Thursday, 31 January 2013

Mission Visa - Ending Phase

Swaziland countryside
Thursday, the third day on the road, and the second out of Mozambique, I woke up a little dispirited in my hotel room. The whole day I thought it was Wednesday, so I didn't think about telling Véronique I was having troubles to get back into Mozambique. I wasn't hungry so I dressed and left for the bus station without breakfast. I found a bus for Mbabane quickly, and we drove off quickly as well. The ride cost me R 15 and about 30 minutes in time. I jumped out of the bus a little before the city center after having asked where the Mozambican embassy was. It actually was located on a hill in the outskirts of the city to where I walked back. I was there quite early, and a few other persons as well. We all waited until the embassy opened at 9:00. When it finally did open, the official quickly took care of me, but said he was sorry he couldn't help me out that day because they were waiting for visa stickers from Maputo. I should come back on Monday. I later learned that Sunday the 3rd was to be a holiday in Mozambique and that the embassy would most likely be closed the next Monday, like the one in Nelspruit.

Mozambique 4:1 Marcel

I decided to walk to town to check on the best route for Nelspruit, as it was my last option left. On getting to town, I found a shopping mall, in which I bought a pair of jeans and a new shirt as well as a toothbrush and a charger for my old Nokia mobile phone. I went to Maputo with enough material to spend a few nights over. But left some things like the toothbrush and phone charger in the capital city. After that I got hungry so I decided to take it easy. I wouldn't make it in time to Nelspruit to get a visa on the same day anyway. Might as well have a good breakfast before heading out. In the Riverside Cafe in the mall I ordered a Riverside Special which consisted of two fried eggs, two bacon rashes, a sausage, two slices of toast, a slice of tomato and rooibos tea. I very seldom eat a breakfast like this, and it was a welcome change and good for the moral as well.

Swaziland countryside
I then left Mbabane in a big bus which traveled up into the Swaziland hills. I took a few pictures with my HTC mobile phone while we were driving towards Pigg's Peak. Again, it looked a lot like Switzerland with the winding roads and the mountainous scenery. Pigg's Peak is a little mountain town from where I took my next taxi to Matsamo, another border post to South Africa. I changed bus at the border, and then again in Malelane. That was again quite a bit of traveling for the day. The good thing was that there always was someone asking me where I wanted to go in order to offer me advice for the next step.

Arriving in Nelspruit I found the police station hardest to miss, so I went in and asked about accommodation in town. They only knew about the closest hotel which was a block away and was quite expensive. The basic room price is about R 1'000 but I finally got one for R 650, which was still out of budget for me. I was happy to find out by the hotel staff, that the Mozambican embassy was really close.

Swaziland countryside
I slept quite badly and not very long. After quite a few beers on the previous night I had dropped dead around 9:00. Thus I woke up around 4:00, tried to sleep some more and finally turned on the TV and watched the only movie currently playing.

Around 8:00 I left the hotel for the embassy where I filled out another visa application form and paid R 600 for the visa. That was a really good start for the day. Usually when they accept the payment it means you will get the visa. The official told me to come back at 2:00 to fetch my passport.

After some more shopping, I walked the street where the bar where I drank beers the previous night is. The guys from last night hailed me so I went up and had yet another few beers with them. They actually gave me some Hunter's Dry ciders. At 1:30 I left for the embassy where I finally got this long awaited visa. At 2:00 I already sat in a taxi leaving for Malelane. From there I chose to go to Jeppe's Reef border post (Matsamo) to Swaziland. I was afraid some people at the Ressano Garcia wouldn't be too happy to let me into Mozambique despite of my new visa, so I played the safe card. From Jeppe's Reef I drove to Buhleni and then onwards to Manzini.

Swaziland countryside
Sicelo from two days ago booked me into the Park Hotel. My little trip freaked out the credit card agency, so I decided it was best if I called them once I arrived in Manzini. I did just that, and afterwards I ran into Sicelo coming out of the hotel looking for me. We went to the Yuli Bar & Restaurant where I spent my first evening in Manzini. Pxila was there as well having a red wine. He wasn't expecting me, as he only got the message I sent him in the afternoon several hours later.

