Sri Lankan Tourist Visa Extension

After almost a month in the country, the visas are about to expire. This calls for a whirlwind voyage to sunny Colombo for a bureaucratic vacation!

And by sunny I mean hot as blazes, with bumper-to-bumper (tuk-tuks don’t have bumpers, but you know what I mean) traffic from 5 am to 3 am.

We stayed in a fairly basic low-cost hotel downtown recommended to us by the very nice and helpful Assistant Superintendent of the Colombo Police Department.

Backstory: When we were in Haputale (hill country town before we went to Udawala for elephants), I was wandering around the hotel (Srilak View Holiday Inn (not a Holiday Inn like you’re thinking)) trying to get our Ipad connected to the Wifi. I came around a corner and realized I was on someone’s room balcony.

The nice man sitting at the table asked me where I was from, and then invited me to sit down and have a glass of Arrack and soda. We started chatting and he explained that he was the A.S.P. in town for an inquiry (not an inquiry into our accidental trespass into a tea plantation earlier in the day, fortunately).

I went and got the rest of the family, and we had a nice time drinking his Arrack/French Brandy blend and eating spicy cashews. Wickramsinghe kindly offered to help us find a hotel when we came to Colombo, and even offered us a ride into the city. We were headed in the other direction to see the elephants so we declined the ride, but were happy for the help finding something cheap in the big city.

On the big day, we went to the Immigration Department as early as we could, which for us is about 10 AM. The new building opened 3 months ago and is a cool, A/C improvement over the old office apparently.

I think they’re just getting their methods and systems up to speed, because at the moment it’s a process of get-a-form from here, fill it out over there, come back here, get a picture over there and come back here for glue, go back over there for some reason, then come back here to take a number. After that go down the hall where someone will tell you to wait for your number and someone else will tell you to get in any one of four lines. No idea what the difference is between the four lines. Maybe nothing, maybe everything.

Once you get to the front of the line, and the guy in front of you turns out to be a tour guide with 12 British passports and no British people with him is done, you go into an office and the Deputy Controller says “You with your family? OK accepted. Go back to Area C.”

Once back in Area C, you wait for an hour or so with no idea of when your number will come up because the applications are all out of order from the mysterious four lineups in Area B (?). This means that along with everyone else you get to leap to your feet every twenty minutes or so when one of two immigration officials (easily identified by the yellow lanyards) comes through the waiting area with a stack of passports. You get to rush the counter and join the scrum of people eagerly standing on their toes to see if they are one of the lucky ones.

This particular desk is equipped with a microphone and speakers. The official calls out the application numbers for the passports he is carrying. If there weren’t 60 people half climbing the desk to see if it’s their turn, the official’s amplified voice would be audible all over the waiting area. It is not. So you rush the desk with everyone else, stand on your toes, heave a disappointed sigh when your number is not called.

Eventually, your number is called! Hurray! We can leave! No.

If you have been paying attention in the scrum, you will already have realized that now you have to go “Pay the money, please.” This means going over to the other side of the waiting area and lining up in a semi-organized fashion to pay the $50 US (for Canadians) per passport. Interestingly, when we arrived in the country the kids did not have to pay for the first 30 day visa. When I asked why they had to pay for the extension, the poker-faced lady said “After 30 days, everybody pays.” Ominous sounding.

To make the payment, you have to hand over the passport that you just got back. It sits in a basket for a while until it is taken somewhere to actually have the visa stuck into it. That means you get to go back to the rush-the-desk scrum for another go!

Another hour or so later, you’re out! Walking out of there, you feel like hugging all the poor souls you’ve been waiting with in purgatory.

The process only took about 6 hours, and now has air conditioning!

Elephant safari at Udawalawe National Park

Today we saw our first elephants out in the wilds of Udawalawe National Park!

It was amazing and definitely worth getting up at 5 AM. We saw many gigantic lone bulls and a couple of small herds of mamas and babies. The first bull we saw, the driver/guide turned off the jeep and the big Papa just strolled by. I don’t have the blog power to convey the wonder of watching it go past, hearing the ears flap, and listening to his surprisingly quiet footsteps.

We also saw (kind of side-dishes to the main elephant event) spectacular views, monkeys, mongooses (mongeese?), buffalo, spotted deer, a crocodile, eagles, storks, peacocks, and more peacocks. Honestly, I didn’t know there were that many peacocks in the whole world as we saw today. They’re like pigeons around here!