When we check into the Bahamas, we fill out immigration cards and get a stamp on our passports for a certain number of days’ visit. We always ask for 180 days to cover the winter, but end up receiving 90. The Bahamian immigration law is supposed to be 90 days, with an option to extend when that time is up. Once in awhile an officer will give you the increased time that you ask for, so we always ask. One time we only received 30 days.
As our time to apply for our extension approached, I wondered whether the officials actually counted the days or if they meant 3 months. Our immigration papers said one, and our passports said the other. In other words, we checked in on November 12th. Does that mean we have to do the extension by the 12th or the 10th, because December and January have 31 days? To add to the confusion, Immigration insists that you apply for extra time only 1-2 (maybe three if you are lucky) days in advance. People have been turned away for being too early.
Now throw in a weekend, when no one is in the offices, and it really gets confusing! That’s exactly what our circumstances where. We could try on Friday which would be 2 days early if they counted the actual days, or 4 days early if they went by the month, with the possibility they may turn us away. If we went on Monday we would only be a day early if by the month, and over by a day if they counted days (even though due on a Sunday), and we would risk being deported (we’ve heard that it HAS happened).
The general consensus among cruisers was GO Friday. Naturally on Friday the wind was blowing like crazy, with approaching cold front squalls possible, and we had to cross the Sea of Abaco to Marsh Harbour. Let the adventure begin! The skiff was up to the task and we barely got our rain jackets wet from above or below.
Once docked, it was time to hike to the beautiful new government building. This took us past the port and by the Haitian shanty town called the Mud, complete with shacks and abandoned car carcasses. The oasis at the end of the road was extreme compared to what we had just seen.
Luckily and contrary to what we had heard, there are now computer printed signs on all the offices of the huge two story complex, although we did ask someone where Immigration was, so we knew where to start looking.
Into the office we marched, presenting our passport and papers to the lady behind the window. She took one look at the dates, glanced at the calendar, and walked back into the dreaded inner offices without handing us the extension forms…while we held our breath. It took a few minutes, but she came back and apparently her supervisor said okay, because she started getting the necessary forms together to fill out. We (or should I say I!) breathed a big sigh of relief.
We sat filling out forms asking questions like why do we want the extension and how will you support yourself, and handed them back through the metal two way drawer. Back to the inner offices she and our forms went. And we waited and waited and waited, all the while watching the prison show “Scared Straight” that was playing on the waiting room TV (that was aimed at the glass partition). The volume was up so loud that we didn’t even hear the lady behind the window call us back over at first. Finally, all our papers were updated and we were legal. I didn’t ask how they determine the number of days, because I couldn’t hear anyway and was just glad we had it all done. The highlight of the adventure was when we were waiting, and Dave pointed to the TV show and whispered to me, “That’s where they send you if you don’t renew your papers in time.” I couldn't help but burst out laughing, but then stopped myself because I heard a story about how a lady was one day over her time limit, came in laughing and she was escorted to the airport and put on the next plane out of the country!
As we departed, we took a different route back to the dock where the skiff was, so we didn’t have to walk though the poverty stricken Mud. By then the wind had picked up more, with a definite squall line almost right over our heads. Amazingly the rain held off. Just as we arrived in Man-O-War and stowed everything, the showers finally started. Good timing all around!