Pre-Trip Pt V: Planning – Vaccinations

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Vaccination Booklet

Part of the requirements to apply for Ethiopian visa is the yellow fever vaccination. Travellers’ Health and Vaccination Clinic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital is one of the places where one could get the vaccine.

We needed to make an appointment before hand and we chose ours to be on a Saturday. After registration, we were given forms to fill up. The forms asked for details such as medical history and places visited. After filling up the forms, the nurse called us into the room for consultation. She explained to us why it was necessary to get vaccinations and showed us the areas affected by yellow fever.

Areas affected by Yellow Fever in Africa (2009) – Source: CDC

Areas affected by Yellow Fever in South America – Source: CDC

She also recommended us the vaccinations to take. I got three jabs – yellow fever, influenza and meningitis while Ying got two (she had influenza jab already). The jabs were administered in another room and we were done in five minutes.

Yellow Fever vaccination

Other vaccinations

We had our certificate stamped and we are now good to visit South America and Africa. Total cost inclusive of consultation: SGD 228. Ouch!

Beside the vaccinations, the nurse also advised us to get some diamox as precaution for acute mountain sickness. It required doctor prescription and two week’s supply cost SGD 5.60.

Acetazolamide

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Pre-Trip Pt IV: Planning – Visas

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Visa Requirements for Singaporean Citizens – Source: kwloo

Holding a Singaporean passport certainly has its advantages; we enjoy visa-free access to many countries around the world. Below is the list of countries that we will be visiting and their visa requirements.

Visa requirements

We are very lucky because Brazil introduced visa-free access to Singaporeans only in January this year. Hence we save $30 and a trip down to Brazilian embassy.

Here’s the lowdown on the countries that we need visas for:-

United States
United States

Singaporeans are eligible for to visit United States under the Visa Waiver Program and one need to apply for authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Our authorization is immediately given after the online payment of USD 14.

Bolivia
Bolivia

Singaporeans could get a visa-on-arrival at a Bolivian port-of-entry for USD 55. We got ours when we entered Bolivia at Kasani.

Ethiopia
Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the only country that we need to get the visa from Singapore. From the website of Ethiopian Embassy in Beijing, we got the e-mail address of the consul in Singapore. I e-mailed the consul and she replied with the following instructions:-

Dear Sir/Madam:

Thank you for your enquiry on Ethiopia Visa.

We are pleased to enclose the following for your necessary action/information:

1. *Visa Application Form*

2. Notes on Visa Application

3. Health Requirements for Ethiopia

*Signature on completed Visa Form has to be the same as that on the passport.

Please submit one duly completed Visa Application Form together with the following between 9:00 – 11:00 am
(Mon-Fri):

1. Passport;

2. One passport photograph;

Please paste passport photo on top right corner of the completed Visa Form

3. Visa Fees payable in cash in Singapore Dollars (Urgent fees applicable);

4. Letter from applicant’s company (for Business Visa application);

5. Return Air-Ticket/Itinerary.

NOTE:

For ‘URGENT VISA’ application, please call me @ Tel. [phone no. deleted] well in advance to check if our Hon. Consul-General is in town/available to issue the visa on the day of your application at our Consulate Office.

For Singapore PRs & Employment Pass/Work Permit holders – please bring along your ID Card/papers for verification purpose.

Visa Validity:

Validity of visa commences from the date of issue of visa, normally for a period of 3 months.

Regards

HOH (Ms)

Consulate General of The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Singapore

The location of the consulate is at 23 Chin Bee Avenue. It is served by Bus 79 from either Boon Lay MRT station or Jurong East MRT station. There are also free parking spaces located within the compound.

Amoy Canning @ 23 Chin Bee Avenue

As soon as I entered the office, the receptionist asked if I was applying for visa. I replied yes and she asked me to sit down before calling someone to attend to me.