I invited Sicelo for a drink, and then for supper. We both chose to have the T-Bone steak with chips and salad. It took them more than an hour to prepare it, and once we got it the meat was overcooked. As I was starving, I just ate. Sicelo then told me he was going to work by car the next day and offered me an early ride to the border, which I promptly accepted. I wanted to go as far towards Tofo as possible the next day, so we agreed on meeting at 5 minutes to 6:00 the next morning. There was no point in leaving earlier though, because the border post only opens at 7:00, and it wouldn't take us much more than an hour to get there.

The next morning, Sicelo got there a bit later than what he said, but then we drove quickly towards the border. Driving through the Hlane Royal National Park we spotted quite a few imphalas and a giraffe. At the end of the day I only had a very vague souvenir of this though. This day would prove to be very tiresome. We finally got to the border post of Lomahasha after Sicelo had been stopped by the police and fined R 40 for not wearing a seatbelt. I gave him R 100 for the fuel, which was probably overpaid, but he could no doubt use it well.

Time to get nervous again. Passport with visa in hand, I walked into the Swaziland border post and got stamped out of the country once more. That was the easy part. Then I walked across the border towards the tricky part. I couldn't buy any present in the duty free shop as it would only open at 9:00. It has always been a mission for me to get the right visa for Mozambique, even in Geneva and later in Inhambane, where they found out a number had been scratched out and corrected in my visa I got in Geneva. I was quite nervous and only after a little while did I realize I would still have to fill out one of the border entry forms as the other people did.

Swaziland countryside
My passport then went into the hands of the first official, who looked at my handwritten visa from Nelspruit suspiciously and handed it over to the second official. It was hard to breathe evenly and not to get a nervous breakdown then and there. After what seemed an awfully long moment, the lady official finally started filling out the “official use” part of the form. She did it in a deliberately slow way as if she wasn't yet completely sure she should actually let me in. She then, so slowly again, took the stamp, put the stamp in the ink, and finally stamped my passport. I could barely believe it. I was in Mozambique again!

My new visa
Next thing I know I walk through the gate with a valid visa and a passport in my hands towards “home”. At the border I and 20 other persons were herded onto the back of a bakkie which was going to bring us to the next bus station for mts 10. In the next bus I was squeezed in between the door and a lady that wasn't skinny. When we passed the Matola crossing, I called Luis so he could fetch me at the international bus stop and bring me to Edna's place. Once there I got my stuff together and packed it inside my bag. I didn't realize at that time that not everything was there. I missed some shorts, a t-shirt and a towel, which the maids, instead of putting everything together, put somewhere else where I didn't see it. Luis drove me to the bus station where I caught a bus to Inhambane. Bartolomeu started a conversation with me, so I sat down next to him and we shared some bottles of cheap white wine during the trip. Although the actual trip hadn't really started yet. It would only start about 3 hours later when we would finally leave the station at a really slow pace due to the heavy traffic load. Bartolomeu told me he wanted to be an artist, but couldn't finish the school due to lack of fundings. Instead he joined the army and later the police to finally end up in the special forces. His parents live in Inhambane where he went for a few days.

After a horrendously long trip – excluding the waiting time – of about 9 hours, we arrived in Inhambane around 10:30-11:00. A taxi was waiting for eventual customers that would get off the bus. He wouldn't budge on the fare of mts 800 for the ride to Tofo. So close to “home” I didn't want to spend the night in town.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Mission Visa - Phase Three

I stamped in into South Africa which was quite easy as I remembered from two years ago. The only funny thing, is that at every border crossing, the officials always ask what my car registration number was. Why would a white guy come here without a car. Once on the other side I found an ATM at the petrol station to which I walked from the border post. There was a small supermarket as well (and plenty of other stores) from which I promptly bought a few things. After 5 months spent in Mozambique, it felt absolutely wonderful to be in a proper supermarket with “modern” products. The only supermarket in Inhambane is a chinese held store which has a lot of cheap chinese crap.

