Whoa! Did I Just Bribe The Paraguayan Consul?
January 8, 2012 by rtwsenior
(Iguazu Falls, Brazil) Am I bribing an official without even realizing it? Ohmigosh! If that´s actually what happened, this story is costing me $110! Yikes! Here´s the backstory:
After days of hard study around the Klein Hostel´s pool, digesting a Lonely Planet guidebook on South America, I finally decided to continue my overland journey by heading west through Paraguay. I could have chosen to remain in Brazil and travel to Puerto Alegre on the southern coastline; or I might have bussed through Argentina towards Chile where I plan to spend my last six weeks on this continent. Another possibility was to fly from here straight to Santiago and save a whole lot of money, to say nothing of inevitable wear and tear on the old bod.
But no….I have become intrigued by this impoverished, dictator-damaged Paraguay (second only to Bolivia in the poverty sweepstakes in S.A.) and way off the normal backpacker´s route. It´s not a well-developed tourist spot, to say the least, although I´m looking forward to three nights of pampering in the slightly-faded splendor of the Gran Hotel in the capital city of Asuncion for only a hundred smackers per night. I´ve noticed that poor countries (Albania, Nicaragua, India, Russia, Paraguay… come to mind) seem to have only very expensive hotels for foreigners in their capital cities. I suppose, because only government officials, United Nations ambassadors and big business representatives, ever come there.
Well anyway, the Gran was originially the mansion of the Irish mistress of one of the awful dictators and she imagined herself a serious rival to Marie Antoinette on the world stage of the day. Apparently, she was much disliked by both the Paraguayans and the French.She sounded so intriguing that the only way that it could be more exciting would be if she also haunts the place these days. So, how could I resist this plan? I´ve been spending only about $25 a day on housing for months and just now, am sleeping in an eight-bed, mixed dorm hostel room, for goodness sakes. I owe myself!
The five-hour bus trip across the whole of Paraguay is a deal at $27 but when I tried to buy a ticket, I learned that Americans need a visa. Most countries, except (famously) Brazil, let travelers acquire a visa at the border, if it´s even needed at all. Woops! Little old Paraguay plays hardball with Americans, just like its big brother!
So, I left the hostel this morning armed with directions for finding the consulate in town; even planning to take in the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls during the hours I´d have to wait for the visa to be issued. Morning rush hour had the city busses so packed that I decided to walk from the downtown terminal referring to a rather sketchy map to find the right address. This involved hiking many hot uphill blocks over sometimes upheaveled sidewalks, but I found the consulate almost-easily, with only one direction inquiry.
My experience there was most pleasant, with a smiling, efficient woman processing me at her desk with minimal, but workable English. I had not been able to locate in my luggage the extra mugshot that I knew I had brought with me. So, that was a problem as she genuinely couldn´t seem to think of any place in town that took passport photos. She went out to consult with an official while I continued to root through my wallet; at last finding a decade old head-to-waist shot, though I knew they preferred head and shoulders. Maybe it would do?
A man came in and wrote on a paper that the Paraquayan visa would cost R$198, about $110 American dollars. That was a bit of sticker shock, right there, but I have a lot of Brazilian cash to use up, so I pulled out the see-through plastic money pouch from my waist pouch, ready to pay. He said that I´d have to go to the HSBC Bank to pay the visa fee and I might have groaned, or suddered slightly, thinking of more street maneuvering in the now-higher heat outside. That man left and the nice lady had me fill out papers, asking me if I had a credit card. Yes, a debit card, but can´t I pay in cash here? I pulled out 200 Reals. She slipped those into my passport and called a man on the phone. He came in and okayed my photo, though at first, I´d been told I would need two pictures.
Two other men came in, one at a time, approving everything. The last man said to return in two hours to pick up my visa. He held up two fingers. Luckily, I thought to coordinate my watch with his. Ìt´s eleven o`clock now. Should I return at one o`clock?´ `No, come back at two o`clock.` ´But, that´s three hours from now, not two.` Okay, he allowed as how it was three hours from then, but repeated that I should `Come at two hours!` It felt like an old Abbott and Costello routine about Who´s on first?`
They did emphasize that I should bring my credit card. No, you don`t need to go the the bank now. We`ll do it all from here. All will be ready for you at two hours.
Hmmmmm? Why would they need my card if I had just paid the fee in cash? Hmmmmm? Uh-oh! Is that how bribes are conducted? You slip four big fifties inside your paperwork? I guess I´ve seen it done on television. I sure couldn´t have done it so smoothly if I had been trying to, for goodness sakes! Maybe they thought I was a rich lady because of my hotel reservation. Maybe they thought I was the Irish Marie Antoinette wannabe, reincarnated…
All I could do was find a restaurant and eat a long lunch until time to go back…forget struggling through the Falls and getting back on time. If they charge my card with another $110, I guess I cannot squawk. I mean, you better not welch on bribes in these high-powered situations. I will just have to enjoy my few days in their country that much more.
(That evening) I still am not sure how much that visa cost me, but I have the passport-page-sized visa (why do small countries take up so much space in my passport, I wonder.) good for the next six years. Goody, now i can keep returning to these hot-spots into my eighties! That 200 Reals might NOT have been a bribe, because when I returned, I was given 2 Reals change and a receipt for 198 Reals. But, she still took my debit card into a back room for a few minutes. I did not ask, just complied as requested. We really did not have enough language operative to get into such complexities. Getting back to the bus station involved parasol, city maps and near sunstroke, but I made it, even to the point of buying my bus ticket to Paraguay for Monday. Nah, I´m sure I didn´t bribe anybody. Come to think of it, that´s probably the first time I´ve been inside of a Consulate in all my years of traveling. Must have been a little bit nervous. But, they were so nice, I´m looking forward to meeting their countrymen.