Our next destination will be New York City, and it is a very unexpected trip. Today is Thursday morning. We get out of bed in our hostel in Paraguay and get ready to head to Uruguay, when suddenly my phone rings.
It’s Marc, my cousin and dearest friend, calling. A brief explanation up front. When we were about to leave for our journey, Marc got very sick and so we delayed our trip with a few months to see where this would lead. So in stead of leaving in October we left in February. It seemed like Marc was fighting his way through this disease and he himself would rather see that we would not postpone our dream for him.
In these few months, in which his life was turned upside down, I assured him that I would be at his wedding no matter what. He assured me that we would be back by then, because he would show this cancer who’s the boss. Positive as always!
While holding the phone I see his name on the screen and I can’t help but think that this is bad news. When I answer the phone I instantly can tell by his voice that something is wrong. He asks me if Milou is there with me. My heart stops, are the thoughts I had becoming real now? I go to the kitchen to get Milou and we sit down on a small bench. Then he delivers the devastating news. The cancer has, in 8 days, grown out to a killer, expected to strike within a few weeks. All I can do is ask him “Now what?”. “Now we will get married as soon as possible.” he replies.
Without hesitation I tell him that we will pause our trip and head back home. I did make him a promise after all! He tries to talk me out of this, like I expected. But I tell him that this is not his choice, we will be back for the wedding, end of discussion.
His voice tells me that he is very delighted to hear this. On the question when the wedding will be he answers that it will be as soon as possible, Friday next week at the latest, which is in 8 days. Not really knowing what else to say I tell him that I will let him know, as soon as possible, when we can be back. So he can let me know if that will be in time for the wedding.
Tickets and buses
We start looking for a way to get home immediately. Without us knowing we have got half the hostel helping us. We tell the story to 1 or 2 people and in no-time everybody is helping out looking for buses and tickets to Amsterdam. Talking about helpfulness.
The buses are going to be our biggest problem. In Paraguay it’s rather difficult to find out what time a bus leaves and how often in a day. There isn’t really much of a choice but to call them, but we do not speak the national language, Guarani. Luckily, Adrian, the owner of the hostel, told us at the barbecue that he would call them for us when we decided to go to Uruguay. So, it is time to wake him up. Normally we wouldn’t do this but now our priority lies with getting home as soon as possible. Adrian doesn’t mind to be woken up, he’s a friendly, cheerful and helpful guy. After explaining the situation he even kicked it up a notch.
For flight tickets there isn’t much choice, unless we want to spend a fortune. Money isn’t the issue now life is at stake, but if we could get a reasonable ticket price that would be a bonus. There is a flight from São Paulo to Amsterdam on Friday night, with a layover in New York and Boston. This is the fastest option to land in the Netherlands, so this will be the one. The biggest problem though will be to arrive in São Paulo on time, 1400 kilometres from here. We are not able to buy the plane tickets at this point, because we are not sure yet if we will make it on time. If we do get there on time, chances are that our tickets are already sold, which would leave us with another major problem. But that is a problem for later, first we focus on getting to São Paulo.
Adrian calls the terminal to ask if there are still buses going today that take us in the direction of São Paulo. The good news is that there are some, but there is no direct bus, meaning we have to take several buses. The first bus will leave in about an hour, so we have to rush to get there in time. We ‘pack’ our bags in 5 minutes, say goodbye to Adrian and all the people that helped us, send some WhatsApp messages to Marc with our plans and then head towards the bus stop on foot. We have checked our planning online, for as far as possible, and if all goes well we should arrive at the airport 3 hours prior to departure.
6 buses, 3 planes
We take the city bus to the terminal and start looking for our first intercity bus. The terminals here are big and depending on the size there can be about 50 different bus companies. This terminal is a big one, which makes sense since this is the capital. Luckily most off them have signs saying where they are going, but unfortunately there are no times and prices listed on the signs. Therefore you really have to talk to the people behind the counters. They will then make you a price, I think depending on how you look? They say something and if you agree you will pay way too much. If you are good at negotiating and have the time to go to different stands you can get a ticket for half the price or less.
Another thing they do here is offer you tickets for the last bus of that day, sometimes even for the one the day after. We never found out why they do this, but it can be quite annoying. After asking a lot of questions, we finally get some times and prices for buses leaving tonight. After asking a lot more questions, they offer us a bus leaving within the hour…
The first counter is out of tickets for today, and tell us they are the only bus company in this terminal that have buses to Foz do Iguaçu. We don’t think this is true since it’s such a big terminal., so we decide to look for another one. As we suspected there are other bus operators offering trips to Ciudad del Este. Across the border with Brazil, next to Foz do Iguaçu. The next one we encounter has a bus leaving in half an hour. We ask, the somewhat English speaking lady, if the bus continues to Foz do Iguaçu and she explains to us that there are no buses here that do that. All of them stop in Ciudad del Este.
