Letting Off Some Steam

We blame it on ‘the system’ or pronounce that ‘they’ do this or that whenever things don’t go along our self-centered plans. Having been brought up in lands where individual freedom is touted to be the ultimate salvation of man, we are faced every now and then with profound feelings of omnipotence and frustration while trying to achieve what our petty personal agendas are dictating to us with lots of pride. This in turn lets anger brood deep in our intestines and eventually someone of total innocence will have to bear the brunt of thus accumulated rage. Before such an injustice is allowed to happen under my own jittery watch, where I could shout sultry strings of compromising swear words and pick up delicate objects of high commercial value to toss them against hard walls or wide-eyed passerbys, I will have to let off some steam.

Those fucking Brits! Those mother fucking Brits!!!!!

Let me explain, and before I delve too much into serious and well-founded accusations I must add that at the very least half of my accumulated rage is directed at my very own self for being such a stupid ass! Because it has all happened before.

It was not until three days before our travel date to leave this land of milk and money we have been calling home for the last year and a half, that the wacky world of visas tied to my wife’s beautiful Colombian passport reentered our world after our run in with airport security back in Auckland in May of 2014. A cautionary email from our friends on the Kido Planet in Grenada called our freely wandering attention to the fact that this beautiful passport once again might have to be adorned with a stamp to prove that an advance visa request to visit the country had been officially approved. In my nebulous memory I believed remembering that I had checked that in the very early stages of our plans to visit the Caribbean’s windward spice island. Quite obviously that must have happened somewhere in the sphere of wishful thinking, because there it was, smack on the official government web page of Grenada: Colombian nationals need a visa to enter the country!

A frantic burst of research ensued, revealing that the Grenada High Commission had an office in London, which was supposed to be the first stop on our itinerary anyway, and since we had plans to spend a couple days in the UK the only problem was that the procedure to obtain the visa was said to last three weeks. It turned out that Her Excellency the High Commissioner of Grenada in London was a very kind person indeed and efforts were promised to resolve this matter in a matter of days. But there was another snag on our road.

Replays are never perfect but they hurt if they turn out worse. We had checked in our luggage at Basel Airport on October 5 for our initial flight to London Gatwick Airport. The lady at the Easyjet counter had checked our passport and deemed them fit for travelling. We had passed the stern officers behind bullet proof glass at the Swiss border control and they had asked us also where we were travelling to. The last check before boarding the plane was where all came to a screeching halt. The same old story: She needs a visa! No she don’t! Yes, she needs a visa, here is the list! The UK is NOT part of the Schengen space. Nothing we could do. All the lined-up passengers passed us by while my mind feverishly worked out possible scenarios. We had to go to London to pick up that other visa for Grenada. Should I fly alone with Beatriz’ passport to get that done at least? Not possible, since Beatriz had to go through the border control once again to go back. It was getting late in this small provincial airport. That way back by now was already closed, an official with walkie-talkie in hand pronounced. A lady official decided to bring us down some stairs, pushed us into a hallway and left us alone. Neon clad eerie emptiness surrounded us. An elevator door opened but no signage to where it would take us. We decided on the other end of the hallway instead where behind sliding doors some surprised border guards checked our passports again, and we were back in the homeland. Our luggage! We asked our way to luggage carrousel six. The two suitcases came, the guitar didn’t. Oversized objects, carrousel five, I was told. We had our belongings back under our arms. What now?

We called up our friend Francoise from Langenthal to come and pick us up in the middle of the night. Waiting on a row of black faux leather chairs we strategized: You stay, I go! The Grenada visa must come first. Then we look into the UK one. On my phone I booked the first available flight to London at seven the following morning. Expensive! I rebooked the hotel at Gatwick Airport for the following night. No charge, thanks! The rental car I was going to pick it up the next morning as planned, no change needed. There was no way for me to come back to Basel Airport at five thirty in the morning, so I would have to spend the night at the airport.

Out of the brumes of confusion Francoise appeared. She lives on intuition and finds people by following her instincts. We packed our luggage in her car and she pressed a wooly blanket in my arms: “You might need that. It’ll keep you warm.” The two lovely ladies drove away and I was on my own.

I spent some time strolling through the almost empty airport. A few other lost travelers cuddled loosely on chairs. I walked up and down non-moving escalators. I found a little passage way that lead me to a triangular cave underneath one of them. I crawled in and stretched out the blanket on the dusty floor. It did keep me warm. A couple hours of slumber. Every half an hour an announcement echoed in from the hall: Please keep your luggage with you at all times. Accepting luggage from someone unknown to you is against the law. Unattended luggage will be destroyed! Then the same in German. Then the same in French.

