We’re going to India: Part One – India Visa Hell with BLS in San Francisco

First, as a few of you know, Lindsay and I are leaving the Bay (at least for a while) and moving to India. “Moving” is admittedly a slightly strong word, as we have no intention of staying permanently, but we are going for a year. Or up to a year. At this point we have very few details as far as what we’re doing in India, but we know this: July 1st, we’ll get in the car and drive from Oakland, CA to Vancouver, CAN (Canada!). From there, we’ll drive across Canada over the period of a month, until we get to Quebec City, Quebec. From there, we’ll go back down through Canada to the US, where we’ll end up in Grand Rapids, MI. We’ll spend the rest of August in Michigan with our families (and I’ll be trying to work as much as I can, if possible). Then, September the 3rd we’ll fly from Chicago to Mumbai! And that’s about the start of the India trip. I’ll post a lot more soon about more details that we do have (our rough Canada camping plan, etc) soon.

But for now, the start of the India trip…

Today was a bit hellish. Not really, all in all, I had oatmeal which I really like, and I got a new battery for my Nintendo DS (thanks Nick). I’m trying to catch them all in Pokemon Black at the moment.

But let’s go back in time, to a simpler time..

The time is last week. I had just gotten done spending days researching Indian visas and navigating the very terrible visa websites. See, the thing is, India outsources the visa application processing to a company. As of today, that company is BLS. As of next week (and this is critical!), it’s a different company. Apparently BLS had many complaints against it, so India cancelled their contract and moved to a different company.

Here is our application (well, part of it), which was one of five or six documents we needed to have ready.
appp

Because of this switch to a new company there was/is uncertainty in how BLS (the current company) would handle this trade off, what would happen if you were midway through the visa process when this transition happened, etc. I thought long and hard about this, but decided that I would rather just take care of everything asap. By “everything” I mean “getting our visa.” We are applying for 5 year multiple-entry visas, which means (long story short) that getting the visa early is not a problem. A 6 month tourist visa is good for 6 months from the date that the visa is issue, and technically the 5-year visa is “used” starting the day it’s issued, but we obviously won’t be in India for 5 years!

Anyway, the BLS website is incredibly confusing, but after spending some time reading and re-reading all of the various instructions on the website I got together what I believed to be all of the paperwork for our visa. I made an appointment (also confusing) and went to the BLS office in downtown San Francisco on Geary. I waited in line for a while, but ended up having no problems.

Until a few days later, when I got an email telling me that I needed to submit an additional document for processing. Basically, the visa application (a from supplied by the Indian government) had a field in which to put the address of your “sponsor” in India. I didn’t realize (and ultimately this is my fault) that the form automatically truncated the address I copy/pasted, and “Mumbai, India” was cut off. So, I had to resubmit the application.

This involved filling out a new application, which wasn’t so bad. Then printing everything out. Also not so bad. Well, as I mentioned it was a bit stressful know that the company I had given 300 bucks to and had my passport was going out of business completely in a few days time, and the website now looked like this:

BLS International Visa website

Anyway, I filled out the form, and immediately the next day went into BLS, making sure to get there at 8:30AM. This was on a Wednesday. Well, I get to the front door and what do I see, but this sign:

BLS International San Francisco Visa Closed on Budh Purnima

Of course there was no notice that BLS would be closed on Wednesday on the website, and what’s more, this was one of the last THREE days the office was open, period. Before the limbo/uncertainty while switching visa processing over to the new company. I was very sad at this point, as I had really tried to do everything “right”, but kept having random problems. Also, though I’m tired and it’s a bit difficult to explain the feeling here, a number of the employees working at BLS actually came up to the door while myself and another person were outside talking about how bummed we were that it BLS was closed. The employees were, from what I can tell, trying to get into the office for one reason or another, but the door was locked. So they were pounding on the door trying to get somebody to let them in, but it didn’t seem like anybody was in the office. It was just a strange feeling, being locked outside of the office with the people who worked in the office, on the side of a busy street in San Francisco.

I tried to get more info about what would happen, when we should come back, if I would have enough time to get my visa processed before switching over to the new company on Friday, etc. They (understandably) told us (as they were calling people and banging on the door) that they weren’t sure what would happen, that they themselves didn’t have jobs anymore at the end of the week, and that they couldn’t tell us anything. Not particularly reassuring. I asked if we’d at least be able to get our passports back, the person I was speaking to said “I don’t know,” which was awesome! They advised me to come back the next morning, early. The office doesn’t open until 9, but they said to get there by 8:30 for sure.

Luckily, being the nerd I am, I got to the office at 7:45 AM the next day (45 minutes before recommended!), Thursday. One day until BLS shut down. And I’m very happy I did, because already that early in the AM, this is what I saw:

BLS International San Francisco Visa Line

After waiting an hour and fifteen minutes for the office to open, I took care of things relatively quickly. Despite the less then ideal experience I had with the BLS and the general Indian visa system, the people at BLS were very friendly and were as helpful as I honestly think they could be. I gave my documentation to a very nice lady, who told me that I would more then likely be OK. She said that if the Indian consulate didn’t finish processing my visa by the time BLS closed for good, then the new company (Cox and Kings I think is the name) would more then likely get my passport and send me an email to pick it up.

Luckily, that never happened. Friday, the next day, around 1pm, Lindsay and I both got emails telling us that our visas were processed and ready for pickup. Marc, being the nice guy he is, let me leave work early (around 5) and I headed to BLS as fast as possible. The office was packed, and seem on the brink of chaos. This was, literally, the last 30 minutes of BLS before it closed for good. I’m very, very thankful, that I was able to get our passports back, barely.

