THE PAPER CHASE CONCLUDES!!!!!

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For anyone who wants to laugh about dealing with public authorities in Colombia, you may enjoy this story about replacing my stolen documents.

The entry stamp in your passport is the most critical element I needed for the replacement all my stolen documents, as it registers the passport, and without it, it is illegal to travel and you get arrested at the border.

So last time I was in Bogota I was told by DAS (immigration) that because I already had the Investors Business Visa, I could not get the new all-important entry stamp without firstly replacing the Visa. So I was told by DAS that I needed to visit the Ministry of Foreign Relations to firstly replace my Visa. I arrived at the Ministry at about 10:30 in the morning, and was greeted by a queue of about 200 people standing on the street, waiting to get into the cue inside the building.

I was only waiting in the un-moving cue for about 30 minutes when a security guard came outside to announce something. Not understanding a word of the announcement, it was clear by the chorus of groans from the crowd I knew I needed to rapidly find someone who spoke English and explain what he said. So a Scandinavian girl told me the guard announced that the office had exceeded its quota of people for the day, and was not accepting any more people in. My frustration was intense, but nothing compared to hers as she arrived at the cue at 4:30am that morning!

So I went back to the DAS office, thinking of a way to be “clever”, cleverer than the other 200 people per day also trying to be “clever”. So, after waiting in the DAS cue for about an hour I had the opportunity to see just how “clever” I was becoming. I told them my lawyer cancelled my Investors Visa after the accident, out of concern for misuse by the thieves, so I don’t have a Visa any more. I was thinking that this might imply I don’t need a replacement Visa from the Ministry of Foreign Relations, I just need the entry stamp in my passport so I could travel.

I was promptly told that as I had no Visa, I was illegal in the country! (Now keep in mind that the accident where my documents were stolen wan 4 months ago and this is a developing country that does not have an Australian embassy to help out stupid tourists). “Illegal” status here is really not desirable. With my tail between my legs, I promptly apologized for telling “porky’s” and pleaded for help. For some reason they took pity on me, and organized a meeting on my behalf with the head of the Ministry of Foreign Relations to expedite the replacing of my visa.

½ hour later in the office of the head of the Ministry, I am told to replace my Visa I need a document form DAS! The office I had just been bounced from directly before! So, after another hour wait in the cue at DAS the next day, I am told that to get that document I need to take this invoice to that bank and bring back the receipt. After an hour wait in the bank queue I race back to DAS to try and get in before it closed. The security guard, who now knows me, and is feeling pity for me, lets me straight in! After taking my receipt the attendant tells me I need to fill in an application and wait 5 working days and come back to get it!!! But I was flying out of Bogotá the next day, and travelling to the coast the following week. So, I had to then organize a written authorization, and get it notarized, for my good friend Maria, to pick up the document from DAS on my behalf! Then, I needed to come back to Bogota to take the document back to the Ministry of Foreign Relations, to get my replacement Visa, to get the frigging entry stamp!

So here I am 3 weeks later back in Bogota, with the all-important document from DAS in my hot little hands, thanks Mafe. I arrive at the office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at around 8am, fortunately, because it was pouring rain there was not a huge queue on the street, and I was in front of an attendant with the hour. However, I was told by the attendant that she could not receive my application for a replacement Visa because I did not have a copy of my old Visa. YES, this is not a typo, my application for a replacement Visa was being rejected. Because I didn’t have my stolen Visa!!!!

My attempts to explain, in my best Spanish, that I had had my passport stolen and therefore did not have a visa, and thus is the reason why I was applying for a replacement, only seemed to annoy her. My attempt to explain that the head of the office had asked that I just get this document from DAS to complete the application that I had already filed, got me booted out on the street.

