Let me open by saying, “It was all my fault.”
All of it. Even the parts that were not my fault and out of my control. Those were my fault too. Why?
Because there should have been no drama in the first place. I should have had the visas sorted out days in advance.
It just never occurred to me that America would not have a reciprocal VOA agreement with Australia. Especially when we do with places as unlikely as Laos. That was my mistake. You know what they say about assumptions.
And yes, I am the proud owner of my friend Talon’s excellent book for travelers that details the visa situations for every country for US travelers. Clearly, I didn’t bother to read that throughly, where Australia was concerned, either.
It’s a long story, that started on too little sleep and no breakfast and ended with us running, like cartoon characters from end to end of the Denpasar airport. It was not pretty.
In short, the issue is that Americans (everyone, apparently) are required to register for a visa before landing in Australia. This can be done simply, quickly and easily online. Thank goodness, or we’d still be stuck in Indonesia. It is, however, best done 24 hours in advance and not whilst standing at the baggage drop aghast that your boarding cards cannot be issued. It is best done over fast internet, not a cell phone, but apparently there is no such thing in Indonesia. It is best done without a ten year old who is bouncing like a paddle ball at the end of a string with excitement about seeing his best Australian friend this afternoon and who is working hard not to freak out that a few hours might be shaved off his time with said buddy.
So, swatting children away from the counter like flies, we calmly, quickly, completed the registration for instant visas online, paid our $240 USD and waited five minutes. The desk staff politely did not mention what everyone was clearly thinking: That we should have known better. I did not admit to them that this oversight comes five years into lifestyle travel, making it even more ridiculous. I let them think it was our first rodeo.
A collective sigh of relief when Tony’s passport scanned through as approved, then mine, then Gabe’s, then Elisha’s, then Ezra’s, then Hannah’s. Swipe, beep. Swipe, beep. A furrowed brow. Swipe, beep.
Hannah’s visa is not approved.
Not only not approved, apparently not in the system at all, not even registered as applied for, in spite of the paid in full receipt from the transaction. In spite of the fact that her application was nicely sandwiched between mine and Gabe’s that went through with no problem. The agent in Canberra suggested we apply again. So we did, paid a second $40 for her visa and waited. Nothing. No record of registration.
The plane is loading. Half of our bags have been checked. Half are not checked because we can’t board without a child, clearly. The manager is on the phone with Canberra, the Denpasar office of the Australian consulate, Canberra again, Denpasar again. Over and over. It is after 8:30 a.m. The flight leaves at 9:00 a.m. We receive the bad news: we will not make the flight, even if her visa is approved instantly.
Hearts fall. Frustration rises. Notice sent to friends in Perth: we will not arrive on time, next flight, 7 p.m. if we are very lucky.
Still no dice on the visa.
I now must note that the manager of the check-in desk of the Air Asia counter at Denpasar Airport, in the international terminal who was working the morning of February 7th is a hero and deserves ten gold stars and a raise. I will send a letter to Air Asia to that affect. I wish I had gotten his name.
Here’s what would have been fair: To send us away from the counter to figure out our own visa mess, because, clearly, it was not their problem. To let us miss our flight and bill us full fare for the next one, as Air Asia is not in the habit of transferring tickets for missed flights.
Instead, this man used his personal cell phone to call back and forth between continents, he personally wrangled the details of the missing applications and fought hard to get the child approved so that we could get to Australia today.
At 8:45 her visa was approved. We breathed a sigh of relief, at least we could leave Indonesia later in the day.
A radio crackled. “Okay, okay! We running now!” He shouted and bolted for security with our passports and boarding passes in hand.
“Wait? We’re running? I thought the plane was closed….”
“I call my friend, you can running? You have money for exit tax? We run!”
Hannah grabbed instruments, I grabbed computers and bags, Tony grabbed boys… half of whom were missing… in the bathroom, natch.
Exit tax: an additional $90 USD
Fastest outbound immigration stamp for six in the history of Denpasar airport, I’m sure of it.
And then, we ran.
We ran like the wind. We ran like we were chasing the finish line in Chariots of Fire. We ran like absolute crazy people in a sitcom version of ourselves. Oh, if all of the film crews we’ve turned down over the years could have seen us then, we’d have made for some excellent reality TV. Elisha fell head long on the smooth tile, violin skidding like a penguin on ice. He got up, he kept running. No blood. We ran like James Bond and Money Penny racing to skip the country with our rescued jr. agents just ahead of the Chinese Moped Mafia. Australians dove out of our way. We’re an impressive parade when we’re trying to be inconspicuous, you should see us at an all out run. It’s spectacular… or something like it. A few people laughed. One cheered. We ran. Gabriel ran like a gazelle, his long legs stretching out like he was one step ahead of a lion on the savannah. When he passed me I held out the stack of passports and boarding passes which he took in one long smooth movement, like he’d been practicing with a baton for this relay his entire life, and he sprinted for the gate. We could see the little man in the distance with his red Air Asia lanyard around his neck, his radio in hand and his arm waving us on…
“Come on! Come on!! TWO MINUTES, you have only two minutes!!!”
We were not yet through security.
If we’d been in the USA, the party would have ended right there. In Indonesia, we can keep our shoes and belts on, they aren’t picky about the liquids and baggies, no one is worried about scanning a computer separately. The only thing they consistently confiscate from me are my scissors for nipping off yarn. I didn’t buy new ones in Bali, thank goodness.
We flung our bags through the scanner, a formality at best, the agents were throwing our carry-ons at us and pointing at the stairs, shouting in unison, “RUN!!!”
We ran, leaping on to the bus, quite literally, as it pulled away from the gate. The bus is the equivalent of making it onto the jetway. We’d made the flight.
My kids already know all of the good words, but today I gave them a lesson in delivery and the nuances of tone as I gasped for breath, with my head between my knees. The lady right behind us, and I do mean right behind us, missed the bus. We saw her standing in the doorway.
Our friend Pirate Scott once said, on a particularly hard day in Vienna, that “Coke is good for morale.” True story. Having sipped my Coke at 30,000 feet and regained my resting heart rate I’m beginning to think today will be okay. The prime directive has been accomplished: We are out of Asia.
Whether our bags are with us, remains to be seen.