I lost my censo (identification card) a while ago, and because there is a hefty fine for not having it, I decided to start the 500 part process today. I took Maria with me to help translate.
First we took a taxi to the police station at the top of town. We had debated walking and I am glad I didn't. It was quite a ways away.
When we walked into the building there was a very long line. If you look up "line" in an Ecuadorian dictionary you will find the following definition:
"has no meaning; zilch; nada"
So, like good Ecuadorians, we walked straight to the front of the line and asked how to go about getting a censo.
Woman at the desk: "What's a censo?"
Us: "It's an ID card for foreigners"
Woman at the desk (looking at me suspiciously): For who?
Us: For foreigners.
Woman at the desk: What is it for.
Maria: To identify foreigners.
Woman at the desk: I don't know what you are talking about. You can't get that here. Ask upstairs.
So, we walk upstairs.
Us: We need to replace a Censo.
Them: A what?
Us: A censo. It's an identification card for foreigners. Like a cedula. (a national id card)
Them: Oh, you need a cedula.
Us: No, we need a censo. It's for foreigners.
Them: For who?
Me: It's for me. I lost my last one. I need a new one.
Them: Never heard of it. You don't need it.
Us: Yes, we do need it. It's very important. We were told to come here to ask about replacing it.
Them: Go to immigration. It's very near. Two blocks down and then left on the corner.
So we walk. Two blocks in spanish really mean 12 blocks and up the side of the mountain. NO exaggeration.
We arrive at immigration exhausted and completely soaked in sweat. Through our huffs and pants we have the following conversation.
Us: We need to get a censo replaced.
Him: You have come to the right place.
Us: faint with pure joy
Him: Do you have a letter from the police station?
Him: You need a letter from the police station saying your censo is lost. Like this one. (and he shows us one)
Us: We just came from there and they had never even heard of a censo.
Him: You need to go to the office in the center of town.
Us: Ooooohhhhhh. Do we need the letter signed from a lawyer?
Him: No. of course not.
So, we take a taxi to the center of town to the government office where we find out we must first go to ANOTHER office to buy a special piece of government paper.
We buy the piece of paper (3.00) and find out we DO AFTER ALL need a letter and signature from a lawyer.
So we walk around until we find a lawyer who is not busy.
Us: We need a letter saying we have a lost censo.
Him: A what?
Us: BIG SIGH. It's an identification card for foreigners.
Him: You lost your passport?
Me: No, I have my passport. I lost my censo. It's a card like a cedula.
Him: Okay, I can help you. Let me see your passport.
He looks at my passport and raises and eyebrow
Him: This is for you?
Me: Yes. It is my passport. The letter is for me. I lost my censo.
Him: When did you lose it.
Me: I am not sure. Maybe two months ago.
Him: I need an exact date.
Maria: Just make one up. It's not important.
Him: (raises the other eyebrow) Okaaayyyy. But, THIS is YOUR passport?
Me: yes. It's mine.
He prints the letter on the official 3.00 paper along with three extra copies we have been told that we would need.
We then walk back to the government office.
Her: These copies are not valid. They are made on regular printer paper. We need copies of the official government paper.
We walk to a copy shop and have copies made.
We walk back to the government office.
Her: These are perfect. Can I see your passport?
Her: Whose passport is this?
Me: It's mine.
Her: This does not look like you.
Me: It is me.
Her: It does not look like you at all.
Me: I have lost a lot of weight since being here.
Her (squints her eyes): Yes, it's you. You look really different. I don't mean anything bad by that- just that you really look different
(Because only in Ecuador does losing weight become equivalent to a put-down)
She stamps all of the paperwork. Then she sends us to another lawyer, who thankfully was in the same office. He signed the same papers as the first lawyer. He never asked to see my passport.
And I go home, because it's noon and all the offices shut down at noon.
But, before leaving, we were told we need to go to a THIRD police office for MORE paperwork before we can return to immigration.
So, lessons learned:
1. Don't wait in line.
2. 2 blocks really equals 12
3. No one has ever heard of a censo so therefore NEVER EVER EVER LOSE YOUR CENSO
4. If you lose weight you will have a lot of questions to answer. Try to look like your passport picture.
5. NEVER EVER LOSE YOUR Censo! EVER!
6. Make sure you block of a week if you ever actually do lose your censo. Because it is going to take a VERY LONG TIME to get a new one.