Posts Tagged ‘Quebeckers’

37. Passport/Visa Stress

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

I had a Run Lola Run day a couple weeks ago. It was horrifying.

Cold sweat runs down your back. Your heart rate increases. It feels like the second hand is advancing in a smooth and rapid motion, rather than its usual ticking. There aren’t enough minutes in an hour; not enough hours in the day.

cinemapage-run-lola

Just like Manni, in Run Lola Run, I called my girlfriend in a fit of panic. Short of breath, my world was caving in. I had to fly out of the country in a week and even though I’d sent my passport renewal application away a month ago, it still wasn’t processed (I found out later it takes 20 business days to process, not 20 days). The passport office didn’t even know where my application was. And since I’d sent it by snail mail — rather than by registered mail — it couldn’t be tracked. Like Manni, I was freaking out ‘cuz I fucked up.

I hopped on my bike and pedalled violently, until I couldn’t feel my legs. The passport office requested I provide proof of travel (i.e. a printed flight itinerary) within the next couple hours, so they could put a rush on my application (if they could even find it among the stacks of passports awaiting renewal) and issue me a new one in time for my flight. If it was lost, I’d have to re-apply from scratch (with new photos, a guarantor and all that other bullshit), also on a rush.

I got to my office, printed the itinerary, told my boss I was taking the rest of the day off, hurried home, dropped off my bike, and drove my g.f.’s car back to the passport office and delivered the proof of travel. The back of my shirt was soaked with sweat. “What’s next?” I asked the passport officer. “We’ll see if it pops up on the system tomorrow morning. If not, it’s Plan B: re-apply for a new one.”

Luckily, they found it and I didn’t have to go through the added stress of re-applying. It was over. But I didn’t exhale until my new passport was in my hands, three days later. Hats off to Passport Canada: Their staff was patient and helpful, and putting a rush on it only cost me $30.

Czech Visa in Bratislava: It wasn’t the first time I’d had a day like that. Back in ‘02, my buddy and I arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia on July 31. We understood that we needed to get a tourist visa to enter the Czech Republic*, but we didn’t know it would take five to 10 days to get it. Since, we were scheduled to fly from Prague to Amsterdam on Aug. 5, we frantically ran around Bratislava trying to get passport photos and reschedule our flight. When the dust finally cleared, we changed our flight to Aug. 11. So, instead of heading to Brussels and Paris from Amsterdam, we spent the rest of our trip in Slovakia and Prague. Turned out to be more fun (and more affordable) than we’d expected.

*Apparently, as a couple of Québécois guys informed us, the CR imposed a visa requirement for Canadians in 2001, as a reaction to a 1997 Canadian policy that required Czechs to obtain visas to enter Canada. They told us a Czech film (it was actually a TV report on Czech Roma in Ostrava) had showed a family of Czech immigrants flourishing in Canada, which caused an influx of Czechs immigrants and led to Canada’s imposing a visa requirement for Czechs. The Québécois guys were right.

Vietnamese Visa in Bangkok: In ‘07, I had another stressful, fun-filled visa day in Bangkok. It was my second-last day in the city and I knew I wanted to go to Vietnam (via Laos). What I didn’t know was that I had to get the visa while in Thailand. It takes at least a day to be processed. Fuck. So I sprinted from my Khao San-area hostel to take pictures of the Reclining Buddha and knock it off my checklist, then I jumped in a metered cab to rush to the Viet Embassy. The traffic was unbelievable; my stress level was climbing. I asked the cabbie how far. He said 20 minutes. I offered him a 50 baht tip if he could arrive in under 20 minutes. He hit the gas and suddenly we were flying, taking all kinds of short cuts on backroads. We got there in 17 minutes.

Once there, I had to fill out the the visa form (among other backpackers who were also tearing their hair out), run to an adjacent business to get my photo taken, submit the form and think on my toes. The visa officer showed me a price list. In order of increasing cost, I had to choose between: single-entry visa ready in three days (no), single entry visa ready tomorrow (?), multiple entry visa ready in three days (no), multiple entry visa ready tomorrow (?). Option 2 cost 2,500 baht (or $77 USD), which was half as much as Option 4. The officer grew impatient. She started tapping her pen on the desk. I picked Option 2 and decided I’d just see as much of Vietnam as possible in one fell swoop.

