1. Traveling without a visa
I had a scholarship grant from a United Nations backed international institute in aging in Malta. But because Malta has neither a consulate nor an embassy in my country save for an honorary consul and an office secretary, I made inquiry from this place that couldn’t pass for an office, I’d call it a corner. The lady had a table the size of my son’s study table in a narrow corner of a tony building in an even tonier address in the central business district. She went over my application form briefly, photocopied it along with my passport and other documents and instantly gave me a piece of paper in a sealed envelope which I never had the chance to read.
Now came my departure time and I was queuing in the immigration in my home country. When it was my turn to hand over my passport, the immigration officer could not find a visa because I never had one. I gave him the envelope the lady behind the study table gave me.
Apparently, it was a duplicate copy of a letter she forwarded to the immigration office in Malta along with a letter certifying that my documents which she herself inspected were kosher. That being after office hours, there was no way he could verify my credentials and the certification from the lady behind the study table so I was asked to step out of the line and was brought to the office of the immigration bureau in the airport. It was a dark, dank place, the furniture had scuffed, faded upholstery.
There I explained that I had with me supporting documents for my scholarship grant which they probed. After almost an hour, I was allowed to board.
I I arrived in Valletta, the capital of Malta. Again, as I was queuing up, the immigration officer at the counter noted my lack of visa and again I was asked to step out of the line and brought to the immigration office, this time at the Malta International Airport.
There, all the my carry on was turned inside out including my purse, the contents scattered on the table including all of the measly USD800 I had for my pocket money, some of them falling on the floor. The Maltese police and officers talked too much and too fast all at the same time I found it strange how they could understand one another. They were decent enough to have picked up the things from the floor and put everything back in place. They kept insisting that I did not have a visa, saying the same thing over and over again like a broken record as though I were a criminal. It was torture.
I’ve had it with them. I stood up, all of my five foot frame before the stocky, some obese almost six foot tall men and shoved before their faces the letter from the Minister of Health of Malta. I demanded that they call up the office of the minister. There were about five of them in the office and with trepidation, one of them made the call while one was poring over stacks of paper in a folder.
After talking to whoever was on the other end of the line and after finding my application form, they stamped my passport with the visa (that was pre-EU era). Perhaps to make up for my inconvenience, I was picked up from the airport and driven to my hotel not in the old black Mercedes taxi that I expected but in a stretch limo. I never realized that good karma limousine was surprisingly quick and that revenge never tasted that sweet.
2. Losing (and finding) my luggage in Valletta, Malta
My Malta travails started but did not end with my traveling without a visa. Because the flight from my city of origin to London was delayed for eleven hours, my airline advised me that I am definitely going to miss my connecting flight from London to Valletta. In spite of another seven hour wait before the next flight to Malta, I stayed and hung around the same boarding gate because already I was worn out and hungry and woozy from being sleep deprived. After traveling coach for fourteen hours and after all the aggravation, you would know what I mean.
A pregnant lady at the Air Malta counter saw me and asked why I was not boarding. I said I’ve been re-booked for a much later flight. She took my ticket and boarding pass and checked something on the computer, asked me to rush, almost pushing me to the tube to board the flight that was about to leave. I made it! I made it! I was screaming on top of my lungs in silence. I was about to celebrate with white wine and cheese (Air Malta served these for a fee) until I realized that my luggage was not flying with me.
When I got to the hotel, I had nothing but my fresh, spare underwear and the clothes I’ve been wearing for almost 24 hours. I called up the airline to describe my luggage and arranged for it to be sent to my hotel. I ended up spending the night with, first a towel wrapped around me but because it was too cold, I put on a bath robe. When I woke up the following morning, my clothes which I hand washed were still wet so I skipped breakfast. By mid-morning, a call from the front desk asked me to come down to identify the luggage. Apprehensive that I should be left with a stranger in my room with just a towel or bath robe on, I was torn between asking the guy to come up and going down in my bath robe preferably with a balaclava to hide my face and spare me the epic embarrassment.
I went down to the lobby in my bath robe, barefoot (I couldn’t find a mask or balaclava to conceal my identity), identified my bags, inspected the contents, pulled out some clothes from the bag and rushed back to my room leaving a bewildered, speechless airline personnel. I decided to put on something fresh and decent first. Only then did I go back down to the lobby and retrieve my luggage this time with my chin up and gave him ten Maltese lira for all the trouble, which I later learned from the cleaning lady, at about USD20 was more than a generous tip.
3. Traveling with the wrong visa
I did not have a hard time applying for a Canadian visa because I had an existing US visa. So when my passport was returned to me by courier after two weeks, I was surprised to see that I was given a work visa instead of a TRV or a temporary resident visa meant for tourists.
Because of what I perceived to be a fatal flaw in my travel document, I returned my passport to the embassy only to get it back with the same type of visa, but this time with a paper stamped beside it that I was indeed I was work visa exempt. I was confused but since I didn’t have time to have it revised for the second time, I let things be.
As expected, I encountered problems with my checking in at the Delta counter. The ground personnel asked for my work contract, overseas employment certificate and clearances asked of every overseas worker. I reiterated that I was not going to Canada to work but the crew at the counter asked me to step aside as she had to talk with the aviation security.
