ESTA AND ME

This entry is brought to you from a plastic outdoor chair beneath a corrugated plastic verandah roof in a suburban Central Coast backyard. There are palm trees, hibiscus, a pool and a Black Prince cicada slowly crawling into Matt’s black slippers. It’s warm. There’s a sea breeze. Matt is sitting on a deckchair and is reading some book called Hardboiled America. My feet share a footstool with a coke and ice. I will probably knock it over sometime in the next hour. This coastal interlude with its morning beach swim concludes our third week left in Australia.

The ESTA Process (Image Source: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov)

Two weeks til take-off. I’ve had my Hepatitis A and Typhoid injections. My passport and Egyptian visa application are in the hands of the Egyptain consulate in Sydney (I hope) and I’ve even muddled my way through the somewhat unfriendly ESTA website. I say unfriendly as the ESTA website stopped halfway through processing my credit card details and told me that there was a technical problem and I should close my browser and open another one. This I did and went into the status update page. I was told that my payment status was unconfirmed and I should try again later. It was only after going to the help page that I discovered that the website was not compatible with Chrome, Safari or Firefox. I humbly think this pertinent detail belongs on the front page before people submit credit card details and other sensitive information. As directed I tried the next day and fortunately my transaction was processed. I was left slightly confused as to whether there was or was not a browser compatibility issue and why it told me there was a technical difficulty. But this is the American government and I must conclude that this process was worth every cent of my $14 ESTA fee. I am now registered to travel to the U.S.A. This privilege, as the website reminds me, is not the same as approval to enter the U.S.A Still, having signed away my rights through ESTA to appeal to U.S customs and immigration if my entry into the country is rejected, I am one step closer to searching for pyramids in New York.

Why ESTA makes me uncomfortable:

  • Waive any rights to review or appeal of the admissibility determination of the United States Customs and Border Protection officer, or contest, other than on the basis of an application for asylum, any removal action arising from an application for admission under the Visa Waiver Program.
  • Reaffirm, through the submission of biometric identifiers (including fingerprints and photographs) during processing upon arrival in the United States, your waiver of any rights to review or appeal of the admissibility determination of the United States Customs and Border Protection officer, or contest, other than on the basis of an application for asylum, any removal action arising from an application for admission under the Visa Waiver Program.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) Online Help

  • Universal financial surveillance of VWP traveller
  • Vastly increased potential for identity theft, phishing, and other ESTA-based fraud

The Identity Project: ESTA Fees

INTRODUCTION

Chichen Itza, Mexico (Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ndaandee/3051368203/#/)


8 November 2010

I’m on the train, heading to Newtown. The carriage smells of damp. Dashed lines of rain interrupt my view of the grey sky, the grey rip-rap and the wet rusted railway lines. It’s meant to be late Spring but I’m dressed in a red jacket and a knee length woollen coat. My sunflower-print umbrella, the one that leaked all the way to the station, is at my feet. A paperback, Donald Westlake’s The Ax, has been stashed in my satchel bag. I got through four pages. I can’t focus. It’s three weeks until Matt and I head off overseas for what he calls our Global Prowl. To keep himself busy while we travel he’s got himself a spot writing travel articles for PopMatters.com. He’s  also got two novels to write and about forty paperbacks to read – the Donald Westlake in my bag being one of them. Each of those forty paperbacks I’ve been told is the perfect size and weight for travelling. Now that I’m reading the Westlake maybe it won’t make the cut.

My planning hasn’t gotten that far. I’m a bit worried that three weeks out I still haven’t been to the doctor to get my shots, still haven’t applied for an Egyptian Visa or the American ESTA, still don’t know whether to book transport to Kitchener or Montreal for Christmas, and still haven’t found a good pair of walking shoes.

Our itinerary so far includes a seven month trip through San Francisco, New York, Kitchener/Toronto/Montreal, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico City, London, Cairo (via an unconfirmed number of countries), Athens (via an unconfirmed number of countries) and finally Thailand where no doubt we will squeeze the last juices from our savings. France, Portugal, Spain Croatia, Bulgaria and Poland may or may not be added. No doubt the trip will be an exploration of cultural jetsam: museums; archaeological ruins; art galleries; literary pilgrimages and hopefully a good meal or two.

Everyone has been telling me that New York is the best city in the world except the newspapers that tell me it’s the best city in the world for bedbugs. I’ve given offence to my New York-initiated friends on several occasions by doubting that New York is a wonderful town. Beyond museums and the unavoidable jazz venues I don’t know what I shall see, eat, do. I have been told that you can do anything, any time in New York. This is great, because I really want to climb a pyramid.

In case climbing pyramids in New York falls through, I should get to explore exotic old ruins in Mexico – Cakamul, Palenque, Tulum, Chichen Itza – along with the other million tourists washing up onto the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula during January. Treasure, trash in unequal portions. I guess I’ll get to see how tourism and conservation co-exist (and be part of the conservation problem).

A man in a poncho sits next to me on the train and plays chess on his phone. I don’t believe he is Mexican -that would be too much of a co-incidence – but I bet he doesn’t worry about theft and kidnapping when he travels, just as he doesn’t mind wearing something a little out of the norm for Sydney.  I’m embarrassed to say that I hold all the fears and trepidations of an inexperienced and nervous traveller. Such fears make me the kind of tourist who is all too tempted to get on that tour bus to avoid standing out and those little impracticalities caused by blatant ignorance and stupidity. While on that tour, I’d probably feel tempted to buy a poncho at the tourist shop but feel guilty for a) spending money and b) spending money on an item that probably sent a granny blind. Six months later you’d probably find me back in Sydney shivering at train stations because I didn’t pack my poncho in case someone looked at me. If that’s not self-indictment, I don’t know what is.

I don’t buy into the whole travelling to find yourself bullshit. I don’t have work at any of our planned destinations, I’m not writing a book and I’m not studying anything. I’ve bought a plane ticket to see stuff. This makes me a consumer. Let’s hope that this trip at least gives me a more global perspective and maybe in amongst all the interesting bits of cultural driftwood we find there are a few pieces worth turning over for a second look. Maybe even New York.