I picked up my visa the next day, in time for me to catch the night train from Bangkok to the Lao border. Another bullet dodged. When I boarded the train, my back was still drenched with sweat. But maybe it was just the humidity. Yeah right.

31. Traveler’s Diarrhea

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

This post should really have appeared earlier. Like somewhere in the top five. I guess 2. No Toilet Paper falls under the fecal category, so that about covered it for the top thirty. You can’t be writing a blog that talks about shit every five or six posts without people calling the cops (coprophiles) on you. Besides, to me, the word “fecal” represents a more solid image in my mind. And the topic of this post is decidedly far from solid. Yup, this is something entirely different.

That’s why I realize now it should have cracked the top five. Having this malevolent organism inside me was probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to me while traveling. Worse than getting pickpocketed (that’s number-two). I’m fucking serious. I was scared of it. Not scared, like I thought I was gonna die, but I was scared it would last longer. If you’re laughing and calling me a pussy, you’ve obviously never had it. It is THE WORST.

I  got my first case of real TD (they actually call it this) in Africa, of all places (beenou). Because I’m a visible minority, I like to brag to my white friends that I’m more immune to things than they are. Like sunlight for example (even though I still do get sunburnt, from time to time). I’d traveled to third-world countries before, so I was a little cocky. Our guides told us repeatedly, “Don’t drink the tap water. Only drink bottled water. No iced cubes. Make sure raw fruits and vegetables are washed in…” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought. I can handle it. I’m not white.

I’d been diligent, though. I’d been drinking only bottled water for weeks, even brushing my teeth with it for chrissakes. But I mistakenly thought that I’d gotten some bath water in my mouth once or twice, and was unaffected, so I rolled the dice. We were in a small local straw-hut of a restaurant. No tourists in there (beenou). They didn’t have any bottled drinks, only water. It wasn’t even tap water. They were ladling it into metal cups out of a bright blue garbage-pail-sized plastic bucket. I was conscious of it too, thinking, “Is this gonna make me sick?” right before I drank it to wash down a bite.

It most certainly did. I fell into a haze. Not immediately, but I started feeling off about an hour after eating, a little dizzy. Then I had the bubbly gut, then a stomach ache. I’d had food poisoning before, so I thought it was just that - that I’d puke or shit once and that’d be it.  I was struck by the worst case to diarrhea I’ve ever had. It started running Friday, I practically spent the whole day in the bathroom Saturday, I thought it was over and it came back Sunday, and Monday was just as bad as Friday. My memory of the experience is all foggy. I couldn’t eat. I felt so weak. All I did was sleep and get up to shit. I drank gallons of water. Imodium and antibiotics had no effect the entire time. It just kept pouring out. My butthole was raw from the constant wetness of pooping and water wiping (see 2. No Toilet Paper). By Tuesday, I felt decent enough to get out of bed and try to function. All I could stomach was water, tea, bread (dry, as butter is banned during bouts of TD) and the local equivalent of animal crackers. The runs had become more of a mealy, loose paste. It took five days before I had a solid stool and  I was honestly near tears when it plopped against the surface of the toilet water.

One thing my horrific TD taught me is that you need the support of other people to endure it. My friends took care of me. They brought me water and food, if I could eat it. They checked on me and even bought me a thermometer to make sure I didn’t have a crazy malaria-induced fever. You’d think I’d learned my lesson, but I got it again about a month later. Turns out, I was less immune to it than my white friends. They didn’t get it once.

I didn’t get TD again until about three years later, in Indonesia. Due to the foolish ingestion of fish(chicken?)ball soup, made with fishballs and steamed noodles that were sitting in a lidless container at room temperature, in the sun, likely for hours. Again, I thought about the possible consequences as I took my first slurp, hoping that the steaming broth they dumped the spongy, pre-cooked ingredients into was hot enough to kill the nefarious bacterium. But my friend, a feminist, separatist gal from Quebec, was keen on the soup. She insisted it would be fine. Yeah, she was fine. Yet again, I proved myself less immune to something than a white friend. I should learn my lesson, eventually.

- Thanks to Karen, for suggesting I go ahead and write this topic. She must have had it once too. Thanks to Alain and the Diaws for all the animal crackers in Dakar. Thanks also to Isa, Claudio and JP for keeping me alive in the Gilis.