Saturday, September 16, 2006

border hustlin'

“We’re just going to leave you there if you’re not finished.” The clerk said.
“Ok.” I said. I was hedging a bet that we could get our visas at the border before everyone else on the bus was ready to go. I paid the full R240, hoping that this would promise some measure of restraint on the part of the driver. I think that just goaded them to leave me.
It was 10PM when we edged out of Park Station. Johannesburg had a day-after- mandatory-evacuation-order feel to it. Even the fleets of white Volkswagen kombis were tightly packed in defensive formations at lighted gas stations. With the exception of a single derelict wandering down the middle of the street the place was deserted.
We’d be on the road since 5PM the previous day so I slept a little bit. That reminds me. Don’t ever take the bus to Mozambique. Not even if someone tells you that it’ll be comfortable and they’ll show movies. I watched Spy Kids 3-D and Cheaper By The Dozen 2. All told it took 44 hours from Windhoek. You can count on at least a bathroom break every two hours during daylight. After that, the drivers only stop when they need to relieve themselves. InterCape runs a tight ship.
I woke up every time we stopped. I didn’t want to be even second in line in the great scramble across the border. Around 2:30AM we let a father and daughter on a corner in Nelspruit which can boast a nightlife as lively as Jo’burg. I promptly fell asleep for a good spell, maybe an hour. I awoke and was confused. It was weird but it seemed that despite our ironclad schedule we hadn’t moved a bit.
Around 4:00AM the climate changed markedly. You could feel moisture in the air – humidity and clouds appeared all at once. Even though it was still dark you could make out that the veldt was yielding to the tropics.
We started to slow then picked out a spot among the vans, cars, and trucks arrayed into a giant parking lot of slumbering motorists – vehicles strapped down with mattresses, water jugs, furniture, the kind of things you see on cars at very busy border crossings. I had pictured some kind of one or two room building where we’d dash out and get our visas before the rest of the bus had realized what hit them. Not so. What I’d been expecting was more along the lines of the Nam/SA crossing. There you kinda felt guilty for rousing the guards. Here you had hundreds of people contented themselves inside vans that read in neon scrawl “THE BALL IS ROLLING: THE GAME HAS BEGUN!” or “R. Kelly Music” or “The Dog Is On Fire.” People outside were selling eggs. Babies were being changed and were not happy about it. There were settlements on either side of the border. This was the big time.
The line of cars that formed a giant parking lot open until six o’clock. Since people hadn’t started to line up yet (you have to get out of your car and although tropical you’d be better off napping inside your car) I wrangled myself among the first ten or so people processed exiting South Africa. That was the easy part. No one really cares when you’re leaving. Now a little bragging. I was the first person to get a visa that day. This involved a bit of hustling. A 500m dash. I then became confused because there was no one to follow. A few minutes later I found myself across and speaking Spanish to the authorities about my proposed trip to Mozambique. Where am I staying? Umm…Maputo?…muito obrigado.
They even made change in Rand. At the end of the it all I was basking not a little bit, waiting for the slackers who hadn’t bounded across the border at 5:59.


At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh how awesome, dankie, i enjoyed reading all the bits through your eyes


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