Russian Consulate Visit
in Cape Town...
July 3. 2006

I was still in my euphoric state this morning when I woke up. In fact, I was wide awake but still did not want to get out of bed
because I was just so darn comfortable in there. Eventually I peeled myself out of the sheets.

Ahhh…to just go out and linger around Cape Town.

Literally, as I went out the door it hit me.

It’s Monday. I have to go to the Russian consulate to get my Russian visa. Crappers.

I would have to postpone lingering for a little bit. This was the most important thing I had to get done upon my arrival to Cape
Town. But since my arrival was on a Sunday, it would be the most important thing that would have to get done the day after
my arrival. Today.

Things were looking good as I found out that I’m staying right near the city center. And the consulate is located in the city
center. I found the building, got my visitor’s pass and was well on my way up the elevator to visit my Russian friends at the
consulate office. I mean I’m one of them. Well, a quarter of me is one of them (as I have a grandparent from there). I entered
the building and provided the woman with my paperwork. She looked at them and the following conversation took place…

Russian Woman (RW): Where is the invitation and tourist voucher?
American Girl Seeking Russian Visa (AGSRV): Here it is (as I pulled out the form).
RW: This isn’t an invitation.
AGSRV: I was told this was the information that I needed.
RW: This is just confirming your hotel reservation. This isn’t a tourist voucher or an invitation.
AGSRV: It is written entirely in Russian so I was not aware of this. How quickly can I get this?
RW: You should go to a travel agency and they can give you the voucher.
AGSRV: Can they arrange the invitation for me, too?
RW: No. Only you can do that.
AGSRV: Can I get these things in two days?
RW: (Looking at me as if the war in Iraq has a greater likelihood of ending in that amount of time…) Well, I would call this hotel
and have them get it to you.

This is the same hotel that took literally months to send over the piece of garbage that I was holding in my hands. They could
not even get it to me before I left…after multiple requests. My travel agent had to fax it to my sister who brought it with her
when she met up with me in Europe. My hunch was that getting the correct documents in the next 24 hours was not too
optimistic, to say the least.

All of a sudden, things were
not going so smoothly.

Now to Plan B (there never really was a ‘Plan B’ but I had just invented one on the fly)…

I went to a travel agency and would have them book me a hotel reservation so that I could get my voucher and invitation
through them since it would be way too difficult to do this through my travel agency in California considering the time zone

I found the Flight Centre. I had nothing but faith in the sweet girl Sarah whom was helping me. She made some calls. They
could get me the stuff in a week.
A week? There was no way they could tell me it could get done in two days. The only way this
was a possibility is that I would be back in Cape Town for a few days after our tour volunteering with the jungle kitties. The
only problem with this was that only one of those days was a business day. She wanted me to ask the consulate if I could give
them all of my information and documents now and then the Flight Centre would fax them the invitation and voucher when
they came through (and while I was on my tour).

Now back to the consulate. Survey said…XXX. RW told me that they are only there to receive all of the documents in a bunch
and then process the visa from there. They aren’t to handle dealing with travel agencies. She then asked why I had waited so

I now looked like the irresponsible party due to the incompetent Russian hotel. If I could have gotten this in San Francisco, I
would have. In fact, I used one lunch hour to go out to the consulate to make sure I would be prepared when seeking this
sticker for my passport overseas. I asked if they had a six-month visa. Nope. Only a three-month. Since I was heading to
Russia five months into my trip, a three-month visa would have long expired. I had no choice but to get it here or in India. The
standards for India seemed a bit more difficult (an original letter versus a copy of one) so Cape Town was the clear winner. But
sadly, I am at the mercy of the ‘Russian Invitation’ Gods and they don’t seem to be pulling for me right now.

Hope had now faded. And guess what came next? The production of moisture from my tear ducts. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. I
was now about to cry at the Russian consulate at any moment. Trans-Siberian visions were crumbling before me. RW was
sweet and told me not to cry and gave me a name of a tour company that expedites things often for people in need. There was
now a tinge of hope and I was off to embark on Plan B ½. I went back to the Flight Centre and they called the tour company.
And the tour company said it would be ten days…

Now I was back to Plan B. This is what it would entail…

  1. Pay a deposit and book a hotel. Wait for the paperwork and give the Flight Centre my contact info while I was on my tour.
  2. Upon receiving documentation, they would call me to let me know. They would then charge my credit card in full for the
  3. When I would get back to Cape Town, I would pick everything up.
  4. If I didn’t miss the 3-hour window that the Russian consulate was open on that Friday, they could expedite the visa in
    one hour. If I did miss the 9am-12pm window, I would find a way to get to Pretoria while in Johannesburg and go to the
    consulate there and get it expedited.

I told them I needed to come back to my hotel to see the details of my tour and my Johannesburg stay.

I also now introduced a Plan C.

Plan C was one that was painful to even think about. It would be to throw in the towel. Say good-bye to the Hermitage, St.
Basil’s and Red Square. Say good-bye to Mongolia. Say good-bye to the vendors at the small stops along the way selling their
local specialties. Say good-bye to the Russian ballet. Say good-bye to the blinis, caviar, piroshkies and vodka.

I needed to take a walk and clear my mind.

I sat on a bench and had an internal conversation with myself. Was this really so bad? What is the flipside? I would see more of
India and Nepal. I could possibly visit my friend who is working out in Tokyo. Maybe even another friend who might still be
working in Hong Kong? I could possibly go to a place like Bali? I quickly got out of my ‘spoiled brat’ mode and realized this was
really a win-win situation for me. Well, except for the fact that my Trans-Siberian trip has been paid-in-full and I now need to
find out what the cancellation policy is.

All in all, I can control a few aspects of this…but the rest is out of my hands. I just need to go with the flow and deal with what I
ave been dealt. As of right now, it is impossible to know what September has in store for me…
Back to South Africa.