When we were putting together our travel itinerary we came up with the idea of working our way up through South America from Argentina over 5 months. We would then fly out of Colombia to China. Because Chinese visas start upon receipt, we couldn’t apply for them in England before we left as they would have already expired by the time we were travelling there. So we planned to just apply for them at a Chinese Embassy in Bogota. No problem we thought, turns out we were very wrong.
1st stop in Colombia – visas!
Being first-time travellers and having never actually applied for a visa before we were quite naïve about the whole process. We knew there was quite a lot of evidence needed to accompany the applications but being as detailed information wasn’t readily available online we innocently thought we would just be able to turn up at the Chinese Embassy and they would instruct us on what was required. We were way off the mark.
The first time we went was a Friday morning and we queued for 2 hours in a line outside the perimeter fence before actually making it inside. When we finally got inside we saw there was one person on a desk attempting to deal with all of the queries alone, so we had to wait another hour or so before getting seen. When it was finally our turn at the desk, the lady took our application forms and passports and told us to sit down and wait again.
20 minutes later a man appeared at the desk next to her and beckoned us over and without any warning started shouting at us. And when we say shouting, we mean SHOUTING! The man was livid, ‘MAS DOCUMENTOS, MAS DOCUMENTOS’ he was exclaiming whilst frantically waving our application forms at us. Even with the little understanding of Spanish we had we knew this meant we needed more documents.
Bursting a Blood Vessel
Not being able to figure out why he was so enraged we calmly and politely tried to ask if he could explain what documents we did need but this only sufficed to escalate the situation and resulted in him bellowing ‘CHINO O ESPANOL’ at us over and over again before shoving our applications back at us.
We were confused and Sarah was close to tears due to how aggressive he had been. As we stood there in shock, a kind Colombian lady came over and tried to translate for us but the guy was just incandescent with rage and stormed off. She suggested it might be easier for us to ask a visa agency what supporting documents we needed, as she had done and kindly gave us the details.
Thoroughly pissed off.
Attempt Number Two
Along with the Chinese embassy, the agency was also a 45-minute taxi ride away from the area we were staying in and unfortunately they couldn’t help us because we weren’t Colombian citizens so that resulted in more wasted time and money. Refusing to be defeated we settled into a pub for the afternoon, armed with laptop and notebooks, and set about finding out what these further documents that we needed were. A few hours later, having pre-booked hotels, printed bank statements and compiled a super detailed itinerary we were set to give it another go.
Unhelpfully, the embassy was actually only open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9.30am to 11.30am and so we had to wait until Monday. Knowing that the queue was long and slow moving we opted to get there early at 8am. But the queue was even longer than our first visit and we didn’t actually make it inside before the gate shut at 11.30am. It was cold and raining, we were thoroughly fed up.
When we asked the security guard what time we needed to get there in order to be definitely seen, he flatly replied 4am. 4am we retorted! Having spent 5 weeks there, we can categorically say that Colombia is safe, providing you follow certain precautions – one of them being not to wander around at 4 in the morning with your passport and a wad of cash! But Wednesday came and we had no choice but to disregarded tourist safety advice.
Find out what happened next in Part 2 here!
James & Sarah