Waiting for the Consul

An elderly lady came out shortly after and looked at my application forms. She confirmed with me the type of visa that we needed (tourist, single entry) and asked me to fill up the blanks that we had missed out. She told me that the yellow fever certificates are not required for the application; they are only required by Singapore’s immigration (or other countries’) when we return from Ethiopia.

Then she issued the receipt after receiving the payment (SGD 60 per person) and informed me that I could collect our passports in three working days later. In all, the whole process took less than 20 minutes.

Three working days later, I went down to collect our passports at the appointed time of between 10 and 11am.

Ethiopian visa

Mission accomplished!

Pre-Trip Pt III: Planning – Route & Air Tickets

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We are going around the world!

Ying and I discussed at length on how long we could be away for and where we would like to go. In the end, based on our budget, we reckoned that we could get away for five weeks from end-May onwards.

It made sense for us to put Rio de Janeiro (and the World Cup Match) as the final stop of our trip. Brazil is going to be expensive and I wouldn’t want to overspend there and then be forced to live on a tight budget for the rest of South America. We had an idea of where we wanted to go and started to put the flights in place.

Flights that we bought in chronological order:-

1. IGU-GIG TAM Y

Iguazu Falls on the Argentine/Brazilian border seemed to be a must-go for every visitor to South America and it wasn’t hard to convince us to include it into our itinerary.

Soon after the draw was made, we decided to purchase our air tickets between Foz do Iguaçu (IGU) and Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on TAM (USD 139.49 each) as I feared that the domestic air ticket prices would shoot through the roof during World Cup. My fear came true; the cheapest ticket on the same flight is USD 306.62 now (29 April 2014).

IGU-GIG (USD 139.49)

2. GIG-ADD-SIN ET Y

The next ticket that we purchased was our flight back to Singapore from Rio de Janeiro. The cheapest option was on Ethiopian Airlines which was at least USD 400 cheaper than the next alternative.

Both Ying and I haven’t been to Africa before and we decided to break the long trip between Brazil and Singapore with a 3-day stay in Addis Ababa.

The original route

The ticket cost USD 915.80 each (slightly cheaper if there is no stopover at ADD) and earns 100% miles on most Star Alliance frequent flyer programs.

Sometime in February, Ying received an e-mail (I didn’t) that there was a change in schedule in our itinerary. I logged in to find this screen:-

This is not good

Apparently ET has canceled its service to GIG and only flies to GRU. Our flight would start in GRU, not GIG. It took me a week and several e-mails before ET changed to our desired flight. In their defense, the ET reservation team was very responsive and I was glad that they resolved the issue to my satisfaction in the end.

GIG-GRU-LFW-ADD-BKK-SIN (USD 915.80)

3. LAX-ATL-LIM DL Y

I found a really great deal departing from Los Angeles for Lima on Delta (via Atlanta) for USD 281.20.

It didn’t take me very long to realize that the price was very good for the distance covered. Furthermore this presented us the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca on this trip.

We jumped on the offer after securing our ticket from SIN to Los Angeles (see below).

LAX-ATL-LIM (USD 281.20)

4. SIN-HND, NRT-LAX SQ J

After learning about the Delta deal, I started to research on how to get to Los Angeles from Singapore. As I hadn’t been to US before, we thought that three days around LA would be nice.

We also realized that we were sitting on some credit card points which could be converted to sufficient Krisflyer miles for two business-class SQ tickets to Los Angeles. The flights to LAX seemed available on the days that we wanted.

However, by the time our Krisflyer miles were banked in, there was no longer any availability on the SIN-NRT sector on SQ 12. Luckily, there were seats available on the previous day’s SQ 634 and we would have a 20-hour stopover in Tokyo. We are certainly not complaining!

SIN-HND, NRT-LAX (68,000 Krisflyer miles + SGD 409.20 taxes and surcharges + SGD 50 miles conversion fee)

5. SLA-AEP-IGR

With the long-haul flights settled, I started to research on the short-haul ones within South America. From Cusco, we plan to travel overland to Argentina (via Bolivia and Chile). We will enter Argentina on the northwestern side (Salta) and exit through the northeastern side (Puerto Iguazu). Due to the large distance involved and the limited time we have, we decided to fly instead of taking 20 to 30 hours of bus ride each way.

