It was three am.
We had been traveling for nearly twenty four hours, my two coleaders, our twelves students and I. Our flight had been detoured from Quito to Guayaquil. Fog made it impossible to land, so we had flown to the southern part of the country and sat on the runway until we were cleared to go back to the capital .
Finally we made it, and had just one step to clear before being allowed in the country: Immigration.
I am no stranger to the multi-faceted, every changing face of Ecuadorian immigration. My passport is littered with an anulled visa, an expired visa, twelve enter and departure stamps, and the mark I received for paying a huge fine for overstaying my visa by two days. I knew getting in the country would be difficult.
I was the first of the group to pass through customs. The tiny woman, with dyed blonde hair and long acrylic nails typed my information into the computer, flipped through my passport, made a face, and then went and called her manager.
“You can’t come in the country.” He told me frankly.
“Why?” I said, knowing exactly why. If you overstay a visa in Ecuador, even by two days and even with paying the $250 fine, you are banned.
He crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at me. Acrylic nails looked flustered.
“There is no way for you to enter Ecuador tonight.”
I took a breath and let loose.
“What? There is no way for me to get in the country? No one told me I wouldn’t be allowed back in. I spoke with the immigation offices in Otavalo, in Ibarra, the consulates in DC and San Francisco, no one said this would be the case. I am here with twelve students (true) and I am their teacher (False) and the only person on this trip who speaks Spanish (false)!” I dramatically and throw my hands in the air.
At this point, my students have all passed through customs. My coleader, Patrick, seeing there is a problem, comes up behind the immigration officer and starts explaining-in Spanish- how much the group needs me.
TIny man is unpersuaded. Acrylic nails goes to find more help. I can see my students over the shoulders of the officers, their backpacks on the floor, slumped upon them and nearly asleep on the cold airport floor.
“There is no way you are getting into this country.” Tiny man repeats. I repeat my plea, this time adding that my group is here to volunteer for a month, doing works to further the social good. He looks unmoved.
Acrylic nails returns with four other women immigration officers in tow. They push by tiny man and stare at the computer, flipping through my passport comparing my enter and entry dates, writing things down, doing math for some inexplicable reason.
It is 3:30.
Patrick and Catie stand on the other side of the immigration, staring at me with wide eyes.
Finally, the women decide that I am allowed in the country. Allegedly, I did not use all of my 90 day tourist visa from 2012, and so I can use the 27 days I still have from that visa, and add on the 90 days I get in 2013. None of this makes legal sense. I smile and nod. Thanking everyone profusely. The women smile, stamp my passport, and wish me a good night.
And with that, our month long adventure began.