After waiting for about thirty minutes, I was allowed to check in. I had friends back home who were waiting for their own TRV’s who, if it were legally possible, wanted to swap visas with me. Sad.
4. Losing my purse with my passport in Billund, Denmark
In my previous post Aarhus, I shared how excited I was about reclaiming a lost childhood in this plastic city that was Legoland in Billund, Denmark. I was all over the place so that I did not notice my purse fall out of my back pack. Coming home to my apartment in Aarhus, I made frantic phone calls to the consulate in Stockholm, Sweden (my country had no consulate in Copenhagen).
To the credit of the people in the consulate, they were helpful, outlining to me things to do in the event that I could not find my passport anymore.
I made Plan B’s. First was to stay a week longer, second was to rebook my ticket. It was a good thing that my Lufthansa ticket had no restrictions which allowed me to rebook unlimited number of times without penalties.
However, my purse was found by a tourist in the restroom in Legoland and was turned over to the information officer. I took the train to Legoland to retrieve my purse, got back to Aarhus, went to the police station which also processed visa extensions among other things.
There I found myself among the sea of refugees and asylum seekers in Denmark who were having their documents examined. I was there for two hours before I could be served. The lady gave me an extension of nine days and I had nine more days of holidays! Happy!
5. Getting a marriage proposal in Marrakech
Easily the busiest square in Marrakech is the Djemaa el Fna. I walked my way there having gone past the walls, the mosque, the Koutubia and a rose garden so that by the time I got there, it was after sunset and the square was swarming with people both local and foreign. I was worming my way in the sea of humanity when I felt a hairy hand grab me by the arm near a post office. He was strong enough to have dragged me to the side walk and stop me in my tracks.
I froze for a moment from fear.
In a heavily accented English the creep said ‘Marry me. Marry me. Please’.
It was the creepiest thing and his was the creepiest voice and face. I struggled to free myself from his grip by twisting his arm and I walked as fast as I could.
By the time the surreal experience sunk in, I was already in the middle of the square watching people get their henna tattoos, playing along snake charmers and magicians, bargaining with hawkers selling souvenirs at the same time collecting my thoughts and myself.
It was full moon over Marrakech and I was freaked out by a lunatic.
6. Being chased by a hobo in Essaouira
After taking pictures of the forts and fortresses and old cannons and sunset in Essaouira, I lingered in the boatyard to take pictures of colorful boats and seagulls perched over the breakwaters.
It was almost dark when a hobo, unkempt, stinky, disheveled with very bad teeth began shouting expletives at me. I tried to run away but the more I ran, the faster he chased and chastised me. I was saved by locals who told me to keep on running while they stopped and blocked the hobo’s way until I was way too far and a safe distance from him.
When I looked back, the skies had become murky and pitch black, he disappeared in the dark that must be his home.
7. Buying sweet potatoes in Nara, Japan for my snacks
After almost ten days of eating nothing but Japanese food morning, noon and night, I started craving for something closer to home. That was why, I shrieked in almost child like delight when I went to Nara and found at the gate of the deer park, vendors selling boiled sweet potatoes.
Back home, we call this camote and along with banana and cassava, when boiled, makes for a good, healthy, greaseless snack. I bought some which were placed in a paper bag. I went farther into the horde of extra friendly deer when I saw people feeding the deer with chunks of boiled sweet potato. Everywhere I looked, people were feeding the deer with boiled sweet potato! Even if my mouth already watered initially at the sight and scent of the boiled camote which reminded me of home, I could not have the gumption to eat them anymore.
At least while I was in Japan.
8. Sharing (almost) taxi full of drunken men in Aarhus, Denmark
I and my landlord Luca, who owned the apartment where I lived, along with Catherine, a Danish girl who’s close to and a favorite of Luca because she fed his cats when he would be away on trips had dinner out after coming from the cinema. It was in a restaurant that served presumably the best steak in town and only three blocks away from my apartment. It was a lovely evening of the most tender and succulent steak, salad greens and caviar, courtesy of Luca.
The thing was, as it was a Friday night, by 11PM, the banquet hall was converted into a ballroom especially for ladies for salsa night.
As my boots were never made for dancing, I decided to go home ahead and left the two of them to dance. It was freezing cold so I decided to take a taxi.
There were two reasons why I wanted to take the taxi despite the short distance. First, it was freezing cold. Second, the taxis were late model Volvo. What I did not know was that, they were shared taxis. There was a barker of sort who ‘recruited’ passengers. He told me there were already four passengers inside and he just needed one more and the taxi was good to go. I acceded.
When he opened the taxi, there were indeed four very huge men who obviously had more drink than they could handle. I was torn between riding in or opting out. My dilemma was resolved when one of the guys puked inside the car that covered the floor in vomit that emitted unbearable stench.
I found myself walking alone over cobbled streets from Pustervig to the road in Batuesgade shivering from the biting cold, rationalizing that my conservative family back in my home country would accept my dying from frostbite but not from the stench of vomit and the thought of being the lone woman riding in a car with boys.
What’s your story?