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Forgetting the Past

Emergency Landing in Columbia

COLOMBIA | Friday, 1 October 2010 | Views [807]

"The army has taken over Quito airport so we will be making an emergency landing in Bogota, Columbia". I waited for the young Ecuadorian lady sitting next to me on the plane to finish calming down an older lady sitting across the aisle, then I asked her "Did the captain say the army took over the airport ??". "Si", was her reply with eyes wide open. "Si !!!"

And so it was, the plane landed in ElDolrado airport in Bogota amidst so much rambling that sounded like a Spanish courtroom drama. Walking past the tv screens I could see the news with the headlines "Crisis en Ecuador"... Just to back up a little on why an Egyptian like me was heading to Ecuador on the day their president was kidnapped... I'd won the travel documentary scholarship to Ecuador and I was to spend a week in the Ecuadorian Amazon to shoot a doco, along with the founder of World Nomads, GAP adventures and the acclaimed producer/director of the positive footprints documentary series. However the date of my arrival was just bad luck.  

                                                                                                                                           Whilst in the air from Madrid, a coup had taken place in Ecuador, in an attempt to overthrow the president and so the airport had been shut down forcing us to land in Columbia. All the passengers in my flight were going to be checked into a hotel until further notice. Upon hearing this I thought great, a chance to see Columbia. I hand in my passport at customs for it to be stamped on my way out , then I get this look from the customs officer. He asks me in Spanish where I'm from. I answer that I'm Egyptian. He walks out of his cubicle and walks to his supervisor. They both look at me and ask me to walk over to them. I do and they start questioning me in Spanish, which I don't speak. The only word I got was "visa".                                                                                                                                                         I answered that I don't have a Columbian visa since there was no plan for me to land here, but I would be happy to get one at the airport. Well, since I didn't say that in Spanish, they didn't get it and took me to the migration and police office at the airport.                                                                                                   I sat there for two hours feeling like I was in an episode of "Banged up Abroad", caught for smuggling drugs out of Columbia, until someone bothered to talk to me. When an officer finally did, he seemed to be repeatedly questioning me about why I'm in Columbia without a visa. I kept trying to explain to him with sign language, a bit of English and French (that I speak a little of) but still nothing. His tone started getting more aggressive so I started repeated "Iberia" "Iberia" "Iberia" over and over again, like Al Pacino yelled "Attaca" in "Dog Day Afternoon". Air Iberia was the flight I flew in on and the only way I was gonna get out of this huge misunderstanding was to get someone on that flight to come and talk to this guy. After yelling "Iberia" for like 10 times he picked up his walkie talkie and walked out of the room.                                                                                                                                                   I waited in anticipation, hoping I didn't just piss him off. 10 minutes later, a lovely lady with an "Iberia" tag walked in with the officer. I felt like marrying her on the spot! She took my name and after seeing it on her passenger list apologized to me and explained to the officer the situation.                                                                                                                                          That was it, I was free to go... however I still couldn't leave the airport because I still didn't have a visa and It's not possible to get one in the airport. So I was told to just wait in the airport. Wait until when? ... Until Quito airport in Ecuador is open again... When is that gonna happen? ... Nobody knows, there's a coup going on and the president has been kidnapped......Oh..I see.

Tags: documentary, ecuador, scholarhsip

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