It was a straight choice between Aerolíneas Argentinas and LAN. Both are equally expensive but LAN has slightly better reviews from the wise people on Flyertalk.

It seemed that there are cheaper fares available but those fares can only be bought by Argentine residents. Apparently there are checks at the airport and reports of passengers being denied boarding are not unknown. We wouldn’t want to chance it

My friend who recently returned from a trip to Argentina gave me a useful tip on checking out the prices on OTA instead of the airlines’ website. Indeed it was USD 80 cheaper on Orbitz!

SLA-AEP-IGR (USD 315.60)

Addendum 19 May 2014: Orbitz sent me an e-mail a couple of days ago to inform me that my flight reservation was changed. I logged on to see and found that we were put on LA 4113 for the SLA-AEP sector. It departs SLA at 1510 and arrives at AEP at 1714. I wasn’t happy at all with the change but there was no earlier LAN flight. A thumbs down for LAN even before flying with them.

6. LIM-CUZ

Our flight from US would reach Lima late at night. We decided to slum it at LIM and would take an early flight to Cusco. There are four operators on this route: LAN, TACA, Peruvian and Star Peru.

LAN and TACA are the two biggest carriers in the country and they practice discriminatory pricing against non-residents on the major tourist routes. While Peruvian residents pay USD 125 for a LIM-CUZ ticket, non-residents have to cough up USD 185 to be on the same flight.

Then I discovered British Airways Avios. Redemption on British Airways’ frequent flyer program is distance-based and the number of Avios needed to redeem a ticket between Lima and Cusco (~360 miles) is only 4500.

Avios Award Chart – Source: The Points Guy

I just renewed my Citibank Premier Miles Visa for SGD 192.60 and received 10,000 bonus premier miles. British Airways is one of Citibank’s partners and premier miles could be converted to Avios for redemption (another SGD 25 for miles transfer). The total cost per person summed up to be SGD 112.37, cheaper than any revenue fares from the four airlines.

LIM-CUZ [4,500 Avios (SGD 86.67) + SGD 13.20 (Taxes) + SGD 12.50 (Conversion fee shared between two people) = SGD 112.37]

7. LPB-UYU

We would be traveling from Cusco to La Paz (via Lake Titicaca) overland. From La Paz we would head to Uyuni, the starting point of the tour to Salar de Uyuni. The bus ride would take 10 to 12 hours while a plane ride takes between 45 and 60 minutes.

To save time, we chose to fly. Only Amaszonas offers two daily flights and online booking. Although kinda pricey at 130 USD, it saved us 10 hours of bumpy ride across Bolivia.

LPB-UYU (~133 USD)

From Salar de Uyuni, we would travel to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile before taking the bus across the Andes to Salta. More details would be shared in the later posts.

Summary

SIN-HND, NRT-LAX, LAX-ATL-LIM, LIM-CUZ, LPB-UYU, SLA-AEP, AEP-IGR, IGU-GIG, GIG-GRU-LFW-ADD, ADD-BKK-SIN

21 May
SQ 637 SIN – HND

22 May
SQ 12 NRT – LAX

25 May
DL 2155 LAX – ATL
DL 151 ATL – LIM

26 May
LA 2025 LIM – CUZ

3 June
Z8 300 LPB – UYU

12 June
LA 4111 SLA – AEP
LA 4113 SLA – AEP

17 June
LA 4022 AEP – IGR

19 June
JJ 3186 IGU – GIG

23 June
JJ 3687 GIG – GRU

24 June
ET 507 GRU – LFW – ADD

28 June
ET 626 ADD – BKK – SIN

Total distance traveled: 27220 miles

I’m excited as I will be going around the world for the first time!

Pre-Trip Pt II: Planning – World Cup Tickets

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Ticket prices – Source: FIFA

FIFA announced that the first general sales phase via ballot would start in August 2013 and I decided to try my luck. The tickets weren’t cheap so we decided to go for the group stages match(es) only.