One woman from the crowded queue, amused by the ridiculousness of it all came to my aid. She gave me a name of someone inside the office and suggested if I go back to security and ask for a meeting with this person I may be able to get in the door. Now, of course I couldn’t remember the name of the woman I met previously, so I was not sure if this was the same woman or not. Risk! Anyway the plan worked in that it got me back into the office… I found myself face to face with a strange woman, (not the one I had met earlier) who was giving strong looks looks as if “I know you have scammed your way in here and what are you doing in my office?”

Attempting to explain my conundrum “Diva” told me (in warp-speed-Spanish) that I actually needed an original copy of a “certificate of existence” of my Colombian company from the Chamber of Commerce… What can you do… I thought if I hurried, I may be able to get in before they closed for lunch,

The Chamber of Commerce had a queue of about 50 people, but the security guard told me to get this certificate I was to first go and get a “priority ticket”. Once attained, I was sitting comfortably with my ‘Priority’ ticket, watching everyone  standing in another long, slow-moving queue and thanking my stars I wasn’t standing in yet another queue! Trying to understand the highly ambiguous screen display that shows what ticket numbers were to go where, about 10 minutes go by when I see someone standing in the cue holding a slip of paper that looked suspiciously similar to my priority ticket! Suddenly, wondering what “Priority” ticket really means in this place… I attempt to ask a lady next to me to confirm that by holding a “Priority” ticket I do not need to wait in the cue? After 5 minutes of working through the english/spanglish confusion of a simple “Yes/No” question, it seemed that the illustrius “Priority” ticket entitles you to enter yet another long, slow moving cattle queue! And in the 30 minutes it took me to realize and confirm this, the pre-lunch time rush had doubled the cue size! GGGGGGGRRRRRRRRRRRR

I finally get to the front of this queue and actually get my certificate before they boot us out for lunch. I race back to the Ministry, knowing that I am going to have to come up with a really good story to get past security considering this office closes its doors at 10am in the morning.

I schmooze my way by the security guard (my amigo now), and I am back in the Ministry queue. The application is accepted by the attendant, who for some reason seemed much less dismissive than before, and I am officially moved from the long outside queue, to the inside a small room full of anxious applicants queue..

About 2 hours go by, and the fact that no one has left the waiting area concerns me. Occasionally an office boffin comes out from behind the wall, and calls someone€™s name, gives them a small slip of paper. This paper is taken to another window, and another piece of paper comes back to the security guard, but then the people are sitting down again, and still no one is leaving.

About 5 hours go by, a disgruntled few have left, angered by the lack of logical reason why their applications were rejected. One very patient English guy had his application rejected on the basis that the physical condition of his passport was not of ‘an acceptable standard’. This decision required an office full of people 7 hours to conclude. He didn’t kill anyone right then and there in the security controlled office, fortunately for him, and was booted out on the street.

By mid afternoon, I was given a slip of paper. I did the little paper- dance, this paper here, that paper there, and sat back down. Like everyone, I had not eaten or drunk anything, or been to the toilet since breakfast at around 7am. Everybody fearful to move, just in case their name was called whilst they were out. Of course there are no facilities anywhere near, you just have to wait. Whatever happens you cannot loose your place and do this all over again.

So, by the grace of fortune, a further hour later, a boffin came out called my name and GAVE me my passport back, complete with the new “replacement Visa”. And, it was still only mid afternoon; somehow I had jumped the queue! I raced out ecstatic think I still had time to get to DAS, to go for the all-important stamp on this same day of good fortune. And yes, a day of good fortune it was indeed, because my mate the security guard let me straight past the queue on the street, about an hour later, I walk out of the DAS office with the all-important official entry stamp” legal, and able to travel!!! WHOOHOOOO!!!!!

So after some 4 months of battling to replace my stolen documents, I now have a new passport, complete with replacement visa, the infamous entry stamp, and I also have my motorcycle permit! From a legal document point of view I am officially back to where I was before the accident 4 months ago.

Now just in case anyone may be thinking about playing a practical joke, know that I will kill living beings before my passport goes out of my sight again!

Phew!

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