Friday, October 30, 2009

Third time lucky

It took 3 attempts... to enter into Mozambique, Niassa province via the Chiponde (Malawi) - Mandimba (Mozambique) borderpost.

Having driven to Lilongwe I managed to get visa with no other problems than the ATMs going on strike in the morning (it had rained...) and the Consulate not opening at 8 am as scheduled. "The man with the keys" had not arrived and staff + visitors patiently waited. After an hour the lady in charge of visas kindly accepted envelopes with applications, passports, money and so on outside the door.

Next day spent a little time in the Malawi SCC office before heading off towards Lake Malawi and the border to Mozambique. Arrived there around 1 pm. No problem on the Malawi side.

Come to the Moz side and enter a very empty border post. Same guy that had so much fun refusing me 2 days ago. "Welcome, you are back. But today is voting day". Yes, and so what? "No crossing the border on voting day".

I have to admit that it was difficult to maintain calm and not start shouting. I stated (truthfully) that I had checked with the consulate in Lilongwe, that my organisation in Lichinga had checked with Immigration and even this borderpost that the border should be business as usual during election day. "No, not for foreigners, only Mozambiquans".

I asked if he seriously thought that the international airport in Maputo was closed to foreigners on this day, he admitted that it was not very likely. But Mandimba was.

What to do? In the age of cellphones: call the office in Lichinga. A flurry of phonecalls to them, to Immigration, to the head of the borderpost and so on. No, the border was closed to foreigners. A couple hours later we had negotiated a compromise. I would get a TIP for the car (import permit) and could sleep in Mandimba next to the border, come at 6 am and get the entry stamp and then continue. The office was making arrangements for accommodation (dodgy guesthouse style).

So I go to the car and ask the soldier manning the boom to open it. "Where is passport stamp?" I tried to explain. No - no stamp no lifting of boom. The Immigration man tried to explain. To no avail. More phone calls - no the army guys are under the Customs authority and there was noone from Customs around. Now what?

It is quite a walk to the "town" and with a suitcase? Or leave suitcase in car at the border? Colleagues now trying to arrange transport from Mandimba to come pick me up.

I had tried to plead with the newly arrived station manager who was now so "irritated" with me that he considered withdrawing his "kind offer".

I asked if I could try the Malawi side again to see if maybe they would allow me back so I could drive the 50 km back to Mangochi and sleep there? Without being refused the "kind offer" if they refused? "Yes, no problem".

Back at Chiponde I hit luck - manning Immigration was an "old friend" I normally chat with when I cross. He shook his head, crossed out the exit stamp. I got my old TIP back and headed for Mangochi. I was angry enough to drive in that manner you hardly remember how you got from A to B.

Now my favorite hotel/lodge was, of course, full. So was the next. At which time I pictured myself driving around looking for lodging the whole evening. Third time lucky, found lodging at Club Makokola. Nice but overpriced.

Slept like a dead person. Up early and back to border... Border very busy and the little round man I have learnt to really despise had no excuse this time, all he could do was to be as slooooow as possible.

Finally arrived Lichinga 4 days later than scheduled...
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