My wake-up call was a gun muzzle to the neck.
Drawing up at the Ecuadorian immigration post, several kilometers on from the Peruvian exit over parched wasteland, we cut an unruly unwashed rabble of Englishmen and a couple of Irish girls. Unshaven and having slept for a couple of days in my present clothes it could be argued that I was the least desirable potential entrant.
One by one my traveling companions approached the desk and in turn received their entry visa with no questions asked. My turn came and eager to continue the smooth running of the operation, I obediently stepped forward fully expecting similar treatment.
“Ingles? How long do you plan to spend in Ecuador?” He asked glancing over me.
“Oh, I am not sure, there is so much to see, perhaps you should give me the full three month visa. Yes, that would be great.”
The official leaned back creaking in his chair thumbing the pages of my passport with indifference. As he looked up at me and at back my photograph it was then I knew that I was not going to get an easy ride.
“Ingles, this does not look like you.”
“I can assure you it is me,” I kept my voice calm knowing that you never want to upset someone in this authoritative capacity. “Look at the eyes, they are the same.”
Realizing that he was looking for something else and perhaps not permission to gaze into my eyes, I tried a different tact. Surely he just wanted a bribe? So I asked politely,
“What is it I need to do to enter Ecuador? How can we speed this process along?”
He looked at me again, fingers stroking the stubble on his chin and pushing my passport across the desk towards me as he deliberated. I had obviously said the right thing. His stern demeanor altered considerably as enlightenment appeared to cross his face.
“Go back and have a shave and make yourself look like the photograph.”
Surely he was having a laugh at my expense. But, one does not argue with the little big men behind the desks at border crossings.
Half an hour later and perfectly groomed, shirt changed to suit the occasion and smelling of Gillette post shave gel I was ready to attempt to enter Ecuador once again. My official was nowhere to be seen. In his place sat another official in immaculately pressed uniform. With no effort whatsoever my passport was stamped and 90 days was granted without question