Border Crossing #3 Namibia to Zambia, Wenela:Sesheke

Woohoo! We are heading into a new country. We stop for lunch in busy Katimo Mulilo before heading to the small border post Wenela. I have read that border crossings require cunning, preparation, bribery and patience. For our preparation we have eaten all the fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread as apparently taking these items across borders is illegal and can result in trouble with the officials which may mean unpacking your whole car – something to be avoided. In the early afternoon, we head towards the border. I have not prepared much for Zambia as the plan, until the day before yesterday, was to go through Botswana. But we are sure we can wing it.

Leaving Namibia is easy. Then it’s a short drive to enter Zambia. This is my first ever land crossing and there’s a long patch of no mans land in the middle. Who owns that bit?

We need $220 for all our visas and the car to enter Zambia. I have British pounds as back up but they turn out to be useless as I can’t change them at the bank or with the moneychangers on the border. I go to withdraw money from the cash point but its not working for me or anyone of the others hanging around looking frustrated. The Zambian border turns into a festival of queuing and machines not working and heat and people asking us if we want to exchange money and getting confused by all the different exchange rates for US dollars, Namibian dollars, Sterling and Euros and more heat and catching a taxi back through the border to Katimo Mulilo to get more money in an exchangeable currency and queueing for a visa, and queueing to import the car and queueing for insurance. And customs agents (genuine ones) guiding me and refusing to allow locals to butt in front when I am looking confused. I am immensely glad I have a carnet de passage, which simplifies things but not as much as I had hoped. All the while the team (Emma, Mike and Woocash) are peacefully waiting. And finally we are paid for and all our documents stamped and we are off. Not exactly stylish winging but we are through before the border closes.

The Zambian customs and guards are delighted with the story and smile and wave and tease Woocash and I for being lazy in the car whilst Emma is running and Mike is on his bike. They never ask to search our car or for bribe, it is all friendly and professional. We are about to slip past the barrier when an official comes running after us. We have missed paying a levy, which takes all but 5 of my final kwacha.

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Never mind I think, this is a big town and there are banks.

The Zambezi is wide and wonderful and we are all excited to be entering a new country.

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Mike and Emma continue their journey whilst I am anxious to buy fresh food and withdraw money.

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*****

4 Visas ($50 each) 200$
Cleopatra (Toyota Landcruiser) entry costs: 20$
Car Insurance: 200 Kwacha (40 cents or 30p)
Sesheke District Council Levy: 30 Kwacha (less than a cent or penny)
Remaining Zambian money: 5 Kwacha

*****

No of days: 33 

Total distance run by Emma: 1429km, 888 miles

Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.3 km, 26.9 miles

Distance run today: 30.7km, 19.1 miles – shorter day than usual due to crossing the border.

Running in lion territory

This is a tense time. Local knowledge is invaluable and we have been warned that the area Emma is about to run through has lions in it. Mike is no longer on the bike beside Emma but inside the car.

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The car is beside Emma so that if a lion is spotted she can get in as swiftly as possible.

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Woocash is driving and I am on top with binoculars. I know from experience how incredibly difficult it is to spot a lion.

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Do you think you could spot a lion amongst this grass?

Staring at a strange looking burnt tree, I realise after a moment that it is an ostrich, stationery in the forest. It moves away as we get closer. Ostrich can be vicious when they want to be, lions aren’t the only animals to be wary of. Although of course in the excitement of seeing an ostrich, I forgot all of that and simply yelled “Ostrich, ostrich!” Everyone looked right and for a moment failed to keep look out left, which was the side Emma was on.

The strangest thing about this forest is how silent it is. There may have been lions in the grass watching us for all we know but we don’t spot them. We are wary when we stop to eat and rest but never see anything and we all make it safely through.

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It is an adventure but right at this moment Emma has run, on average, a marathon a day for 30 days. She is in a lot of pain and she is in danger from the wildlife. What kind of strength is required to achieve that distance, face that pain and danger and keep going?

