Category Archives: mail

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?

5 Comments

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!

Leave a comment

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

I like CTRL

I admit that yesterday’s post was probably a little over the top and revealed my control freak tendencies. But, it did yield results! I got responses from almost everyone I talked to yesterday, and I even found some good news regarding flights.

I woke up this morning to my first ever response from my host in Manaus, whom I had tried to email more than once before. I was pretty relieved to hear from her; after all, it’s pretty risky to head into the jungle on your own without any reassurance that there’s someone waiting on the other end to receive you! Fortunately she wrote that they (she and the school, I’d imagine) are eager to meet me. She also said that I am supposed to be going to Rio Branco, but that I’ll go to Manaus first. She said, “Do not worry about your trip will be great, you will like to know Manaus.” I wasn’t worried about Manaus, I was worried about Rio Branco! It looks like I’ll just have to go along with it, because I’m not getting a straight answer. I’m still working on relaxing my control freak ways, and I think Brazil will pretty much squash them out of me with its laissez-faire attitude.

A little bit later, I got a response from my college professor. I’d had this nagging feeling ever since I’d sent her the email that she wouldn’t want to do it, or wouldn’t be able to. After all, it’s summer vacation; what if she was away? She’s Greek; what if she’d gone to Greece for the summer? But as it turns out, she’s in Toronto, and has no problem signing my paperwork! I actually did a little dance. I had thought this would be my biggest hurdle, but it’s thankfully not an issue. Now all I need is my criminal record check, and I can take my paperwork to Toronto for the last set of signatures, and on to the Consulate. Apparently I have a better chance of expediting the visa process if I bring it there in person, which means I could actually be flying out in late July or early August.

Which brings me to the last bit of good news: I found the cheapest flight ever! I’ve been tracking flight prices for the last six months or so pretty religiously, and with the research in mind had estimated around $1600-$2000 for a return airfare. Then, last night I found an article in the Globe and Mail’s finance section that gave tips on getting cheap flights. It recommended a few sites that give out up-to-date promo codes. While perusing these sites, I came across an online travel booking service I’d never heard of before, STA Travel. Intrigued, I looked them up.

As it turns out, they’re a travel agency geared towards students, under 26es, and teachers – perfect for me. I plugged in some estimated travel dates and locations, and was astonished to see a quote literally half of some of the better deals I’d seen before, return, and taxes and fees included! I called this afternoon to make sure they are legit, and to ask if it would be possible to change the return flight because I’d be booking it so far in advance. They definitely checked out, and even if I have to pay some hefty fees for rebooking (like $300), the total cost would still come in well under budget.

Now, to get my affairs completely in order so I can book this awesome deal! I’m thinking I’ll wait and see what happens tomorrow regarding the criminal record check. If it’s ready for pickup between now and Monday, I can get to Toronto without problems and get the visa going, which means I could probably pre-emptively book my flight! Woo, it looks like this crazy adventure may actually happen after all!

Finally, this image should have appeared at the head of yesterday’s post:

*Note: The term "order" should only be applied to me insofar as I organize my life; it should in no way be associated with my daily lifestyle, which is more appropriately termed "chaos."

4 Comments

Filed under Brazil, crazy like a fox, IICA internship, mail, overcoming fear, red tape

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.

1 Comment

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