Passing the Zimbabwean side of the border was hassle free, leaving us plenty of extra emotional space to be excited about returning home (for one half of the party) and meeting up with family. Crossing the South African side of the border was never going to be simple, I had in fact been quietly dreading it. Just a quick recap for those who don’t know, after elections last year in South Africa new immigration laws were put in place. This was done in true inefficient African style. A blanket law was passed with Home Affairs staff not understanding the who, why or what let alone being told how to implement it. My visa extension application got lost in the process meaning I flew back to the UK having being told ‘you are an undesirable person and unless you appeal you are not allowed back into the country for 5 years’. This as you can imagine ended with lots of train travel between Scotland and London to make sure that the appeal went through. Which it did thank goodness… It read:
Dear Sir (Interesting way to address a woman)
Your undesirable status has been waivered as of immediate effect for passport number ******* date of birth 09/06/90 (incorrect date of birth but correct passport number which is what counts).
Back to the border
Tristan queued happily feeling very proud of his South African passport, getting stamped with absolutely no bother. I joined the EXTENSIVE line of non South-Africans which felt like a herd of cattle going to slaughter. After 3 hours of watching the most disgusting treatment from human to human I have ever seen, I reached the front only to be told:
‘You aren’t allowed in’
‘I am’ – I’m not sure why on earth I expected that to change their minds.
‘You are a registered undesirable person’
The systems, of course, had not been updated. They asked me to go back to Zimbabwe (this is commonly said in a bid to just lump off troubles to someone else) which I refused and said was not possible. There we stayed until Head Office opened the following day in Pretoria. To try to create a little understanding of where we stayed I would like you to imagine camping in the middle of a motorway, not only of cars but of people.
Beitbridge border is open 24hrs a day, which is made even worse by the fact that all of South Africa’s work force is Zimbabwean and they are desperately trying to go home for Christmas with their families and overloaded cars. The staff at the border were without doubt the rudest people we have met on the whole journey, not only rude but cruel.
“If you want me to show you nasty I’ll show you nasty” Said the Head of Operations as he pushed a lady off the step.
They mocked men, women and children making life as difficult as possible for everyone. They were understaffed, unmotivated yet desperately power hungry. So there we were left camping in the car park, waiting nearly 20 hours in total mulling over all the options of what to do if they just say NO.
At midnight the shift changed and we had a whole new group of unfriendly staff to deal with,
“Go home, we are not a hotel”
You DON’T say!
Finally the morning arrived after what felt like a very long wait, and Head Office picked up their phone. They had made a mistake, I was allowed in. No ‘sorry’ of course, common courtesies are not to be expected. With a sigh of relief we made a quick dash to get out of that awful place as quickly as possible before they changed their mind. They can’t however promise me that the same problem won’t happen again…
We were in, and I definitely needed to fall back in love with South Africa as I was feeling thoroughly unimpressed with what is supposed to be the shining beacon of Africa. This of course happened very quickly, as it tends to around here.
The engine fell off the car for the 3rd time. This is a little bit of an exaggeration, it was only the alternator, but for the non-car people among us it is attached to the engine and ours wasn’t. AGAIN. A wonderful man appeared like an apparition, stuck a wooden brush in to hold it back together and took us to the best garage in Mesina. They told us it was a no go for them i.e. ‘you are too broken’ and sent us to some engineers. And then it happened, for probably the 20th time on the trip. A total stranger invited us into his home to have a bed, shower, enormous supper and plenty of hysterical conversations. It has forever surprised me how hospitable people are and it is something I would really like to reciprocate back at home, no strings attached kindness. Feeling much stronger we went with new energy back to the engineers who stuck us back together, gave us some new pipes and off we went. We decided to just drive all the way to Johannesburg rather than spend another night in our tent which was definitely losing its appeal. ‘NEXT time we will have a proper roof tent!’
Christmas came and went too fast as usual, filled with lots of special family moments and it was a wonderful way to slowly ease us back into ‘normal life’. We also borrowed a computer and watched some of the videos we had taken over the last 4 months which was a real treat. So we did what I feel we might be doing for the rest of our lives, joyfully reliving little snippets of our adventure.
On the 26th we left Johannesburg for the 2 final days of driving to get us to Cape Town. A beautiful and excessively hot day of driving ended with a Mulungu special. A breakdown – luckily in Colesburg, the town we had chosen to stay. Here we found a fantastic mechanic after an online discussion with another of this trip’s revelations: car enthusiasts. Online car forums are a total saviour (when there is internet) no matter what time of day or night there are always people to lend a hand! Our mechanic was a little surprised when we told him that we HAD to be in Cape Town the following day to receive our family off planes from Europe. There was a time limit. Yet it was absolutely not an option to arrive on a recovery vehicle.
The next morning we arrived at the best equipped garage we had seen in a long time and handed over our poor bruised and battered Land Rover. Tristan cooked breakfast in the boot whilst 3 men pulled apart then welded back together the engine. 3 hours later the mechanics were finished and to celebrate our last fire extinguisher exploded in the boot covering everything in a film of sneeze making white dust. We laughed a lot, left the empty extinguisher and drove on all the way to Cape Town.
It has taken 105 days, we have crossed 11 countries and we managed to arrive on the exact day we whipped out of mid air all the way back in July. Just 5 hours late. And that was it. Finished, finito, fini. Miraculously we had all made it in one piece, including the car … well he had a few new pieces but he was whole!
This isn’t our last post so there is no need to get too emotional we do have a few more things including some video footage! So don’t sign out yet. Please stay with us and for anyone who said at the beginning ‘I will just wait to see if they finish the trip before I donate.’ We did finish and so now you can donate!
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