I signed up for an account at FIFA’s website sometime in July 2013 and started to do my research. The qualified teams wouldn’t be confirmed until December so it was really a stab in the dark on which teams that we would get to watch. Our decision would be mainly based on venue and timing.

Watching a match at Maracanã Stadium was my top choice but many people had the same idea as me. I reckoned that matches at Belo Horizonte would be less popular than the ones in Rio or São Paulo so I decided to ballot for one of the matches at Mineirão as well.

In the end, I chose to ballot for the following matches:-

Match 31 @ Rio & Match 40 @ Belo Horizonte

At the time of application, it seemed that it would be easier to get Cat 1 tickets for Match 31. The demand for Cat 2 tickets were lower in Belo Horizonte so we went for that as a back-up.

The application period for the first general sales phase ended in October and it wouldn’t be until November when we knew of the outcome. The announcement of the application result was pushed back from 5 to 11 November as FIFA couldn’t inform the all the applicants in time.

All anxiety was forgotten when I received an e-mail from FIFA on 8 November:-

Woohoo! 100% success rate!

The dilemma became whether to go for one or both of the matches. We decided to delay the decision until the World Cup Final draw on 6 December.

World Cup Draw

Match 31 Belgium v Russia
Match 40 England v Costa Rica.

While admittedly neither Belgium nor Russia were the teams that I most wanted to watch (I was hoping for either Spain, Argentina or Germany), the match would probably be still a cracking one.

Seeing England in the same group as Uruguay and Italy, it is likely that they may be out of the tournament before their final match against Costa Rica (especially with Roy Hodgson in charge). It was a logistical challenge getting to BH just for the match so we decided to skip it.

As of 29 April, we are still trying to get our pair of Match 40 tickets (Cat 2, 135 USD each) resold through FIFA. However, I’ll be glad to have someone take them off me at face value. Collection will have to be at Rio de Janeiro between 19 and 23 June. Leave a comment below if anyone’s interested. The tickets were resold successfully through FIFA.

Pre-trip Pt I: Prologue

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South African fans during WC 2010 – Hussein Malla/Associated Press

World Cup is always special.

The first World Cup that I could recall was USA ’94. I was only 9 years old then but I could remember some stuff: a footballer was shot dead after scoring an own goal, Maradona was sent home after tested positive for drugs and Brazil won after penalties.

France ’98 was my first proper World Cup. I was already following European football by then and knew many of the stars. That Bergkamp’s wonder goal was probably the best that I had seen in a World Cup. I remembered watching the semi-final between Brazil and Netherlands (Ronaldo and Kluivert scored; Brazil won on penalties). The next day I overslept and missed my bus-stop on my way home from school.

Fast forward another 4 years and Japan/Korea 2002 was the best World Cup in my memory. France’s shock loss to Senegal in the opening match set the tone for the tournament. South Korea was Asia’s pride although admittedly they received many assistance from the referees. I also loved that World Cup because the matches were played in the afternoons and evenings and we wouldn’t need to stay up to watch them.

In contrast, I thought that Germany 2006 was a bit meh. My most lasting memories were Argentina’s goal against Serbia (25 passes?) and Zidane’s virtuoso performance versus Brazil. And of course not forgetting the infamous final act of Zidane’s career.

Spain’s tiki-taka captured the world’s imagination in South Africa in the 2010 edition. However, the most dramatic match must be Ghana’s defeat to Uruguay in the quarterfinal. Love him or hate him, Luis Suarez is definitely entertaining.

The idea of going to the World Cup was formed at the end of the last one. Nothing beats watching a match live and the tournament seemed like one giant party for the fans there.

This made me determined to get to Brazil in 2014 and luck would have it that I managed to secure a pair of tickets to not one but TWO group-stage matches.

Getting the tickets proved to be the easiest. Real planning would begin after that…

And the World Cup song:-