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What to do if you're pulled over in a foreign country

Nothing ruins a leisurely holiday like an unpleasant run-in with the law. Here's what to do when you get pulled over in a foreign country.

Stamp collecting is no pleasure

2006-07-18 19:07
DAYS 43 to 49: 7 July - 13 July

SENGAL: Dakar - Kaolack - Tambacounda - Kidira MALI: Diboli - Kayes - Diema - Didiena - Kati - Bamako - Bamako - Segoué - San - Djenne - Mopti - Douentza - Timbuktu - Sévaré - Mopti - Dogon Country: Bandiagara - Sanga - Bankass BURKINA FASO: Ouagadougou - Kantchari NIGER: Niamey - Birni Nkonni NIGERIA: Kano - Bauchi - Yankari Game Reserve, Wikki Warm Springs - Maiduguri - Banki CAMEROON: Limani - Mora - Maroua - Garoua - Ngaoundere - Tibati - Banyo - Foumban - Bafoussam - Bamenda - Ring Road: Bafut - Wum - Bamenda - Limbe - Douala - Yaoundé - Mbalmayo - Ambam GABON: Eboro - Bitam - Mitzic - THE EQUATOR - Njole - Bifoun - Kango - Libreville - Lambarene - Mouila - Ndende - Doussala REPUBLIC OF CONGO (BRAZZAVILLE): Ditsandu village - Nyanga - Loubetsi - Kibangou - Pointe-Noire - Nzassi CABINDA: Cacongo - Futila Beach - Futila Beach DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC): Muanda.

Well, they said it would get tougher after Gabon. We've had such a clear run even we were wondering how long our luck would last.

But now we've been besieged by grumpy and greedy border guards across three countries, and wasted more than two whole days waiting to have passports approved.

Entering our eighth country, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) set a new record for border crossings.

The process started in Ndende, Gabon, just after noon on Day 43, and after three entirely separate passport checks over 50 kilometres, we reached the Congo barrier at just after 4pm.

There the Congolese soldiers insisted on a full vehicle search, checking the contents of every bag and box - and there are many. That lasted until 6pm, by which time customs officials had signed off for the day, so we spent the night in a nearby village as guests of the chief, camping very comfortably in his back yard.

Next morning, after one more passport check, we reached the customs office 40km away. There we unpacked the vehicles again, and watched several carved wooden masks and stools, curios we?d bought along the way, disappear into the office.

They?d been confiscated, apparently, because they weren?t listed on the vehicles? carnets. It cost $40 US, four T-shirts and one and a half hours to liberate our purchases. And then the police had to add their stamps to the collection in our passports, which took us to 12:30 ? a full 24 hours and 15 minutes since we?d started the process the day before.

Our route was to Dolisie and ultimately Pointe-Noire on the Congolese coast, but new information said there was a better and shorter route on a logging road through the forest from Kibangou.

With hindsight it seems you take the road about 34km outside Kibangou; the route 8km from Kibangou is endless!

And after eight separate passport checks since entering Congo (some of which take the best part of an hour), we were hopelessly behind schedule. So much of the long logging road through the forest - with red dust as fine as talcum powder getting into everything - was done at night, which is extremely undesirable.

We finally rolled into Pointe-Noire - grubby, dusty and hungry - after 11pm, where we were met by Coen van Wyk of the SA Embassy in Brazzaville, and Johan Coetzer, the honorary consul in Pointe-Noire.

Johan welcomed us into his home where a real feast had been prepared. We were still grubby (and nervous, in such a beautiful home), but were restored. It was a long day though: on the road for a full 15 and a half hours, of which six hours were spent waiting on passport stamps.

We camped on the beach that night at Pointe-Noire?s yacht club, where we met a group of 19 overlanders having even more problems than us: they?d been waiting to cross into Cabinda for two weeks!

Next morning, Day 45, we breezed through the border into Cabinda, a province of Angola even though they don't share a border, with World Cup Final fever running high. Our idyllic overnight stop, Futila Beach Lodge, was closed for renovations, but Carlos, the owner, allowed us to camp at the pool, which is right above the palm-fringed beach.

He even organised a television so we could watch the soccer. We were in time for sundowners on the beach, and just off-shore we could see dozens off oil platforms - Cabinda supplies 80% of Angola?s oil reserves - some of them with huge flames burning. The lodge, when it re-opens in about three months, will be fantastic. It will have 12 en-suite bungalows, all perfectly positioned above the pool, restaurant and bar above the beach.

We'd planned to spend just one night there, but that wasn?t taking the border-guard factor into account.

Next morning, Day 46, we prepared for what we figured might be a tricky crossing into DRC, or Congo Kinshasa as it is often referred to. Our previous border record was set to tumble. After a three-hour wait, the Congo immigration officer was offended by the fact that some in our group had dual citizenship.

We were turned away, the only consolation being another night at Futila Beach!

We were back next morning at 9:30am, and the same miserable officer had a new problem: our visas were unacceptable as they were stamps instead of stickers - even though they?d been issued by the Congolese embassy in Pretoria.

We were told to wait while he conferred with his superiors. It must have been a long conversation, as by three that afternoon we were still sitting about, only by now several of us had had the South African, Angolan and Congolese flags painted on our thumbs and toes with nail polish.

A dollar a nail, very fetching?

It was time to call for back-up, and Geoff got on the phone to Coen van Wyk in Brazzaville. He in turn made some well-placed calls, and suddenly things on the DRC side of the wall started moving quickly.

We were welcomed through, and offered an escort to the next town, Muanda, which we cheerfully accepted. Almost 28 hours after reaching the border, we were finally through.

Revenge came the next morning: we bumped into our miserable officer in town, and he was a transformed man. Overwhelmingly welcoming, and looking decidedly whipped.

Adelle Horler and Geoff Dalglish

Visit the Toyota Timbuktu Table Mountain Web Log for updates and photos at http://blogspace.mweb.co.za, or go to www.mweb.co.za, click on Blogs, and look for Toyota Timbuktu Table Mountain.

With thanks to our sponsors Toyota South Africa, Megaworld, African Outback Products, Pertec, Garmin, MWEB @ Home ? iPass, African Stuff, Toshiba and DataShuttle. Special thanks also to CFAO Toyota dealerships in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso and to Cami Toyota in Cameroon and Toyota Gabon in Libreville for their enthusiastic assistance.

* Catch the television series on this expedition on SABC TV3 on Sundays, starting on September 3 at 5:30 pm.


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