Semana Santa, One way travel blues, and Spain!
Semana Santa in Santa Marta
The last time I was in Santa Marta, Colombia, the central Parque de Novios was peaceful and sprinkled scarcely with snuggly couples on the park benches and one of the few places to grab a decent bite was Lulo Café. It had a small menu and terrific juices and had been open for maybe a few days. This was almost exactly 5 years ago. My, has this little town changed. Exaggerated by the fact that we unknowingly chose the busiest days of Semana Santa (Easter weekend) for our excursion to this popular coastal destination, Santa Marta was “off the hook!”, meaning the restaurants were overflowing, the bars blasting party beats, and every shady spot on the beach taken. Oh and Lulos café had a 45 minute wait with a full on band playing just outside.
People told us that during Semana Santa “everything is closed”, “everything is busy”, and “everything is doubled in price”. Good thing Colombia is so cheap that we didn’t even really notice that last point. We spent our first three nights in hostels (Aluna and Hostel de Jackie) recommendations from our Colombiana/Americano friends. For about 70000COP (about $35/night) we got a private room with a fan. We put that fan on full speed as the nights here are hot and the days almost unbearably so. Over the next few days we wandered the streets with an umbrella for shade, ate some local menu del dias (daily menus), dipped in the cool hostel pool, joined in the night festivities, and headed home by 10pm before the streets got too crazy for us 30-somethins. In addition to all of the parties, we observed a more traditional celebration – a procession in the streets with a casket being carried with a Jesus statue inside. It was solemn, slow, and serious…except for the club music blasting from the nearby bars.
Our last two nights in Santa Marta, which were also our last two nights in Latin America, were spent in the magnificent home of our friends, the Karpos, a family of four taking a 6-month break from the stresses of work and middle school to learn Spanish and explore Colombia. We enjoyed home-cooked meals, sunsets on the balcony, Easter egg dying and hunting, guitar lesson giving, splashing in the beach-side pool, and exchanging travel adventures. Semana Santa in Santa Marta proved to be the perfect end (for now) to our Latin American Tour.
One Way Travel Blues
As we arrived at the airport in Santa Marta, airline tickets to Spain loaded on the iphone, we patted ourselves on the back. We reflected fondly on our Latin American adventures and took deep breaths full of hope and excitement about our future European tour. Farming in Spain, the Colosseum in Italy, maybe yummy Greek food in Greece. But just as we were about to exhale at the check-in counter, we were suffocated, drowned, choked as the beautiful air was sucked out of us! We were asked the question feared by travelers everywhere: “Can you please show me your proof of onward travel?” Aha! We were certain we could exhale this time. We learned our lesson from the last time we were asked this question and presented our flight ticket from Spain to Italy. There it was. Golden proof that these two Americans would be moving on at some point from this sacred land. Another pat on the back. “No, this is a ticket from Spain to Italy. You need a ticket leaving Europe entirely within 90 days. I cannot check you in until you show me the ticket”. “Nooooooo!” we would have yelled if the air was not again sucked out of our lungs. How are we supposed to know when we plan to leave Europe entirely? Do they expect us to travel in time and see the future? Do they have any idea what World Tour is? This is the point at which the entirety of your travel plans thus far and that which has yet to happen flashes before your eyes. Images of camping on the Mexican coast, Spanish lessons by the Guatemalan lake, sloths in Panama, walking tours in Colombia, farming in Spain, the Colosseum, Greek food!! After about 45 minutes of polite-ish clarifying questions, frustrated looks at one another, a wobbly walk to the free wifi area and chaotic internet searching on the laptop, we surfaced, able to breath again with the purchase of refundable onward tickets. Folks, this is why they tell you to arrive 3 hours in advance of your international flight. Feeling defeated and clutching each others hand for emotional support we hauled our butts back up to the counter. “Can you please show me your proof of onward travel?” “Yes, here…” We present our expensive, most likely useless, hopefully refundable tickets out of Europe. The minute we land in Spain we plan to cancel the flight and request the refund. “You are all set. Have a nice flight and thank you for traveling with Avianca.”
Proof of onward travel. Four out of six of the countries we’ve visited so far have required this documentation. Basically it seems that many countries are not interested in entering into a long term relationship with us foreigners. A fling, yes. But no strings attached. They want to see that our exit is imminent. I get it, totally understandable. Getting into the US doesn’t even compare to this cumbersome yet minute requirement. But it really does make one-way travel difficult and less spontaneous than we thought. Busing through Latin America or Europe just doesn’t work because usually you can’t purchase advance tickets or if you can, they are much more expensive than the show-up-and-buy-your-ticket-on-the-spot bus lines. As we see it there are three ways to deal with this requirement: 1) purchase a refundable ticket in advance and then cancel it once you arrive at your destination. 2) print a fake ticket using photoshop or 3) plan ahead and buy the darn onward ticket. In the future, we will probably just act like the adults we are and plan ahead a little more and purchase useable onward tickets in advance for each country we visit. It’s not ideal and takes some of the spontaneity out of our travel style but hey, refundable tickets are expensive and take 2-4 weeks to get refunded and printing a fake ticket and possibly getting held up by immigration just doesn’t sound like fun. We’ve watched too many Locked up Abroad episodes to try to trick anyone at an airport. So – travelers, think about this requirement and choose an option ahead of time. There isn’t much information on the interwebs about this but maybe just assume you’ll need “proof of onward travel” to just about any country (except Mexico, Viva Mexico!).
In conclusion, if you find yourself choking and falling down a black hole after being asked for your proof of onward travel, try to take small breaths and put things in perspective. You are gallivanting around the world right now and can fly right back home to the US of A with just a wave of your passport. Life isn’t that hard, don’t be so dramatic. #firstworldproblems
We made it to Spain and are doing a work exchange on a farm in a cute little Catalonian town called D’Hostalets (pronounced Oo-stall-etz) and it is magnificent. It is just as romantic and glorious as “working on a quaint little farm in Spain” sounds. More to come but here is a teaser…