Lost tourist card

Often when you travel to Carribean countries you pay a tourist fee when you enter and / or when you leave the country. Dominican Republic is one of these countries. I paid $10 US for a tourist card when I entered the country and then you pay a fee when you leave the country based on how long you stayed.

In many countries, you have to have your tourist card in order to leave the country. I remember it being very important in the Galapagos Islands!

So, about three days before I left Dominican Republic, when I realized I couldn’t find my tourist card, I started to look harder for it. I looked with my passport, through all of my luggage, in every pocket, in my secret hiding spots for money and with all of my receipts that I had collected. No luck.

I left for two more days in Sosua and put it out of my mind.

As soon as I returned back to Santo Domingo the hunt began again. At this point I only had 12 hours before leaving the country. What was I going to do if I didn’t find it? The panic set in!

I unpacked EVERYTHING from my suitcase and dug through all of the pockets of the suitcase and my clothing. Nothing.
I checked through all of my toiletries, including my cosmetic bag with feminine products where I had been hiding some money earlier in my trip. Figured not too many people would search through tampons to see if there was money there! I thought maybe I had put my tourist card there.
Then I checked through every single receipt / piece of paper and business card that I had collected over the past seven weeks.

Still nothing.

I called my mom on Skype in a panic because I had lost it.

Then I shed a few tears … annoyed at having lost the tourist card and overwhelmed because my time in the Dominican had come to an end.

I did a little internet research and found out that I might get charged a fee for having lost the tourist card. Someone suggested it would be $200 RD, equal to about $5 US. I thought if that’s all it is, I could handle that.

Then I decided there was nothing further I could do about it and I would just have to wait until I got to the airport to see what was going to happen.

I got everything packed and headed to bed at around 11pm, just to get up again at 2am to shower and be ready to leave the hotel at 3am.

Of course, you are supposed to be at the airport three hours early when you are taking international flights. My flight was at 6:25am, so I was supposed to be at the airport for 3:25am. Would the airport even be open? Would I be able to check in?

Of course not.

Well, the airport was open … that was a good thing! I went straight to immigration and used my newly learned Spanish skills to explain that I had lost my tourist card and ask how to get it replaced. The man explained that I would do that on the other side of immigration, but that I would have to check in through my airline first. So, I went and stood in line at American Airlines. It was about 3:40am. Of course no employees were there at 3am! Someone finally told the line up of people that employees start at 4am. Lovely! Sure enough at 4am, about ten employees filed in the the American Airlines area and proceeded to slowly get everything ready, turn monitors on, put out customs forms, stand and chat etc. It was 4:30am before the first person in line was checked in.

At this point I was a little annoyed and super tired! I got checked in around 4:40am, but was starting to worry about getting through the line ups at immigration and security and making it to my flight on time. I had only an hour and a half before boarding.

Getting through security was relatively easy, other than the fact that I forgot to take my shoes off (required), so I was sent back through. Then, once I took my shoes off and put them through the scanner, they got ‘lost’ on the other side. So I was standing waiting for my sandals to come through and they didn’t appear. Finally I asked one of the workers and she found them, they had slipped through the rungs and were on the floor waiting for me!

Next stop, the immigration area where I would find out the real deal about my lost tourist card. The man took my paperwork, did not ask for my tourist card, saw on my immigration form that I had been in the country for seven weeks and told me I would have to pay the extended stay fee. He sent me to another kiosk to pay and told me to come back and see him after as he was holding on to my paperwork. All of this in Spanish! Yay me!

So, off to the payment kiosk I went. I waited and waited and waited … there was no one at the desk and no one around for me to ask what was going on. So, I waited more.

Finally, an employee walked up with another customer. Took care of her fees and then got ready to help me. Very nice man who spoke to me in both English and Spanish. I paid $800 RD (about $20 US), he gave me a receipt and sent me on my way.

Imagine that, no one ever asked me for the tourist card that I had lost. Hmmmm … or had I lost it? Now I wonder if they actually gave me a tourist card when I arrived or if I just paid the fee for it? Or maybe I got one, but it got collected with the immigration paperwork on my way out of the airport? Regardless, I didn’t need the tourist card to leave the country. I didn’t end up paying a fine for it to be replaced. I simply paid the extended stay fee which I had to pay no matter what!

As for the fees they were something close to this:
1-30 days – $400 RD
30 days – 3 months – $800 RD
6 months – 9 months – $1000 RD
1 year – $2500 RD

In the end, after waiting in line up after line up, I arrived at my gate for around 5:30am and then only had to wait half an hour before we boarded. It ended up being perfect timing!

