Dad wasn’t just trying to scare me. When he kept reiterating that I needed to check and double check my passport and visa(s), I’ll admit: I didn’t take him too seriously.
I’ve travelled a bunch. Like a whole bunch.
In the past two weeks I’ve had airport staff in three different countries comment on all the stamps in my passport. (One also asked me if I knew the Wiggles – very cute).
I’ve written the details on so many immigration forms and hostel booking sites that I know the front page of my passport off by heart.
So yeah, I got a bit
Starting this four week stint abroad was a little island called San Pedro, off the coast of Belize. I had my US visa waiver all sorted for the 15hr layover on the way there – I even did it two days early! Go me! – and knew that I didn’t need one for Belize, so I was good to go.
It took me nearly 46hrs of travel to get to Zoe. Apart from a kink in my neck from Panama’s airport floor, I could have sworn that it went past with the snap of my fingers.
She first captured my heart in Belize, with some good old school RnB belting out her windows. Then a little more in Morocco over camel tagine. Our friendship grew when I followed her to Jersey, UK, and then again when she came to stay with my family in Sydney for a week, over Christmas, with a troop of twelve YWAM students. Lucky I’ve got hospitable parents who love her just like I do 😉
San Pedro greeted me with crocodiles, pink flamingoes, iguanas, sharks, and rain.
I should have taken a screenshot of the weather forecast on day one, but honestly, I hoped my app was kidding (it wasn’t).
There was, however, a seemingly endless downpour every single day I was there. I actually lost some of my tan while I was in the Caribbean!
So apart from a short reprieve one morning that we took full advantage of and kayaked out to the reef and back, and a couple of interesting golf cart rides into town for shrimp burritos and ice cream, we spent those ten days snuggled up in Casita 14 with coffee, popcorn and Big Little Lies.
And This Is Us.
And Reasonable Doubt.
And New Girl.
And Guardians of the Galaxy.
And a sci-fi with Ryan Reynolds.
Were there more? Probably. After day six the shows started to blend into one another, but I wouldn’t swap those countless hours bunkered down with Zo for anything (except maybe some sunlight?).
My favourite part of being holed up together for so long was that we had everyday days (aside from the fact that they were mostly spent in front of a screen and we’re both generally more active than that). Too often when traveling, you’re expected to do all the touristy things and check off a list of activities. I loved that she and I didn’t have to; we just got to hang. It was nothing glam or glitzy – the hot water was broken so cold showers were also part of the deal – but we had each other’s company and that was all we needed.
The trip from there to Toronto was fairly uneventful:
Golf cart > water taxi > van > airport > train > airport.
It was uneventful, that is, until the friendly customs man asked for my ETA. My mind went straight to travel mode and thought he was asking in a roundabout way how long I was staying in Canada, so I smiled and said November 7th.
He smiled and said he did mean ETA. I learned quickly that this is Canada’s version of the US ESTA – which you need to get into the country. I didn’t need it when I visited Canadaland in 2014, but the world has changed since then and so have security measures, it seems.
I didn’t have one. Or enough money to buy it on the spot like I now had to.
Another point Dad always drives home (or tries to, in my case) is the need for emergency funds, for those ‘just in case’ moments. I tend to have more of a sparkly carefree attitude where ‘it can’t end badly’. I don’t pay too much attention to the ‘just in case’, to the frustration of my parents, the Bennett’s, and others still, I’m sure.
So when I found myself in one of those moments after all, I didn’t have the funds to bail myself out (literally).
What I did have was $95 in US cash, $50CAD in my account, a beautiful more-sensible-than-I sister who transferred me funds, and a few friends praying in different countries.
All up I needed $200CAD, and I was $45 short.
And money transfers don’t work when sisters enter incorrect banking details (which we didn’t realise until a week later – I thought it was just banking delays/bad luck).
That sparkly attitude of mine started to wear out over the two hours I was in immigration, with the very real threat of being deported back to Australia.
You see, I had all my travel arrangements planned to get me safely home to Byron Bay across the next few weeks – I just had to get from point A to point B and so on, and board the planes/buses/trains in between. So technically, $95US should’ve been fine. Right? Wrong. Lack of ETA, lack of emergency funds. It wasn’t looking good.
Zoe and I had woken up before dawn to watch the sunrise, I had travelled eighteen+ hours, and it was after midnight at this point.
I was pretty wrecked physically, emotionally and mentally. Especially when the guy next to me was in a similar situation, and his officer explained to him that he would be detained for the remainder of the night and handcuffed and deported the following morning: “Sir, we know you are not a criminal, but unfortunately this is the law. As you cannot pay for the visa and we cannot let you into the country, you will be deported to your home country tomorrow morning in handcuffs”.
This was getting serious.
I started crying.
Not intending to play the ‘girl card’ or naive traveller; I was just tired and realising quickly that all of my Daddy’s warnings were actually not in vain.
Mercifully, those prayers started working.
My officer came around to the front of his desk, and with a ‘you should know better but I will help you anyway’ soul piercing look that only fathers can give, he slipped me a $20 on the sly. He definitely has daughters.
Then they let Ash Denham (aka. my angel) come up from the public waiting area, through security, into immigration, and she paid the remaining $25 on her card.
She told me later that as the officer escorted her through to me and she was profusely thanking him on our behalf, he responded with, “Well we’re not in the business of crushing dreams here, are we?”.
Canadians truly are the nicest people in the world.
Due to my naiveté and a miracle of scrounging together $200, I can now say I am officially a resident of this country. Temporarily. But it still counts.
The conundrum that went on before my offical welcome as a Canadian resident took us well into the early hours of the morning… So my first night was spent drinking Tim Horton’s, catching up on the past five months of life apart from Ash and eventually curling up on the floor together until public transport started up again for a brand new day.
My first day as a Canadian resident.
(Too much, too soon?)
So the moral of today’s story is listen to your parents when they give you advice; sometimes they’re not just being dramatic. Sometimes they do in fact know better.
And learn from my mistakes: visas are kinda important after all.