Sunday, April 24, 2011

Worse, Yaounde Had No Chocolate Bunnies

Dear lovely and sheltering hotel: You really don't have to turn on music or TV every time I enter a public room at 6:30 a.m.

Yep, Lady Gaga again. Which means that Serge Gainsbourg can't be far behind.

I was up early to catch the 8:30 bus to Yaounde, where I was going to hang around all week and apply for onward visas.

People who don't travel much might at this point ask me: Why didn't you get your visas before you left home?

I got all I could. West Africa is tricky visa territory. Maybe the trickiest region on earth. Wait. Let me think. hmmmmmmgulfmmmiddleeastmmiranmmmmpakistanmmmcentralasiawithitsinvitesmm...yep. I award the region of West Africa the Marie-prize for trickiest visa spot on the planet.

It's not that you run the risk of rejection (aside from some complicated moments for Ghana and Mauritania this year). It's that 1) almost all the countries charge a fortune to enter, which isn't a big deal until you count the number of countries you cross and 2) each one has its own rules about validity and applying. Some, like Nigeria and Mauritania, want you to have an invitation. Unless you're applying in a neighboring country, in which case they suddenly don't care if you have an invitation. Some visas are good for three months, some for 30 days, some for a year, and a few are good for five years. Some have the requirement that you apply in your home country. Add up the 30-day validity and the home-country requirement and tell me what you'd do.*

I made a chart and mapped out the rules of each country I was crossing (bearing in mind that the rules change depending on your nationality, so I was searching for requirements for US-passport holders), based on the State Department website info cross-referenced with info I got from the embassies or consulates in the US (by web or telephone) and information I read on the HUBB, an overland motorcycling website with a helpful forum. Some info can also be found on the Lonely Planet forum. Use caution with all this—of course it doesn't help to get the info from only one source, and if all the info you find is phrased identically, it just means everyone is sourcing each other and that information is highly suspect. And almost certainly outdated.

The five-year ones I got before leaving home. The 30-day and 3-month ones presented problems. I'd gotten one for Benin that I'd recently realized was going to expire before I got there, due to me staying longer than I'd planned in both Morocco and Mali.

So I'd left home with Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Benin in my passport. I'd picked up Gambia's in Dakar, Ghana's and Nigeria's in Mali, Cameroon's in Nigeria, and Togo lets you buy a visa at the border. I'd slipped through on the expired Benin visa when I entered Benin, but they'd caught me on the way out and I'd had to buy another. Morocco and Senegal had been freebies, and as I progressed, so would be Namibia and South Africa. That left both Gabon (which has extended validity and I should have gotten it in New York but ran out of time), both Congos, and the much-dreaded/near-impossible Angolan visa to fuss around with.

Yaounde, Cameroon was the place for the Congos and Gabon. Angola...let's not even think about it. I have no idea how I'll get that one. You were supposed to get it in Abuja, but that embassy only gave out five-day transit visas, and anyway, Abuja just stopped issuing even these. Most Angolan embassies are known for giving travelers the run-around, and even if you get one, the five-day limit is problematic. As Bill back at Sleeping Camel had put it, "The problem is that Angola is a huge country." Racing across a huge country chasing a five-day deadline is tough enough with your own wheels. But on the bus...?

Yaounde wasn't going to help me with my Angola problem. But I did have to get there for the other three visas I needed. And today was Easter, I realized as I sat at the Mile 4 Motor Park in Cameroon, waiting at 9 for my 8:30 bus to leave.

"We're late today," said the ticket agent sheepishly. "No passengers are here."

Little girls decked out in frilly dresses walked to church along the road, but not many people were heading from Limbe to Yaounde for Easter.

But lots of cargo was. The bus staff carefully puzzled together the cargo under the bus, somehow making it all fit. We did leave eventually, and the bus wasn't empty for long. It filled up at the next stop.

The rain started again as we drove, and as I drifted in-and-out of sleep, it occurred to me that the existence of Easter was something I hadn't really factored into my plans for getting visas in Yaounde. Easter Sunday...that means what?


Ah, hell.

*The answer to this is to either have two passports or apply at every consulate you come across until someone takes pity on you. 

1 comment:

  1. I've just finished getting visas for the five Stans (actually four, because Kyrgystan does not require a visa of Americans) and Azerbaijan. It only took two months for the lot of them, and everything went smoothly.