Admittedly, I was both gleeful to have my boy sitting with me, his feet propped up against my thighs with precious familiarity, and I was intimidated as hell (not to mention utterly vulnerable) having this huge male baboon with razor-sharp 2+ inch canines two feet from my face – something I’d never experienced. The more friendly and enthused the chattering from Gabriel, the more his huge and very real canines were openly displayed before me. Yes, he was my son, but he is also a wild animal with instincts, politics, and differences that must always be respected. And I’d been removed from his life for the last 6 years, so making behavioural assumptions wasn’t something I was keen to do.
Tag Archives: South Africa
Six days until India.
I started packing today.
That may seem like I’m getting a head start on things but the truth is I’ve hardly done anything to prepare for this trip. In fact, I’ve already interrupted this process twice now: first to wash my hair (it’s winter and I don’t believe in hair dryers so I have to act when the opportunity and temperature are conducive), and now to settle in and write on the corner of my bed that is not covered in a pile of possible things to take with me on my trip. That’s right. I started packing today. I didn’t get very far.
You’d think I’d have learned my lesson about Preparedness Before Travel after my offhand approach to Kenya didn’t go over so smoothly. See, I assumed that traveling to Kenya would fit the same pattern as all my previous travels and thus I didn’t bother to do ANY research beforehand. (In my defense, however, I was stuck in the bush with a baby to raise).
My flight from South Africa to Nairobi was pleasant. Upon my arrival, I began the usual circuit through the airport beginning with the passport control. When it was my turn to present myself, the migration officer flipped through my passport and promptly asked where my visa was. I told her (with a slightly furrowed brow) that she hadn’t given it to me yet.
“Where is your visa?” She was impatient.
“Umm… you haven’t given it to me yet.” Sometimes repetition does wonders. But, not this time.
All my other travels had been simple: you land, walk up to the counter, they stamp your passport granting you a three-month visa, you get your bags, and you’re good to go. As easy as pie.
“You don’t have a visa?!”
I think we were mutually mystified.
Finally, once it was clear that I truly did not have my visa, she threw up her hands and instructed me to go fill out that form and get in line at that counter.
Turns out you have to get your visa for Kenya IN ADVANCE.
So I filled out the visa application and I went over to that counter. There was no one in line (am I the ONLY one who didn’t know this??) so I walked right up and handed over my application. The man looked it over, found no egregious errors, looked over my passport and requested “50 US dollars”.
“Can I pay with my card?”
“No. Cash only.”
“Can I pay in Rands?” (South African currency).
“No. US dollars.”
“But I don’t have any dollars. I live in South Africa.”
He looked at my passport and waved it at me jeeringly. “You are American. You have dollars.”
“Noooo, I live in South Africa. I have no dollars.”
“No dollars, no visa.”
I convinced him to let me in to the airport to find an ATM so I could get some money out. He initially didn’t want to let me but I guess he eventually realized that my options were limited and thus conceded to let me pass. I found an ATM which I used twice – both times without success. I combed the airport looking for another one and with a big, fruitless search under my belt I was informed that there was only one ATM in the airport.
I went back to it and observed a man successfully withdrawing cash. He said he’d had trouble with it but had success when he tried to take out a smaller amount of money.
I tried my luck again, this time selecting a seemingly modest amount of Kenyan shillings. I actually had no idea what the exchange rate was (or even what the currency was until then); another casualty of my No Preparation campaign. Luck perched on my shoulder at that moment and rewarded me with my requested amount of money. I tried my luck again but was only able to withdraw an even more diminutive amount. Then Luck relieved herself on me and the ATM stopped working altogether. I gathered my shillings, hoping they were equivalent to $50 and returned to that counter.
I asked the man what the equivalent of “50 US dollars” was in shillings as I pulled out my miniature fan of foreign-to-me currency. He immediately and vigorously began shaking his head.
“FIFTY YOU-ESS DOLLARS! Not shillings. D-O-L-L-A-R-S!”
With no alternative, the man finally, graciously accepted all of my Shillings and all of my Rands for entry into his country: an amount well exceeding “50 US dollars”.
WELCOME TO KENYA!
Three weeks later, as I stood in line before the South African passport counter preparing to go through the process in reverse, I was awash with relief knowing how much simpler this was about to be. I was particularly eager to hand over my Three-year Temporary Residency visa. That was a hard-won visa and this was my first opportunity to brandish it.
I proudly handed over my passport to the woman across the counter and before she even opened it up to appreciate my special visa that said I’m-Not-Just-Any-Ol’-Traveler she queried: “Medical card?”
“Medical card. Where is your medical card?”
Caught off-guard I completely missed what I was so sure would be an unmistakable sign of admiration at my three-year visa; a confirmation of my membership in the South African coterie clearly written on her face. But no. I must have missed it.
“Umm… I don’t have it with me.” I did not understand why she was asking me this. I’d never been questioned about a medical card before, and did not understand why it was suddenly important. Didn’t she see my special visa???
“Where is your proof of yellow fever vaccination?”
Ohh. Turns out if you travel from Kenya to South Africa you must have a yellow fever vaccination. News to me.
“I can’t let you into the country without proof of a yellow fever vaccination.” There was no acknowledgement of our bond of sisterhood. Not a trace.
My options were laid out for me:
1) Go back to Kenya
As much as I loved Kenya and wanted to go back, just then was not the time, and it hardly solved my problem of how to get back in to South Africa.
2) Stay in quarantine for 21 days
No, thank you.
3) Pay R400 to get the vaccine at the airport (about $60 at current rates)
Makes you wonder why they even bothered presenting Options 1 and 2. How about you just start with “Go get your shot over there” and if that doesn’t work out, we can discuss other options.
So the moral of this story is that you’d think I’d learn my lesson about not doing any research before traveling to a new country. And I HAVE learned that lesson. I’m just feeling slightly apathetic about APPLYING it. I’m of the mindset that “It’ll all work out”. But that said, I DID find out that I DO need an advance visa for India (which I have) and that no special vaccinations are required.
I’m just having a very difficult time getting my mind back into Travel Mode. I mean, I just got back! I’m in Relax & Enjoy Mode. I am in the habit of thinking very little (if at all) about tomorrow. It has its drawbacks but overall it feels DAMN good. I know I’m still overcompensating for my grueling time in Costa Rica so I’m not really worried about my current aptitude for “not much”. I know this is just a phase. Besides, that is what my trip to India is all about: coming back to center.
Chasing monkeys around Costa Rica was an amazing experience but it was full of struggle and was inherently without balance.
I think the lesson that was mercilessly pounded into my head there was the necessity of having balance in one’s life. Thus, the purpose of my trip to India (and my goal for this year) is to seek balance in all aspects of my life: physical, spiritual, emotional, etc. I’ve swung from one apex to the other and in six days I’ll begin my blessed journey towards the center.