Great! We didn’t think of that. Meaning we now have to get from the terminal in Ciudad del Este to the terminal in Foz do Iguaçu in time. Like we didn’t already have enough stress. There is nothing we can do about this so we ask her of she might be able to call the terminal to ask what time the bus in Foz leaves. She asks a co-worker to do this for us and we wait patiently. But it does take quite long so I start to look around and behind us there is another operator for Ciudad del Este. Time to cross the hallway. The bus with this operator leaves in 5 minutes and is also 30% cheaper per person. I quickly call Milou but she feels a bit sorry for the man who is trying to contact the terminal. “That’s too bad” is my reply. If he can’t fix anything (which is most likely) we still have nothing and leave half an hour later even. So this one is the better option and we decide to get two tickets.
We pay the tickets and run down towards the buses. The bus is still there, thank god! The bus driver is a bit impatient and cranky though, but that’s his problem. He throws (literally) our bags in the storage compartment and we go to our seats. Bus number 2 is a fact!
Ciudad del Este
In the bus there is an American couple (father and daughter) which we meet later on at the terminal in Ciudad del Este looking for a taxi. We remember where to find these and guide them there. We ask them where they are heading and it appears to be the same direction as we are. The woman speaks quite some Spanish so we propose to share a taxi. She talks to the taxi drivers but they both don’t want to put us in the same taxi and miss out on the money.
So we get in our own taxi and head towards the bridge to cross the border. Then we stumble upon a massive traffic jam. All bargain hunters heading back home i guess. Our taxi driver is clearly not amused and the longer it takes the more cranky he gets. Especially when he also has to stop 2 times at customs and after that we even get picked for a routine bag check. Karma is a bitch! He should have let all of us get in the same taxi. For us the time pressure is released a bit since the 7 o’clock bus left an hour ago. For a moment we thought we could make it when we got out of the bus. But we forgot there is an hour time difference here.
We arrive at the terminal and start looking for our next bus. Luckily in Brazil the buses are better organized and we don’t have to look for the best prices and times. But still there is no direct bus available to São Paulo so we will have another transition somewhere. The bus will leave in five minutes. We explain our situation to the guy behind the counter and suddenly he gets up and runs off. Now that’s strange. A few seconds later we see him hanging over the balcony, yelling. When he gets back behind his desk he tells us that he told the bus driver to wait. Great! Such people can really make me happy!
Curitiba is going to be our next stop. Once again the bus driver is waiting for us impatiently, throws our bags in the luggage compartment and we go to our seats. The bus ride to Curitiba is smooth and once we arrive at the terminal we go look for a bus to São Paulo, finally! This bus also leaves a few minutes after we book our tickets. Since all buses left practically when we arrive we did not really have time to eat something or plan along our way. Good thing the buses are equipped with a miniature fridge filled with water. Rudely we drank half of the fridge with the both of us, but not because we wanted to.
About 6 more hours to go and 11 more until our plane leaves. This should work. Sadly we did not have any working WiFi in our buses to check the status of our tickets. Also we have not been in touch with Marc so we have no idea if we will even be in time for the wedding. This bus also doesn’t have WiFi so we will just hope for the best once we arrive.
About an hour and a half after our departure the bus stops all of a sudden on the highway. When looking out of the window it appears that everyone has stopped. We wait patiently, it will probably be over soon. We have something to read, music and Candy Crush to kill time so we should be alright. After about an hour and a half we suddenly see the bus driver laying in the seat next to us. Now we start to wonder and try to find out what is going on. We don’t understand a word the driver is saying so there is nothing more to do than just wait and see. Now let’s hope those 9 hours are more than enough time to catch our flight.
Another hour later the bus starts to move again and the rest of the ride is without any problems. We are dropped off at the terminal and start looking for our final bus towards the airport. That bus will not leave for another hour so we have time to see if our tickets are still available. And then book them straight away since we will probably make it in time now. We remember this terminal having an area with free WiFi since we’ve been here on our way from Ilha Grande to Foz do Iguaçu. The tickets are still available and they have even become a bit cheaper. And even better, the layover in Boston has been cancelled, we now have a longer layover (10 hours) in New York instead. We book the tickets and start looking for our bus again.
