Friday, March 23, 2007

A treatise on the lust for efficiency, bureacratic idiocy, psychological torture and questioning your last, greatest major life decision (Part 5)

Day 7 (The following following Monday: we’ve had another weekend to stew)

We return to the office with our ticket from last Friday in the late morning. We make eye contact with Officer Mendez from the waiting area. We watch like hawks for 10 minutes as he serves the current foreigner. We bolt for his booth when she steps to the side to organize her papers. He takes our papers and checks the system. Guess what?!?!? Nothing. We are still not entered into the system. We go talk to his supervisor. Amazingly, she’s more rude than she was the day before. I’m baffled. We go back to Officer Mendez. Sylvie is getting worked up again. I’m frustrated cus I can’t properly cuss anybody out. My Spanish is just not strong enough after 2 weeks. Mendez tells us we what we can do is go to another immigration office (Jefatura de Migración) and have them put us in the system. Friday, we were told by him that they would be doing this at this same office. That’s why we were supposed to come back, cus it was gonna be done. Now, this other office is doing it. Ok, whatever. “Where is it?” We find out. We catch a cab to the other office. We talk to the unfriendly officer there. She tells us we can’t be entered into their system without proof from our airline of our proper arrival. She says we need a letter from the office of the airline we flew. We get in a cab and head for the airport. By the way, it’s raining heavily at this point. We’re getting wet. We’re spending money. We’re like rats in a maze at this point and we don’t care. We’re ready to do whatever it takes to get out. We arrive at the airport, ask around and finally find the office for Continental in the bowels of Quito International. It’s 2:00 pm by this point, so what’s the situation? Come on. You’ve been reading for a while now. It’s closed. The Continental office closes at 1:00 pm at the airport. Who does business after 1:00 pm? I mean, come on. Sylvie’s freaking. I look at the posted sign for a number, anything, and find the address of another office. It’s like the Amazing Race at this point. We get in another cab and head to the other office. If we were thinking, we would have went to this other office, which is much more central, before the airport. It’s raining harder than it was, and the traffic is stiflingly slow. We’re behind a bus. Did I mention the pollution in Quito is off the charts. Buses emit huge plumes of smoke whenever they move from a standstill. Don’t worry though, the Coast has none of this type of pollution. It’s perfect. Quito, on the hand, is in a valley. And the buses are from 1965. I love Quito, just not the pollution. And not, when I’m in a cab, behind a bus, in the rain, bursting with frustration because no cars in front of us are moving.

We get to the Continental office and there’s only one guy in front of us. Beautiful. Of course, there’s only one attendant so we have to wait. It’s 3:30ish at this point. I can’t properly describe this next part, but suffice it to say for all that you’ve read, this was actually the most ridiculous part. This guy, who’s clearly been there for a while, is in the middle of this plodding, ridiculous conversation with the woman behind the counter who’s being way too patient. He’s asking her question after question in some thick German or Dutch accent. I mean literally this was the kind of conversation: “So, how much to go from Quito to Panama?” “Panama City?” “Yes, Panama City. I don’t want to go anywhere else in Panama.” “When do you want to go?” “Tomorrow.” She types on the computer for a while, then tells him the price, time of flight, airline. “No wait, which is cheaper: Tomorrow or Wednesday?” “Tomorrow is Wednesday.” “It is. Oh yes. I mean Thursday.” She types for a minute or so. “No I mean Wednesday. I want to leave Wednesday. What’s the best time to leave Wednesday.” She repeats the information she told him four minutes ago. “So what’s cheaper, if I leave Wednesday or Friday?” She looks up Friday. Mind you, each of these pauses for her takes about 2 or 3 minutes. By this point, I can’t even talk. I can’t focus on anything for too long. I’m bubbling over with emotion. I’m speechless.

Wednesday’s cheaper. “So, tell me how much would it be to go to Columbia first. I want to go through Bogota.” “Well sir, let me check”. Pause. “It’s blah blah blah to go Quito, Bogota, Panama City, Panama City, Quito.” “Oh no, I want a one way. I want to spend some time in Bogota. Is it nice this time of year?” “Well sir, it’s always more expensive to fly one way then round trip.” Ya, so the Wednesday flight is best?” “Yes sir, it’s the best flight.” “Ok ya, I’ll take the Wednesday flight from Quito to Panama City.” As she’s printing his ticket (another five minutes) he says “ya, I have a ticket around the world.” She hands him his ticket. And he starts asking about where he can catch the taxi for his hotel. And which direction is his hotel. And how much is his taxi. By this point, I’m standing behind him. When he turned around, mind you for the first time in this entire 30 minute episode, he jumped back when he saw my face. I don’t know what I looked like, but he stopped asking questions and walked backwards out of the office. I’m not that guy who scares people on the street, so I guess he saw something unusually dark in my twisted expression.

We go up to the counter and tell the woman our plight. She asks us for our boarding passes. Does anyone keep their boarding passes two weeks after they arrive somewhere? From now on you may want to consider it. “We don’t have our boarding passes.” “Well I’m sorry I’m not sure I can help you.” “What do you mean? Are you crazy? Is this a joke? Look in your flippin’ system. We flew on your plane.” Sylvie’s losing it at this point. The woman asks a question Sylvie didn’t hear. “Are you returning to the States?” I answer “yes, we have a return ticket”. She says “oh, well then you should be in the system”. After some trouble with the printer we get our letters from Continental confirming that yes we did actually arrive in this country. Cab back to the third immigration office, and we’re sitting in front of a very sweet officer (the first of her kind) who is an absolute green rookie. Of course, she is the one entering us into “the system”. She’s calling her supervisor every 15 seconds to ask him questions. Our getting into the system is riding on this woman and she’s joking and laughing and getting the spelling of our names wrong and clearing our entries to do it over again repeatedly. We couldn’t be mad at her cus at least she was trying to help, but damn, why the trainee entering us in the system at 4:45 pm on the 7th day. God is not only cruel, but he’s a comedian. At 5:00 pm we’re finally entered into the system. We hope…….

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