My battle: Getting to South Africa

I’m Colombian, I’m proud of it but damn it can be seriously frustrating at times, mainly when it comes to traveling. Having that burgundy red passport is like having the coodies or something, any consulate, embassy or airport will simply look down on you or catalogue you as “guilty” for drug dealing, drug consumig, drug producing, prostitution, you name it. So, you can imagine what an ordeal it is for anyone with a little burgundy passport to get a visa to go, well..basically anywhere! Even though there are countries that don’t require colombians to have a visa (mainly South America which in the past years has “opened up”) you basically have to get a transit visa in order to get to them.

I have traveled to the following countries, all of whom have required for me to apply for a visa: U.S.A, The Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy (all these Schengen), Czech Republic, Switzerland, Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala. Argentina and Peru have been two countries I have been to that don’t require visa for colombians.

Now, as you all may know im planning to go to South Africa. Off course I need a visa to go to South Africa…so, I sent my papers and they arrived at the consulate the 30th of July. I waited 10 days before calling because those were the days it took for the process of the visa to go through. The 10th day I call…and I get told that my papers aren’t ready and I need a stamp on some documents, yata yata yata. Long story short, basically a whole other month goes by with failed calls, getting hung up on by the oh-so-nice secretary from the consulate and a lot of un-responded emails. (btw, the consulate of South Africa dealing with Colombians is in Venezuela).  I hear from other colombians who have traveled to South Africa and learn I am not the only one, some got their passports 2 hours before heading to the airport, another 2 days before leaving…basically last minute.

So, my flight is scheduled to leave tomorrow September 12th at 3 p.m to Washington Dulles via Miami. My flight to South Africa is scheduled to leave September 13th from Washington Dulles at 5:30 p.m. 
My visa was approved yesterday, Monday September 10, at 3:30 pm. I ran over to DHL and begged the guy so my passport would be picked up today and I could have it here in Panama by tomorrow Wednesday before noon. Papers are sent, things are on their way. Today I hear from the woman at the consulate telling me that without an air guide the guy from DHL won’t take my passport because its happened before. I call DHL dude in Panama and he tells me the guide will be made when the thing is picked up, he doesn’t create the guide but Venezuela DHL created the guide. Ok, so I wait…(mind you, Hugo Chaves decided for some crazy ass reason that Venezuela time was 30min ahead than it actually should be so, 3 here is 3:30 there, and at 4 they closed the consulate). By 3:30 the DHL guy hadn’t gone to pick up the passport, I gave up. Suddenly I get a call that the guy is there but there is no guide so he won’t take it. Long story short, I’m screwed. Big time screwed. The consulate is closed, the guy left because there was no guide, there is absolutely NO chance of my passport getting to Panama before   my flight. It can get here Thursday morning.

Before I even knew I had my visa approved (I emailed and called Thursday and Friday and wasn’t really told anything, that I would or wouldn’t get it or how long it could take, they just dont answer anything) I called South Africa Airlines to find out how much it would cost to move my flight one day (for friday 14th instead of thursday 13) and well the answer was $685 dollars – to change my flight 24h.  
So, now that I KNOW I don’t have my passport I have to move EVERYTHING around because there is no chance in hell im paying $700 dollars for 24h (not including what my flight Panama-Washington change is going to cost). 

The plan so far: 
1 – Originally I was scheduled to go to the Thanda Photography Conservation project from Sept. 16-October 14, travel for 2 weeks and then begin on Nov. 1 my Sodwana Bay conservation volunteering. 
2 – The Sodwana project begins the 1st of every month. 
3 – Solution: Change my Sodwana Bay volunteer to the month of October instead of November. And change Thanda to begin Nov. 11 – Dec. 9.
4 – Change my South African tickets could cost me $400 dollars (changing both ways), which would mean I can go the 18th or the 20th and come back December 17th. 

Basically, I move everything about a week. It’s still a LOT of money because that was basically the money I had to spend IN South Africa but I can’t really think of any other solution. Only inconvenience is the time change, I can’t hear back from any of the coordinators confirming my changes until tomorrow between 2-3 a.m but I know that I have to change my tickets ASAP so I guess I’ll just have to change them and hope for the best.

Life has taught me everything happens for a reason even though we might not always or ever understand those reasons. I know there had to be a reason for my brother dying, even though I might not want to recognize it. All this ordeal had to happen for a reason, maybe to relax and not stress about money so much (even though I am freaking the eff out over all this money that changing tickets will cost), perhaps its because I was meant to be in Panama this week and enjoy time with my mom who is on vacations and my grandparents who happen to be here this week. I honestly do not know WHY all this happened, why I had to deal with such awful people at the consulate and why seriously ever little thing that could have gone wrong – did! (including the fact that I was dialing 30min straight to contact the consulate, and when someone important actually picked up (a south african not the venezuelan bitchy secretary) my cellphone ran out of minutes and cut the call). Life simply works strangely, I think we’re never really supposed to understand it (it would become pretty boring don’t you think?). So now, im off to making a bunch of calls and hoping for the best, I guess I have one more week in Panama to enjoy.

This post may sound all cheery and happy but trust me, my eyes still get watery with frustration when I have to explain what happened to someone and im still really upset about it…but I know, inside, everything I just wrote..perhaps writing it down makes it more “real” to me and I can really assimilate it.  


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