I always knew the issue of leaving Bonaire would be a thorny moment- with Customs and Immigration at least.
We got hit with all sorts of questions checking out yesterday. Like why didn’t you write back to the lady who gives the visa extensions after she never replied to your email. The immigration officer told us you have to write more than one email to get her attention. I imagined it. Perhaps on the first email, she only reads the title. On the next, she’ll actually read the content. With the third email, she replies.
We did know this part would be potentially sticky. Meanwhile, other cruisers who did use more effort getting in touch were told to leave the island – because they were asking too many questions. This was a pandemic people. Ports were closed. There were no protocols for the officials to work with in these conditions.
It was fair enough too, we thought. We’ve learnt in the Caribbean not to ask difficult questions – with no obvious answer. Who wants to deal with this? Many times official rules have to be interpreted and dealt with by so many different departments, which sometimes have to cross oceans before they can come back. A prime example is Bonaire and Holland. It’s understandable things can be slow. And in this case, without answer.
One thing did catch me by surprise though. Right at the beginning, when we checked in to Bonaire after our two weeks boat quarantine, the immigration officer told us he was giving us a six-month visa to stay. He said it very certainly – which made me very certain about it too. My bad.
Passport-wise we are British, which the senior immigration officer lectured us yesterday should have been enough to know we had three months. Only the Dutch and Americans are given six months to stay in Bonaire. So, we probably should have checked this. No, let me re-phrase that. We definitely should have checked.
Damn you, hindsight. The original officer had told us he was giving us 6 months, and I had believed him. I mean, I realised it was perhaps discretionary. But this was an example of strange times. To be honest, I thought it was really nice of him.
So, it was one of those moments where you want to get out the wooden leg – and kick yourself with it. The adults on Quest were charged $1200US each and asked if we wanted to appeal. We said yes. Two-and-a-half hours and a faulty printer later, we left the building. We have a court date lined up – by email – in September. The senior immigration officer asked us at the end if we would like to keep the chocolates we gave him. We said no. Keep them. He smiled softly and said thanks.
Rules are rules. And if we lose the appeal, we’ve already made some peace with that. Not much money really to have been kept safe. Given a vaccine. Never worried about our personal safety. Strange times, difficult times for sure but more intense too. The colours were stronger. Friendships were keener.
Now, we’ve strapped our figurehead to Quest. Merliah Summers, Queen of the Waves no less. Merliah is part of the original crew, so Delph chose her to point us home.