Well, now that we're fairly up to date on my fun adventures, I suppose it's time to spice it up and throw in some not-so-fun adventures! The one I am specifically referring to is my current past-time: Adventures in Bureaucracy!
In early January, I arrived in Ecuador on a 90-day tourist visa (I've recently learned that while it's called a tourist visa, it's not actually a visa... which makes a difference in how many blank passport pages you need). As of last Saturday, this time has run out. My Adventures began last Wednesday, when I first went to Quito to obtain what I hoped would be an easy, quick renewal stamp, granting me another 90 days. I had no idea what I was entering into... How could I? Every single internet site/ guidebook/ friend/ lawyer/ government institution had different information regarding visa extensions and renewals.
Day 1 - Wednesday: Arrive at address to which I was directed by internet sites/ recent guidebooks. This office had moved half-way across Quito, so off I went in search of the new place. Upon arrival, I discovered they were closed for lunch... for 2 1/2 hours. So I wait. I eat. I twiddle my thumbs. Doors open, in I go, only to be informed that visa issues are no longer handled by this agency. I need to go to another part of Quito to the office that handles that. Another taxi, another couple bucks, and I'm finally at the building that is truly where I needed to be. But of course, the sector that processes visas is only open from 9-12 in the morning, Mon-Fri. As it is after lunch, Day 1 concludes with the simple success of knowing where I need to be.
Day 2 - Thursday: Early to rise, early to the office, get in, get my extension, get back in time for my 10am Spanish class, right? I enter the office shortly after 9am, to find a waiting room at full capacity - about 70-80 people. I take a number and watch the digital display, waiting for #117 to be called. 2 1/2 hours later, I finally sit down at the desk of a man that tells me yes, I can get a visa. I just need to present these 5 listed documents. Come back tomorrow with those and I'll get a visa. Wouldn't it have been so easy to post that exact list at the front of the room? Provide a pamphlet and save people 2 1/2 hours of waiting?
Day 3 - Friday: It is now the day before my 'visa' expires. I arrive with all the listed documents, wait 3+ hours this time (dispite arriving half an hour before the doors even opened), and when I present all my documents, the man tells me "Ok, that'll be $230." Um, excuse me? I was not informed of this. I discover that this is for a 6-month visa, which is more than I need. Is there a cheaper option, for a shorter period of time? Yes... but now I need to change some of my paperwork and come back on Monday (apparently not important that by the weekend, I will be illegally in the country).
Day 4 - Monday: Alright, here we go. I've got documents, I've got money, I'm awake by 6am so I can get in line early. This time I only have to wait 1 1/2 hours in the waiting room (after 45 minutes to be let into the waiting room). I get called in, and tell the cold, unfriendly, unhappy man that I'm applying for a visa. He silently flips through my passport, tells me there are no full blank pages and he can't give me a visa, and sends me away. 3 hours of travel/ waiting, 7 seconds of "service." Apparently, the visa they give is a giant sticker that takes up an entire blank page, and as all my pages have a few stamps on them, I need to go to the US Embassy, add pages to my passport, and then come back and try again.
Day 5 - Tuesday (today): The US Embassy allows one to set up an appointment online (what a novel idea!), so today, I arrived for my 1:45pm appointment, for the purpose of adding pages to my passport. I figured there'd be a small fee, but no worries - I needed more space for my upcoming travels anyways. So, I was granted entry into the concrete-and-metal fortress that is the US Embassy in Quito, and within a delightfully short period of time, my request was processed, new pages were added, and the job was done... with the wonderful surprise of an $82 fee. Yup. $82 to add pages to my passport. Upon further research, I have found that to renew my passport, which expires next year, would've cost me $110, and renewal can be done at any point. So. $28 more would've given me an entire book of blank pages, plus 9 extra years. *Sigh* You live and you learn.
TOMORROW: I return to another few hours of waiting for my number to be called, in high hopes of walking out with a sticker that grants me some more time in this country.
Por el amor de Dios! I hope this is over tomorrow!