Sunday, 13 January 2013

Driving Across Borders

The last border that I drove (or more accurately, was driven) across was from the U.S. to Canada. No forms needed to be filled out, no money paid, and no major questions about the content of the camper van that we were in, other than whether we had firewood (not firearms, firewood!). It took all of 2 minutes, well maybe 3 as I did get a stamp in my UK passport.
Crossing borders within Africa is somewhat different. I mostly cross borders in the air, but have done a few by road now. Last Tuesday was the first time that I’d driven myself from Kenya to Tanzania, and to be honest, I was a little anxious about this experience (or what it might be) beforehand. However, armed with instructions of the various offices to go to, plus a copy of my passport photo page, as advised by Nairobi friends who cross the border at Namanga quite frequently, I set off. The road down is beautiful, ie smooth! Amazing to have such a long stretch without needing to swerve repeatedly to avoid potholes. There were a few cows along the way crossing the road, that I needed to slow down for, and a few speed bumps in towns, but other than that, the driving part was smooth sailing. And the scenery stunning. Potholes did however appear once I got to Namanga town. I’d decided to get petrol there, except that there wasn’t any! Thankfully, not too big an issue, though it did turn out that the next petrol station (at least, that I noticed) was about 2 hours away.
First stop was before a barrier which I wasn’t sure if I was free to drive through or not. Here, I was assailed by guys trying to sell me vehicle insurance for Tanzania. I’d actually got this ahead of time, so didn’t need it. The price that they quoted when I asked, was less than I’d got in Nairobi, but then, a) was it a legitimate insurance company; and b) would the price have been the same had I not aready got the insurance…. I left them behind, and went into the first building, where I needed to write the particulars of my vehicle in a book. I’m still not overly sure why, as it turned out that this wasn’t the place to fill in the customs form. That came next. (Turned out on my return, that this was the police post.)
I drove through the barrier into what can only be described as a frontier town. Road lined with trucks, with multiple small businesses alongside it, including of course Customs and Immigration. The first of these was my next port of call. Here, I did get the customs form to fill in, which was then given an authorizing stamp. I was instructed to get a copy of it and of my passport (hence the small businesses along the way!). I enquired at one of the stalls, and was led down a back alley to a little office where an entrepreneur ran some sort of business, but on the side, did photocopies for people using his printer / copier. I’d been warned that I could be charged 100 times the usual rate for this (not exactly much choice, and where I’d usually go was a 2.5 hour drive back up the road!). So, I thought I’d done pretty well when he only charged me 10 times the usual rate!
At the Kenyan immigration hall, there were no Exit Declaration forms to fill out, which apparently didn’t make any difference. I’ve often wondered what happens to all these forms that dutifully get filled out every time I enter, and leave Kenya. Where do they all get filed? And if it doesn’t make any difference not having them, then why……? So, finger prints scanned and exit stamp in my passport, I drove the car onto the next bit, which is the Tanzanian side of things.
First stop was Immigration. They did have forms which needed filling in. Well, rather scrappy bits of paper really, asking for the usual details: Name; Passport number; Date and place of issue; Date and place of birth; Occupation; Address in Tanzania. After about 10 minutes, and $50 paid over for a visa, I was set to go.
Now to import my car into Tanzania. Another form to fill out relating to the car, with pretty much the same details that I’d stated on the Kenyan export form, a copy of which (plus copy of my passport) had to be handed over. (The skeptical side of me thinks that that requirement is just because they’re in cohoots with the guys doing the photocopying!).
And then, after about 40 minutes from start to finish, it was all done.
With my vehicle insurance (which no one had asked to see), export and import forms (stamped of course) in hand, I drove out of ‘No Man’s Land’ into Tanzania. I expected to be stopped at a barrier by someone to ensure that I had all the necessary stamps, visa and papers, but that didn’t happen. How easy would it be to bypass part of the system if you didn’t know what to do?! And what trouble could you get into later on if you did that?
And so, I entered Tanzania in my vehicle, the Kenyan plates clearly declaring to the world that I wasn’t from there, having only encountered helpful officals rather than the officious ones that I’d feared I might.
Looking back at the border area from the Tanzania side

Another vehicle on the road with me - evidently quite full!

Hazards on the road

Most of the jouney was through Maasailand

Coming back to the border on the way home

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