However, the stress is too much for everyone and although Emma ran through dangerous game parks in her previous run along the Freedom Trail in South Africa with only her brother on a bicycle as support, we make a very good decision to turn left and run through Zambia instead of Botswana and the Chobe National Park, which is full of animals.

The only thing is that I have not prepared for us to cross into Zambia. I don’t know requirements for the border crossing at all. Lets hope its an easy one. This will be my first land crossing in Africa and my first with Cleopatra, the car.

*****

No of days: 30

Total distance run by Emma: 1,305 km, 811 miles

Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.5 km, 27 miles

 Distance run today: 56 km, 35 miles

Playfulness and Poverty

Before we enter the “risk of lions” area, we come across several villages on a Saturday. We are an unusual event and an opportunity for a new experience, food, medicine and fun.

In case you can’t download the video it is very brief and shows two lovely moments that day. One when 3 adults came over to find out what we were doing when cooking lunch and then showed their support for Emma by chanting “Go, Emma, Go!” The other was when two young people, barefoot, rushed to join Emma jogging on the road. They were there for a while.

However, there are also many people begging in this area. This group of children were polite and good-natured whilst asking if we had anything we could give them. They were pleased with tins of tomatoes and delighted with the pack of cards. What inspired the young woman to place the cards just there in the photo? There are no mirrors to check out her styling or magazines in shops to stimulate her imagination? More importantly, what are her opportunities for her creativity?

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 I would have liked to have got to know these children better, understood the roots of their poverty and most importantly to have found real solutions. On the return journey, I looked for them but travelling ten times faster we missed them in the blur of African landscape.  Travelling more slowly gave greater rewards.

A lady comes over to ask for medicine for a friend, the nearest clinic is a day’s walk away. We have a friendly chat and I give her a few paracetemol and rehydration sachets. This isn’t the answer. I am no doctor. I hope it did no harm.

Resourcefulness
Resourcefulness

Other moments are not so positive. A blind adult approaches with his hand on the head of a 4 yr old. It’s an uncomfortable sight and I consider whether the child is being exploited, as a passerby it is impossible to know. In some communities, disabled people find it particularly difficult to make a living. Money isn’t the answer. Not in terms of a fulfilling life, only for survival. But who am I to judge in this moment?

In the afternoon,  a crowd has collected around a bar beside the road and a drunk teenager moves towards Emma with his arms out. He doesn’t touch her, he’s simply being playful, pretending to grab the back of the car as we pass, until he gets yelled at by an adult. Frequently, dogs start barking, heading towards Emma. As long as there are adults present they keep control but these are two of the reasons Mike keeps close to Emma at all times.

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Tim the Nomad in his blog explains a good response to poverty:

” … giving money does not change anything. Instead, people most often use it to buy temporary things, which too often is alcohol or drugs. Better than giving money, she said, is identifying goals. When a villager sets a goal, he or she can assess what is needed to achieve it. One goal at a time, the village discovers that they are not excluded from financial opportunity. Then, in knowing that financial opportunity is something accessible, they find something to strive for. This changes a destructive cycle of dropping out into a productive one of self-reliance. In this way, they can find independence. Instead of depending on federal or foreign aid, they can depend on themselves while maintaining the traditional foods, products, and practices that they identify with. With this financial independence comes sustainability and peace of mind.”

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If you want to help make sustainable improvements in people’s lives please consider donating to the SEED Project or our fundraising page, which was the reason for doing this run and writing this blog (I hope you are enjoying it).

*****

No of days: 28

Total distance run by Emma: 1193 km, 741 miles

Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.6 km, 26.5 miles

Distance run today: 54.7 kms, 34 miles

Elephants!

“There is nothing beyond here, only the bush.”

The policeman, at the entrance to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, is laughing at me: I have just asked about shops.

