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.

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.

Windhoek to Walvis Bay to collect Cleo

(Apologies for the lack of photos but the internet connection is too slow to upload them).

Whilst Emma and Mike are flying to Windhoek, Woocash and I head to the coast to pick up Cleo. We’re hoping that she has all the kit still with her. Sending Cleo by Ro-Ro (roll on roll off) instead of container became the only option as sponsorship failed to come in and the dates started to slip. Ro-ro is faster and I’m conscious of the coming African summer, but you have to leave the car unlocked. We locked everything up in a big old chest and we padlocked all the items together and gave the key to the Captain.

We head to the coast in a combi, which I would definitely recommend to other travelers. You can catch the minibus taxi from Rhino Park in Windhoek. The 14 seater minibus waits until all the seats are filled for the journey. It costs N$150 each and takes 5 hours. There is a locked trailer into which your luggage goes. We had one bag but they might charge if you have more. One of the other travelers, as he got on the bus, made a comment about preferring the back to the front … because in the front there is nothing in between you and whatever you are going to crash into. Naturally, then, someone else happily piped in about how a car crashed into the side he was sitting on when he last traveled in the minibus.

The driver turns out to be awesome. Highly skilled at predicting other people’s bad driving. The travelers are friendly, and the lady behind me starts singing (beautifully) to pass the time. Its hot and and I put up a hoody as a screen from the sun. The road is smooth tarmac.

The journey entrances me. I have never been in a desert before. Beautiful and uncompromising, overlapping brown and crème sand dunes, some small, some huge, and in the distance blue mountains.

There are warning signs for “Sand” and “Fog”. My mind wanders to thinking about water tanks, how much water we can carry and where we will be able to fill up. We arrive at the coast and turn left. This area is famous for shipwrecks and I feel sorry for the sailors who landed here.

When we get out the taxi, it is cold and windy.

Windhoek, Namibia

I can’t believe we are in Namibia. The last few months have been frantic, getting the car ready, getting the necessary equipment, trying to get sponsorship. And now we are here. We are almost at the beginning.

Just arrived! Having caught the early morning flight from Cape Town
Just arrived! Having caught the early morning flight from Cape Town

Namibia is cold, not cold like the UK, but there is no central heating in the houses. The night we had to camp I barely slept for cold. It brings into perspective what it is like for people who don’t have money for warm clothes or a duvet. Windhoek seems wealthy but there are also those who live in shanty houses, and struggle for food and basic necessities.

But the cold will be good for Emma, it is cool enough to run until about 11am.

Nambia is also dry. We are in a desert. I’ve learned to keep lipsalve with me at all times. And the nights are long. It is dark from 6pm until 6am. Windhoek is pretty safe during the day but its best to be home by night. A couple of nights ago two men broke into the hostel and attacked one of the guests with a knife. He was swift and clever enough to be able to defend himself but the intruders stole several laptops. It is a reminder to be careful.

What strikes me most, however, is how friendly and helpful most people are. Villa Moringa, a gorgeous place, where we stayed initially, are storing most of our kit for us, whilst we sleep in cheaper places.

Drs Keletso and Barbaria Nyathi, who run Maerua medical practice have been looking after us. I contacted Keletso after reading his profile on Explorers Connect. (If you are planning an adventure you should check out Explorers Connect). Keletso is a doctor and ultra runner interested in adventure so, I thought he might like to join us. Sadly, due to work commitments he couldn’t but, he and his wife, have welcomed us, given us essential advice on what we need to do to be legal and will be teaching us first aid. They are incredibly hard working, constantly laughing at life and a pleasure to be with. I can’t wait for them to meet Emma.

New friends, Drs Keletso and Barbara Nyathi of Maerua Medical Centre, Namiba.
New friends, Drs Keletso and Barbara Nyathi of Maerua Medical Centre, Namiba.

Indira, Keletso and Nyathi’s receptionist, has been showing us around. She welcomed us into her story and educated me on what life is really like to grow up in Katatura. She took us to her grandmother’s house where she was raised and to a local restaurant. For dessert, we went to the meat market where we discovered the most delicious Namibian spice to have with a BBQ.

We have also been preparing for Emma, Mike and Cleo’s arrival: finding out where to get the last bits to kit out the car (Cymot); contacting radio stations (Kosmos, RadioWave, One Africa); making sure our agent who will be getting the car through customs has all the necessary documents; and getting to know the city.

Tomorrow, we shall set off on a 5 hour minibus taxi journey to Walvis Bay to fetch the car, Cleopatra. Fingers crossed she comes through with everything intact.

Things we learnt:

Its winter bring warm clothes in August

August is peak season, book accommodation in advance

Its very dry

You can buy almost everything here that you can get in the UK

You need a GB sticker for the car

You need to get a Cross Border Certificate for cars on a temporary import

Paint your car white, everyone else has, its probably a good idea.