I am starting a new series of blogs called “The Challenge of the Week.” Back in the early days of the expedition, I tried to spend a good 20% of the time trying to present the real side of this expedition that most people do not know. After a couple of weeks of presenting these problems to people, I started to get numerous emails from the viewers telling me that I need to lighten up and that I am taking everything too seriously. That was back in New Zealand and since the audience comes first these blogs went away.
Now that we have been on the road for over a year and are in Africa, I think it is time to resurrect these blogs. Why? Over and over we hear things like, “That is the sweetest job on the planet.” or “How do you get a job like that?” I will not deny that no place or job exists that I would rather find myself in right now; however, this romantic notion of driving around the world is far from what is conjured up in most peoples heads. In an average week much more of our time is spent doing things like fixing holes in tires, changing oil, getting visas, and researching than it is spent seeing the sights, drinking beers, or taking strolls on the beach.
Now once a week or so we are going to try to keep you updated on the latest challenges we encounter. Not only will it give a more accurate representation of what we go through each week, but hopefully it will give you a window into what the lives are like for the the locals and the problems that they deal with.
This week the challenge has been visas. The visa of note most recently is for Nigeria. While in the USA, all embassies seem to be required to post up to date information and at least maintain a basic website, abroad it is a whole different ball game. In Bamako, Mali our plans originally set us to get Niger visas. We knew that in Niger we could get our Nigerian visas, but when we were in the Niger consulate I decided to ask, “Is there a Nigerian Embassy in Bamako?”
Bouey replied, “No, I already checked.”
So I insisted, “Let’s ask the nice lady here, maybe it was not listed.”
There was a secret little unlisted Nigerian embassy in Bamako after all. We use a few different methods to plan out the web of visas that we must get to keep the trucks moving. The two most used are the Lonely Planet guidebook and a website called http://embassyinformation.com/. Most of the time these are accurate, but when you are in a city that has less than 30% of its streets paved, it is safe to guess that these modern methods may fall short.
So once you find out that there is an embassy, then you must find out where this embassy is. Is there a directory for Bamako? Ha. You are lucky to find a street sign, let alone a book listing the locations of everything in town. I managed to get the phone number for the embassy and gave them a call in hopes to get directions, but the connection was so bad I could not hear anything the man on the other side of the line was saying. All I could make out was…”find a taxi and ask them.”
Out on the street there are always a plethora of taxis waiting to get your business. We had to ask about 4 taxis before one admitted to not knowing where the embassy was, but would be willing to drive around and ask people until he could find it. This gentleman was a true asset to Bouey and I on this day of visa fun, and after a while I think he started to feel like part of the team as he got an idea of what we were dealing with. He drove the streets of Bamako asking person after person for the location, all of them pointing in some different direction. After about 45 min, we managed to find the long dirt road to nowhere that was marked as the way to the goal. For most of us when we think of embassies, pictures of fortified buildings with armed guards come to mind. Nigeria does thing a little bit differently.
Half a mile down the road leading to the embassy there is a little maze of small streets that leads you to entrance, the whole time doubting that this could possibly be the right place. Even the cab driver was still asking for directions when we were only 50 feet away from it. Then I hear Bouey yell out, “There it is!”
My little American eyes are not trained for this, but see for yourself if you would notice this embassy…
We made our way inside and the man at the “gate” immediately said, “You must be the guy I talked to on the phone earlier.” Clearly this embassy is not often very busy. We were told to sit down in the front room just behind the white door you see above. Two mangled chairs with a half broken blades exposed fan set the mood for the waiting room, along with broken window on the wooden door. We were told to sit down and wait. A nice young lady came out from around the corner about 10 minutes later with forms and instructions. To keep things simple we needed the following items within the next two hours:
1. Our passports
2. Photocopy of our passport
3. 2 passport sized photos
4. Photocopy of our Mali visa
5. Photocopy of the title of the car
6. Photocopy of the Carnet documents, front and back
7. One four page visa form for each of the four of us.
8. 55,000 Francs per visa
After a little pleading, our situation was left to this…If we could simply get all of these materials by the time they close this afternoon, we could get the visas at 3 pm tomorrow. Not before 3 not after 3, if we were late we would not get the visas until Monday. So now the clock begins, we must come up with all 8 items within about 1.5 hours, the temperature outside is a comfortable 106 degrees, our taxi has no AC with black interior, and our ATM cards only work in one of the banks in the whole city.
First, we went to get the money. This one worked out easy, there happened to be a branch of the right bank randomly around the corner. Next comes all the photocopies. In Africa photocopies are a big deal and there are little shops all over…easy. Ha, Ha. The power for our entire section of the city was out. Our cab driver drove us all over in the hopes that one place would have power. Finally we gave up and decided that all the power was out on that side of the river. The only place for copies was 5 km across the river and into the center of the city.
We raced over the bridge and made the copies, at the same time filling out the visa forms. Where have you traveled in the last 6 months? Where are you going after Nigeria? How much money do you make? What is your profession? It is just Bouey and I, so we are trying to fill out 4 of these forms while bouncing around on the dirt streets. My handwriting looks like a 4 year old with the turbulence. Then we get the my favorite question of the day. Have you ever forged or fraudulently filled out papers to get a visa in a foreign country? Um…not in the last week other than on the form I am filling out right now for Brook and forging his signature.
Our friendly cab driver for the afternoon. He helped me communicate what we needed to the copy people.
Just in time we raced back to the embassy, dropped off all of the papers and documents, and were informed again that if we were not at the embassy at 3pm sharp tomorrow, we would not get our visas until after the weekend. It turned out to be a pretty interesting afternoon, but certainly not a relaxing walk around the local park. Each day we deal with something like this, sometimes fun, sometimes ultimately frustrating. This day worked out at the end, but countless days are just as full of action and end with disappointment. There is not anything much more draining than running around like this all day only to accomplish nothing. Each day that we deal with the embassies or getting the cars fixed we realize just how difficult it is, not only for us but for the locals. Just another day in the life on The World by Road. Oh and one more thing, most of this day was conversed in languages we do not understand.
Our trusty ride for the day.
Exhausting at 106 degrees.