Sonofabitch! My imminent visa expiry date is a few days hence and I cannot find my departure card. DO NOT LOSE IT! is as insistently admonished in Indonesia as is the airport mantra ‘Death to Drug Traffickers’. Or something to that effect. This is serious. Serious enough to search the internet for travellers in similar predicaments and possible solutions.
A search resulted in slim offerings. One forum would assuage my worry. It is no big deal. Another forum confidently states that I will be detained, possibly tortured and a significant bribe insisted upon. Better to pony up the better half of a million Rupiahs.
Still, I am damned if I am going to pay a bribe for a piece of paper that duplicates the entry stamp in my passport.
A subterfuge is called for. Lonely Planet’s Thorntree Forum’s advice is to get another departure card from the airline counter. Just be sure to detach the entry portion otherwise the gig is up. With luck the departure card would be collected and not examined for the entry stamp.
A prudent action would be to call my Embassy. No doubt this sort of thing happens all of the time. The worst case scenario is I could bluff my way through Immigration. ‘Call my Embassy,’ I would demand. ‘They will call Jakarta. That is big trouble for you!’
Perhaps I could even suggest a small payment to compensate me for my trouble. That would be rich. Extorting an immigration official.
The Embassy lists an emergency hot line that their web site states is always manned by a fully trained officer. Go straight to the source and get the ball rolling. I don’t need no stinking departure card. I’ll sic my Embassy on Indonesia’s sorry ass.
I call the number and get a prompt: ‘For service in English please press ‘1’ I dutifully press ‘1’ and an answering machine welcomes me to the emergency hot line. ‘Please call the Embassy or Consulate in the country nearest you. Have a pleasant day.’ I listened for further instructions. ‘To hear these choices again please press ‘0’. I press ‘0’. ‘Welcome to the …’
Either the advertised fully trained officer snuck out for a beer or, more likely, government cut-backs resulted in a lonely telephone in a maintenance closet as the sole life-preserver for a traveller in need. Soon the message will probably be: ‘The number you have dialed is no longer in service.’
That would be spectacularly bad news for the poor wretch who is strung up and flogged in a rat-infested detainment room with blood splattered walls and allowed only one telephone call.
Perhaps it would be better to get things in writing. I emailed the Embassy in Jakarta soliciting their sage advice. Their deep wisdom and far flung experience in these matters would surely ease my passage out of Indonesia.
A few days later I received a reply: Get another departure card from the airline counter.
A sneaking suspicion that my guardian Embassy googled ‘Lost Indonesian Departure Card’ and came up with the same Lonely Planet forum as I did was a trifle upsetting. At least they did reply and make some kind of effort. It is quite possible, too, that this sort of thing hardly ever happens. No one loses their departure card. That would be madness.
The night bus from Tana Toraja deposited me like an unloved wet diaper onto the tarmac of Makassar’s airport at the unholy hour of 5:30 AM. My AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur was scheduled to leave at 4:30 PM. A long day of aimless wandering awaited.
There is no point going through security at this point. There is nothing on the other side but hard plastic chairs. No salty victuals to nibble away the hours. There is only the outside concourse which is cool and shaded in these devils’ hours. There are coffee cafes and the usual assortment of fast food suspects. There is even a Dunkin Donuts for that fattening taste of home.
At some point, soon after the sun poked its cyclop’s eye over the horizon, I sauntered over to AirAsia’s ticket counter. The counter opens at around 1:00 PM. It is going to be a long while before I could get my sweaty paws on a new departure card. If they even had extra departure cards.
After seven hours of wandering the wastelands of the Makassar airport concourse pushing my luggage trolley and continuously declining the importuning of taxi drivers, the appointed hour slowly arrived. I check in and ask for a new departure card. Yes! They have a whole stack of spanking new cards.
‘You’re going to have big trouble with Immigration. Really big trouble.’ The AirAsia clerk slowly shakes his head and averts his eyes from mine. He cannot bear to look into the gaping emptiness that awaits the condemned. This news is unnerving. The gallows ahead loom large. Before the rope snaps my neck there will be the gibbet to endure.
A Dunkin Donut and a coffee would be my last lunch on this terrestrial plane. A humble departure to match my humble beginnings.
I cannot steady my trembling hands and a splash of coffee despoils my virginal Departure Card. A well traveled document would be stained and crumpled. Even exposed to the elements and the ink smudged to near illegibility. The dim flicker of an idea illumines the dank caverns of my mind; I could forge the missing stamp. A brief moment of lucidity extinguishes that little flame. Forgery would compound my forthcoming troubles.
