Asi es la vida…. (c’est la vie… that’s life…)
To start off nice and cheesey….I often wonder what it is I have actually learned after all of these years behind me. After all of the classes, friendships, jobs, adventures and changes. Then came a SMACK in the face, and I think I learned more in two weeks then ever in my life….if you dare to read on, please be gentle…
Off I went, on the way to Quito, Ecuador, for the SECOND time. Without apprehension and without looking back, feeling more prepared than ever. Leaving Boston, my “home” again, my last year of college, at first was an extremely hard decision. But I knew Boston and my friends would be there come January, and this important battle in Ecuador needed me more.
I needed to do this for me as well. A huge personal test. How was this time so different than when I first shipped off to this foreign place with no guidance? Simply, this would be the FIRST time ever I would get a SECOND
chance at a challenge, a chance to right the regrets I left behind when my previous 6 months in Ecuador were finished far too quickly. This time, I would snap right in right away with no need for those awkward first months of adjusting to location, language, and culture barriers.
And I felt more than ready. Equipped with a fresh list of mantras and all the right stuff I thought I was missing last time, right down to my firey warm ugg boots for those damp, heatless Quito nights. I will even dorkishly admit that in my laptop was the esteemed Ecuadorian film, Que Tan Lejos (how far away) , that I was ecstatic to watch on the plane ride over to flip my brain back into thinking in Quiteño Español. I was determined, finally, that I was doing the right thing.
Then… SMACK. Quito did not want me. Literally, would not let me step out of the terminal onto their soil. I don’t remember exact details from this part as it happened so fast and the altitude, and lack of nourishment and sleep had started getting to my brain. I just remember that as I excitedly waited for my stamp to enter, the lady at immigration reviewed my passport and, without asking any questions, got up to find an officer who came over and told me that I could not come in.
HUH? Basically, what I had read and been told is that my previously renewed Visa (which I had paid 180$ for!) would still be good, even though I had left the country. In fact, should have been even more set since I left and came back in the country. Ecuador did not seem to think so.
This started a long saga, don’t know if I will bore you with the details. I’ll try to get right to the funny-dramatic-story part. My lovely Quito-mother Lupita who had come to pick me up called our friend/lawyer at work, to come try to talk to immigration, but no one was sympathetic to my reasoning or sorry state. We knew only money would talk, and obviously none of us had any (nor would we stoop that low, jeesh!).
The feeling in my gut at this time is not possible to describe. Honestly, I am embarrassed to say that truthfully it felt as though my world was about to end. Silly, because there I was, breathing and healthy, just on the verge of deportation, no más. When finally semi-accepting defeat, now around 1 AM, I was lead by two guards and an immigration official to a room that was tucked into the corner of a blocked-off stairwell in the back of the airport. Though it was windowless, cold and guarded, some miracle granted this little cell wireless internet, which may have semi-saved my sanity at the time.
I proceeded to contact every person I know in Quito, trying to figure out what in the world was happening, what I could do, and if anyone could help. I do not even want to glimpse at the SOS emails I sent out begging “URGENTE, ME PUEDES AYUDAR?” (Can you help me!) I can only imagine, The Onion headline reads: Pathetic Gringa Pleads for Savior from Deep Dark Quito Airport Cell.
Still not quite understanding what was going on or what was going to happen, I was clinging to the hope that our famous lawyers or someone would be able to fix things the next day when the ministry opened at 9am. I knew I had to somehow evade being chucked onto a plane back to Miami at 8:30am. This was when my kaniving, there’s-always-a-way side came out to reach past the boundaries for a solution. What if I flew somewhere near Quito and ‘fixed’ my Visa from there? My amigo Antoine is in Peru organizing Amo Amazonía, how about a flight to Lima? The official on duty could not give me an answer and said someone would come talk to me from the airlines at 3am.
In the meantime, my realistic and terrified side was also kicking me in the face. I text messaged my older brother. Matthew would not judge me, would not make fun of me when he heard my seriousness, and would take me in without question. Plan negative Z, worst-case-scenario-ever was: get deported, find my way to Matt’s apartment in brooklyn, let life’s reality settle for a few days and then hitch over to San Francisco and find a job there.
Rash? Ridiculous? Neither. At the time, it was the only option I could imagine if a silly piece of paper sent me back to the USA. “I am just a harmless ambitious American wanting to come help your country!! Let me in!”
As my longest night in history trickled on, 45 emails and 12 phone calls later, the lack of water and food, anxiety, unreal stress, and not to mention draining effects of high altitude made this entire scenario actually feel like a hazey nightmare, to the point where I did try closing my eyes tight a few times to see if I really was still in the dark cement room in an alley of the Quito airport. Somehow my body gave out to sleep for a quick 40 minutes on top of my lap top’s screen.
The rest is quite complicated, boring-to-tell and a huge stressful blur. The jist: they tried to deport me back to the USA on the 930 flight, after I begged them to not put me on the 9am (call it procrastination, I call it keeping faith…). After hundreds of calls, pleads and attempts failed, and I just could not bring myself to use the one tool that was 99% sure to tug immigration’s heart(less) strings – cash money bribe – I sat beside the guard at the gate with my spirits below the ground, waiting to board the flight/death-sentence back to Miami.
Feeling OH so defeated, crushed and obligated to explain exactly what had happened to the guard and everyone else who came to chat with me, amused by my disaster and scrambled-looking appearance (talk about jumping quick back into the Castellaño after 3 months without a word). I told him everything and it felt good to say it all out loud.
