It was a Jekyll and Hyde sort of day.
We arrived in Tel Aviv with two missions: 1. Get visas for our upcoming travels to India. 2. Get the rest of the medication we need to take with us to Africa.
We started with a phone call to the travel clinic in the well-known hospital in Tel Aviv. We were hoping we could pop in at some point and get the medication we needed. It was not to be. In order to get the drugs we need (mostly antibiotics just in case we encounter anything nasty), we need to see a doctor. Our letters and prescriptions from our American doctors simply will not do. And there is no doctor until next Tuesday. Would you like an appointment?
We needed to think through what our next steps would be, so we decided to go get the Indian visas instead. We filled out the applications in advance, which were available from the Indian Embassy’s web site. The Embassy was conveniently situated just three blocks from our apartment, and we found it right away–an auspicious start. But that was the last of our good luck.
In fact, we never made it past the gatekeeper, as the guy told us that the embassy does not accept tourist visa applications, and we have to get the visa through a private travel agent instead–regardless of what the web site says. He told us the name of a travel agent we could go to, but would not make us a copy of the list he kept–that would be “impossible.”
So we walked the 20 minutes to the travel agent. But we were greeted with more bad news. The Indian Embassy would hold our passports for the 3-4 weeks it would take to consider our application. When we told the travel agent we were leaving Israel in 3 weeks, he said “why?” He then went on to inform us that our application might be refused in any event, and that he had seen a lot of visas turned down recently. He pointed out that granting visas was at the discretion of the ambassador, and it seems the ambassador has been in a less-generous frame of mind lately. And (of course) there is no refund of the visa fee ($120 per person) if the visa is declined–the fee is for the request, not for the visa.
So now we were up a creek.
To cut to the chase, we decided our best bet was to see if we could change our plane tickets and just cut India out of the trip altogether. And if that didn’t work, we would just submit our applications and pray. After a few phone calls, we banged out an email to our travel agent in San Francisco, knowing that we couldn’t do anything else until the sun rose in California several hours later.
And then, the frustrating part of the day ended, and a wonderful part of the day began. First, we took a trip to a fabulous English bookstore. They have roomfuls of dusty used paperbacks, and even let us trade in the books we are tired of carrying around. We shopped for over an hour, and loaded up on enough books to get us through the next few months.
Then we went to a pita and falafel restaurant, and had a truly glorious, messy and satisfying lunch.
And then, off to the beach, where Lisa and I sat in lawn chairs and watched the kids build sand castles and play in the dramatic surf. By the time the sun went down, we had almost forgotten the overwhelming frustration and irritation we had that morning.
Epilogue: Plan A worked. We are no longer going to India. Instead we will fly straight to Bangkok, Thailand on January 4. Travel is about flexibility, after all. We might spend the extra 28 days lounging around Thailand. Or we might pop into Nepal or maybe China. But the question of how to reconfigure our trip is for another day, and we are thrilled we do not have to suffer any more frustration from the Indian bureaucracy.