While looking for the bus we notice that a taxi towards the airport charges the same price, but is a lot faster. Once we are in the taxi Milou asks me if it is an option to go into New York City. But soon enough we remember that you need and ESTA application to get into the United States. To get this application you have to file a huge list of questions, transfer $14 and then wait for approval. Normally this is settled fairly quick but it can take up to 72 hours. For us this was too much of a hassle and too expensive to outweigh the benefits. We will be more than satisfied if we can finally just relax and eat at the airport and catch our breath.
São Paulo Airport
At the self check-in we don’t succeed at checking in so we will have to get in line unfortunately. When it is finally our turn the lady asks us about our ESTA application. Apparently you will need one even if you are in transit at the airport. The United States want to see everyone who enters their country, even for a short period of time, at border control. So the only thing we can do is apply for one anyway. If only we had known this a bit sooner, we would have sent our application a few hours earlier. Oh well, next time we will know.
We ask the lady behind the counter if she can provide us with a WiFi password because there is free WiFi here but that only lasts one hour. Milou has already used hers while waiting in line, that’s how long the line was. She says the free WiFi is our only option so there is nothing else to do than file or both applications on my phone. Which I really don’t recommend to anyone. After about 45 minutes I am finally done with answering all the questions and able to proceed to the payment. I fill in my data and click on ‘pay now’ but then there is a problem. Since this is a public WiFi I am unable to make a payment due to an unsafe network connection. Help! Back to the counter it is.
We don’t have to wait in line this time, we can go straight to the counter as we agreed with the lady the first time. The lady that is helping us feels sorry for us and will check their system. The system says that the payment was successful but the application has not yet been approved. She also tells us that this is usually approved in half an hour. If not, she will check again and if it’s still not approved there is nothing else to do then book another flight. Now something inside of me snaps! Is she really telling me that we have travelled this far without any sleep and food to be denied on this flight because of this stupid application?!
I explain the situation once more to the lady but she doesn’t seem to understand my situation. Luckily Milou is more calm and suggests to eat something first and in the meantime take out the laptop to look for a solution. It does take some time but finally I give in. Milou sends me into the waiting line to get some food and cool off and she is going to contact some people back home for help. First thing she does is contact our insurance company if they cover expenses for booking another flight. When we entered the airport we passed by a KLM/AirFrance desk and asked them if they had any last minute flights, just to see if they were cheap. They were almost 3000 euros per ticket, so if this was our next move it would be nice if they were covered by our insurance. When I get back to Milou I take over the laptop and check out the status of our ESTA application. here it says that it’s not paid for. Which I already suspected but the lady said something different. So I decide to pay them again and wait patiently while I finish my food.
Five minutes later the application is approved. I jump up and run towards the desk, leaving Milou behind. She gathers all our things and meets me at the desk. The lady checks everything and then checks us in for the flight towards Amsterdam. Now we are almost certain to arrive on Sunday. The only thing that can go wrong now is the flight being delayed or trouble with the stopover in New York City.
Arrival time at JFK Airport New York City will be around 06:00. Since we now have an ESTA we do get to go into New York City! This is going to be a welcome distraction of the entire situation, because I am a huge fan of New York City. I just have to convince Milou of this so we get to go back once again to stay a bit longer. Now quickly through customs to find the right subway into Downtown New York City.
Good thing I am fairly familiar in New York City so it is easy for me to navigate there. Without this knowledge it would be very difficult to plan this trip. Where would you go in this huge city when you have no clue. We decide to go to Ground Zero, Central Park, Times Square en Grand Central Terminal. Quite a big tour but according to my calculations it should be doable. Once we get to downtown we first go look for WiFi to find out if anything has changed since we started travelling from Paraguay. The first thing I do is call Marc to ask him how he’s doing. Given the circumstances he is doing quite okay, they are rather busy getting their wedding planned, which takes his mind off things. The wedding will take place on Monday April 3rd, one day after our arrival. The best news of all is that Marc insists on picking us up at Schiphol airport! The best thing I could hope for!
When we exit the train station we are suddenly struck with the ice cold reality. It’s 5 degrees here and we are still walking in our summer clothes, the rest is on it’s way to Amsterdam. Milou was lucky enough to put on some long pants and a sweater. me I was still in my shorts, with a t-shirt and flip flops. I have never seen so many people looking at me if I was an idiot.