International bus station in Maputo
I then went looking out for a ride to Swaziland. My plan was to get straight in again through the Swazi border. Still being at the petrol station, they told me to jump into one of the taxis that went back to the border and then to catch a ride to Naas. That itself cost me R 10. The next ride to Naas, which was much longer cost me R 19. So far I enjoyed the sightseeing part of the trip, as I had plenty to see while driving through the countryside. At least I was moving. Having left most of my belongings in Tofo, I was very keen to get back in as soon as possible. Véronique and Aline were due to arrive on Sunday as well, and I really wanted to meet the girls there. They would be here for 8 days of diving, so that would be over quickly once they got here.

From Naas I went to Mananga (called Lebombo on the Swaziland side), one of the several borders between South Africa and Swaziland. Entering Swaziland is quite easy and costless. You just have to fill out an entry form and then you get a stamp. They don't even state for how long you are allowed to stay. Discussing the matter with an ex state prosecutor, I learned it was allowed to stay indefinitely as long as you don't work. When crossing the actual gate, I handed over my gate slip and asked for directions on what bus I should next take to go to the Mozambican border. Not knowing, they advised me to go and check it out with the waiting taxi-busses. The drivers told me I would have to go to Simunye, and from there catch another ride to Lomahasha. When I asked again once sitting in the bus, the guy next to me, Armando, told me he was Mozambican and that he was on his way there as well. He had to cross the border there to exit South Africa so as to be allowed in again in Ressano Garcia next time. He's got no working visa for SA. This taxi drove criss-cross through the countryside and stopped at every sugar-field corner. It was very slow going. When we got to Mapife (close to Simunye), we got out and went to look for the bus to Lomahashe, the Swaziland border post to Mozambique. A small delivery truck was stopping there briefly, and Armando didn't miss the chance to ask him for a ride to the border post. So we jumped onto tires sitting on paint buckets. The truck was hooded so it was difficult to watch out from under it, but I caught glimpses of the beautiful scenery unfolding, which is not unlike Switzerland. This trip was getting most interesting and exciting. Arriving in the settlement of Lomahasha we jumped off and each gave the driver R 10 for the trip. We walked towards the border and I started getting nervous again. Would they let me in or not ?

Yuli Restaurant & Bar in Manzini, Swaziland
Getting out of Swaziland was not a problem. A simple stamp and a walk through the no man's land between the border posts. In Lomahasha you even buy some duty free alcohol if you have an exit stamp from Swaziland. Armando bought one of the guys exchanging money some duty free beers which they can't buy themselves. We walked on towards the Mozambican side.

Seeing that my last visa had expired two months previously, and that the exit stamp was dated of the current day, they didn't like that I tried to get in again. They told me I had to go get a visa from either embassy in Mbabane, Swaziland or Nelspruit, South Africa. We tried to convince them to make me a new visa, but nothing would do. We then walked out of the border post, walked around the building, and up to the gate where we tried to bribe my way into the country without a stamp. That was actually exactly what I didn't want to do, but somewhere in my mind, I just wanted to go back to Mozambique. But I was glad it failed, because being illegal in the country once, was more than enough. I didn't fully realize what I was trying to do at that moment, but when I did, it was over anyway. Unfortunately, they revoked Armando's entry, so that we both had to go back to Swaziland. He spoke to some guys who, he said, would be trying to slip us into the country. Once I established that they wanted to get me in without a visa again, I refused. I told Armando he'd probably get in without me, so we split. He accompanied me to the next departing taxi, and then left. I didn't take his number and he never called or sent any message. So I never knew if he managed to get in.

Swaziland countryside
In this bus I met Sicelo who works in Lomahasha and lives in Manzini. He offered to help me settle in for the night and gave me directions for the bus station for the next morning. We talked all the way to Manzini with another guy who's a nurse in Lomahasha. He studied in Finland and knows quite a bit about Switzerland. A Finnish friend of his worked several years in Geneva, and had passed over a lot of information, which he remembers quite well.

After leaving the hilly parts we drove through sugar-fields again. We arrived in Manzini in the early evening. The town is about a hundred kilometers away from Lomahasha. Sicelo led me to the Park Hotel where I checked in and went to my room. I called Gizela to tell her I wouldn't be back at Edna's place tonight and that I was fine. After a good shower to wash off the sweat I felt much better. I never planned to visit Swaziland, and much less to spend the night there, but it felt good to travel and visit unknown places again. Five months in Tofo without much moving around (except between Tofo, Inhambane and Maxixe) had made me lazy. That day inspired me to go out and travel the world again. Being on the road with a goal set, is one of the best ways of traveling. I have difficulty to just roam around with no goal whatsoever. I wish the goal was more pleasant than trying to get back into Mozambique. I wouldn't even try so hard if I hadn't left all my stuff in Tofo, thinking I would be back after 2 or 3 days at the most.

