Border Crossings 1, 2 and 2.5: the Confusing, the Blundering and the Easy

We have had complications at each border crossing, one of which has resulted in our current detour to Mohembo/ Shakawe.

Here are some mistakes …

#1 UK to South Africa (Capetown by air).

Upon arrival in South Africa, the nice lady on the desk told me that the longest she could give me a visa for was 90 days (that’s great, I only need 12 hours) but I won’t be able to restart my visa unless I returned to my home country. Eh? Apparently, unless I return to the UK during those 90 days I will have overstayed my visa and on my re-entry in 5 months time, am likely to be arrested or refused entry! It seems too illogical to be true. I think/hope she must be confused and file it in my head under ‘problems to worry about later’. I ask her to give me a week’s visa. Wanting to be helpful, she gives me 3 months.

DSC01155
Woocash sleeping in Cape Town airport, it’s about 1am

#2 South Africa to Namibia (Windhoek by air)

 This is, frankly, a disaster. As I was monitoring changing visa requirements for 3 nationalities across 6 countries, I enlisted the help of a company who advised me that none of us needed a visa in advance for Namibia. So I was more than a bit surprised when I happily zipped through border control, collected our bags and turned round to see Woocash waiving and shouting for me. Polish people it seems need a visa in advance! I took some convincing that this was not a mistake on the customs lady’s part. To her absolute credit, she was amazingly helpful. Your average person would have found my disbelief annoying. Lucky for us, she was exceptional. She was not going to allow Woocash in but allowed me to check her assertion on the internet, helped us sort out return flights and allowed Woocash out to buy water and to go for a smoke, which he needed amidst all the stress (not that he was admitting any stress but this is his first time out of Europe). Woocash had to take the next flight back to South Africa and sleep another night in the airport, bus it to the Namibian embassy, where he was soundly told off alongside a lady from Slovakia who had made the same mistake, and then granted a visa 4 hours later. He and the Slovakian woman flew back that evening.

Very relieved to see our mechanic walk through the doors.
Very relieved to see our mechanic walk through the doors.

Emma, who arrived a few days later, in her turn, stepped away from customs only to discover that her passport had been stamped for 1 month, which is why she has been running so fast – in order to get to a border on time.

#3 Namibia to Botswana (Mohembo/ Shakawe by land)

So here we are at Mohembo (which is inside a game park!). We have decided that we cannot risk taking Woocash out the country, as he might not get back in again. Which means Emma and Mike are stepping across the border, turning around and coming right back in again. We have been warned that customs officers do not take lightly to this kind of mucking about and can make travellers wait indefinitely.

A sleepy Emma helping to pack up the tent
A sleepy Emma helping to pack up the tent
Dawn across the river from our campsite
Dawn across the river from our campsite
Mike, making sure the bike is secure. Cleo is carrying about a tonne in weight!
Mike, making sure the bike is secure. Cleopatra, the car, is carrying about a tonne in weight!

We arrive at the crossing at 6.30am in the hopes that the officers are still in that sleepy stage when the most important thing is how many sugars there are in your coffee. Woocash and I settle down to wait in the car. I get to write two sentences in my diary and we see Emma and Mike are on their way back. I was told Africa was slow! What is this super efficiency? Emma and Mike have had a perfectly easy friendly crossing there and back.

And back again.
And back in time for breakfast.

I hope UK customs officials are as helpful and welcoming to foreigners, especially foreigners who accidentally mess about with the official rules.

For now, Emma is about to run through Bwabwata National Park, we make safety action plans in case we see a carnivore or elephants.

Advice for other travellers

  • Check your own visa requirements and advice regularly up until you leave (Mozambique became much more strict due to the civil disturbances they had).
  • Do NOT rely on advice from visa companies.
  • At the Namibian border tell them how long you would like your visa stamped for as you hand your passport over, before they stamp it.

*****

Many thanks to the customs lady in Namibia, you were amazing.

*****

No of days: 27

Total distance run by Emma: 1138 kms, 707 miles

 Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.15 km, 26.18 miles. 

Feel welcome to post stories of border crossing disasters in the comments or links to your stories.

Maps B

I’ve lost Zimbabwe again. I found it at 8.30pm and now it’s lost at 11pm. Rustling through layers of maps, it’s under Botswana. All the maps laid out end-to-end do not fit in the house. I am looking for a route that is comfy underfoot and flatish. There are snippets of information about road surfaces on Trip advisor and in Traversa, which I am now rereading as a guide for runners, highlighting words like ’gravel’.

According to the Lonely Planet guide there is a tempting ‘unexplored’ area in Eastern Botswana. It is more direct but few roads, which leaves us, potentially, a little stuck.

Maps A

Maps, I’m deep in maps (literally, they take up all the space and have to go on top of each other), and I’m worrying about political unrest, bad roads, dangerous animals and mines. Should we go north through the Caprivi strip or cut south beneath the Okavango delta? South means cutting across the top of the Kalahari Desert, through the middle of Zimbabwe and into Mozambique, onto the road which carries a warning from the Foreign Office. Alternatively, we could go through the Caprivi Strip. Hopefully, the bandits have disbanded and the lions will be well fed or very sleepy. But what happens when we reach northern Mozambique? How good are the little roads through the mountains? Is there still a risk of mines?

The route options are pinging back and forth. I call the Mozambique High Commission and email the Namibian Embassy and the Foreign Office.

The map shop: Stanfords

Stanfords is overly hot. Maps and books for Africa are in the basement. It could be the heat in the basement, but the information on the maps is making no sense at all. I collar a reluctant salesman who tells me that all the maps have a scale 1: x amount. The lower the second number, the more detailed the map. Landranger maps for the UK are 1:50 000 and Explorer Maps, used for trekking in the wilds of the UK, 1:25 000. The best I can find for Namibia is 1: 1 500 000! Easy to misjudge distances and the steepness of a mountain! On the plus side, I suppose, it does mean I get the whole of Namibia on one map, which makes for easier and cheaper planning.

Some maps have fences marked on them. I know. Are fences that permanent a structure in Namibia? Is the map that accurate? A friendlier salesman comes by. The fences are buffalo fences (and a controversial topic). He also explains that none of the maps are reliably accurate! Not reliably accurate!! I’m asking Emma to run a marathon a day but the occasional marathon might be a wrong turn!

The salesman advises that the “world mapping project” series are pretty good. Pretty good. I also buy a book on organising charity sponsored events. The nice salesman gives me a discount as I have BMC membership.

Nelles Map: Namibia £7.95

World Mapping Project: Botswana £9.50

World Mapping Project: Zambia £9.50

World Mapping Project: Mozambique/Malawi £9.50

The Ultimate Charity Challenge Handbook £0.50

Total £33.25 with discount