Thursday, April 21, 2005

It would have been quicker to fly to New Zealand

Bogota, Colombia.

6.15am. Wake up. Cold shower. Brrrrr.

6.30am. Taxi to US embassy. Taxi driver drops me off at the wrong entrance so I have to walk all the way around.

6.45-8am. Stand in queue outside embassy gates.

8am. Get told the photo (taken in the US at a passport photo place, mind you) is no good - the background isn´t white enough and you can´t see enough of my ears. I have to leave the embassy to go get another photo taken.

8-8.30am. Get photo taken with white background and my hair tucked very carefully behind my ears. At least it was easy to find a photo place - there are 4 of them right outside the embassy.

8.30-9.15am. Stand in queue with number around my neck. The number has no discernable significance - nobody takes a note of it or anything. Hand over my passport and all my documents. Give back number.

9.15-10.45am. Sit in huge open space with over 500 other people. It is insane how many Colombians want to go the US. Of course, they need visas just to transit. I try not to read too much of my book (Motorcycle Diaries, which I bought not just for Gael Garcia Bernal on the cover) because it´s supposed to last me this whole trip.

10.45am. Get called to window 13. They take my fingerprints and tell me I´m group 491.

10.45am - 12.15pm. Wait. Listen to groups as high as 512 being called. Apparently the numbers are random.

12.15-12.30pm. Group 491 to window 7! The woman processing my application cannot figure out why on earth I´m applying for my visa in Colombia. Eventually she figures out the circumstances which lead me to being employed by a research center in Colombia, yet working in Berkeley. She disappears to find out whether she can give me a visa, and, if so, whether I need to return to NZ for 2 years afterwards as part of the conditions. While she´s gone a jovial chap behind the counter spots my UC Berkeley hoodie - he went to Berkeley, and wants to know if Cafe Milano on Bancroft is still there. It´s a bit difficult for me to match his joviality when I don´t know if I sm even getting a visa. But it is approved!!! And no two year clause! Huge huge huge sigh of relief.

12.30pm. Pay for my passport to be sent to Cali where I will get it in a couple of days´ time.

12.35pm. Finally leave the embassy. Hungry and in the pouring rain.

If you´re ever thinking of applying for a US visa, and you are not Colombian, I can´t stress enough that under no circumstances should you attempt to do this in Colombia. Next time (and there will probably be a next time, as they only gave me the visa until December) I would rather try and get it in Antarctica. But probably New Zealand will suffice.

So this whole experience has somewhat coloured my view of Bogota a little negatively. I did have a couple of nice experiences - yesterday I visited the Botero museum and the artisans stalls, and came away with these kickass mola shoes (I´ll explain later, too hard to find links in an internet cafe with slow connections).

And now I am off to the airport to fly to Cali, Colombia. Where all will be lightness and joy and no stress.