Friday, May 7, 2010

Beitbridge Border Crossings...

We've now been through the South African/Zimbabwean border at Beitbridge a grand total of 5 times. Two of those times could be considered nightmares, one a headache and the others a breeze. I seriously hope I don't have to experience it a fifth time because 5 times is more than enough for any person.

Border Crossing #1
Last year when we crossed through to Zimbabwe for the first time, we were driving Jason's bosses old land cruiser (the beast as some of you may know her) and it hadn't been home in at least 7 years so we had to pay a hefty duty to get her across the border. This delayed the process but not actually anything to stress about - the money spent was going to be reimbursed so we really didn't have to worry. There is a Holiday Inn just across the Zim side so we were able to sleep for the night and save navigating the crazy bad roads until the day light hours.

Border Crossing #2
When we had to jump the border (before we realized that going to Immigration to extend our visa is actually super easy) in order to sort our visa situation out, we thought we had everything covered. We had the beast re-registered in Harare, the insurance was sorted, nothing to worry about…oh if only that were the case. Little did we know that you had to have a Police Clearance to get the vehicle out of Zimbabwe. And that is exactly what we didn't have. Everything was going smoothly and we even dared to smile at each other thinking we were golden but then we got stopped at the vehicle check point where we were supposed to present the police clearance. The "police" (quotes used because no one was in uniform and I'm not sure they had any authority what so ever) said that we had to go back to Harare to get the clearance. We couldn't do it in Beitbridge town. We'd already been stamped out and our visa was expired so that wasn't an option. The other option was to leave the beast and walk across the border. Hell no, that wasn't an option either because we hadn't packed light since we were driving - there was no way I was going to walk across with all the bags we had! It was a horrible feeling of being completely and utterly stuck with no viable options being presented. We already knew that if we paid them a bribe it would fix the situation easily but that wasn't an option in our minds. There was no way we were going to give in to that horrible system. I stayed out of it because I wasn't in the mood to deal with these particular people because all they saw when they looked at us were huge dollar signs and had no sympathy for our situation. Jason tried sweet talking with no luck. Finally after 3 hours of waiting and hoping, it was clear what we needed to do to resolve the problem. And sad to say, we paid our first (and only) bribe. It's a horrible and dirty feeling when you are completely at the mercy of people who don't actually see you as a fellow human being that is in a bind, but instead only see a person that because of their skin color must have lots of money.

Despite finally getting out of that situation, we still had to face the South African border and by this time, all the daily busses had come through and now were cuing at SA immigration. The line was easily 500 people deep and stretching across the bridge when we finally drove up. Yet another horrible feeling, realizing that we still had to drive an hour, it's already 5:30pm and we clearly aren't getting out of this line any time soon. I'm in a terrible mood at this point and while Jason goes to stand in the line, I fiddle about in the car and notice that there is another line that people are just flying through. When I asked a police officer what that was all about, he said it was the SA residents line - but if you had a work permit you could use that line as well. I didn't have a work permit but Jason did, so we switched, he took my passport and went through that line while I waited in the cue just in case that didn't work. When Jason got to the desk, they stamped him no problem and despite the woman behind the desk being in a wicked mood, she also stamped my passport as well. I never stepped foot inside the building! There was a bit of mercy to this day and we managed to get out of the horde of people in less than an hour and on the road to the B&B. Probably the most disastrous Beitbridge Border crossing to date.

Border Crossing #3
Coming back across the border after our few days in Louis Trichardt was actually very easy. Nothing to stress about and there weren't long lines. A sigh of relief after the horrible debacle just a few days before.

Border Crossing #4
This time we were prepared. We were heading back to South Africa so Jason could work for a few weeks in Cape Town and we could finally pick up all of our stuff from the various locations and bring it all back to Zim. We were actually driving a new Landrover (newer than the beast but still quite old) but we made sure to have all the paperwork sorted and the police clearance as well as a letter from the org saying we had permission to drive it, just in case. We made it to the border mid dayish and despite some cues, going through the Zim side and the SA side was really easy. We even managed to make it all the way down to Pretoria from Harare in one day. 15 hours in the car but we managed not to get too bored with each other.

Border Crossing #5
After driving all over the country (literally from Pretoria to Cape Town to Durban back to Pretoria then the border), picking up a TON of weight (a trailer almost the size of the vehicle that we were taking back to Zim filled with work stuff, not to mention our stuff that filled the back of the Landrover) we made it back to Beitbridge for what we have deemed as our last crossing. We arrived on a Monday evening, thinking we could make it across and driver another hour to a nice B&B down the road. Completely forgot that Tuesday was going to be a holiday in SA so every single Zimbabwean was taking the opportunity to go home for 24 hour period and were already cued up at the border. The lines were ridiculous, worse than I could have ever imagined. I stayed in the truck and creeped up the line of cars while Jason braved the line of people weaving out of the building down the sidewalk. He managed to jump the cue with some assistance and by the time I made it to the front of the line of cars, he was mostly done. However, I found out I was in the wrong line of cars - I was surrounded by tons of small cars and to the left was the line of trucks with trailers. Oops. I played sweet and apologized since I really had no idea which way I was supposed to go anyway. The gentlemen were nice but I had to wait a bit before driving through to the inspection area. Once there, we realized there were still a few lines we had to go through in order to process the paperwork for the TV were bringing back for some friends. That tacked on another hour and some irritation but finally all papers were signed and we were on our way to cross the border. Right as we were about to cross through the final gate, we were stopped by officers in plain clothes. I doubted their officialness, demanded their identification and then was quieted down by Jason who was able to smooth over the situation. The thought of unloading the entire truck/trailer just made me want to cry but he was able to get out of it, especially once the "officers" realized we weren't going to give them any money. Thank God for Jason's patience when mine runs out. We're a good team like that.

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