22 April, 2012

Sir Paul

I went to university in Liverpool with two main aims: get my degree in Classical Civilisations, and avoid The Beatles as much as possible. Why? I don't remember in the slightest, but it probably had to do with an extremely misplaced (and rather delayed) sense of teenage rebellion and wanting to be different.

Ten years later then, why was I jumping up and down, screaming like... well, like a Beatles fan, at Paul McCartney's first ever Colombian concert?

Not stars at night, but recording equipment: the first time video cameras/phones were allowed at one of his concerts.

Although I did successfully elude the majority of the Beatles' songs at uni, when I went back to Liverpool for the first time since graduating, I went as part of a tour with some students and friends. Chris (the man) and William (the bus) had arranged a weekend tour of Liverpool and Manchester, which left London via Abbey Road, arrived in Liverpool passing down Penny Lane, gave us time to visit the Beatles Story, and even let us sing in the Cavern Club (I declined, if you've ever heard me singing then you'll be wiping your brow in relief now). Resistance was futile, and I returned to London a fan.
Yes, we did non-Beatles things as well

Several Beatles tribute bands later, when I found out half the remaining members of the original and best were going to perform in Bogotá I had to get a ticket, and not just to see a Beatle, but to witness 'history.' El Campín (the main football stadium in Bogotá) had prohibited concerts taking place there to protect the (only) pitch (big enough to have international matches in Bogotá). Even Shakira had been denied permission to play there, despite going in person to the Mayor's office. Sir Paul, however, turned out to be more popular than Shakira (Jesus is still under debate) and was allowed the stadium due to popular demand. Chaos ensued.

Although more organised than the London Olympics ticket office, the website crashed due to the number of fans, there were 8 hour queues stretching round entire shopping centres, and the tickets sold in record time.

The successful 'few' who got tickets

Playing up to the hype like the showman (showoff?) he is, he advertised it as 'the concert of all time" and thankfully lived up to his PR.

I had to queue twice and go through a police check just to get this far... Another police check awaited me on the other side of this queue too.

Although it was certainly impressive to see him perform live (and the fireworks were unexpected and impressive during Live and Let Die) , I have to admit that my favourite moments  were listening to the 32,000 strong crowd of Colombians singing along:

Impressive, and more so when you remember that this is their second language!

Thank you Paul, for coming to Colombia. It was nice to 'meet' you at last.

I leave you with a song that'll get stuck in your head for a few days at least, to get you through your Monday morning blues:

PS: Chris and William are still touring the country, are ridiculously good company, and I cannot recommend them enough whether you are British or not. One of the first things on my to do list when I get back to the UK is to visit Stonehenge with them. Show me your photos if you go ;)

21 April, 2012


If you search the internet for information about renewing your tourist visa in Colombia, you get a lot of old/conflicting information and horror stories. This is not useful when you've fallen in love with Colombia so much you aren't even thinking 'I don't want to go home yet' - instead you're thinking 'I don't want to leave home yet' and you don't know how to go about avoiding deportation. Therefore, I thought it might be useful to describe my experiences here.

When you arrive at the airport (if you're from a qualifying country) you'll be asked a few questions and given a stamp in your passport. This stamp gives you permission to stay as a tourist and can vary from 30 to 90 days. Luckily I got the full 90 from a very nice lady. I have no idea if she spoke English or not though.

87 days later I realise that time does indeed fly when you're having fun, and that due to the leap year it's actually been 88 days, and as I arrived in Bogotá at 11:45pm did those 15 minutes until midnight count as a full day? Might it have been 89 days already? Oh dear...

The official website for DAS (the Administrative Department of Security, ie: the Colombian Home Office) has, as far as I could make out, absolutely nothing relevant to foreigners trying to renew their visas whatsoever (if your Spanish is better than mine, please feel free to disagree). I called the information help line, and after explaining my situation 5 times to 5 different people, I was given a lot of very helpful (and almost entirely accurate) information:

  • Do not go to the main DAS offices (which is where all other Colombians will point you).
  • Go to Calle 100 with 11b, number 27 - the 'Platinum Building' (el Edificio Platino), Gound floor (primer piso).
  • The offices are open Monday - Friday, 8am - 4pm.
  • You will need to pay first at Banco de Occidente - there is a branch round the corner.
  • The bank is open from 9am.
  • You will need to pay 75050 pesos into account number 26305464-5, using bank code 103.
  • Take the receipt, two photocopies of the main page of your passport, one photocopy of the original stamp you got at the airport, two 3x4cm passport photos with a blue background, and your passport.
  • They will give you a form to fill out in the office.

I have no idea if any of the people I spoke to on the phone speak English.

