Friday, January 1, 2016

Of buses, borders and African pedantry!

So - a Happy New Year to one and all!

And a resolution to try and post a blog at least once a week. I figure I have the time, and certainly the material. We'll see how we go.

I am going to start catch-up from the present working backwards, and this means our recent trip to South Africa to spend time with family. We had booked to fly down. This was going to be the first time on an airplane for Courtney, and we would be there in a matter of an hour or two. Unfortunately, the day before we were due to fly, the airline - advised us they were not flying, and we had to make alternate arrangements.

Thanks, guys.

This meant catching a bus from Harare to Johannesburg - a trip of 24 hours each way on a bus - inclusive of 6 hours at the border. We went down by Greyhound, and back by InterCape.

 On the way down, we reached the border at around 06.00am - and spent 6 hours at the Beithbridge border post on the South African side. This meant that we were queuing in the mid-day sun to get into the Customs Office, and the only shade was that thrown by our double-decker bus. My family, troopers to the end, found something to smile about as they crouched on the pavement in temps of around 42C as they waited for something to happen:

On the way down, the bus was cramped and quite uncomfortable, which meant we basically fell into bed when we reached our family's Johannesburg home around midnight (after having made our way to the airport to collect a hire car which was waiting for us to come off a flight), some 33 hours after leaving home.The second bus was a lot more luxurious, and the family were delighted with the extra space for our knees, and the reclining seats. Here are 3 happy faces:

Of course, on such a long journey, the only options were to read, watch the scenery, or sleep. And if you have a friend to cuddle, well that makes it a choice of one:-

Then . . . . .  on the way home, we hit the Zimbabwe border post, where we spent another happy 6 and a half hours.

Part of the delay there was due to the fact that that process was three-fold - first join the queue to get into the Immigration building to have our passports stamped: we must have been at position 130 when we joined. Then secondly we had to join the line waiting to have our Customs Declaration form signed - there we joined at position 250, and by the time we reached the front, there were at least 500 people behind us. Then thirdly . . . . . the buses all lined up in a queue of their own, and came forward one by one for 'inspection'. This meant offloading the luggage trailers, and everyone had to stand by their own luggage, which was then opened by the tax Inspector - one at a time! There were roughly 30 buses each carrying 80 passengers - and one, yes ONE, Tax Inspector.

You can see him in the yellow safety vest shuffling through his papers, and this is just one bus being 'inspected'.

By the time we had been at the border for 6 hours, someone decided that enough was enough, and allowed our 'luxury' bus to continue on its journey - without the dreaded baggage inspection. That was a true blessing, and we were saved the ignominy of having our clothes and Christmas presents pawed through in search of contraband. We were truly fortunate to have only to have spent 6 hours there, and the sun was brightening the horizon as we pulled out of the border post.

It could have, believe or not, been an awful lot worse!

So now I can recount a moment of sheer African pedantry:- we had been in the queue about 2 and a half hours to have our 'customs forms' stamped - joining at around 11.00pm, and reaching the fellow sitting at a desk with a rubber stamp at around 01.30am. We had filled out our forms while standing in the queue, (resulting in some rather strange signatures) and when we reached the front, the Customs Officer refused to accept them because . . . . . . the date on them was wrong! We had joined the line on the 30th of December - which was when we filled out our forms, and we reached the front on the 31st December, so he wouldn't accept them until we had corrected them. Bear in mind I had moved about 200 places in the line, and at that stage there were around 500 people behind me waiting to get their own little blue pieces of paper signed, but the whole process ground to a halt because the dates were wrong. Ha ha ha - don't you just love Africa?

Me, being Mr Grumpy, changed the date with a black pen and an even blacker scowl:

All in all, we spent 6 hours at Beitbridge, obtained 1 stamp in our passport, and one on signature on a blue piece of paper. And nothing else. No-one inspected our luggage, collected our signed blue forms, or showed any interest in us whatsoever. For 6 and a half hours we either stood in the queues, or waited on the bus for it to move.

6 and a half hours.

For no apparent reason other than that the 'system' required it of us.

Anyways, I hope your New Year will be more productive, fruitful and enjoyable that my time at the border, and I wish you all the very, very best for 2016.


1 comment:

  1. We have missed you - welcome back! Have been forced to follow other Rhodesian blogs plus one from a slightly less corrupt Mozambique.