Image: Devil's Throat of the Iguazu Falls
AFP - Getty Images file
A word of caution when visiting Iguazu Falls: Whenever you take a border-crossing side trip, be sure to confirm that you can re-enter the country on whatever visa you’re carrying.
By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 3/11/2008 12:59:02 PM ET 2008-03-11T16:59:02

Flight attendants love long layovers, especially new flight attendants, who are out to conquer the world, and single flight attendants, who don’t need anyone’s permission. The beauty of long layovers is that there’s time to explore a destination in depth and sometimes even to travel to a different city. In my 20 years as a flight attendant, I’ve had some great layovers. I once went surfing in Hawaii during a layover in Los Angeles, and on a layover in New Delhi, I took a train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Not to mention the many times I flew cross-country to be with my wife on her own layovers when we were starting a family.

Yes, long layovers are great, but there’s a danger, too. If you misjudge the time or something unexpected happens, you might not make it back in time to work your return flight. That could very well mean your job — especially if the airline has to cancel the flight because it lacks a crew.

A while back, on a 60-hour layover in São Paulo, Brazil, I got the itch for adventure. I had been to this business capital many times before, and decided that this time I would explore outside the city. I made arrangements to visit Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, a series of breathtaking waterfalls situated on the border of Brazil and Argentina.

Working the flight down, I was pleased to discover that two nice young female flight attendants, Linda and Emily, were also going to the falls on the layover. After landing, we teamed up, waved goodbye to our crew mates and boarded a flight headed west. After a short nap, we awoke at our destination. The girls had booked a guide, and before long we were in mid-adventure, discovering a truly magnificent natural beauty. We took a boat under the rushing water, and then climbed along the cliff ledges, venturing a bit too close to the rim of the falls for my liking. Then it was on to the famed semicircular waterfall, “The Devil’s Throat.”

We were on the Brazil side, but on the advice of our guide, we decided to see the view from the Argentine side also. We crossed a rickety old bridge, showed our passports, had our visas stamped and took in yet more breathtaking views of the falls. About an hour later, we decided to return to our accommodations, so we crossed back over the bridge and presented ourselves to the same passport agent. He looked at our passports and informed us that we had no visas to enter Brazil. We laughed and showed him our visas, which were there in plain sight. Shaking his head, he pointed out what we had overlooked: Our visas were single entry/single exit crew visas; we could not use them for re-entry.

We pleaded but he said the situation was out of his hands, advising us that the only thing to do was to go to a town 30 minutes away and get a visa there. He added that we had better hurry because the office would close in about an hour. We paused for a moment to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, and then scrambled for the nearest taxi.

The town was small and reminded me of those old Western movies where tumbleweeds blow across the streets and nothing much happens. We ran inside the visa office and were greeted by a portly older Spanish-speaking man who could barely keep his eyes off of Linda’s well-endowed chest.

We told him of our predicament in terrible Spanish, but the agent got the gist of it. He handed us application forms and we quickly filled them out. We paid the fee, got a receipt and were ready to roll — until he told us to come back in two or three days. In disbelief, we pleaded that we needed the visas immediately. He told us — or, more correctly, he told Linda’s chest — that this was not possible.

After 10 minutes of begging, we gave up and retreated to a nearby bench to discuss our options. Our flight back to the States would be canceled if three flight attendants were no-shows. Our jobs were sure to be history. I suggested that we try to swim across. Emily, with tears in her eyes, suggested we try to bribe the agent. Suddenly Linda stood up and declared, “I’m going to take one for the team.” She approached the agent, whispered something in his ear, and disappeared with him into the back office. Emily and I looked at each other in confusion.

Fifteen minutes later the office door opened and the two emerged. The agent exclaimed, “OK, you have your visas, but now I need a photo from each of you.” Emily and I stood there dumbfounded, wondering what had gone on. When the agent informed us that the closest place to get an instant photograph was another 30-minute taxi ride, we cut out the photos from our crew ID badges and handed them over.

We got in a taxi and sped back toward the falls. We were all silent for the first 10 minutes, then Linda said calmly, “I don’t want to discuss what went on in that room, ever.”

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When Emily started to cry, Linda relented.

“Oh, relax,” she said. “All I had to do was to take off my top — well, that and pose for a couple of humiliating pictures.”

It was then that all three of us started to chuckle. Soon we were all in hysterics. For 20 minutes straight we were in the grip of uncontrollable laughter, along with plentiful tears. It was hysteria, I suppose.

We made it through passport control at the border, got into a taxi on the Brazilian side and headed straight for the airport. No more thoughts of sightseeing or spending the night near the falls. Our nerves were shot and we needed to get back to São Paulo as soon as possible. Luckily, there was a flight to São Paulo with plenty of empty seats.

But our little adventure wasn’t over. Now the Brazilian ticket agent, who was also taken with Linda’s chest, wanted to see our crew IDs. Remembering that we had cut out our photos for the visas, we hesitantly showed him our faceless badges.

“Sorry, I am not allowed to let you on the flight with these,” he said. We pleaded and tried to explain. When that failed, Emily and I looked at each other and turned to Linda with a smile.

Linda caught our glance and declared, “Oh no, not again!”

Luckily, it didn’t come to that. After further explanation, the agent decided that nobody could conjure up such a story and so he let us pass. We made it back to our layover hotel and slept for the remainder of our stay.

It was an unforgettable trip, and I would recommend Iguazu Falls to everyone. It is truly a magnificent sight. Just learn from our mistake. Whenever you take a border-crossing side trip, be sure to confirm that you can re-enter the country on whatever visa you’re carrying.

As the years pass, I run into Linda from time to time. We smile and silently reminisce about our secret adventure. I still have to say, in all sincerity:

“Linda, thanks for the mammaries.”

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