Immigration Ordeal At Victoria Airport, Seychelles
I walked into the airport building and stood in the gleefully tiny immigration queue. I’d filled out my immigration form with details provided by my AirBnB host. I was already dreaming about going for a swim at the beach promised to be 5 minutes from my room. I sensed a lucky break as an extra counter opened up just before me and the baby-faced clerk beckoned me over. He read my immigration form and asked me a few questions. What happened over the next few hours is beyond anything I’d ever imagined.
The guy requested me to leave my passport with him, and asked me to go over and collect my baggage. My trusted companion appeared on the converyor belt after a painful 15 minute wait. As I carried my baggage back to the immigration counter, the clerk smiled at me with a suspiciously devious face and proceeded to tell me they had called the hotel I’d named on the form and found out I do not have a reservation. As I protested and continued to show the email confirming my reservation, I was ushered to a customs desk for a thorough check of my bags. As the woman started rummaging through my carefully packed bags, treating my belongings like garbage, Mr. Babyface Monsterjack proceeded to pass snyde remarks and jokes at my expense. Unaware that I understood a wee-bit of French, the guy was happy to read through my personal diaries, and cackle like a crazed child at his own frankly witless humour. Trying to maintain my composure as my holiday seemed to crumble around me, I kept wondering if I’d been duped. In my half-assed research attempts, I’d learned that Seychelles Immigration doesn’t entertain backpackers without confirmed accommodation. You’d be forced to book a hotel on arrival for the length of your stay before allowing you a visitor permit.
After satisfying themselves that I wasn’t indeed a drug mule or a peddler, I was then taken back to the immigration desk. Here I was told that the person supposed to be hosting me wasn’t answering calls and they had re-confirmed that I don’t have a booking at the place I’d mentioned on the form. I was then asked how much money I had to my name and escorted to an ATM machine to prove I wasn’t lying. Throughout this ordeal, I couldn’t help but notice Mr. Babyface Monsterjack thoroughly enjoying piling on the pain to my exhausted shoulders. Once they were satisfied that I wasn’t a broke lunatic, I was told they would only process a 1-week permit on the condition that I made a reservation right now at one of the hotels on their list – the cheapest of which stood at 45E a night. I was taken to a guy who looked barely legal to be working – he apparently helped out with reservations for ill-fated travellers such as I.
Off the record, the guy explained to me that the place I’d booked my stay at was probably one of the unregistered guesthouses on the island, which the tourism department didn’t support/endorse/recognise. He advised that I make a reservation at the cheapest place on the list for a night, get out of the airport and then try reconnecting with my original host. This way I could buy myself some time to sort things out for myself.
Relieved to finally hear some advice that seemed thoroughly unselfish and friendly, I agreed begrudgingly. I was returend to the mercy of Mr. Babyface Monsterjack, who pointedly told me I’d not be given the 20 day permit I’d originally requested (thank you Capt. Obvious). I’d only be allowed a week’s permit, at the end of which I’d have to visit the Immigration Office with confirmed proof of my accommodation arrangements for the remainder of my stay. He signed off by reminding me with a twinkle in the eye that they would call up the place I was staying at to regularly check in on me. In the 3 hours that had elapsed since my landing, the driver waiting to pick me up had already left. The friendly young boy offered to call the hotel to send me a pickup and all I could thank him with was a resigned, exhausted smile. When I finally slumped in the waiting area outside the airport with my mishevelled, molested baggage, I was thoroughly disoriented and was wondering if I was ever going to see this holiday through.
The short drive from the airport to Anse Aux Pin (aptly pronounced as Payn), where my new accommodation had been booked was breath-takingly beautiful. Despite myself, I couldn’t help marvelling at the hillock shrouded in mountain mist on my right and the omnipresent ocean on the left. I was dropped off at Chateaux Blue, coloured in its entirety with its namesake hue. The manager/owner – Guy, seemed warm and friendly, but told me nonetheless that I could be in trouble with immigration if I didn’t do exactly as they told me. At this point, I still wasn’t sure what had happened. Why had my original host asked me to put the name of this place down in the form? Did she know this guy or had any sort of relationship with him? As I cautiously tried to make sense of things, I realised they didn’t seem to know each other and this guy had probably just covered for me by saying I might have made a last minute reservation that didn’t show up on their system for some reason. Guy also told me that the only reason I hadn’t been detained/deported is because I’d money to my name and they (immigration) knew exactly how much. He told me I had no choice but to book myself here for a week, since he’d now have to send a report on me to the immigration office and they’d keep a check on my whereabouts. I sensed he was trying to capitalize on the situation, but seeing as I had absolutely no choice, I relented – at the least he seemed honest & warm.
It was only after a long shower that any semblance of clarity came to my head. I realised I had to get in touch with my original host and sort something out with her – the least of which was a refund for my booking. The second and more relieving thought was the fact that I knew a local friend here – courtesy of a friend I’d made in Pondicherry. I realised he might be able to help me with my immigration blues and iron this situation out. Guy offered to drive me to Victoria – the capital to purchase a sim-card/data-pack and I returned to Chateaux Blue by local bus, dozing off uncontrollably throughout the journey.
After a never-ending afternoon nap, I finally ventured out to stroll through my surroundings. It isn’t a terrible place to live in whatsoever. There’s a lagoon right across the road from where I stay and the ocean separated by a sand-bar beyond. As dusk falls, youngsters and oldies of the neighborhood gather at the lagoon for a few beers. My host tells me this isn’t legally allowed and is probably only tolerated on account of the upcoming holidays. I join in, trying to mingle with a couple of pints of SeyBrew (a local lager, which is quite yum!) and requests of a lighter to light my own Mahe Kings sticks. I don’t do a great job at being social today – I refuse to be too harsh upon myself, I’ve had a woeful day. I call it a night early and return to my room, and somewhere between 2 episodes where (douchebag) Ashton Kutcher replaces (legend) Charlie Sheen on Two & A Half Men, I doze off to sleep on a highly eventful first day in Seychelles.
