Border disorder

28 October 2018

I was awake very early at 04:00, and nipped to the loo. The campsite is well lit, so there was no anxiety about finding my way in pitch black! I could see that Francesco was up and making himself a coffee (or at least, his stove was on!) and there were also two women showering already – that must’ve been an early start for them!

I didn’t really sleep much more after that, but Ian and I lay in bed chatting until Bugsy woke up just after 07:00. She was in a playful mood and we had fun doing silly things with our elbows and heads.

As we were finally safe from wild animals, I took myself off for my first run in a week. Urgh, I could really feel the damage a week of a sitting in the car and lounging around has done, as I struggled to keep my heart rate down. My knee was also hurting, so I had to stop to stretch it out, which at least meant I could run back without any discomfort! Anyway, it was three miles done and as I always say, I was so glad to have done it. That completes at least one run in every African country that we’ve stayed in! Not quite as many as I’d hoped for, but I’ve taken most opportunities when they’ve arisen.

When I puffed back, Ian and Cornelia had had breakfast, and while he tidied up, he was being Mr Snap, Cornelia’s school teacher and they were having a geography lesson. 😬

Cornelia asked if I would take her for a swim, so I took her to the pool and stripped her off, and while I dangled my legs in, she jumped up and down the steps. The gardener was needing to turn on the sprinklers (and this water is untreated, so we had to avoid getting wet from it), and I told Bugsy that we only had a couple of minutes left, so if she wanted to actually have a proper swim, she would need to do it now. She launched herself into the main pool, with her crocs on her hands (?!) then panicked as she wasn’t wearing her goggles and cried “Help! Help!”. I waded in to give her my arm, and pulled her to the side and she had a little cry about not having her goggles on, and not being able to see where she was going. Anyway, at least that got her out of the pool, and I wrapped her in a towel and dressed her, before taking myself off for a shower.

Ian, bless him, had done all the breakfast duties, washed up and was packing up the van, and also brought me a cup of tea to enjoy by the poolside.

Once we’d left Woodlands, we drove through Francistown (which surprised us by having a smart international airport and stadium), stopping briefly for fuel, and hurrah, a Diet Coke for me! (I have been missing an occasional can of it!). The city is huge – Botswana’s second largest – and even has a dual carriageway! The sat nav and our written instructions were all out of date, as a brand new flyover now takes you onto the main A1 towards Gaborone and the South African border. It took us a few minutes to navigate our way around this, but after a couple of wrong turns, we were on our way again.

While Ian was busy getting annoyed with other drivers, Cornelia was drawing some pictures in the back. She’s no Monet, but we were very impressed with her King and Queen, and Princess holding a flag with a dragon. (Yes,that’s what they are! And no, she doesn’t have hidden anger issues… she just had a red and black pen handy!).

We stopped in Palapye, for some lunch that I picked up from Choppies. I managed to insult a lady on entering the supermarket by taking her trolley from her (I thought she worked for Choppies, and was handing them out! 🤦‍♀️) and then I seemed to follow her to both the take away meals section, and then the checkout. With partial success, I came set with three bananas, three oat bars and a plateful of macaroni in tomato sauce (for Bugsy), a steak and kidney pie (for Ian) and a Russian hot dog and chips for me (or back up meal for Cornelia).

We drove onto a picnic spot a few kilometres away to eat, although we didn’t stop long, and Cornelia stayed in her car seat to eat. She did very well, eating most of her meal, but my hot dog was not good, nor were the soggy cold chips so I helped Bugsy out with hers! Ian’s pie was spicy, apparently, but he ate it all and said he quite enjoyed it, as long as he didn’t look inside it!

The border was still 75kms away, and we listened to The Magic Faraway Tree as we drove on.

We whizzed past the border entry unintentionally, and Ian had to turn around to retrace our steps. The exit procedures from Botswana were relatively swift, although we were fortunate to have arrived just before a coach load.

Ian took Cornelia to what turned out to be a tribute to Trainspotting loo, where she had to be held far above the cess-filled pan. Ian (wearing flip flops) had his first urine foot wash of the day, courtesy of Cornelia. This was a portent of the horrendous entry into South Africa. First, we had to cross a long, rickety bridge over the Limpopo. It was wide enough for only one vehicle and guarded by a battered traffic light, which appeared to be red – although hard to see in the sun. A huge lorry was stationary on the bridge, so Ian waited at the light. The cars behind started hooting, but Ian let the lorry finish crossing, at which point several vehicles came across from the opposite direction. Ian finally crossed, to find the light at the other end on green.

A large sign proclaimed that an electronic traffic flow system was in operation at the border. This sophisticated system consisted of everyone driving as quickly as possible to pass everyone else, so as to funnel in first to the very limited number of parking spaces. Ian’s reaction to other drivers is always quite aggressive and I insisted that he should not cut up an old Toyota saloon which had just cut us up horribly. As it turned out, this was driven by Faisa, with her three children, who I had said “Hello” to briefly at the previous border post where she had helpfully told me to grab an extra form that I needed. She was in front of me in the ‘queue’ of people at the immigration office and I immediately started chatting with her. She lives in South Africa but comes to Botswana almost every weekend to visit her father who runs a game reserve and lodge there. This line was much longer than usual, she told me. In fact, the worst she’d ever seen it. I suppose after so many countries, we were bound to find the bad one eventually! We were standing in 36 degree heat in the full glare of the sun and we moved, literally, two feet forward in 45 minutes. The front of the queue was blocked by two busloads of school kids, all of whom needed verifying and special visas.