After my shower and the call to Gizela I went out to Yuli Bar & Restaurant which is located across the street from the hotel. I was having a beer or two and three samosas there when I met Pxila Zlamini, a former state prosecutor in Swaziland. We exchanged some views and ideas and he told me a few stories of criminals in Swaziland. He told me to call him the next day if it didn't work out with my visa, as he could maybe pull some strings and help me out.
After that I went back to the hotel and tried to sleep.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Mission Visa - Phase Two

So I almost had my passport back. The missing part was a visa. I bought a mts 700 ticket at Fatima's for the bus to Maputo, which would be leaving the next morning at 4:00. At 3:30 I was up and running and waiting for the bus at Fatima's. It got there about 45 minutes later. The drive to Maputo was uneventful but long and slow. It's not a particular Fatima's bus like I thought it would be. It's an express bus from Inhambane to Maputo, meaning it wouldn't stop as much as a small chapa. At first there were only two mulungu (white) girls. But then it gradually filled up with local people whenever we stopped to pick some up on the way out of here. We drove past Inharrime which I remember from our trip to Muguambe with Black Jack and Martin. At some point I bought a refreshment, which should have cost mts 25, with the smallest bill I had – a mts 100 note. Another lady bought one with a mts 50 banknote. The kid who sold the drinks ran off to some other people to get some change, but while he was busy getting change, the bus drove off. That was some quite expensive drinks.

Floods in Xai-Xai
When we passed Xai-Xai a few hours later, we could see the damage the floods had made. Some houses were still in water and a vast expanse of water covered what looked like fields. The Limpopo river was much wider than it should be. We also saw the part where the road had been washed away. They had put on some temporary bridges for the cars to pass through while they worked on repairs on the side of the road.

After about 8 hours in the bus, we finally arrived in Maputo where a “free” taxi ride was awaiting us to take us to Fatima's Nest in the city. From there I called Gizela so she could call her sister Edna  and so she could give the taxi driver instructions as to where to go next. She had offered me to stay at her sister's place. I had met Edna when she came to Tofo with her daughter Alessandra during Christmas. There one of the maids was already waiting to take me up to the apartment. Edna was working and little Alessandra was alone with her two maids.

Calling anyone was getting difficult, because since arriving in Maputo my HTC constantly lost its network connection. But at 2:30 I finally managed to call Theresa, my contact at the Swiss Embassy in Maputo. As she would only be there until 3:00, I told her I would come and get my passport the next morning. Later Amos from the border called me and we agreed I would call him when I got to the border the next day.

The next day around 7:30 I finally had my passports in my own hands again. It was more than two months since I had last seen it, the visa ran out two months earlier, and nothing had been done with it.
I met Amos at the border gate. I got his contact by way of Samantha and her Swiss German boyfriend from Tofo. The two usually go through him to get new visas at the border. Amos told me two months is quite a long period to be overdue, and that it might cost me about mts 90'000 (about USD 3'000). But he was willing to take my passport to the officials and negotiate an outgoing stamp for about mts 10'000. He told me that having done extensions in the immigration office in Maxixe wouldn't help in getting a new visa from the border. But that was the least of my concerns, being without a visa for two months. When he came back with my stamped out passport he advised me to go through another border (Swaziland) which would probably be less strict. He told me the officials didn't want to see me come in through here again. He then drove me past the Mozambican border post and left me to walk to the South African side. On the way out some officer asked to see my passport which I presented to him with apprehension. I showed him the stamp, but as there was no recent visa, he said I couldn't leave the country like this. He made me understand I had to bribe my way out, so I gave up € 50.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Mission Visa - Phase One

