Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beats a poke in the eye...

For the second morning in a row Landon and I got up at 0-dark, 30 and made our way to an international airport.  The first time we left our good friends' house in Lima at 3:30, and after checking in the nice lady at the counter gave us passes to LAN Airline's VIP lounge.  There we feasted on an extensive continental breakfast buffet and then crashed until the last minute to board.  On board LAN again treated us to a very nice breakfast!  We arrived in Quito shortly after breakfast, in time for a long nap.  Neither of us were hungry.

This morning my brother-in-law German braved the pre-dawn traffic to get us to the airport.  By 4:10 the line was already 40 people outside the ribboned walkways to the counters.  We filled out immigration forms, we talked to people, we gave a late-comer American girl the sad news that the 20 people behind us formed the end of the line.  Landon bought us both humitas, a delicious, steamed Ecuadorian corn bread, and yoghurt for breakfast.  We watched a couple of men at the counter argue with the attendant for almost the whole time we stood in line.  After an hour we finally got to the desk.  No checked luggage, this should be a snap, and we'd just have time to clear security and immigration and get to our gate.  But...

The lady said something inane to us about vaccination forms for yellow fever.  What vaccination forms?  Oh, the little yellow International Vaccination Certificates?  Mine is in a file in Harker Heights, last entry was  in 1972, for--you guessed it--yellow fever!  Landon piped up, "I had mine two and a half years ago to come here to study, but I don't have the form with me either.  Does that count?"

"No," the lady replied firmly as she tore up our precious boarding passes. It was all on the website, and she was surprised that the travel agent hadn't told us, but there was absolutely no boarding from Ecuador for Honduras without a yellow fever vaccination dated at least 10 days before travel!  She said we could get the vaccinations today and ask that the date be listed 10 days before, and she would put us on tomorrow's flight.

Crestfallen, we walked away from the impatient line.  The girl who had been behind us was approaching the hope of a boarding pass after all and her seriously depressed face was beginning to show signs of hope that ours had lost.

I was suddenly ravenously hungry, and it seemed a bit unkind to reappear at my sister's house at 5:15 in the morning ringing the doorbell.  As we walked toward the one open restaurant in the airport a very thin young man with a scraggly beard said something to Landon I didn't hear.  His response was clear though, "Sure, how about if we buy you breakfast?"  So the three of us sat down and had omelets, his first.  Turned out he had finished his studies in classical guitar at a local conservatory, but struggles at home had driven him out last night into the street.  He had come to the airport looking for a place to be, and Landon's kind heart treated him to breakfast after what was most certainly a sleepless night.

On the phone German gave us instructions to a clinic where we could get our vaccinations, but first we should drop off our bags at the house.  With that intro back into the household we caught a few winks and headed out.  We found the clinic easily enough, and they were willing and able to give us the shots, but not the international vaccination certificate the airline needed.  We would have to go one of the Ministry of Health's clinics.

We arrived at the closest one without too much trouble, and found the room titled "Vaccinations."  A number of people were in a waiting room outside, enough that if all of them were waiting for vaccinations we were in for a very long wait.  However, they didn't seem to be, and after a young mother left with her children we walked in.  In about 90 seconds we had each got a poke in the arm and a certificate to take down to the end of the hall to get transferred to an International Vaccination Certificate.  Would she pre-date the paper?  Absolutely not, it would mess up her records at the end of the day.

At the end of the hall a dour young lady sat at a desk, about 6-months' pregnant.  I explained the situation to her, that we had flown in from Peru the day before and had run into this problem at the airport.  Could she please help us out?  Absolutely not, the certificates are dated when the shots are given.  D.....!

I went back to the vaccinations office, maybe they could do something.  But again the lady explained--very patiently, really--how it would mess up her records and she just could not do it.  OK, so I figured we've got the shots now, no turning back.  If nothing else maybe the airline can help, fly us into Panama on one day and into Honduras the next or something.  Back we went with heavy hearts to get our little yellow cards.  A line came out the door by now.

We waited patiently.  A lady took the place behind us, asked Landon to keep her place, and disappeared for a few minute before coming back.  Slowly, one by one, people were seen.  Finally it was our turn.  I walked in and the lady said, "Well, what have you decided?"  I told her we would take the cards and talk with the airline.  "Please sit down."  We gave her our identifying documents along with the certificates of vaccination from the nurse.  She began filling them out, then turned and picked up a desk calendar.  "Were you in Ecuador on the 8th?" she asked.

"No, but we were on the 4th."

"That's OK, they won't check.  I dated them for the 8th!"

I could have kissed her, except that I figured pushing my luck at this point might not be advisable.   We smiled broadly instead, paid our money, thanked her profusely, and headed back to the nurse's office.  Her assistant took the cards upstairs to be signed, and then we had to sign one more book for her.  As she filled out the preliminary stuff on the page she noticed the date on the cards, looked up and smiled.  "Ah, she did it for you, eh?"  I smiled and nodded back. We were at my sister's house by 10:30.

The internal records of the Ministry of Health reflect our date of vaccination as July 20th, but our cards, which are the only document the airline cares about, inexplicably one might say, bear the hand-written date of the 8th, complete with validating stamps and signatures. We will be on the plane tomorrow barring any other unforeseen adventures.

Ah, bureaucracy can be managed after all!

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