You never know when you’re going to have to call in a favour, and references are so crucial to getting the things you want. Jobs, internships, and graduate school are some of the most obvious things for which references are needed, and at this point in my career, my résumé isn’t strong enough yet to recommend me on its own. I had a supervisor for my fourth year thesis who would be a killer grad school reference, but I haven’t talked to him in two years. I guess I’d better get on that, before it’s a month before some deadline and I’m praying he answers an ancient email address. Luckily, my college career was only a year ago, and the professor who is referring me for the internship/visa is super nice. I’ll just have to email her with a time to meet up and she should be able to sign my forms. J

Lesson 3: Don’t Forget to Floss

Okay, this one isn’t strictly related, and it’s kind of a no-brainer. But I went to the dentist today for a check-up and cleaning, and got the usual tongue-lashing (no pun intended) from my dental hygienist about flossing. Actually, she phrased it in the nicest possible way. She said, “You’re too pretty to be ugly,” which apparently means I have great teeth but I’m risking having awful ones later if I don’t pick up a dental pick every once in a while. Lesson learned, Veronica, lesson learned.

Lesson 4: Never Assume One Party has Given You Complete Information about a Third Party

I’ve talked about this before, but I’ve had a lot of confusion with the internship people on exact details. Seriously, every time I email them with a question, one person (the assistant) will email me with one answer, and later another person (the professor) will email me telling me something completely different. Even the contact I’ve had with the school where I’ll be teaching (some of it in Spanish, with me using Google Translate) has added to the confusion, and now I don’t know if I’m teaching in Manaus or Rio Branco. But due to language barriers and me giving up, I’m just going to have to figure that part out when I get there. Anyway, I had some questions for the Brazilian consulate regarding my visa application, so I emailed them directly to find out what all I needed to have in order. It turns out I actually need my flight booked before I apply, so I can provide a travel itinerary. Wish I’d known that last week when I found that flight!

Lesson 5: Telephone Customer Service Agents can be your Best Friend

…if you are polite and firm. This also proves true for email and face-to-face interaction. I think I spent about three hours on the phone today talking to various people, and although I suffered through a lot of automated dialing and repetitive hold music, I got a lot accomplished. I jumped right on the flight booking (see my last post for details on the site I found for cheap flights). Fortunately, the cheap flights were still available – but when I punched in all my information to complete the booking, it turned out the website didn’t recognize my Canadian address. I called the 1-800 number and talked to a wonderful, friendly agent for a good 20 minutes. She explained that the ticket I was about to purchase, while cheap, wouldn’t be a good one to use if I need to change my booking because the fees would be high, and on top of that I’d need to pay the flight difference – which would likely be considerable. Instead, she found me a return ticket from Miami and a one-way from Detroit. Although the upfront cost is almost $500 more than the supercheap ticket, I’ll be able to change my ticket for only $50 at a later date. On top of everything, this is still considerably under the budget I’d set for myself, so I’ll have some money set aside for coming home at Christmas J.

*Sidenote: airlines only schedule flights about 320 days in advance. If you want to book a flight for later, you have to book an earlier one and then change it when you get closer to the date. I don’t know how this will affect my travel visa, but I’ll have to go with a June return date for now.

Things went a little sour when it came time to pay and my credit card wouldn’t go through. The travel agent I was speaking with said she’d call me back after I contacted the bank. We actually went back and forth about four times with me calling the bank, then the travel agency calling me, then me calling the bank again. Apparently Visa wasn’t too on the ball with lifting the hold from my account, but once again I had super friendly service and the people were very easy to talk to. I’ve never had a problem with Visa or with my bank, TD – part of the reason I can’t fully commit to an online banking conversion, much as I love ING Direct.