When we walk through the city a few people address me to say that it is too cold to be wearing that. No shit, Sherlock! At some point I am done explaining the situation and say to Milou: “The next time someone asks me anything I will say my bags got stolen”. 5 minutes later a street vendor talks to me. I tell him, while we keep walking, that our bags got stolen and this is all we have got now (part of it being true). He feels sorry for us and asks me to come back. Although I don’t really feel like going back I decide to do it anyway. He then offers me to take one of his hats that he’s trying to sell. Since we did not plan on spending money here we did not get money form the ATM machine and so I tell him that we don’t have cash. He doesn’t mind, he just wants to help us and so he gives me a hat that says ‘New York’, how generous! When we turn around to continue our way he also adds a pair of gloves to the hat. Now I am dressed in shorts, flip flops, a t-shirt, hat and gloves. That must have really been a funny sight. I give Milou the gloves and we are on our way again.
After a tiring but amusing day in New York City we get on our final plane without any problems. I am glad that I can finally warm up under the free blanket after 6 hours of hiking in the cold. Not to mention the ice cold wind which makes it even feel a lot colder. Anyway, it was definitely worth it. Dead tired we both fall asleep even before the plane leaves the ground. Though the closer the plane gets to Holland, the more the reason why we are going home starts to sink in…
At 06:30 in the morning we land at Schiphol Airport. Marc told me that he would be there at 07:00. Impatiently I wander around at the airport, I am even a bit nervous when we go through customs towards the arrivals hall. Is he there yet? What will I tell him? How will he look? One thing is certain, there will be tears, of happiness and of grief. When we pass through the sliding door we are surprised when Marc is not there. We wander around for a bit but they are nowhere to be found. it’s 07:30 when my phone rings and the first thing that goes through my mind: “Oh no, what happened?”
It is nothing serious, they are on their way and will be here in about 15 minutes.
They enter the parking lot and I run towards them. Marc is barely out of the car and hasn’t even seen me yet when I jump him for a hug. What a relief to see him again and to hold him in my arms! After drying our tears we load our bags into the car and head home. We have a lot to catch up to so we are home before we know it. Marc invites us to stay at his place for the night, since we haven’t got a place to stay yet. An offer I could never refuse!
For tonight there is a small bachelor party planned for Marc. We are going to have a drink at the local pub with about 35 people. When we arrive there I can tell by the look on his face that he is delighted to see so many people being here just for him on such a short notice. Marc can only stay for about an hour, which became 2 hours in the end since he was enjoying himself so much. I ended up being swept out at closing time together with my cousin, oops!
The girls have also arranged a nice evening for Anne. Although Anne can only be there for a short time, it is a great distraction for her. Then it’s time for her beauty sleep for the big day tomorrow.
The wedding is absolutely magnificent! Marc and Anne really shine and mesmerize everyone in there joy to live this day. All the pain and grief are set aside for a day and everyone is enjoying and celebrating life with the newly weds. Despite everything, or maybe even because of it, this was the best wedding we ever experienced. This is true love at its best!
By now most of you have figured out that our blogs have been written with a delay of some weeks. The wedding was on April 3rd and unfortunately we have to inform you that we have said our final goodbye to Marc on May 2nd. After 2 wonderful honeymoon weeks, filled with making a lot of unforgettable new memories, his health declined rapidly. On Wednesday night April 26th Marc took his last breath in the presence of his beloved wife.
This is the reason why we could not be bothered all that much with blogging, hopefully you can understand. As for now we have set our goals on Pinkpop, because this is a valuable memory to Marc for us and Anne, that we like to keep alive. Somewhere after June 5th we will restart our dream of travelling the world, just like Marc would have wanted.
The upcoming weeks we will be busy raising money for the Dutch Cancer Research Foundation (KWF). On May 13th there was the annual six-six. Cycling 6 rounds of 60 kilometers each. I participated in this without any preparation and succeeded in cycling all 6 of them with Marc as my major motivation. Unimaginable how strong your mind can be and what pain you can overcome if you really want to! Symbolically I have cycled the last round on Marc’s bicycle, so he could be there with us, sort of. All together we raised aver 5000 euros, an amazing effort by everyone!
On May 25th there will be an obstacle run, set up with the participation of our family. At first to give Marc (and 2 other relatives of whom only 1 is still fighting unfortunately) a boost. Due to recent developments this run will be in the loving memory of Marc.
If any of you would like to participate, feel free to join. If you would like to sponsor me, Milou, anyone else or the KWF in general? Drop us a message or click one of the links! You can also donate through our website, but make sure to leave a comment then as well, so we know where the money should go.
The next few weeks
Although we are currently not travelling the world, we will try to blog on a regular basis. These blogs will give you general information like for instance:
- useful travelling tips
- a new packing list
- matching video’s of our trips to go with our blogs
If we stumble upon some nice events we will let you know of course.