Many years ago, I used to travel for business. I worked for a software house that provided computer programs used by commodity traders. Whilst most of these traders choose to carry out their businesses in Europe, one intrepid coffee trader did it right where the action is, in Costa Rica. I was asked to come out to install the program and run through some training.
A colleague who was in-between trips, M, kindly offered to sort out my travel. "Ah, that's cheap!", he said before it transpired that the San Jose being discussed with the travel agent wasn't the same as San Jose that I want to travel to, in Costa Rica. First warning sign though I didn't see it then.
Being Malaysian and still toting a Malaysian passport, the next essential step was to check for visa requirements."Oh no, she doesn't need a visa", he was told.
So with my tickets and bag packed, off I went to Heathrow for a flight to Miami.
Nothing to report from that comfortable flight until we hit Miami. A hurricane was also hitting Miami! Oh no, my connecting flight was in a couple of hours. We were left circling in the air for what felt like a long time before finally touching down to a completely chaotic airport. Miami airport isn't the most wonderful place at the best of time. If my incoming flight is delayed, then the outgoing could still be here so I rushed to the transit desk.
Alas, the flight to San Jose has left. "Don't worry Madam, we will put you up in hotel. Wait there and a bus will pick you up. I have booked you on tomorrow's morning flight at 10.05." I was relieved to have been found a room, considering all the delays, a room can't be that easy to come by.
Nothing to report from there either. I went to sleep, got picked up in the morning, duly checked in for the American flight to San Jose and we were off. I remember vividly the blue of the sea of the Bahamas and thinking, OMG, Cuba IS that shape in real life and how sparsely populated the Carribean islands were compared to the Florida Keys.
Easy flight... till the arrival at San Jose. Naturally, I had to join the longest queue at immigration, queued for what felt like hours only to be told, "You don't have visa". "But I don't need a visa", I protested. "Come with me", he said. Ahh, at last, we were making progress. He marched me straight back to the departure lounge for the flight I came in. Just like that.
I asked the airline employee what's going to happen. I was told that they will take me back to Miami, I can get my visa there and then I can come back. Oh no, I was nearly in tears. I asked if I could phone the people I've come to see just to let them know. In the days before mobile phone, I was kindly provided with a phone. I phoned S and he said, "Don't worry, wait, I'll sort it out". The flight left without me, my passport was removed from me and when I was reunited with the said passport, there was a very nice Costa Rican stamp in it ( the postage kind ) and just like that, I had a visa and was let into the country. It turned out S had connection and contacted a minister for help. ( ps : I also get another stamp on the way out )
Now, I have fond memories of Costa Rica but I am not sure I will ever go back. Right to now, I still double and triple check my visa before I travel. We are going to New York soon. My 10 year B1/B2 visa expires next year and yet the visa is in an expired passport. Googling it, apparently I am still good to travel but until they let me through the immigration gate, I will worry. Though not enough to stop me travelling, obviously.
So that's my story. Hope you can join Sian and tell your own story.