This thin wedge of land between Botswana and Angola is renowned for lions, elephants, buffalo and wild dog. Every day is a risk assessment. It will take Emma several days to run through it and her safety is paramount. Lions and other carnivores chase moving objects. We will also be sleeping in our tent on the side of the road. Lions usually hunt when the heat of the day is over and during the night. We enter the area with caution, armed with knowledge from Charlie Paxton as to where along the way we are at risk from which animal. Initially, there are houses and people but these eventually stop and the stillness is eerie. We cannot see any animals at all.

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We aim to keep the car a few metres behind Emma and Mike. This annoys Emma, who hates the car being so close and noisy (it’s really noisy) and creates tension with Woocash who worries Cleopatra (the car) will overheat: stopping and starting is not good for her. I am sitting on top of Cleo with binoculars, wrapped up in clothes in the early morning, as it’s cold, and in the afternoon, as protection from the sun. It is wonderful to be out in the fresh air. The others seem unduly worried that I will fall off. But I have myself snuggled in well, with handholds planned in the event of sudden breaking or accelerating. In my turn, I am constantly checking out for buffalo (we are in the buffalo hunting area). I have a fearful vision of an angry buffalo or elephant charging out of the bush at Emma and Mike.

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Then, in the silent trees, we see a family of elephants. Well camouflaged, little ones, medium ones and a big mama. We are all delighted. Woocash utterly fails to follow the safety plan, to keep the car beside Emma and Mike, and picks up a camera whilst driving. We really need a cameraman for these moments. I would have loved to have taken a photo of Emma as she ran past this family munching quietly in the heat. But I was busy assessing safety. Luckily, Woocash did do some filming as I can show you this lovely film:

That night, as always, we are in the tents soon after dark. Whilst the rest of us slept, Emma heard an elephant snapping trees around us. The following day, Charlie calls to check that we are okay, nearby villagers had had to flee their homes in the night, as angry elephants damaged human property. As so often during this trip, I wonder if there is some stronger power keeping us safe. And if so, I wonder why.

We keep going, out of the elephant area and into an area, apparently, inhabited by lions.

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Have you had an encounter with elephants? Please feel welcome to tell your stories or thoughts in the comments below.

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As this is all in the same day as crossing the border, the distance travelled and day are the same as the previous post.

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.

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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.

The lonely Hippopotamus and a real life hero

No, I am not talking about Mike and Emma. I am not sure how they would take that. Hippos are wonderful animals. I know they’re the biggest killers in Africa. But really? Above Puff Adders, Mosquitos and Humans? They get a bad press because they are easily scared and then bad things happen as they are trying to flee to safety or defend their territory. Also, if you are in a green canoe they might mistake you for a crocodile and break the boat in half. Crocodiles are their evil neighbours, sharing the same river and occasionally attacking adults or killing baby hippos. It’s no surprise then, if you look anything like a crocodile, they are going to freak out. Admittedly, some of the males are inclined to show off and can be aggressive. But, as long as the hippo is not scared of you or one of those alpha male types hippopotami are adorable. They lie around in mud and harumph. Check out the story of a family and their friendly hippo.

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Lunch stop

Andy from Samsitu Camp has set us up with places to stay all along the river. At each stop I am hoping to see a hippo.

A whole bed each!! I could have stayed there well into the morning. That and we were right on the river.
A whole bed each!! I could have stayed there well into the morning. That and Camp Ndurukoro is right on the river.

Frustratingly, we arrive after dark at Camp Ndurukoro and leave before dawn, so we don’t get to see any animals as Emma runs relentlessly onwards as she has to reach the Botswana border before her visa runs out.

Dawn
Dawn

At the last town on the way to the border, Divundu, the only fuel station is officially out of diesel and expect a delivery tomorrow. It is the first time a fuel station is empty and it would be when we really need to fill up. Woocash and I estimate, with careful driving, we could just get to the border and back. But we might be wrong. Luckily, the manager upon hearing our story, allows us to have what little they can spare. Which is really nice of him. And we sort it all out before Emma gets there.