On Thursday I woke up bright and early, put on my prettiest and most professional teaching clothes (looking good is a definite advantage in Colombia, if you look like a lazy student - my usual choice of attire - you will usually get treated like one) and set off. If you live close to the 26th, then you can get a bus towards Cedritos which will leave you a couple of blocks away from DAS on the 100 with 15. I recommend buying some of the freshly squeezed orange juice from one of the vendors on the way, as there are no refreshments offered inside DAS, and you might be in for a long wait. This will also give you a chance to ask for directions if you need them, as giving people money and looking good pretty much guarantees you good service :D

The bank (it must be a Banco de Occidente for some reason) is indeed very close to DAS, a mere two blocks further up the road (100 with 9 I think) and is on the same side of the road as DAS. When I arrived there was almost no-one in there, so I was able to go up to the counters several times to ask for help filling in the payment slip. There is a huge poster on the wall where they keep the different forms showing how to fill it in, but, being the paranoid and perfectionist Brit that I am, I double checked all of the information on the poster with the bank staff. Gold stars to each of them as they all answered me with patience and without rolling their eyes. Just so you know, the poster was 100% correct, and yes, you do have to write your passport number twice. As I was almost alone in the bank filling out the form and paying took all of ten minutes (including pestering the staff - in Spanish by the way). I paid in cash, and have no idea if paying by card is possible.

So, back down the 100 to the Edificio Platino, where a crowd is milling around outside. DAS have thoughtfully placed chairs and benches outside, but nowhere near enough for the number of people waiting. This is not a sight that fills one with hope. Thankfully, if you speak to the (flirty) doorman, he'll let you know that if you're renewing your visa you just go straight in, stand on the blue line, and go to whichever of the two desks is free first (even though one is labelled for disabled/pregnant/etc people), but if you've brought any friends or family with you to make the wait a little more interesting, they will have to wait outside (I'm so sorry Virginia - I didn't know!).

Inside the offices it looks almost exactly like a bank (minus the mortgage advertising). Following instructions I go to wait and a mere two minutes later I get asked for my passport. The man behind the counter checks whether it's your first time renewing or not, how long you've already been here, and why you want to stay. Flirting is recommended at this point, as is sucking up in general - I said I'm here because I'm in love with Colombia and I don't want to leave yet. The reply, with a wink, was 'Well, we'll have to give you the full 90 days so you can fall in love in Colombia then, won't we?' I suspect most women get that answer :D You'll receive a slip of paper with a list of required documents (only one passport photo, and only one photocopy of the main page of your passport, otherwise everything was the same as the lady on the phone told me) and a form to fill out.

The form given upon entering DAS

The form is simple (only one side of one page, thank God) and written in Spanish and English. I decided that for the purposes of immigration I am 'slim' (Why is this relevant? And why are the only other options 'medium' or 'strong?') and as I'm a geek I knew my blood type. I guessed slightly on my height (cm only, no feet and inches in Colombia) and nearly wrote down that my 'distinguishing feature' was that I'm 'really tall' until I came to my senses (forms make me nervous). You'll need to know your own phone number (mobiles are ok) and home/hostel/etc address, and those of a contact in Colombia. I called outside to my waiting friend and asked for her details. Again, if you can find a member of staff not currently talking to someone, they are very friendly and helpful, just like in the bank.

Having returned the form and all of the other documents to the same desk I got the form from, I was asked to wait (the ratio of chairs to people waiting on the inside of DAS is much better, plenty of free seats). About ten minutes later I was called to a back office to have a digital photo taken, and digital fingerprints. The scanner is so cool! Apparently it's just the same as a home scanner but it only uses green light (yes, I'm enough of a nerd/suck up that I asked). They take 'prints' of each of your hands, and then again of each finger individually, then send you outside to wait.

After about half an hour of perusing a copy of El Tiempo that someone had thoughtfully left behind, I was called up to one of the counters on the other side of the room. A lady with my passport and a big smile handed it back to me, explained that I'd got 90 days (YES!!!!) but that those were my last 90 days in Colombia. I wouldn't be able to renew this visa again (boo...). At this point I finally asked a really useful question: '¿Hay alguien aquí que hable Inglés?' and whether or not that question is grammatically correct, the answer was yes, everyone in the office speaks English.

I hope this information helps anyone in the same situation as me, although be aware that I've heard different things about different cities. In case it's relevant, I went on a Thursday morning, at about 10 o'clock.

My flag and my city, for another 90 days <3

ETA - if you've already had your full 180 days of tourist visas in Colombia this year, or you'd like to skip straight to the one year work visa without tying yourself to a particular job/company, have a look at these four posts:

How to get an independent work visa in Colombia:
  1. Get a RUT
  2. Register at the CC
  3. Apply for your visa
  4. Register with DAS