Anyway, I think everything has finally been straightened out. I’m now waiting for a flight itinerary and e-ticket to show up in my email inbox and I’ll be sure it’s all set!  Details to come…

Lesson 6: Make Sure All Relevant People Know You’re Going Away

I feel like I’ve been preparing to go away for a billion years (a.k.a. six months at least), and there are still things to be done! Some of these things will have to be done at the last minute, for example: informing my bank and credit card company that I’ll be out of the country. This was already a problem today when I tried to put a large purchase from an American company on my Canadian Visa. Other people I’ll have to inform will be OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan, for any non-Ontarians) and EI (Employment Insurance), which I applied for last week – hey, I’m technically laid off for the summer, might as well be collecting while I’m in the country! If I’ve missed anybody important, feel free to tell me in the comments. This is my first time leaving for such a substantial period of time, so I’ll need all the help I can get.

Lesson 7: Remember to Breathe

Talk about a no-brainer (I once heard a blonde joke about this), but it’s actually the number one rule of yoga. My mom is pretty good at reading my stress levels (I’m usually projecting it onto her anyways), and this afternoon as I left to do all my errands she said I sounded like I was pretty tightly wound. And, despite a weekend of lying on the beach, watching Harry Potter, and drinking various alcoholic beverages, the thought of one day of running around totally did stress me out. At dinner I reviewed everything I did today, and my mom asked me when, during the next year, I thought I’d start stressing about the year after my internship. Well, I sincerely hope that a year in Brazil will cure or at least treat my rampant control freakism, but that may be too much to ask. For now, I’ll just remember the mantra of my yoga studio: “If you can breathe and smile, you’re doing yoga.” At least I have newly-cleaned and sparkling teeth!

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Filed under bargain hunting, Canada, crazy like a fox, Flights, IICA internship, Life Lessons, red tape, travel documents

Oh Internship, how do you confuse me? Let me count the ways

Well friends, it finally happened…my documents package finally arrived from Brazil! This is the moment I’ve been waiting for since I found out I’d gotten a placement back in May. Seriously, it was a long and painful wait for the ten or so pages of documentation I needed to apply for my trainee visa! But it’s kind of a long story, so let me back it up a bit.

I mentioned in my last post that I’d emailed the internship people to find out if they had any details about the mail from their end, such as a tracking number. To my relief, I woke up Thursday morning to an email with both a tracking number and reassurance that, according to Brazil’s Correios, the package had arrived in Canada on June 30 (Note: it had been postmarked June 13; therefore, the main holdup was not with Canada Post, despite the strike/lockout, but with the Brazilian system!). I was advised to check it out on the Canadian end, which of course I did. So I entered the tracking number into the tracking box on Canada Post’s website…and nothing came up.

Okay, I thought, maybe it’s still stuck in Customs, or maybe the tracking number will be different on the Canadian end than the Brazilian end. So I called up Canada Post, expecting to be stuck on hold forever only to be told off for not anticipating delays after a shutdown. Fortunately I got a customer service agent right away, although she did confirm that the wait time was around 3-4 weeks, especially for international deliveries as there was a customs backlog. Great. Then she checked my tracking number, and again nothing came up. I told her about it allegedly having left Brazil, so she checked the Brazilian mail system…still nothing. Then I started to panic: was this a fictional parcel? Was IICA lying to me? Was there some crazy conspiracy between IICA, Canada Post and Correios to make me lose my mind?

Okay, it wasn’t quite that dramatic…but I really didn’t know what to think. I emailed my internship contact once again to confirm the tracking number, then did what I always do when I get stressed and called my mommy to deal with it. She loves this sort of thing, where you can research it on the internet (instead of doing real work. I just let her do that). Then I left the house and attempted to have a normal day by doing some more window shopping, patio reading, and meeting with a friend.

The next morning I awoke to another email:

Skylar:

Good morning. The correct tracking number is:

EB—05*****79BR

It was sent you EE, which is wrong.

Kind Regards.

Internship Coordinator

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry with relief, I quickly re-entered the new tracking number into the Canada Post site. Lo and behold, the item had cleared Customs and reached London, an hour away from home! I was hopeful that the package could even arrive at my house that day, in which case I’d have my mom Purolate it to me at my sister’s place and try to stay an extra couple days to go to the consulate. Alas, it didn’t, and I took the train home on Sunday night.