By that time I had finally finished my dive master course and had planned to go down to Maputo to announce that my passport was lost or stolen. Lack of luck or good luck, the road in Xai-Xai had been washed away by the floods, meaning there was no land transport to Maputo for a while. Flying without passport was out of the question. Instead I called the embassy on Monday morning. The call brought me one step closer to depression. They told me they could issue a new passport, which would take two weeks to get here, but that the visa would be handled by the local authorities. I told her about Abdul and the whole situation I was in (being two months late as well). She said they would be calling Abdul, which they did, and gave him until noon to hand them my passport over. Otherwise, I would have to sort out my visa problems myself and would probably have to pay a substantive fine of mts 1'500 per overdue day (about CHF 30.-). This would get expensive if I had to pay the whole amount for two months overdue.

The road from Inhambane towards Tofo
I finally got a call from Abdul saying he was now at the border taking care of my passport, implicitly saying he didn't do anything until now. On the 21st of January I had promised Abdul mts 2'000 if he gave me my passport back on the same day. He was now reminding me of that promise a week later. He called again later saying he dropped the passport at the embassy and told me he was going to ask Thomas, a friend of his, to collect the promised money. He was very quick in saying all this.
Obviously I called the embassy before promising anything more. It turned out there was no new visa in the passport. It would have astonished me, Maputo being at least an hours driving away from the border and he couldn't have gone there, done the job and been back in less than two hours in which we had the different phone calls.

When Thomas sent me a message, I just replied to him that Abdul fucked up and that I had nothing for him. He answered me with an « OK cool ».

Mission Visa - Introduction

When I got here I met this guy called Abdul. He's a friendly type and seemd to be involved in quite a few local projects. His neat rasta haircut is well kept and he looks very decent in all aspects. Some time later I learned that he helps people out with their visa situation.

The visa system for tourists is so that you can get a single entry 30 days visa which you then can extend, or a 90 days multiple entry visa. Arriving here, I had to replace my 90 days multiple entry visa made in Geneva by a new single entry visa because they said it had been falsified (someone had really scratched a number and I suspect it's the Mozambican embassy in Geneva in trying to correct their mistake). With the multiple entry visa you can only stay 30 days at a time in the country, and then you have to leave and get back in again. With the single entry visa, you can go to the immigration office to extend it. But this only works twice. After that you have to go out of the country. If you use this method you will have more difficulty in getting a new visa at the border, and may have to go to a Mozambican embassy in one of the neighbouring countries.

This explained, I can now tell you the story of how i lost and recovered my passport and got a new visa. Yes, you now know the story ends well before reading it. But hey, it's the mission that counts, not the end result.

So Abdul said he would help me out and make me some kind of a consultant visa for the diving which would be valid for 3 months. When he failed to return my passport after a week, he said he needed mts 800 more. I already had given him mts 8'000 for the deal. I told him I would pay him more when I get my passport back. Day after day and then week after week he would say I would get it back soon, and not to worry. He said he'd never disappointed a customer. He was always promising something and he could never be persuaded to hand over the passport. He invented many excuses including having trouble finding a border where they make handwritten visas (without picture). I started having serious doubts about the whole thing. He eventually told me he had stamped my passport out to South Africa, so I shouldn't be worried of being late for getting out of Mozambique. He would stamp the passport back in shortly. We saw Christmas and new year pass without any indication of the whereabouts of my passport.

In January I heard Abdul had been caught stealing mobile phones and cameras from customers of the place where he was staying in Tofo. As he couldn't stay any longer in Tofo, he moved to Maputo, which didn't make it easier to convince him to hand over my passport. I had let the thing go way too far out of hand. That was my biggest mistake after having given my passport and money to a complete stranger (how dumb can one be when one wants to believe in something).

I began to become more insistent by calling him every day once or twice. Everytime he told me I would get it the next day. At some point it was supposedly already at the airport in Inhambane, but then it never reached Tofo. He did this for about two more weeks. Then he said he'd hand it over to a DJ working for Dino's who would then bring it to me. After asking twice, he finally gave me the guy's number so I could arrange a pickup with him. I called him, but as his english is very bad and my portuguese non-existent, we didn't understand each other. So I asked Gizela to call him. The first time she called him he confirmed he was going to get passports from Abdul, and the second time he said Abdul hadn't given him any passport.