Regular readers of this blog will recall that in my last post I had gone back and forth to Trenton, NJ twice to successfully fetch documents necessary for processing my retirement visa. And there were rumblings that I might need an apostiled police report as part of the package.
First the brief good news. That additional document wasn't required after all. However, when we visited our attorney and proudly displayed all the documents we had gathered we were told that, sadly, there was not enough time to apply for the new visa before the old one expired. The recommended solution was to go back to the United States, from which we had just returned, and obtain a new 12-IX tourist visa that would allow us to remain in Ecuador while the new one was being completed.
We were stunned--shocked--dumbfounded. Go back to the US? A quick check of Kayak told us last-minute tickets, even to nearby Miami, were over $1500 each. Plus food, transportation and accommodations? Impossible. There HAD to be another way.
Seeking another opinion we reached out to our friend Juan Heredia, who suggested his attorney might be able to come up with a better solution. I contacted her immediately and went straight to her office. At this point there were only three days until our visa expired, so time, as they say, was of the essence.
After reviewing our situation she thought that our best bet was to take a bus to neighboring Peru, spend the night, so that in coming back across the border into Ecuador our 12-IX visas would automatically commence. Other friends had successfully utilized this strategy in the past, and while we weren't keen to take a l-o-n-g bus trip to Peru and back that wasn't to have fun, it sure beat the original idea by a long shot.
First, however, she wanted to send our information to and consult with another attorney associate in Quito where all visas are now processed. This person, who we learned has vast experience in immigration law, assured her that if we flew to Quito she could not only fix our problem immediately, she would also apply for our retirement visa while we were there.
Wow, what a turnaround! In 24 hours we had gone from spending a fortune to hightail it back to the States to going to Peru on a bus to simply getting on a plane and flying 30 minutes to Quito. Perhaps anything is possible in Ecuador!
But first a trip to the local police office was necessary to obtain a document about our travels in and out of Ecuador during the preceding year of our existing visa. When the attorney and I got there a little before noon (the office closes from 12:30 to 3) there were a bunch of people sitting in chairs arranged in a big U around the room. I didn't see a place to take a number and asked how everybody knew whose turn it was.
"Just watch," she said. Sure enough, when the person being helped got up to leave, the last folks at the end of the U rose for their turn and everybody else dutifully got up all around the room and moved down two seats to fill the gap, leaving us to take our place on the other end.
We inched around the room, getting up and sitting down over and over until a little before 12:30 an officer passed out numbers to those of us who would have to come back, assuring our place in line when they reopened at 3. Why had it not occurred to anyone to have a similar procedure when you first arrived to eliminate the Musical Chairs we had been playing? Remember, best not to ask "why" here; you just do it.
Returning at 3 we were promptly helped but told to go get copies of some of the documents. I could have sworn my new attorney friend said something about a car but was certain I had misunderstood. No, we actually went outside to a car where, I swear, a woman was sitting in the back seat with a copy machine. We handed her the papers through the window, she copied them, I paid her 75 cents, we went back inside and handed them to the police officer and were on our way. The fact that the Musical Chairs and the back seat copy store shenanigans seemed somehow normal were clear indications that I am successfully assimilating into this culture.
All this happened on Monday. Early Tuesday morning we got up, went to the airport, and bought two one-way tickets on the first flight to Quito. Surprise, US readers--walk-up tickets within the country are the same price as ones purchased in advance. In this case about $60 each.
Arriving at the attorney's office there, she looked over all our documents and declared everything was in order. "Tomorrow we can get it all done," she declared. What? Tomorrow? We thought this was going to be a come and go the same day trip and brought absolutely nothing but the clothes on our back. Yikes! Well, it is what it is.
We found an inexpensive hotel nearby, then went to a drugstore and bought some emergency supplies. After signing some papers, going back to the office and signing more papers, we ate, collapsed in our room and awaited D-day. Everything was on the line; tomorrow was our last legal day in Ecuador.
After waiting four hours at the Immigration Office our number was finally called (they actually use a number system there). We all sat down with the official, he carefully looked over our paperwork, and then a miracle happened. We were approved!!
Through our experience we had uncovered a dirty little secret never revealed by Cuenca attorneys (And who can blame them? They don't want to lose business.). It appears the thirty-day-in-advance rule is only for visa applications submitted remotely. If you show up at the Immigration Office with proper representation and your ducks in a row your approval is immediate.
Moral of the story: use a tag team of qualified attorneys in both cities. Since visas are no longer processed in Cuenca it makes no sense to rely solely on a local attorney unless you're prepared to endure the stress of waiting forever for your approval. Anyone interested in a referral please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cynthia and I celebrated our victory with a delicious meal at a Chinese restaurant (a definite advantage of being in a big city--only scary hole-in-the-wall Chinese joints exist in Cuenca), went back to the airport, bought tickets and flew home elated at our good fortune. We discovered the water was off in our building when we got home and all we could do was laugh. After what we'd just been through this was nothing. Guess what--it came back on within the hour. Another ripple in the stream.
This concludes the latest chapter in our never-ending saga of going with the flow while living in a foreign land. Was all this stressful? You betcha. Last night I turned off my bedroom light at 9:47 and was dead asleep at---9:47. But did we get angry or upset about what could have been a dire situation? Such thoughts and feelings would have contributed nothing to a positive outcome. Without labeling our circumstance as "good" or "bad" we simply acted on what presented itself.
Today the sun is shining and the crisis has passed. Life is good. And the ATM system in the city seems to have crashed. Ah, Ecuador---------.