Monday: Canada Post, 9:00 am – item out for delivery (no delivery)

5:00 pm – item redirected to recipient’s new address (I moved a month ago)

Tuesday: Canada Post,    9:13 am – item out for delivery

10:41 am – item successfully delivered (!!!)

I was in my pajamas still this morning when the red, white and blue postal truck finally showed up in our driveway. I signed the little machine thing, and was handed a half-page sized envelope, which seemed pretty anticlimactic after all this time. I opened it, mom watching on. It was literally just the visa paperwork, with a page or two of sparse instructions on what to add, and half the pages were in Portuguese.

Upon reading a little closer, I noticed that my Brazilian address and workplace didn’t say Manaus, but Rio Branco. I assumed it was somewhere on the outskirts of the city, like Markham is to Toronto. So over breakfast I perused my information and decided to Google Map the location. Why didn’t I recall that this was a surefire way to start panicking, like when I first learned about Manaus?

I searched it and found the little pink pinpoint, but didn’t recognize any of the green surroundings, so I zoomed out. Still nothing, so I zoomed out some more. And out…and out…until I saw a country border, and recognized Bolivia, and then Peru! Rio Branco is the capital city of the most Westerly state in Brazil, Acre; a state, which according to the Lonely Planet, was bought/stolen from Bolivia in the early 1900’s, although “The Brazilian government…had never really supported the upstart Acreans and refused to name Acre a state, designating it the nation’s first ‘federal territory’ instead.” Great, I had just gotten used to the idea of moving to Manaus, city of 1.8 million though isolated, and here I was being shafted to a city so remote that even the Brazilian government couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge its existence!

My next move was to attempt to get in touch with my supposed contact in Manaus/Rio Branco (it was the same person I tried emailing a few weeks ago). I called the number on my documentation, but whoever answered the phone only spoke Portuguese and didn’t recognize the name I gave. I listened to dead air for a few minutes in case he’d just put the phone down to go get her (the connection was unclear) before getting an earful of beeping, signalling that I’d been hung up on. I tried my hand at emailing said contact once more, then sent an update email to my internship coordinator informing him I’d received the package and was a little confused at its contents.

I spent the next hour translating the Portuguese documentation into English before I had to sign my life away, and noticed another slightly alarming detail: my college reference, which at the time of my initial application was in no way involved as I used a general reference letter, was on my visa documentation! She is expected to vouch for me with her signature at the consulate level when I apply for my visa. This complicates my life just that much more, as I haven’t spoken to my reference in over a year, and she lives and works in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). So I shot another email off to her.

Meanwhile, I got response from IICA:

Skylar:

You initially had been screened for the school in Rio Branco.

The director decided you to be placed in Manaus, since the position in Rio Branco had been filled.

Thus you get your visa according to your papers and when you arrive a change of address from Rio Branco to Manaus will be done a imigration dept. in Manaus.

Kind Regards.

Heart attack averted! Only to be replaced by another email, minutes later:

Ms. Skylar:

Notice that two packages of visa paperwork were sent you. One in April, which I think you never received, and another one in June 13 (which is the correct).

The first one had xerox copies and not original copies. The second package sent June 13 had hard copies.

Be sure you have at hands the last one with the hard copies, since consulate of Brazil will not accept xerocopies. Void the first package, if you finally received it.

Kind Regards.

Which package had I received? It was date stamped for June 13, so I was pretty sure it was the one he wanted me to have…but the papers looked suspiciously photocopied. I verified…and was told to go ahead with this paperwork. Dear God, I hope there are no problems with it!