After two hours or so a policemen came in and shone his flashlight in my face. He said: “Bonjour monsieur!” and left. Now that was nice of him! Two more hours of slumber on the hard marble floor. The policeman visited me again. “It is time to get up now, sir!” He waited outside with his pal until a crawled out rubbing my eyes. “You’ve been very kind, sir!”, I told the two and stumbled down the stairs. It was four thirty. At five the check-in opened. At the duty free store I asked the polished vendor for a plastic bag to camouflage Francoise’s blanket, to make me look a bit less like an aimless beggar once on the plane, and I flew to London.

I had parked my sky blue Fiat 500 rental car at the end of a residential side street in West Kensington, London. I rang the bell on a shiny brass plate underneath the etched lettering: High Commission of Grenada. A charming older gentleman opened the door and let me into a tall space that quite obviously must have been a church hall before. Colorful photographs of tropical land- and seascapes decorated the walls. The clerk sat down at his desk and explained that our request had been sent to Grenada, but that the signature was missing. I explained to him that this was precisely the reason for my visit and handed him the filled out visa petition form with Beatriz’ signature, her passport and two passport photographs. A phone call interrupted our conversation. “These people call from Nigeria”, the gentleman said with a smirk of Caribbean charm on his face after he had hung up, “they have been waiting for a whole month for the exact same visa you are applying.” “They probably won’t get it!”, he added with a meaningful stare after a pause. “No, my wife is an angel”, I was quick to add, “she is certainly not like those kind of people!”

I was told to call the next day to see if things had gone all right. After a quick run to a grocery store and a spicy North African meal my sky blue Fiat 500 with the steering wheel on the funny side brought me back to the hotel at Gatwick airport. But I had one more task to complete before trying to get some sleep. In order to get a transit visa for the UK you have to apply online and make sure you have your credit card close by your side. This I had found out after a call to an information hotline where a voice with a thick Indian accent had started our conversation asking me for just that number on my credit card. After paying my due fees for decent internet access in my dull hotel room I logged on to the website of TLScontact, a Teleperformance Company.

You must know that these days or rampant privatization such dirty dealings with humble people who wish to visit mighty countries are no longer carried out by consular officers. These lowly things are outsourced nowadays to private businesses that set up shop in a moral void and collect voracious fees. I had to pay not only the 65 English pounds fee for a transit visa of 48 hours validity, but twice that much to include the ‘processing fee’ for our new friends we would be visiting soon in the lovely Swiss city of Zurich. Of course, these people there have to eat, you know!!! I filled out an endless form where the only thing I wasn’t asked was the color of my wife’s underwear. Once the form was submitted and payment made I landed on the page with the available appointment slots. Contrary to our friends from the spice island in the Caribbean Sea quite obviously no effort was going to be made to get us to our intended destination in time. The next available slot was on October 13, four days after our intended travel date. More fees stood in line to change our booked flights, there was by now no way visible around that.

I turned on the water tap on the tub in the bathroom to pour me a hot bath! Drying off after soaking off the lingering frustration away from my tired bones I happened to see a missed call on my phone. The Grenada High Commission had tried to reach me. A call the following morning brought the good news: The visa for Grenada was ready to be picked up.

All the ducks were in line now, at least for the time being and it was high time to jump back on our original excursion plan. I drove my heavenly bug of Italian making the sixty odd kilometers North into London one more time to retake possession of my wife’s identity and then coasted a good 450 more to the West, almost as far as the roads on solid land could take me, to the little village of Devoran a couple sea miles up the picturesque estuary of the Carnon River. There I drove in through a gate that never seems to feel like closing, and amongst a healthy thicket of blackberry vines I found the home, studio and workshop of James Wharram and Hanneke Boon, the visionary designers of our floating home Aluna.

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2 Responses to “Letting Off Some Steam”

  1. Beatriz H. Restrepo Says:

    Be patient,calm is something that I’ve being learning with our travel!!! Be alert and dealt with the immigration system is something that i can not deal with. Thanks for doing all these things for me.. I do not choose be born in Colombia but is the way is now.. I hope the situation of our Country improve in terms of good economic relationship with other countries to not get with this messy politic world.. why not to be just a citizen of the world.. one day maybe we have this category for traveling:).. from now we will be continue our efforts to it.

  2. Neil Says:

    As one of those Brits I feel for you my friend, I make every effort to avoid slagging off the old country but uncaring, faceless bureaucracy is well up the list of reasons I left.
    As you’ve no doubt discovered by now though, Cornwall and Devoran in particular are a world away from London.
    Ultimately we wandering souls are powerless in the face of such things, I think the only way to deal with it is to treat it like the weather, when the winds blow from the wrong direction there’s no point getting uptight, we just have to be patient and do what we can.
    I hope the rest of your journey back to Aluna goes peacefully, inside if not out!

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