Ian and Cornelia sat in BigBell for a while, during which time, Ian was asked to move out of his parking space to allow one gent to escape. Ian refused at first, pointing out he would lose his space. The man said he had been waiting four hours and was desperate. He was pointing to (what turned out to be) a religious emblem on his uniform shirt. He asked in God’s name that Ian take pity. Ian relented and asked that the man position his car so that Ian could reverse back in once the escapee had passed. Of course, he did no such thing, and sped off shouting at Ian. Fortunately, Ian was able to muscle his way back into the space – we had the toughest looking vehicle there! The display of human nature at its worst continued (save that Cornelia was invited into the car Faisa’s children, to shelter from the sun). After more waiting, Ian went back to the car to fetch water and was told by a woman getting into the next car to go around to the other side of the immigration building, as there was a window ahead of the hordes of schoolchildren. We disregarded this advice, but soon after, Faisa and her brother (who has been with them all weekend and had joined us in the queue) were apparently told the same thing by a border officer. As we were not moving at all in our queue, we took a chance and, sure enough, there was a ‘reverse’ queue moving towards the final window. This started turning into a scrum, as others cottoned on, and those positioned correctly in the official queue began to object. After some shoving and shouting, the lady at the final window simply shut it, saying that those of us who had come the wrong way must go to the back of the by-now extremely long official queue. We protested that we had been told to come around the school kids. There was much argument, but fortunately one young, smartly-dressed chap in the official queue pointed out (correctly) that he had been far behind us in the official queue originally. This incurred the wrath of several others around him. One can see how riots start. Eventually, the window was re-opened and, with the help of our new pals, we were able to push our passports through the bars ahead of several competing hands. I apologised for the trouble caused, and was mightily relieved to see the stamps go into our passports.

While this was going on, Ian felt a wetness on his foot and looked down to see that an old chap pressed against him had wet himself. Judging by the aromas around us, he was not the only person with bathroom challenges of various degrees of viscosity. Adding to the frustration of there being only two windows open for hundreds of people, numerous other immigration staff were visible in the office, chatting and browsing on their phones. So, nearly a couple of hours after departing Botswana, we re-entered South Africa, with a sudden reappearance of omnipresent razor wire and ‘armed response’ security signs. I took over the driving, to give Ian an opportunity to use copious wet wipes on his feet.

As we drove, we passed various points of interest, notably Mokopane Platinum Mine, a colossal site of settlement dams, surrounded by villages, where entrepreneurial locals had set up numerous car washes and tyre repair services. There was also a disproportionate amount of liquor stores!

After a long day of driving, we arrived at 19:00 to an unfriendly welcome at African Roots Guest House in Polokwane. The receptionist didn’t smile or greet us once, just rudely pointing at the papers we had to fill in, and giving me a key to our room, telling me that it was “around the back”. Having been so warmly welcomed virtually everywhere we have been, I cannot put this down to a cultural difference. She was just rude!

We eventually found our room – the reason it had taken us so long was that it was in pitch black, and there was no light to see us in. So I returned to our reluctant receptionist and asked for her help. I was quite pleased that she struggled to get the key in and open the door in the dark, and she even grumbled an apology. Taking advantage of this, I asked if the restaurant was open. No, it wasn’t. I had to ask if there was anywhere she would recommend nearby and her unhelpful answer? “You could try the mall.” She then gave me complicated instructions and that was that. Sigh… Anyway, our room is big and beautifully-accessorised with a variety of artwork.

We unloaded the car, changed our clothes and went to find the mall. Incredibly, we found it. (The biggest issue for us was the one-way streets. One wrong turn could send you a long way in the wrong direction!) I had googled before we left and Ocean Basket was well-reviewed, and they had plenty of space for dinner. There was a play area for Bugsy and she went there as soon as she’d ordered her dinner. Daniel, our waiter, went out to play basketball with her for a bit, and he was brilliant all evening. What a contrast to our surly receptionist! Cornelia was very tired but soldiered on through, managing all of her fish, most of her chips and all of her mini chocolate dessert. We were very impressed with the whole evening and were last out!

Back in the car park, the friendly parking attendant had been watching our van carefully for us. We only had some loose change or a 50ZAR note (<£3), so I said we should give him the 50. Well, bless my soul, he was almost weeping, and told me that he didn’t have words for this kindness. Bloody hell. It stabbed my heart a bit, as I had no idea of the meaning that this tiny amount would hold. I said “God bless you” and we waved goodbye to him.

As soon as we arrived at the guest house , I realised that we’d left Cowbat in the restaurant. I rang them immediately, and although they had shut up shop the moment we left, Daniel was waiting in car park with her when I returned. What a top guy.

Cornelia had had her stories when I arrived back, and she was fast asleep in minutes. Neither Ian nor I could get The WiFi to work but as I have affordable data now, I spent the evening updating blog, before finally getting to bed!

One thought on “Border disorder

  1. The Botswana border story brings to mind adventures with officialdom that I’ve had , in Mexico and in Guyana. Of course, everyone gets to deal with a Western counterpart to a Soviet hotel clerk or store minion. Glad she at least took a chance on stubbing her own toe, in order to “help” you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s