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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Mission impossible/Puerto Rico

Google maps are brilliant, but like the way that travel brochures, filled with pictures of exotic beaches, don't show you the bugs and mosquitoes, google maps don't show unhelpful desk clerks and customs officers.

We had our travel plans and schedule for our trip to Puerto Rico worked out in meticulous detail. Jackie had done her homework and although the timing was always going to be tight we had enough wriggle room to get from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, see a couple of boats in Salinas, and back in twenty four hours.

We took the luxury Metro bus, that has such good air con that it's best to pack a fleece for the four hour ride to Santo Domingo and arrived at 3pm.
The ferry wasn't due to sail until eight so we had plenty of time to sort out our tickets which we had reserved online with the agent in Santa Domingo, all we had to do was find the office. We thought there could be a hiccup here as we hadn't received the confirmation email their website promised.

One important detail we had missed when we decided to travel on the Tuesday night ferry was that that particular Tuesday was a holiday in the Dominican Republic. Of course that wouldn't affect the travel agents office, would it? WRONG. We had no trouble finding the office but the steel bars on the doors were closed with a big padlock. We headed for the port, on foot, only to find after a very hot fifteen minute walk through the Zona Colonial that we had been going in completely the wrong direction. We decided we were perhaps better off in a taxi. The said "taxi" should have been in the scrap yard a couple of years ago, but as our driver had been recommended by the nice policeman we had asked for directions we jumped in and found ourselves at the ferry port within ten minutes. It was now about 4pm.

The office was open for business; probably the only thing open in the whole of Santo Domingo, so we stepped inside, to buy our ticket to ride. The charming girl on the desk took our passports and started to process our booking. "Esta" she asks, " Do you have the ESTA"?
Our grasp of Spanish is not very good but we gather that what she is asking for is our travel visa to enter Puerto Rico, which we are expecting to get when we arrive. It turns out that we can't travel without having this document but we can go online and fill out the form, pay 40 dollars and then she can book us on board. Oh good, that sounds easy then, so can we do that here? "No es no possible" All we need to do is to go back into the centre and use one of the many internet cafes, but of course as it's a holiday today there's none that are open. OK, so we need to get into enterprise mode here. We need a computer to go online and a printer in a city we don't know, where everything is closed and we need to get this before 6pm and it's about 4.30.
We decide that a hotel may be the way forward and take a taxi to be eventually dropped at the very very posh  Inter-continental on the Malacon. The reception guy speaks English and is able to help.
Bingo!!!! They have a pc and a printer we can use. We find the "ESTA" site and fill in the form, pay online, email the pdf to the hotel desk because the printer for this pc is broken. The reception staff print out our Visa and call us a taxi and don't even charge us, "muy amable" (very kind) our taxi speeds us back to the ferry port.
The office is still open and we present our ESTA to the charming lady who needs to check through everything very slowly. There's a deadline for boarding, and it's fast approaching. We present ourselves at the customs desk with tickets and 100 bits of paper. A very puzzled officer has to call another officer and then another as he can't make his computer accept our documents. Five minutes to the deadline and we're through into the embarkation hall. Another official takes our documents and we're ushered into a room to be confronted by that woman in the James Bond movie, you know the one with the spikes that flick out of her shoes, who is very sceptical about our intended 24 hour visit to this outflung corner of the US of A.
Two minutes to go!!
So you're visiting a friend, you travel all this way to spend one hour with a friend whose second name you don't know, mmmmmm.  Eventually she smiles, and says
"Have a good trip" and we are hustled to the gangway that is in darkness, Jackie bangs her wrist, which will swell to a big bump as we finally stumble into the entrance hall of the Caribbean Fantasy and the steel doors clang shut behind us.

"Welcome aboard, here is the key to your cabin, bon voyage".