Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The excitment

Isn´t my life just so exciting?

Today I have been to the bank. Woo.

Yesterday I went to register my visa at the Direccion de Extranjeria.

I got a taxi from my hotel as soon as I had dropped my bags off. It seemed like a dodgy area, but who can tell since I didn´t know exactly where I was, and most of the buildings in Quito are patchy and dusty and poorly signed and bordered my huge roads filled with non-stop traffic. There are a few purposeful pedestrians, and then a couple of people hanging out here and there, looking at the foreign girl. What made me think that this was a particularly bad area was that the taxi driver, bless him, got out of the car with me, made sure I held my bag properly, and gave me a look which said ´be careful´.

Well, that put the shits up me, for a start. So when i got to the building that had old white paint saying that it was the right place, and was told by the man with the gun (and uniform, thankfully) that it had moved to a different address, I was confused. It took a while for me to understand what he was saying, and my Lonely Planet had said this was the address, and there was a sign. Argh.

So I quickly hailed another taxi (this is definately a taxi city, especially when carrying important documents, minimal spanish and crap map), making sure that the man in the uniform (with the gun) was still in sight, and headed for the second address.

This was the right place. Even more people hanging around on the street outside. They seemed friendly, but now I am totally paranoid that I have ´rich foreigner without a clue´scrawled across my forehead, and just want to get stuff sorted and get away. Nobody speaks English (why should they, I don´t speak Spanish?), but they tell me that I need to open a bank account (and deposit $10) before I can register my visa.

Where´s the bank? Just round the corner. What, that corner there? Over that big road? And all the people hanging around? All right then.

I walk to the big road, and look at the street I think I am supposed to go down... And hail a taxi back to the hotel.

Please bear in mind that I had been travelling for 17 hours and had all my money, documents, copies of documents, and camera on me. I wasn´t feeling too brave.

This morning I get a taxi to the Banco Internacional at 8am, and am told (in Spanish) that I can´t have a bank account as I am not registered. I need to go to the Direccion Extranjeria first. Argh.

No, I don´t understand. I need a bank account to register my visa. They wont let me register without a bank account. We go round in circles for a while, and eventually the bank man (Jorge, I find out later) says ´Vamanos´(lets go).

As we walk round the corner (it is, literally, a three minute walk) to the visa office, Jorge explains that he has a brother in London, and would hope that someone would help him too if he needed it. Jorge speaks about three words in English (´my brother´and ´london´), but we get by with only small confusion. We go in to the visa office, and Jorge speaks to the guy with the uniform (and gun), and then we leave.

He says that it would take until at least tomororow to open a bank account, because he would need to authorise it with his superiors first. But I am travelling first thing tomorrow. I will have to delay my travel. No. He says that my visa is already valid, that it doesn´t need registering. It is ´sufficiento´. I still don´t understand, and am not sure I believe him. I get a bit teary (how embarrasing), because I am sacred that I am doing something very wrong. He says there is no need for melancholico, I don´t need a bank account, and my visa will be fine, and eventually it gets through. He gives me his number in case I need any help, and we shake hands and part.

Thank you, Jorge Bonius. Somehow we managed to communicate, and you reassured me when I was close to panic.

I´m still not sure if I believe him, but what´s the worst that could happen? I can´t be incarcerated for too long for having an invalid visa, before the British Embassy rescue me, can I? Surely they´ll be able to see that I am just an incompetent traveller, and not a diplomatic risk?

Anyway, I have my orientation with Jatun Sacha this afternoon, so the story may change yet...

But these petty worries just don´t compare to the story I heard last night.

I met a man in the hotel bar after dinner who told me that a couple of days ago he any his party of thirteen were held up at gun point, tied up and robbed at a retreat just a couple of hours north of Quito.

He´ll be dining out on this story for years to come, but right now they are all really shaken. A counsellor was even flown out by their tour company to talk to them (he was on my plane, funnily enough). Nobody was seriously hurt - there were some cuts to the wrists from being tied up, and the tour guide was hit with the flat side of a machete a few times, but the aim of the raid was to rob, not hurt, thankfully.

Apparently these things are incredibly uncommon. Bandit raids are just not something that happens anymore. Robberies are more individual nowadays. The party are continuing on their travels, and I hope that the rest of their journey improves their memory of Ecuador.

I am trying not to think about he fact that the last reserve I am working on is just a couple of hours north of Quito.

Puts a stressful trip to the visa office into perspectiva, don´t it?

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