There is bound to be a workable strategy: Play dumb. What stamp? I never got a stamp. Every bureaucracy has cock ups. I’ll pin it on some hapless clerk who allegedly neglects his sworn duty. And when things begin to get sticky I will demand that they call my Embassy. ‘For service in English please press ‘1’.
A brilliant idea burst forth from the nether depths of my duplicitous imagination. I will demand that they call my editor. At the New York Times. I will honor myself with a fictitious celebrity and a readership numbering in the millions. Jakarta will not be happy reading how a much loved travel writer was rudely accosted by a lowly Immigration officer. That would be big trouble for you, fella!
Damn it, man! That just might work. I toast the genius of my criminality and order another lemon jelly donut to celebrate.
Licking up the stray crumbs with a swirl of my sugary tongue and a final wetted smack of my lips I am ready to present myself to Immigration exit control. The New York Times has my back and is ready to clobber whomever might be insolent enough to impede my way. I don’t need no stinkin’ departure card.
If it comes to that I sure hope they don’t attempt to verify that little detail of my self-honored celebrity.
With hesitant strides I mount the escalator and possessed of a disingenuous heart and flimsy purpose approach my Golgotha.
There is only one international departure gate in Makassar’s international airport. Obstructing passage through that sole gate to exhilarating freedom is a singular immigration booth as menacing as a concrete bunker. I see no line up of fellow passengers presenting their papers and that means that there would be no witnesses to whatever outrage might, very likely, become manifest. My fraudulent resolve melts. A strategic retreat to regroup is hastily implemented.
Best to wait until a crowd forms at the bunker. That would give Immigration less time to toy with me. Unless I am promptly escorted to a discreet interrogation room. And beaten. That wouldn’t happen, of course. I am a journalist from the New York Times. The Travel Section. … no one is going to buy that. My goose is cooked.
Two immigration officers man the booth. I join the now small line presenting themselves to the friendlier looking official. A nice young man who would understand my predicament and also be easily intimidated. It is not every day one meets a world-renowned travel writer.
Breath slow and deep. Calm my nerves. Chances are he won’t flip over the departure card to examine the stamp. It is the entry stamp in my passport that determines my status here. If I had overstayed my visa and lost my departure card then it would be a sore mess to contend with. Even for a famous writer. …Who?
The Indonesian fellow on line before me steps forward to present his papers. The nice young Immigration officer scowls. Harsh words are fired at my fellow traveller and he is directed to stand aside. He will summarily be dealt with, in a moment or two.
There is no one standing in line behind me. I am the caboose of this sorry train.
The full malificent force of the law claps their eyes onto my mine. Base instinct compels me to flee. Run. Run, Mike, run. Back to Bau Bau. Maybe Borneo and sneak across the border into Malaysia. It is too late. I am in the cross-hairs of this not-very-friendly immigration officer.
‘Next!’ His tone is filled to the brim with menace.
I am a journalist with the New York Times. It is big trouble for you. I am a journalist with … I step up to the pill box and present my wad of documents. The fraudulent departure card is at the bottom of the wad. He ignores my passport and boarding pass and goes straight to my feeble feint. He holds up my departure card and flips it over.
‘No stamp! This is big trouble for you!’ he gleefully announces.
In this critical moment of truth I summarily dismiss myself from the New York Times.
‘I am very sorry.’ I whimper. I weep. ‘It was the hotel in Bau Bau. They took my passport for several days to register me with the police and they lost my departure card. They were very sorry about it.’ I assume the saddest expression I can muster. It is an award winning act of contrition even if I do say so myself. ‘I am very sorry.’
He glares at the missing stamp. He glares at me. ‘I am very sorry too. Stand over there.’
I stand next to my hapless fellow prisoner. He will be the first to go. At least I will see what manner of execution lays in store.
The immigration official looks at me again. He takes my measure. Possibly for what size bribe to demand. Or a coffin. He summons me. His dark, soulless eyes speak to an immeasurable depth of official opprobrium and horror. A flurry of maddened stamping ensues. I fear for my passport and his ink blotter.
The mad stamping ceases for a moment then resumes with a maniacal vengeance. What the hell could he be stamping? I lift myself onto my toes to get a better view. The stamping stops. I lower myself. The stamping resumes.
A superior officer is summoned. This could be an unpromising development. Humility would be my best tact. Indonesia’s reputation for corruption is well deserved and now dealing with a superior officer could entail a dearer bribe to extricate myself from this predicament.
There is a renewed examination of my passport and papers. Heads nod and a final coup-de-stamp is slammed in.
Surprisingly my passport and boarding pass are slipped back to me and I am told to proceed. I am free to go. After all that! Sonofabitch! Wait until the New York Times hears about this.