Leaving Quito

Feb 12, 2012

Early this morning, my transfer driver from ATC (Andean Travel Company) was waiting for me in the lobby of my hotel. He was there early. I was ready slightly early, so off to the airport we went. I forgot to get his name, but he was lovely. He didn’t speak any English, but he was very patient with me and my broken Spanish.

He even stopped the van a couple of times in the middle of the road for me to take a quick photo through the window with my cell phone! Ha ha! And here you thought I was a fancy photographer! Although it was cloudy today, there was no fog, so I could see how stunningly beautiful this huge city is.

Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador

The city of Quito is 45 miles long and has approximately 2.5 million people (I think). It is built in the valley between mountains, with one of the mountains being a volcano. There are houses in the valley, but then they climb up the sides of the mountain as well. It is jam packed with buildings, most of which look poor to us from Canada / US.

I was thrilled once again with Bamba Experience, as they had someone waiting at the airport to help me navigate around the airport. It is a tiny airport, only five gates and three airlines, but I’m so glad she was there. Her name was Deanna. She was friendly, spoke great English and explained every step to me. I’m sure I would have been lost without her, as come to find out many tourists were.

As soon as you enter the airport, they immediately scan your bags through security. She explained, mostly to check for items that are not to be imported to the Galapagos (plants, pestisides, meat, nuts and seeds). She then took my passport and $10 to get a tourist card to go to and return from the Galapagos. I knew that this was necessary, but I would never have known it had to be done at the airport, or where! I was very glad she was there to take care of it.

She then led me to the line for check in. Behind me in line, there was a couple from Alabama. They told me this was their third time to the Galapagos and that they always have done land based tours instead of yachts. They also warned me that the boat ride (a panga) to Isabela Island is three hours of open, very rough water. I think I’m glad I didn’t pre-book that trip! Even though I don’t know these folks, I think I’ll take their word for it and stick with the closer islands in my five days here.

After I was checked in, Deanna pointed me toward a different security, the one where they check your laptop and luggage and screen you for metal. She then went on her way. I headed to Gate #5 and looked out to see beautiful snow capped mountains not to far in the distance. I hadn’t yet seen any because of the heavy fog yesterday. Beautiful!

I had been disappointed yesterday with the amount of fog in Quito. I wasn’t able to get fantastic pictures of the city … or even really see the city because the fog was so heavy! Today, when we took off from Quito toward Guayquil for our brief stopover, it was heavenly!

The scene at first was of crowded houses in the city surrounded by beautiful towering mountains. I wasn’t able to take any photos because they ask you to turn your cameras off during take off.

Within about five minutes, we were above two layers of broken clouds. Below and in the distance you could see beautiful snow capped mountains. My point and shoot pictures don’t really do the scenery justice, but it was breathtaking! You could also see how the peaks of the snow caps sat amongst the clouds. My photos didn’t capture that very well, but I assure you it was beautiful! Check out a few of these ‘snaps’.

Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane

45 minutes later, we were descending into Guayaquil, Ecuador for a brief stopover. It is a totally different landscape here. There are fields as far as the eye can see, but today they were more like ponds, lined with trees. It was kind of the same as flying over the prairies and seeing the ‘quilt’ of fields. Except in Guayaquil, the fields were flooded. Or at least I’m assuming they were flooded as it is rainy season here.

Aside from the flooding, there was a beautiful large river running through the city and then another massive city, but this one is built on flat land instead of the valley beside a volcano!

During our stop in Guayaquil, the plane refueled and they asked us to turn off all electronics and to undo our seatbelts. Hmmm … What’s that all about? Anyone know? My guess was so if we needed to evacuate quickly we could, but I don’t really think that’s it.

The next leg of the flight from Guayaquil to Baltra Island, Galapagos was smooth flying! A beautiful flight with sunshine, big puffy clouds and lots and lots of ocean. On approach to the Galapagos I took these couple of photos of my first view of the islands! Pretty.

First view of Galapagos Islands from plane
First view of Galapagos Islands from plane
First view of Galapagos Islands from plane
First view of Galapagos Islands from plane

I should also quickly mention that I flew with LAN airlines. They had the most beautiful airline hostesses, who were all perfectly dressed in red jackets. I think they even had matching lipstick. It seems funny to notice, but it was hard not to. They were so well put together that it made an impression. They were extremely polite and helpful and all spoken excellent English (with a Spanish accent of course). I really enjoyed my flights with them!