Border crossings ALWAYS give me the jitters.
Regardless of how many times I enter a new country, I always take a deep breath, before I speak to the border guard. While waiting in que, I begin to worry irrationally about what could go wrong.
“Did I forget my passport? What if I forget where I am going when they ask? Is there a left-over apple I forgot to eat in my backpack, that would make me a fruit smuggler? What happens if an exotic animal has managed to crawl in my pocket without me knowing and then jumps out and bites the boarder guard?!”
Okay, so maybe the last senario is a bit far fetched… but I have worried about all of the previous circumstances. I always let out a sigh of relief once my passport is stamped and have made it to the other side. In Lesotho I had a particularly interesting and slightly humorous experience.
Entering Lesotho by Car
Because we arrived by car, we had to use a land border crossing. On arrival we parked our car outside and walked up to the porch where a number of the employees were congregating outside. One of the ladies handed each of us a paper form that we were told to fill out and return to her. There was a pile of blue pens sitting on the counter nearby so I reached for one to use, but I was quickly stopped by a second lady who explained it was 5 rand (56¢ CAD) to use a pen. I’m not sure if you got to keep the pen or if it was just a rental fee, but I had an extra pen in the car, so I used that one instead.
Once we had completed our forms, the next step was to proceed to a window where a man was waiting on the other side. The sign above his head read ‘immigration.’One by one, we gave him our passport and form, which he stamped and returned. I, being the sole Canadian, amongst my four South African travel companions, was last in line. When it was my turn, I handed over my Canadian passport. The man looked at my picture, looked up at me and nodded (I guess he was satisfied that I was in fact Shannon). Then he slowly flipped through the pages of, carefully examining my stamps and mumbled something under his breath. I had no clue what he had said.
“Pardon me?” I asked, hoping for clarification. He responded with a mumble, which again, I did not understand.
“What’s that?” I asked again. He mumbled again, this time a bit louder, but I still couldn’t hear him. Determined not to ask him to repeat himself again, I stuck my head right in the window beside his own head and said,
“I’m sorry but I just can’t hear you.”
Finally he looked me right in the eye and said “Visa?”
“Oh,” I said “I don’t have a Visa.” And I thought, Uh oh, what now?
Luckily Tyron’s mom Wendy was standing close by, and heard the whole thing. Luckily she had done her research, so she stepped in and said,
“She doesn’t need a Visa. She is Canadian, not American.” (Since Americans need a travel visa for Lesotho while Canadians do not.)
The man looked at her for a second, considered her, and said “okay.” He stamped my passport, handed it back to me and we drove into Lesotho. I was both shocked and pleased at how easily he accepted her authority. I’m glad she was there because something tells me if she wasn’t I would have ended up buying a Visa whether or not I was required to.
This is not the first time I have heard of someone at a boarder trying to sell a traveller a visa they don’t legally need. Sometimes you can get out of it like I did, but sometimes you may have to just accept that it is a part of travelling and pay the fee.
Lesson #1: Always do your research before you get to a boarder to find out what documents are needed, and what you can and cannot bring into a country (eg. alcohol, fruit, meat).
Exiting Lesotho By Car
After three lovely nights in Lesotho, it was time to head back to South Africa. We returned to the same border crossing, this time crossing on the opposite side of the building. First we had to speak with a lady who had a big note pad who asked for our vehicle registration. Tyron’s dad began to spell out the letters to her using the Phonetic Alphabet.
“Delta, Charlie, Golf..” he began. The lady stopped writing, looked up at him with a puzzled look on her face and said
“Whaaaaaat?” with a puzzled look on her face. “Ching, chang, chong?” she said trying to repeat what she thought she had heard.
Obviously she was unfamiliar with the phonetic alphabet, and likely had never heard of it before. We had a few giggles about this later in the car. Communication failures due to differences in culture or language, can often lead to humorous scenarios.
Lesson #2: Don’t assume anything.