I woke up early yesterday morning. Really, really early. I don’t have a clock on my side of the bed, but I knew it was early enough that the whir of buses and grumble of motorcycles was not yet at rush hour peak. I stumbled out of bed and nuked a cup of coffee to fight the winter chill and defrost my brain. Fer and I were going on a mission: we were going into the pit of despair, Migraciones, to renew my 90 day tourist visa.
After a long and animated discussion about what our options were, we eventually decided on renewing my visa the “right” way. This meant waking up, leaving the house, and arriving at our destination before 85% of porteños even know what day it is. We had originally chosen to head to Colonia, but changed plans and agreed that doing it the bureaucratic way would be better in the long-term (and definitely a headache in the short-term). Fer claimed he was concerned about messing up my chances of securing a residency visa by having too many entry stamps. His travel agent also conveniently called in sick the day we were to book our trip.
Migraciones is part of a complex at the northern end of Puerto Madero. The pale yellow, surprisingly cheery buildings are a blend of Spanish and Italian architecture unique to Buenos Aires, with smooth stone and concrete walls, wrought-iron, and cream-colored exterior moulding. Passing through the tall entry gates and into a long, outdoor hallway spanning the width of the office, we joined the crowd of people waiting their turns. Not knowing what to do, I would have waited in that very long and very wrong line. Fernando, however, perdón-ed and permiso-ed his way to the front and squeezed through the door. Turns out the line I would have stood in was for Mercosur tramites and had about 62 billion people in it.
The gymnasium-sized room is roughly organized into quadrants, two along each the left and right sides, with an open center serving as the waiting area. You have to hunt for the magical and elusive ticket-giver, who we found directly across from our Quadrant of Doom, to receive your line number for Non-Mercosur tramites. Then you wait until your number is called. Then, wait some more! Hang on, just a little while longer. We got lucky because out of the two groups ours was moving quicker. While waiting, Fer noticed little signs that mentioned needing photocopies of your documents and the pages in your passport. His search for a copy machine revealed that yes, Migraciones has one, but no, it was not working. And so, when my number was called 30 minutes later, the clerk gave us an exasperated look and sent us for the requisite copies of this and that page. The nearest place to get copies was four blocks away.
We shuffled out of the building and across the street, hopped a mess of railroad tracks, strolled down Breakfast Alley- there were people selling all sorts of baked goods and warm beverages to commuters- and came to a halt at a huge, confusing, nasty intersection. We could have walked ten meters to the designated cross walk, but that route curved us farther away from our destination and crossed each avenue individually (was this symbolic of our overall experience?). Besides, no one else was using the cross walk, so we didn’t either. A small group of pedestrians, Fer and I included, attempted a mad dash across the first four lanes to a center island. Unfortunately, a huge delivery truck had also made a mad dash, headed straight for us. If there is one thing worth learning your very first day here, it is that motorcycles/taxis/buses/delivery trucks will NOT stop just because your fleshy body is in the street. We survived, and in typical Argie fashion the pedestrians yelled obscenities at the drivers, “Concha tu madre! Pelotudo!” while the drivers yelled at us, “Che, boludo! Puta que te pario!!” It so happened that a lone train engine would stop the exact lanes we had just braved not more than a minute later, allowing safe passage to those behind us.
Fer and I stopped at a kiosk that kept pointed us to the Retiro train station a block away. We had to stop two more times inside the station before figuring out that we needed to “find the camera store down the stairs and to the right”. Fifteen minutes and two pesos later we were dodging traffic once again with photocopies in hand. I wonder if that little camera store makes more money from the photocopies and passport pictures sold to people coming from Migraciones than it does on camera equipment? On Breakfast Alley we passed by a man and woman selling on-the-spot passport photos for five pesos. Fer lamented that had they been offering photocopies, he would have gladly paid five pesos each the first time we passed by.
Back at Migraciones I was able to drop off my papers and passport right away, but had to wait some ten minutes for the clerk to take my passport and enter info into her computer. We were given a receipt to take to the cashiers on the opposite side of the place. Pay the fee, take the new receipt, give that to the clerk with my passport, wait another twenty minutes, sign a paper, wait ten more minutes, receive newly stamped passport. Yes, finally! We were almost out the door when I verified my extension.
“Wait. This is only 30 days. It’s supposed to be 90 days! Why did I only get 30?!”
Fer looked to where I was pointing, “It’s good until October. Where do you see 30 days?”
“Right here! Look.”
“Um, that’s today’s date.”
Oh. I think my time in the Quadrant of Doom ate away a small piece of brain, not to mention two hours of my life that I will never get back. The good news is that I survived, AND I got my pretty, 90 day renewal stamp.
We had planned to head to the nearby post office afterwards. We navigated two blocks of rubble strewn sidewalks to the Correo to pick up my awaiting home-sent packages. Jostling through the full waiting room, we pulled the number from the ticket machine and compared our 69 to the current 23. Fer told me about how you turn your claim cards in here, go over there, drop off…
And that is where my mind exploded. I groaned grumpily and suggested we head home: I had had enough with waiting and running around and bureaucracy for the day.
Ten minutes after pulling our number the counter was only up to 27.