So, as I wrote in my latest post about Megan, we had quite the experience this week. Every three months I have to renew my visa so I won’t be an illegal tourist in the country. I thought my visa expired on Friday, so this Thursday I had no other option than to drag myself and Megan through the exhausting, mind boggling and ridiculous proces of getting a new visa. I would like to share this experience with you, not because I want you to feel sad for me (for Megan, yes), but because it perfectly explains why the Dutch speed and simplicity is one of the biggest things I miss here.
Here is how I was finally allowed to turn in all of my papers to get a new visa. After almost three hours.
So the first thing you have to do when you want to do anything at the immigration office is get a number at the counter. This is the first challenge, since you can only get a number before 12. When you come after that, they won’t give you a number so you will have to come back another day. The second challenge was that I needed a form from the internet in order to get a number. PANIC! Nobody told me that, but fortunately I found the little form between all of those other ridiculous, unnecessary forms. First obstacle down, I got a number. Number 98, when they were only at number 37. Great. We would not leave this office in the next two hours for sure. The immigration office here in Guate isn’t the greatest place to have to wait for so long, since it’s a really old, dirty, crowded, smelly building without any airconditioning. There are always at least a hundred people before you waiting in line too. No matter how early you arrive at the office.
Bored as I was, I decided to practice my Spanish a little bit by reading the back of the form. Panic 2.0! I only had one copy of my passport, not two. The office is located on the second floor and luckily there was a little copy store on floor 0. So I ran down, waited in another line, got my copy, payed 1Q and ran back to the second floor, where the number on the board had only gone from 44 to 46. And then there was the first Immigration Angel who wanted to switch numbers with us. We went from 98 to 76! Nobody knows why she wanted to switch, but we didn’t really care. Only half an hour later we finally saw our number show up on the board, so we went up to the counter.
“Sorry Miss, I can see your visa expired yesterday. You got 90 days, today is number 91.”
“Really? Okay, so what do I do now?”
“Go to the fourth floor and pay your debt. But we will have lunch in four minutes, so we will be back in an hour.”
“So, when I come back from the fourth floor, I will have to wait for another hour for you to have lunch.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We have lunch between 12.30 and 1.30, so you will have to wait.”
“Okay, I will write your name on this piece of paper. When you come back, you can go to another counter.”
“Well, thank you.”
So I ran back to the fourth floor to pay my debt, hoping I would be back on the second floor within four minutes. Nope, not in Guatemala!
“I need a copy of this page and of that page”, said the woman behind the counter without looking at me. My lord, give me a break please.
So, back to floor 0 to get new copies of my passport. Again. And I had to wait in line there. Again. And the best thing: the copy guy was just having lunch! Of course! So while I was waiting in line the guy was just eating sandwiches behind the desk, not even looking at me. “Buenos días, me gustaría tener una copia de eso, por favor.” He slowly swallowed his food, took a sip of coffee and stood up. “Con gusto.”
With another copy in my hand I ran up to the fourth floor again to give it to the lady at the desk.
“You need to get to the bank on floor 0 to pay the bill.”
“A la gran, m’am!”
So I ran down all eight stairs again where I arrived completely out of breath.
“Buenos, I need to pay my bill for my visa.”
“That will be 30Q then.”
“We only accept cash, no cards.” A LA GRAN GUATEMALA, CAN YOU NOT? No cards in an immigration office? Really?
“I only have 22Q…”
Then a really nice American lady turned around behind me and asked me how much I needed. I’d been following her and her husband for over the past hour, because they had to go through the exact same process as me. So every time they went down the stairs I would see them again a few minutes later.
“I only need 8Q.”
“Here, you can have my Q’s.”
Immigration Angel number two.
I quickly run upstairs again to show the lady on the fourth floor that I paid for my expired visa. As soon as I felt the passport in my hands, I ran downstairs to the third floor to turn in every single document that I had.
Oh, wait, it’s lunchtime… And when Guatemalans have lunchtime, they just close everything. They don’t work in shifts, they just let you wait for another hour. The counter where I had to turn in my documents was empty too. After ten minutes a nice lady showed up at counter #5 where I am actually not supposed to be. I got up to the desk.
“Do you have your number?”
“No, I turned it in the last time.”
“Then I can’t help you.”
“I have number 76.’
“Oh, wait, are you Mariela Swasjer?”
“Yes, m’am, I believe so, that is I.”
“Everything is fine, we will have your passport ready in five days.”
Hopefully I will have a new visa in a few days (it took us only 3 hours!) and I will be able to continue living in Guatemala until we have to leave the country again in September. But that’s okay, because the sunny, warm beaches of Costa Rica are waiting for us!