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Un-Diplomacy - by Laura Ambrey
by Laura Ambrey
Arriving with just 30 minutes to spare, we handed over our cell phones and cameras at the security check and headed into the overly air conditioned visa office.
We jumped in surprise, a small, bespectacled Indian official was shouting at the woman at his counter. Matt and I exchanged a wide-eyed glance, he pulled a queue number and we sat, nervously listening to the tiny man shout disgustedly at applicant after applicant:
Where will you stay?
You must show your reservation! NO VISA!
Where is your flight ticket? NO VISA!
There must be one copy for each application. NO VISA!
The only place to apply for an Indian visa in Indonesia is the Jakarta-based embassy. A giant, white, pyramid shaped building – the Indian embassy would look more at home in Giza than in Indonesia’s capital city. But despite its conspicuous appearance, it remains well under the radar of Jakarta’s taxis – our driver in particular had stopped to ask colleagues and police officers for directions at every turn, even though my husband and I had given him the address.
“You’re sure we have everything?” Matt asked me.
“I hope so,” I answered.
Finally the display board flashed a red number 47; we got up hesitantly.
“Number 47!” the miniature man barked.
“You go first,” I urged Matt.
I had meticulously prepared all of the required documents before heading to Jakarta - making sure I had proof of hotel bookings and gainful employment - secretly worried they would check and discover that the hotel bookings were forged through Microsoft Publisher.
We handed over our documents. He didn’t shout. I took that as a good sign. He just instructed us to pay at the next counter.
“Should we mention we want the visas for August?” I asked Matt under my breath.
“Nah, I don’t think so, it says the dates on all of our paperwork,” Matt whispered.
Please don’t let them check our bookings, I begged God, our flights are non-refundable.
Since we were returning to Surabaya the following day we had made arrangements with a courier we met outside the embassy to pick up and DHL Express our passports back to us. A guard had introduced us and told us we could trust the man. I wasn’t sure.
I tore open the yellow and red envelope as soon as it arrived at my office and was relieved to see two passports with full-page Indian visas inside. Shortly after that smile of relief crossed my lips, out spilled a string of profanities, “Fuck! You’ve got to be kidding me! Shit, shit, shit!” I called Matt.
“Good news or bad?” he asked.
“Good, I guess? Our India visas were approved.”
“So then what’s the bad?”
“They expire before we even get there!”
“Perfect,” he laughed.
After coming to terms with our visa situation, Matt sent an email to the embassy asking what we could do to resolve the problem in a vain effort to avoid paying the visa fees twice. The response came the next morning:
Dear Mr Matt
It is your mistake only.
For going in August, u should apply ONLY IN JULY/AUGUST. You applied too early.
U hv to apply again with the embassy 15 days prior to your journey.
“It doesn’t seem very diplomatic to write you have as u-h-v,” I commented to Matt. “Do you think this is a taste of how things work in India?”
“I guess we’ll see, but we’ll need new visas to find out.”
Laura’s Jakarta tips: EVA and Delta have regular international flights from North America, while Merpati Air and Garuda Air are good domestic airline options. Places to stay: for information on Jakarta hotels,visit: booking.com/jakarta - budget options can be found in the backpacker area around centrally located Jalan Jaksa. Transportation: Motorized bajaj can take you almost anywhere you want to go, but unless you are an excellent negotiator a taxi may be cheaper. Note that Jakarta is famous for its traffic jams; make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Dining: Street food is abundant, and warungs – or small cafes – can be found just about everywhere. Locals don’t drink the water and neither should you. More information: Click here for Jakarta’s official tourist site, or here for WikiTravel’s Jakarta guide.
Laura recommended winner of the 2011 Guides & Services competition, an Indonesian guide who offers trekking, rafting, city, culture, and adventure tours.
Laura also recommendedfrom India, a professional driver who offers tours with accommodation customised to suite every traveller.
Other local recommendations in India & Indonesia:
is the founder and CEO of Itmenaan Lodges. Nestled in the rural area of the Kumaon Himalayas they offer travellers a peaceful, unspoilt retreat away from the bustling tourist destinations.
Local homestaywas one of the winners of the Guides and Services competition in 2009. Travellers are welcomed and treated like one of the family with home-cooked meals and local tours.
One of 2011's winners was Indonesian guide, who offers personalised tours catered to every traveller. These tours can include trekking and rafting.
To view other locals in India,or view others in Indonesia . Browse our to explore all locals and the cultural experiences they can offer you.
Laura has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Edward R. Murrow School of Communications at Washington State University. After working for a weekly newspaper she married and travelled with her husband for 14 months. Once home, they both earned their TEFL/TESOL certifications and moved abroad to teach in Indonesia for 2 years. They're stateside again, currently in Seattle, Washington.
Laura’s hobbies are photography and scuba diving, but she’s also been on a quest to find the best facial in Southeast Asia. Her blog: http://writingsfromabroad.wordpress.com/about/