Emma finishes early and we head south to Botswana. Finishing early always makes for a happy vibe. On the way, we camp at Ndhovu Safari Lodge and get to catch up with Ken, who is a bit of a hero. He defuses mines. Demining is incredibly dangerous as you probably know. But after a bomb exploded whilst Ken was working on it, the pain he had to go through made him even more determined to continue with this job and protect innocent people and animals from harm. A truly amazing person. Ken also got bitten by a poisonous snake that was sleeping under his desk, which he accidentally nudged with his foot. He still lives in that house.

At Ndhovu lives the lonely hippo. To my absolute joy, he makes an appearance tonight. He steadily munches grass through the camp, careless of the excited people and dogs around him. He’s an elderly hippo and gets attacked by other hippos. As a result, he took refuge where other hippos don’t go, in the human campsite. One time after a particularly bad fight, he headed into the campsite and put his head down on an old tyre round the back of the owner’s house. The owner’s dog took care of him, licking his wounds. And now they are good friends.

You can meet Chomp, the hippo, in this video. Ken tells Emma and I about Chomp. I particularly like the moments where Emma identifies with the hippo and Chomp considers a lifesize statue of a hippo.

Chomp continues eating grass on his way to his peaceful night’s rest. And we head back to bed.

Total distance run by Emma: 1099 kilometres, 683 miles

No of days: 26

Average daily distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.3 kms, 26.3 miles

Samsitu Campsite

“Someone has to get out and push!”

By which Andy means someone has to get off the boat and step into crocodile infested waters. It’s our last evening at Samsitu and Andy and Karin have insisted we stop rushing about and writing blogs and instead enjoy an evening of relaxation on a boat on the Okavango river. Andy, the owner of Samsitu River Camp, has just been telling us stories about crocodiles catching dogs and people in the river. I think Andy is joking but no, the boat is stuck in some reeds and someone does have to get out. Woocash and Karin take their shoes off and step into the water whilst I keep a watch for crocodiles. I was once told if a crocodile gets within 10 metres of you in water, you have no chance of escape. Luckily, the crocs are busy elsewhere or their larders are full.

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Andy, Karin and Mike, with Angola in the background

The whole experience is pretty amazing. It’s peaceful and beautiful. The Okavango river, at this point cuts between Angola and Namibia, which means there are moments when we are in Angola. An exciting thought.

Happiness is driving a boat, a happy Woocash.
Happiness is driving a boat, a happy Woocash.
Angola on the left, Namibia on the right :)
Angola on the left, Namibia on the right

At Samsitu we have comfy beds, running water and a huge room in which we unpack all our kit from Cleo (the car) so that we can give her a thorough clean. The open plan dining room, living room, kitchen has a table in it for about 20 people. It would be perfect for a party. The friendly bar has seats overhanging the river from which I try to spot the local hippo. Andy and Karin tell wonderful stories. Sometimes, in the rainy season, the area is so flooded that they can only use a boat to get to Rundu.

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I have no idea what Woocash is doing here. Any guesses? Andy and Karin gave us free accommodation, it’s nice to be able to do something in return.

During the day we had been shopping and cleaning and other chores. Whilst Mike was finishing shelves for the back of Cleo, Emma writing her blog and Woocash fixing Andy and Karin’s car,  I cooked up a tasty but time consuming lunch:

Main Course
Pancakes and Tuna Wrap

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Dessert
Pancakes and honey

I could never make this on the road. The pancakes are made from flour, egg, water and salt. In the wrap, I put variations on request of: tuna, avocado, tomato, lemon, onion and salt and pepper.

After the boat trip, a running friend of Andy’s drops by. Katie is nice and friendly and impressed by Emma and decides to join Emma for her morning run through Rundu. This is good, Emma needs variety to keep her entertained. Andy and Karin also give us useful contacts for the rest of our route in Namibia.

Days 22

Total distance run by Emma: 899 km, 558 miles