If all this wasn’t enough, apparently I’m also supposed to attach a criminal record check, which is notoriously a stupidly long waiting period, even in my hometown. I could have done it 5 times over while waiting, but nobody told me about it. Fortunately, my grandma used to work at the police station and has connections, so I went there today and used that nepotism to the best of my ability (pretty sure I won’t have to pay, but fingers crossed for expediency as well!). I’m also not sure I got the right sized passport photos done…I went back and had them re-taken, only to be further confused by different instructions on the consular website than on my documentation. Finally, I don’t know if I’m supposed to have my flight booked before flying, as the visa application requires a date and point of entry. Argh! So many things. At least I feel like I accomplished something towards leaving today, although once again, I’ll be sitting around and waiting for other people to act so that I can move forward.

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Filed under Brazil, Canada, fear, IICA internship, mail, red tape, travel documents

Aimless in Toronto

A stereotypical Toronto photo...not mine, clearly

…Which is my current location. I’ve been chilling in T-dot for about 3 days now. You may recall a few posts back that I mentioned I didn’t know what would come next once I was done. Well, shortly after writing that, I got the bright idea to call up my old boss at the language school where I worked last summer and see if I could do some supply teaching. They’re always really busy in July. So I emailed him that night, and he emailed me back early the next morning to say sure, there would most likely be work for me. Hooray! I was super pumped about that prospect. I know, I know…a three day weekend isn’t exactly summer vacation, but I don’t take well to idleness. Or rather, I take to it too well – and then I just never get around to doing anything, ever again. I was also really excited to get to spend some time with my former co-workers, who have turned into great friends. And on top of everything there is always a good possibility of meeting some cool Brazilians (after all, it was working at this school with Brazilians that gave me the idea to go there in the first place).

The idea was bright and everything, and I thought I’d had things so well planned out. I would stay at my sister’s place, work during the day like everyone else I know in TO, then hang out with my various groups of friends in the evenings. If I didn’t have work I would read, blog, or learn some Portuguese (as I’d mentioned before). Well, here I am on Wednesday night, and no call from the boss to work. Which is strange because I have it on excellent authority (friends who still teach at the school) that enrolment is high and experienced staff is few. So that means that I’ve spent the last three days trying to sleep in (no such luck – sister and her boyfriend are babysitting a very needy cat [read: I am babysitting a needy cat]), shopping (I’d already bought everything I need for Brazil, and now I have no source of income), and reading in random locations across the city.

Future Bakery, a pastry shop/pub that's open until 1am every night - a student's dream!

The reading part forces me to be very creative, since I don’t want to just sit around in my sister’s basement apartment. So far I have nursed iced coffee on the patios of two Starbucks and one famous bakery, and read approximately 75 pages of Tina Fey’s autobiography Bossypants without buying it by hiding out in the corners of different bookstores for prolonged periods. I intend to finish the book – without buying it – before I leave Toronto.

This could be me at any Indigo location across the GTA

In theory, I’m doing everything you’re supposed to do on vacation. I’m reading, visiting friends, I’m eating well (I got groceries on Monday), I’m getting lots of exercise on my lengthy and unnecessary walks through the city, and I’m sleeping in (ish). Things should be great! But I am SO BORED. And antsy. And feeling not a little guilty that I just gave up an amazing job for seemingly nothing! Also, I know my disposable income (i.e. the money not allocated to travel) will run out very soon, and then I’ll either have to stop doing anything fun or leave for Brazil on my own. I really don’t know which is scarier (you probably don’t live in my hometown, so you wouldn’t understand. Or you do, so you know what I mean). Basically I thought I’d feel cool and carefree in Toronto, but instead I feel like a homeless, couch-surfing cat lady who loiters overlong in coffee shops and bookstores and makes other customers uncomfortable. At least I’m not talking to myself yet (or am I? What is a blog, after all?).

Anyway, I sent a long and hopefully evocative email to the internship people just before writing this, so hopefully they take pity on me and something gets done about this interminable snail mail limbo in which I’ve been mired for the past six weeks. I’ll try to write something less whiny and more entertaining and substantial in the near future. Until then, wish me luck!

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Filed under Canada, cat lady, fear, friends, insecurities, Toronto