Thursday, February 11, 2010

Don't Stop The Carnival

If you haven’t read Herman Wouk’s book called “Don’t Stop the Carnival”, I would highly recommend that you do so. It is not only an enjoyable, humorous book, but it will also help you to understand the trials and tribulations of living and working on an island in the tropics. Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett liked it so much that he made it into a Broadway musical play. Although written as a novel, all the politics, close relationships, and typical scenarios that occur are closer to real life than fiction. As I think of subjects that apply, or as in the case below that happened to us, I will label them ‘DSTC’.

DSTC …Deportation?!

Since it is fresh on my mind, I want to tell you about my recent experience with the Immigration Department. When we land in the Bahamas we have to show them our passports and immigration form that we have filled out telling them how long we will be staying in the country. Since we are here all winter we wrote down 180 days. No matter how much we pleaded with the immigration officer, he would only give us what he called the legal limit of 90 days, and wrote it on our form and passports. He did tell us we could get an extension on our time by checking back in with immigration no earlier than 48 hours before, but no later than the expiration date. That all worked out fine for Dave since he flew back home in December. When he returned to the Abacos and checked in, guess how many days the officials gave him this time….180 of course! After talking to all our cruising friends that had either checked in by boat or plane, they all received 180 days whether they needed them or not. Talk about inconsistency!

Time flies and my 3 month time limit was about to run out. Since there are no immigration offices in Hope Town, luckily the date coincided with our trip to Treasure Cay. Not only is there an airport there, but it is also close to Green Turtle Cay where most boaters check into Customs and Immigration on arrival. We had it all planned out that we would just take a quick jaunt over to Green Turtle while our friend Keith was here, so I could get my extension and we could all explore this quaint out island. Good plan but bad timing for a nasty cold front causing high seas. That was the day before my time expired, so I knew I still had another 24 hours. The next morning dawned windless and the sea did not look as bad as before, so we bid farewell to Keith who was flying home, and headed out in our dinghy to go the 5 miles to Green Turtle Cay. It was a huge mistake and I should have just shared a taxi with Keith to the airport. The waves were large, but we did float right over them, and we could see what shoals to avoid because the waves were actually breaking on them. We arrived at the Customs/Immigration Office and I was excited to find that their door was open (they have a history of not always being there). When I told the lady what I needed, she told me she couldn’t do it because she was Customs only. This makes no sense because boaters check in and fill out the same forms that we do at the airport, and I nicely told her that. She replied that she can do that for a first time entry, but no extensions, and to go to the airport. So back in the little boat we go, only to find that the wind has increased significantly, along with the waves. It was a harrowing ride back to Treasure Cay, and most likely the scariest seas we have ever been in. The wind, waves, and current were opposing and it looked like we were in a washing machine. We at least had our life jackets on, knew the boat could not sink, but we could barely see due to spray and sun glare. We endured and made it back to New Horizon, showered off the caked on salt spray, and headed to the resort to get a taxi to the airport, about 10 miles away. We arrived at the airport office only to be told that they could not do it that day since the only immigration lady that has the forms was out sick. This statement came from the same immigration guy that checked us in back in November, so why couldn’t he do it? My frustration was mounting to the point of tears. I told him that my time expired that day and he said he would give me a couple more days and to call the next day to see if she was on duty. If she wasn’t, then I would have to go all the way to Marsh Harbour 40 miles away. Now the round trip taxi ride to go 10 miles cost $60(although our taxi driver felt bad for us and only charged us $50), so I can’t imagine how much it would cost to go 40 miles. We couldn’t even take our own boat because the wind was blowing so hard that we had to put out two anchors and be hooked up to a mooring.

The next morning I called to find out if I could get my immigration problem resolved and yes, she was in, but at her office, not at the airport. This time I went alone, raced to find a taxi in case she suddenly decided to disappear, and luckily the driver knew exactly where to go. Since everyone is related to or knows each other in the islands (he comes from a family of 15 siblings and has 7 kids himself), he recognized her car, so she was actually there. Half an hour later I finally got my huge long form filled out, asking questions like, “why do you need to stay” and “how will you support yourself”, and I finally had my passport and card stamped with enough time to get me through the winter. $60 more to this taxi driver and my mind was more at ease. The funny thing about this whole ordeal came when we had our club’s dock party, kiddingly dubbed my deportation party. The consensus was split as to how many people actually go through with all this ‘pomp and circumstance’ left over from being a British Crown Colony, and the others that ignore it and say officials never check the cards or passports anyway. Personally I don’t want to take a chance, but apparently it’s much ado about nothing.

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