After going partially insane waiting on motorcycle parts that never arrived in Windhoek thanks to the absolutely incompetent inbreds at Kawasaki Namibia and thus left me forced to hot-wire the cooling fan to the ignition, and going completely insane in Tsumeb waiting on some metalwork for the bike and to recover from a bizarre stomach pain that kept me bowled over for three days but finally just stopped, I took off for the Namibia/Angola border.

Having had a connection that helped me secure the visa for Angola (many overland travellers never get it and are forced to airlift bikes over the country), I was confident passage through would be a smooth process.

Boy was I wrong.

It was  chaos at the border with thousands of Angolans who had come over to the Namibian side to buy things like irons, clothes, food, you name it from the hundreds of makeshift squatter stalls and decrepit buildings that were constantly being replenished by massive delivery trucks.

All these shoppers were pushing and shoving to get back over the border, flinging their passports and customs declarations at the surprisingly calm customs officers. 

As I pulled up into the middle of this, a group of about 10 guys, who obviously are not the type of people you want to befriend, took notice and came over.  I grabbed my tank bag, but left my locked side bags (soft bags not metal panniers) and my locked duffel bag on the bike. I had parked about 3 feet from the entrance to the first building to get my exit stamp, and as I walked inside a big woman walking with a cane burst out of the office yelling at me "they will steal your bags!  they will steal your bags!" and as I turned around she made a limping beeline to my bike and an onlooker who I realized was fiddling with my side bag.

The poor guy never saw it coming.

As she wobbled closer to the would-be thief, she picked up her cane mid-stride and launched a Mickey Mantle-style swing at his arms which landed with a meaty "thwack" and he yelped like a chiahuahua.  

My savior turned out to be the head of the immigration police for that region for Namibia, and helped me find some military police that would look after my bike while I processed the paperwork – if you ever cross that border, find her and thank her again for me.

After I re-queued into the immigration horde, the immigration officers told me that without a letter of invitation and $6000 USD cash on my person to prove financial independence (i.e. not wanting to immigrate to Angola), the Angolan side, only 50 meters away, would not let me in.

I had already secured the elusive visa, and was not about to let anyone get in my way.  Laughing, I said "just go ahead and stamp me out, and if you’re right and I’m back here in an hour, drinks are on me."  With visions of a lifetime supply of free orange Fanta as I fruitlessly tried to cross day after day, the Namibian side happy-stamped me out.

As I moved my bike into the barbed wire holding area for vehicles, which was only slightly less crazy than the passenger walkway (and of course the supposedly locked gate between them was being freely opened as people streamed in an out), I was spotted by an Angolan immigration officer.

"Hey you!  Let me see your passport!  Come here now!"

After being shocked by the fact that I actually had a visa, had secured a Carnet Du Passage (a bond document secured by a bank that promises I won’t import a vehicle into a country but only pass through), and was American and actually wanted to visit Angola, he marched me to the front of the line and did all the paperwork himself.

With the help of a friendly Namibian businessman who told me that in 20 years of crossing this border regularly it still stressed him out, I found some semi-honest money changers, swapped out some Namibian dollars, and now had enough Angolan Kwanzaa to make it to my next stop.

Not bad for an hour’s work.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mike Pugh // Aug 23, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Perfect! Consider this border crossing as a metaphor for the rest of your journey – a dose of both the dangers and, ultimately, the overriding goodness of people you’ll meet.


  • 2 Jon Wolfson // Aug 23, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Seems like having a reasonably healthy presence and good documentation, gets things to happen FOR (rather than TO) you.

    Safe journey, dude.


  • 3 Mom // Aug 23, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Hi Matt,
    Barb Fox is sitting here, down from Victoria, BC, and Betsy Hoogenboom from Scottsdale, and we are all looking at your website. We are all united in our love of travel, and also in wonderment of your handling of a variety of challenging situations.
    Please tell us what happened with the bike over the last few days and where you are.


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