Update: My original host turned out to be extremely accommodating and friendly. She offered a full-refund if I so desired, but mentioned that she would not be able to help me out with immigration. My (friend of) friend has agreed to help me out, but will need 3-4 days since there are 2 consecutive public-holidays lined up, followed by the weekend (just my luck, yeah?) So there’s hope that my super-holiday may still be salvaged, though there’s no doubt my dodgy finances are going to receive an unanticipated dent. I shall keep you posted of all hell that breaks loose henceforth. I feel like the chaos I live in, has followed me all these thousands of miles to paradise, where nothing out of the ordinary ever seems to happen otherwise!
Lessons To Be Learned from this Ordeal:
- NEVER drink before boarding a flight – I know I said very little of anything that happened had anything to do with my friendly drunk-date before boarding the flight. After reading the whole episode, I’m sure very few people other than my worried parents (fate had better bless them in abundance in lieu of this lovely nightmare for their lumberjack son!) will believe otherwise. Yet, I think this episode is a huge example of how things can spiral WAY out of your control when you travel solo. In these situations, you could do with having all your wits about you – and alcohol doesn’t always help. You’ll have plenty of time & places to get drunk – the airport is one place that isn’t meant for such shenanigans. I know I’m not the best person to be dishing out this advice, but il est truement!
- Be Well Rested Before Your Flight – unless you’re flying business or first class, please PLEASE do not go for two consecutive night-outs before your flight. Flights aren’t always comfortable. Not that this one wasn’t, but I’ve been on worse and been thankful that I wasn’t trying to catch up on 2 sleepless nights. I’d my own reasons for making this fairly obvious mistake. I’d just returned to Bombay a week before I left. I had a very lovely friend coming down to the city just a day before my flight that I won’t see for some years now. I’d another coming back from vacation in Greece. I hadn’t seen these people for months and it was difficult not to do so before embarking upon a vacation with dodgy return-plans. When I got off the flight, I was still groggy and nursing a slight headache. I’m still trying to figure out how, but perhaps I might have been able to handle my immigration fiasco better if I was fresh and well-rested (probably not, but why not give yourself your best chance?)
- Do Thorough Research – this time last year, I was visiting the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London and walking on the cobbled-stoned streets on the bank of the Thames. I’d spent months researching the immigration situation in UK & Ireland. I also had a fairly well-thought out plan on where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see. With Seychelles, I didn’t do a tenth as much. Part of it was deliberate – I didn’t want to plan what I wanted to see/do. I wanted to go with the flow. A big part of what also threw me off my guard was countless websites touting Seychelles as a visa-friendly destination for the Indian passport (including my own, but sorry Seychelles, you’re getting booted ASAP). Let me tell you in no kind words – SEYCHELLES IS NOT VISA-FRIENDLY. Sure, they have a ‘visa-on-arrival’ arrangement, but the process is horrendous. Seychelles Immigration will not let you in without a confirmed accommodation. There’s plenty of budget/cheap accommodation options available on the internet, but MANY of these guest-houses are not recognised/accepted by the immigration office. Whenever you book, take great care to ask and find out exactly how you’re going to clear immigration. Get a letter of invite or a confirmed booking receipt from your host with the name/address & number of the place.
- Make the Most of The Resources at Your Disposal – I could have saved myself this ordeal almost completely had I bothered to reach out to my acquaintance in Seychelles and get myself a letter of invite. I just didn’t think I’d need it and my pompous pride didn’t want me to seek help, unless absolutely necessary. In hindsight, that was a terrible mistake and I could have sidestepped this whole episode by just using resources I already had at my disposal.
- Every Dark Cloud has a Silver Lining – No! I’m not going to give you any bullshit cliches! This sucked! I wouldn’t have chosen this for any silver lining; but good things came out of this too. I met my amazing hosts (the ones over at Chateaux Blue), who also invited me to a wonderful Sunday morning service at a tiny little local parish. The experience was truly out-worldly with people. The Church community is probably not more than 50 head-strong, but each one of them was singing and dancing every single prayer song. There was a Kenyan man standing right at the back, screaming extempore phrases of praise & worship at the top of his lungs and the lead choir singer was rapping away in a mix of French/Creole between verses. After the service the Pastor pointed me out as a new guest of their community and at least a million people rushed to shake my hands and hug me like a lucky cow! I don’t know what I did to deserve such warmth, but I suppose having being suspected of being a drug-mule, a terrorist and a broke immigrant calls for some privileges 😉
The biggest silver lining of this experience though was this story and the emergence of a new genre of literature that I shall hence coin ‘Tratire’; you guessed right – this is a new series of posts I will now write about bizarre, hilarious episodes that happened to me (or you) on the road and how I (or you) dealt with them!
PS. the borrowed selfie-stick (stop cringing) and DSLR have hardly been used today – I could barely muster a smile, but I mean to change that soon enough! Also, I’m going to be annoyingly disconnected with everybody while I’m in Seychelles. Wifi is a non-existent luxury and data is atrociously expensive – ~25E for 1.5 GB (that’s expensive even by European standards). All my Seychellois Stories are going to come with a delay, but they will come nonetheless and everybody who will/should attempt to reach me on my birthday, I apologise well in advance – I really might not be able to help it. I leave you now with this spectacular picture of Beau Vallon on Mahe Island J
[Suggested Reading: You Guide to the Seychelles | The World Pursuit]