Our guts were telling us that to get into the insistently boisterous Moroccans’ car was a mistake, but it was the only chance we had to make it to the Brazilian Embassy. Taxi cabs weren’t allowed to leave the city and Rabat was well over 70 kilometers away. As Francesco attempted to negotiate the fare in French, we, along with Oline, another blond haired American girl, waited nervously as the situation seemed to intensify.
After extinguishing all other options, short of ending our trip here and now, we reluctantly got in and sped off. Seconds later we all gasped as the sound of a Muslim prayer chant echoed throughout the car. It took a split second to realize that it was only Abdel’s cell phone. I didn’t realize that those types of ringtones were available to download?!? He seemed to be shouting in an anxious tone at the person on the other line, in a language none of us, including Francesco, understood…..save for two words; “three Americans!”
Of course, my mind flashed to the numerous movies where wayward Americans unsuspectingly hop into the wrong car and end up in some radical Muslim terror camp.
As if on cue from the director, Abdel quickly pulled over, leapt from the car, spitting out something in French to our friend in the front, and a harsh statement to us in broken English, “We switch cars!”
I could visualize the police report reading, “Three Americans and one Italian, were last seen leaving in a white, late model sedan, with a dented back and excess rust on the right rear door.” An accurate and precise description, but utterly worthless now.
We were in a precarious situation, and I could tell Megan was terrified……
So, how did the Clarks' get themselves into this one? Well, it’s a really long story, but I’ll give you the abridged version.
After leaving Cinque Terre, we took a train north to Genoa to kill a couple days before our transatlantic cruise. Genoa wasn’t anything special, just your typical big Italian city loaded with palazzos and plazas. The best thing about it was that the room had Wi-Fi, so we used our time to plan out the South American leg of our journey.
Two days later, we took another train to the port of Savona to hop on the Costa Fortuna, with our full South American itinerary booked and paid for. It was time to kick back, relax and enjoy the pampering.
As we are checking in, the person in charge of immigration asks for our Visa’s for Brazil. I knew that Visa’s were required for extended stays, but we had checked on-line and discovered that with the cruise ship, as long as we aren’t staying overnight in the country, we wouldn’t need them. That, coupled with the fact that we didn’t receive any information from Costa stating we needed one, nor was there any indication on their website, made us feel 100 percent confident. So, when we were confronted, it was an utter shock.
We were pulled aside and forced to talk to the head immigration officer on the ship, Jose, from Peru. He had both the appearance and demeanor of your typical Central American dictator. I thought he could have easily been a second cousin to Chavez. He advised us to go and find the Visa somewhere in Italy, like Milan, and then fly and catch up with the ship later; knowing full well that few people actually do this once they walk away. He said that there was no way to get one once we were on board. In fact, according to him, there were no Brazilian embassies near any port we stopped at.
After going round and round with him (and getting on the internet and consulting other passengers), we were finally allowed to get on the ship only if we signed a form that required us to get off the ship in Tenerife (the stop after Casablanca) if we didn’t get the proper Visa. I know this must happen all the time, because he pulled out our preprinted forms from a stack that was a few inches thick. For a cruise with only 200 some Americans, the pile would have easily covered them all.
We spent the next two cruise days on-line filling out and printing all the required documents that we would need to take to the embassy in Morocco. It made for a stressful few days. We know of at least six other Americans who just didn’t get on the ship, as the evil Jose advised us to do as well. Of course, there were no refunds at all. I think there might have been more, but I believe that I, Megan and Oline were the only ones who hopped on and chose to risk it. Her boyfriend, Francesco, is Italian and thus doesn’t need a Visa, but he was still in the same literal and proverbial, “boat,” as we were.
We tried to relax a bit in our first port, Malaga. This was a beautiful Spanish town that is probably best known for being the birth place of Picasso. We strolled around town and took in a nice lunch of their local tapas and wine; all the time trying not to think about what might occur the next day in Casablanca…..
As Abdel jumped out of the car to get the new one, I was ready to grab Megan and make a run for it until Francesco explained that this car couldn’t handle the long trip, so he was getting a better car…a Mercedes. We were still a little leery, but decided to stay put.
Once in the newer, and much faster car, we were whisked through town and onto the highway heading toward our only chance to stay on the ship.
Five hours later, we were all safely back on the ship, much to the chagrin on Jose. I guess despots hate to be wrong…..especially when a few young Americans are the ones to prove him so.
Looking back on the entire day, there were definitely some stories that will remain with us forever. Whether it’s Megan getting a massage from Abdel, the embassy representative not knowing how to use the computer, the filthy city of Casablanca, or even Abdel trying to swindle more money out of us in the end (which I refused to pay, by the way), we will forever be grateful that we made it out alive and with our Brazilin Visa’s!
Now, we really can relax……