Suddenly, characteristically at the very last minute, I somehow found myself strolling up to the desk at the gate and asking the lady at the counter what she knew about flights leaving that day to Lima. Why keep trying? Being familiar with Ecuadorian and for that matter South American culture, it was quite obvious that most of the people I had talked to in the airport so far just could not be bothered to answer my questions nor find out if I had other options. This was suddenly clear, and I realized that I just had to ask the right person who could take a second to help me resolve my now colossal dilemma.
Success! The angel American Airlines worker informed me and my beloved guard that yes there were a couple of flights that night to Lima. But, and of course there is a huge BUT, I would have to go beyond security, and in effect, into Ecuador, in order to purchase a ticket. “No problem, I’ll escort her!” exclaimed the guard, my hero. So my pathetic Spanish story-telling had planted some sympathy in somebody. I was almost saved.
The guard and I rushed towards security and customs, who took my passport and allowed me to pass. “Hm, that was easy.” We rushed down towards the ticket counters and I was finally beginning to see a tiny hint of comedy in the whole drama. It was 9am in Quito, Ecuador. Of course, the first two airlines’ ticket counters I sprinted to had no one even nearly on time for their day job. The final ticket desk I found was tucked into a corner, a single lady hiding in the back, who only came to the window after several shouts on my part. My name is now being called incessantly over the loudspeaker across the entire airport, and I am sweating. The small part of my brain that is working at this point is focused on doing anything possible to buy time for Lupita, Pablo and the other five people who guaranteed they would do everything to help. So, with the swipe of a card that somehow did not deny, despite the unheard of one-way-priced ticket to Lima, I was again, almost saved.
Drama does not stop there. Despite the extreme stress and state of limbo that amounted throughout this day in the Quito airport – waiting, waiting, hoping, begging, calling, emailing, scheming, and battling utter defeat – again, it is not so interesting to tell. After speaking with the US Embassy, they tried to call the airport but told me my best bet was to leave and go to the embassy in Peru. No one was able to free me from the airport’s tight grasp. And things started getting worse.
A woman who just had no intention of being nice nor keeping positive would not allow me to leave the terminal to check in my bags and get my printed tickets, assured me that I would miss the flight to Peru and that I would have to spend another night in the dungeon and get on the first flight the next morning to Miami because I should not have been allowed out of the gate to buy the Lima ticket in the first place. And either way, someone should have been guarding me the whole day. Because YES, technically, I could have walked right out into the fresh Quito air after purchasing my Lima ticket. But NO, I was not about to put any faith in my luck of not getting caught at this point. Obviously my luck was not present anymore.
WOW lady. No way are you stomping me down now. After a treacherous day of promises, ups, downs and final defeat of entering Ecuador, new goal was GET TO LIMA. One grumpy lady’s power-trip gone-wrong, 12 story repetitions and about 864 smiles later, I had my ticket in-hand and found myself walking slumpishly onto the plane headed South to Lima. “At least it wasn’t South Beach,” I thought, trying to see the bright side.
Settling into my seat – 2B – the simultaneous sense of relief, dread and utter exhaustion kept me from throwing a fit when I realized I had been placed in first class. “Was that why it was so expensive?” I wondered. “Fine,” I thought, “I will enjoy the smoked salmon, fancy multi-grain bread and chocolate truffles and yell at the airline later.” So there I was, an almost deportee, fine-dining aboard a flight to Lima, Peru, trying to convince myself that the last 30 hours had actually happened and slowly noticing how every single part of me being me, the good and bad, got me to exactly where I was at that moment…..
So, yes, I actually went to Lima instead of Quito. I had a few friends there and one really
amazing friend I actually made on a delegation to the selva with Amazon Watch was organizing a festival in Lima called Amo Amazonía (I Love the Amazon)… the first really awesome cultural festival of its kind with photo exhibits, music, conferences, workshops etc.
I tried out couchsurfing for the first time – staying with two awesome Peruvian girls who were so helpful and kind and met so many cool people who came in and out from Germany, Spain, and Greece!
Needing more distraction, I found a very cheap yoga studio that was run by one of the most lovely women ever from Australia who I am pretty sure was a huge part of me keeping my head on in the two weeks of limbo. Naomi and I connected immediately, and her smiley spirit and awesome yoga classes kept me more than positive. Turns out she had a similiar situation on her attempt to head back to the states to start a yoga studio. They denied her visa, and so on her layover in Lima, she decided to just stay and create a yoga studio there instead… pretty wild. Actually, it was after an hour long dramatic story-telling and hysterical laughing session that Naomi convinced me that I just had to write it all down.
So the festival I was helping with began for real the day I finally was able to leave Lima (it took over 2 weeks to get a new visa all settled) but I SO much wanted to stay and continue helping out in Lima. It was really amazing, the people were SO welcoming and quick to befriend me and it was just an incredible group of passionate activists. Have you ever felt like life just puts you somewhere unexpectedly and but then things just feel right?? I felt like I was meant to meet all the people I met. It was just WOW what a wack turn of events that honestly changed my life… also great now I have attachment to two places in South America..eeks 🙂
Turns out a week after me, the SAME thing happened to my previous boss Kevin (also from USA) when he was coming back to Quito with his wife from the USA. Apparently his Ecuadorian wife made a HUGE scene, exclaiming, “What kind of place is this that won’t let my own husband enter my country!” and they let him come in only with her leaving her passport and giving him 8 days to get a new visa. He is still strugging to fix this and its been over a month. So, its not just me who is very confused by the new visa laws…
Sooo must stop rambling but yes I somehow MADE myself be responsible and left Peru.. and now I am in Quito, trying to forget the awful and embrace the great that came from this calamity. Vowing to do and be the very best possible since I was lucky enough to even get to come back here!!