The trouble with visas

Oh yay! Another reason to not like Irkutsk.So I rock up to the Mongolian consulate. I don’t expect it to be open (the sign says it is not on Wednesdays). But it is. In I go (for the record, they open the door for anyone who buzzes without checking who it is – in fact I opened the door for a few people when there was no one else around to do it).

The usual conversation. Tourist visa. One month. No invitation. But this is impossible, says the Consul. Why would that be? It is Nadaam starting on Friday. I know. That is exactly why I want to go. But you will not be able to find a hotel. There will not be any tickets on the train. You will have a horrible time. But that is not your problem, Consul, I can deal with all that if you just give me a visa. No, no, no. Come back on the 20th of July.

Hmmm. Unhelpful. I stand there for a while longer. Considering my options. He tells me to go away. I am not inclined to do so. He won’t even give me a form. I go and sit outside his door. More comfortable chair. Wait. Perhaps he will get sick of me and give me the visa anyway.

Then a travel agent and a tour guide arrive. Consul calls me in on their discussion. Hope? He tells the tour guide that perhaps I can join their group (only in a technical sense, there will be no need for me to actually travel with them), and they can send over an invitation that afternoon. Then I can have a visa.

The woman (travel agent, as it turns out) assures me that she will bring an invitation that afternoon or the next morning. So I get the form, fill it in and pay the money. And go away content, although slightly wondering what kind of travel agent can rustle up an invitation in no time, and not wanting to hang around the consulate in case Consul changes his mind.

On the way out I meet a couple of English lads on their way to Mongolia as well. Same situation. No invitation. Want to go tomorrow. Same response. No dice. Impossible. Nadaam.

Consul wants to talk to them again at 2:30pm. We have lunch, hit the internet, but one things leads to another and I don’t see them again. Until the next day. About which more below.

I head back to the consulate around 5. Travel agent has rung to say that the invitation will not be coming today. Tomorrow morning. Okay. Consul is upset that I have filled in the form and paid the money and things. Why is this my fault? They asked me to. But he throws away the form, gives me back the photo, and repays me the money. Things are not so hopeful.

Next day I come back. I talk to travel agent at last. She confirms my fears. She can not get an invitation to me unless I have an itinerary. And that would require me to specify some dates and places I wanted to go in Mongolia, then they would buy train tickets and blah blah blah. Not an option.

Consul still refuses to give me a visa. No invitation? It will all be impossible. No hotels. No train tickets. Nothing.

Okay. So this is not going to work. How else can I get an invitation? The internet is the answer. So I set off down the street.

I get fifty metres away and someone comes out on the street and starts shouting at me to come back. Someone from the Consulate. I go back, a little mystified. Consul tells me to wait a little.

Enter the English boys again. Returning heroes, perhaps. They gleefully tell me that Consul promised yesterday afternoon that if they get a hotel reservation they can have a visa. A hotel reservation was five minutes work (see internet comment above), so they have come back to pick up their visas this morning.

So this is why Consul wanted me to wait. He is not completely unhelpful. Ten minutes later I am back with an invitation. He scrutinises it carefully. Are there defects? Perhaps, since it is entirely inconsistent with his oft-stated belief that reservations will be impossible to secure around Nadaam, he is going through some inner turmoil.

But eventually he agrees, and twenty minutes later I am the proud owner of a visa for Mongolia. Only 14 days though. Consul could not give me 30 days. But I can easily extend it in Ulaan Baatar (which, if it is easy, begs the question of why he does not give a 30 day visa to start with, but hey).

We rock down to the train station. To Ulaan Baatar? Today? No problem. Plenty of spare seats. Aarrgh. Another more hours of my life have been wasted in Irkutsk at the whim of some irritating official.

Just so you know, there is no requirement to have an invitation to get a tourist visa for less than a month to Mongolia. But the Consul in Irkutsk has a different view. Even in the face of documentary proof. A very stubborn man.