You can see they had already posted the sign up saying that the office was closed.
BLS San Francisco Closed

And here are some of the people waiting.
BLS International San Francisco Visa pickup line

Anyway, long story short, we’re going to India!

Our Indian Visas!

edit: turns out I think we made the right choice to go with BLS. Looks like the new company is currently having a rough time! http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/outsourced-indian-visa-company-angers-crowd/Content?oid=2806904

edit again: And a video showing the continued chaos: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/New-Indian-Consulate-Service-Sparks-Frustration-Over-Delayed-Visas-261037461.html

Disneyland and 1AM Fancy Mineral Bath

Lindsay had a few days off for spring break. “Wow, that’s great” – That’s what you might be saying. But YOU ARE RIGHT! It was great! I took a few days off (three, if you want to know) and we had a 5 day great weekend. I should add that prior to this amazing weekend I had an amazing birthday party, thanks to Lindsay, complete with oysters (and a super cool dude who shucked them for us), friends from all over the place, etc.

Anyway, last weekend. Wednesday night we drove down to Big Sur and camped right off the 1 at Kirks Creek, an awesome campground right on the coast. To be honest, I was not in a particularly great mood on Wednesday, mainly because I was very tired, so I took a nap (the second in a week, which is some sort of insane record for me). I woke up from the nap, Lindsay and I had dinner (I believe we had chicken bratwurst, if such a thing exists). Then, we played a game of cribbage, which was a great game of cribbage. After these exiting events, we went to bed (around 9:30pm, although Lindsay stayed up for another hour or so reading).

Around 12:15 we woke up, got in the car, and drove ~20 minutes along the 1 to this insane compound/cult/spa/retreat/magical place. Basically there is this thousand dollar a day spa that is huge, but in the middle of nowhere, and then open up every night from 1am until 3am for clothing optional natural mineral baths. These aren’t just your normal run of the mill mineral springs, they are in this (as I’ve mentioned) insane space, on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. You could see/hear the ocean crashing on the rocks below, and the stars were out and it was a clear night and probably in part because of how tired/dazed I was it was an amazing experience. I’m very happy we went.

The next day at breakfast we weren’t exactly sure what we were going to do to be honest. We had originally planned to go to Disneyland, but earlier in the week we were worried that it might not work out with Sai. But with a bit of sleep I felt a bit more positive/energetic and gave Nick a call to see if he’d be cool with us leaving Sai at his place during the day while we were at Disney. Being the great friend he is, he said “no problem” and the rest is history, which you’ll read about next.

We drove down to LA (which btw, if you have never driven from Northern California to Southern California on the 1, it’s worth doing, it’s a beautiful drive, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it EVERY time you’re driving) which took us way longer then it should. I sometimes talk shit about SoCal (always joking of course), but one thing I really don’t like is that we seem to end up in shitty traffic every time we drive down. Oh well. We drove down to LA OK? That’s the point.

So anyway, Thursday we had dinner and that was great. Then we went to bed. Then we woke up and had what I would classify an amazing day. First, on the drive down to LA we spent an hour or so reading through various tutorials on how to maximize your time at Disneyland and minimize wait times. I won’t go into many details here because you can easily find tons of information on google if you’re interested, but things like how exactly the FastPass system works, which rides tend to have longer lines and at which times, etc. When we got into the part, we ran past all of the families pushing strollers and got in the front of all of the lines, grabbed FastPasses while the other figured out the shortest lines, etc.

Now, + and –

+ We rode most of the big rides without waiting more then 10 minutes (which was insane)
+ Related, but the park was busy (of course), just busy enough, but not so crazy you couldn’t find a place to sit if you wanted, etc
+ I was not scared on any of the rides (the last time I went to Disney I cried on Space Mountain)
+ I genuinely felt really happy to be there, and like it was a “magical” sort of experience. Part of the “magic” was probably just the number of people there that seemed to be having a good time, but it was also fun to be a “kid” (as cliche and Disney commercialish that is to say) and I really appreciate all of the attention to detail, etc. Just a happy sort of place (“The Happiest Place on Earth”!)

– The rides, if I were to be honest, were not as spectacular as I remember. I think a big part of that is just growing up, but on most of the rides we went on I left feeling at least somewhat underwhelmed. Some rides (such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds) I felt very underwhelmed
– Lindsay was perhaps not experiencing the “magic” feeling as much as I did above – not to say that she didn’t have a very good time (she did I think), but she didn’t feel depressed when we left (I did!) and perhaps wouldn’t be as likely to go back next year. I think I could go back to Disneyland in a year and have an amazing time again
– It seems to be maintenance season at Disney, so a number of the bigger rides were closed. Most notably (for me), It’s a Small World was closed, and most notably for other people I tell was the Indiana Jones ride. Also the Finding Nemo ride.
– Autopia was insanely not great IMO, perhaps great for a 3-9 year old kid, but I was pretty upset because I was a great driver and this terrible kid who could barely drive still beat me, even though he kept running into the track and loosing speed! (I’m 90% kidding)

Honestly I was surprised that I liked Disney as much as I did. If I just write down my thoughts about the rides, the food, etc, I wouldn’t probably paint a very pretty picture (just “OK”). But there was something great about the experience and I’m excited to go back.

I took a bunch of photos (black and white, unfortunately) but I haven’t finished the roll yet. I’ll post them when I get them developed/scanned. Also thanks to the Teeples, they purchased my ticket for my birthday and I don’t think we’d have gone without that incentive.

After Disney, we went home and went out and had some great Thai food. Then Saturday morning we woke up and drove home. And that’s about it.