Black Market

Chipata Border Post, Malawi.

Officer: “You came from Cape Town to Malawi on a motorbike?”

Me: “Yes Sir.”

O: “Ugh. You need to be strong”

M: “Hmm not sure.”

O: “Are you not afraid of the wild animals on the road?”

M: “Ehm. Sometimes. In Botswana especially, I’ve seen elephants crossing the road in front of me. But if you don’t drive too fast, it is usually ok.”

O: “Woh. Ok. And nothing else has happened yet?”

M: “Not really, no. One of my cables snapped once in Namibia, but luckily I had a spare one with me to fix it”.

O: “Ok. Be safe! — And you want to apply for a tourist visa for Malawi?”

M: “Yes please, how many days can I apply for?”

O: “30 days, and after 30 days you can extend it for 5000 Kwacha (8$)”.

M: “Ok, good to know”,

O: “Then it’s 75$ for now, please.”

M: “75 $? For a tourist visa? That is expensive! It is usually 50$! — I only have 50$ on me, and Zambian money, do you accept that or is there an ATM here?”

O: “Uhm sorry. No, there is no ATM here. And we don’t accept Zambian money.”

M: “What really? Why? Every border usually accepts money from their neighbour country! How can we solve this then?”

O: “Well, you can exchange your Zambian money for dollars outside.”

M: “Outside? What do you mean? Is there an exchange office?”

O: “No, I mean outside, the black market.”

M: “What? Are you serious? — You want me to exchange my money for dollars outside on the black market? — I am not going to do that. I don’t know who to trust here!”

O: “Ok I understand. How much Zambian Kwachas do you have?”

M: “More or less 30$”

O: “Ok, give it to me, and wait here”

I knew that in the previous town where I came from, Chipata, that there was no money exchange office. Back to the capital Lusaka (600km’s) was no option. So I didn’t have much choice than to give my last bit to the government officer. I waited for him, and luckily after 15 minutes he came back with 30 ‘real’ dollars…

I just realized that an official border government officer just exchanged money for me on the black market.

Welcome to Malawi.


English Hair

Chipata, Zambia

“How much is a haircut here?”

“4000 Kwacha (0.70$) for English hair.”

“Ok, what is English hair?”

“Like you, and this (he points to a poster of Manchester United).”

“Ah ok. I have English hair, I understand.”

“So, which number?”

“On the sides number 1, and on top half gone, please. ”

“So number 2 or 3, top?”

“No, half please. — You see, now is 100% (I point to my hear), and I want to keep 50%. You understand? 50%, like half.”

“Ahh, yes. So not 60%, not 70%, but 50%.”

“Yes, you understand! So 50% gone, thanks!”

Confident I take a seat in the barbershop. I know from previous experiences with barbershops in Africa, that they don’t use scissors and just use the shaving machine. This is because the Africans have thick, tough hair, and not ‘English Hair’, like I apparently have. So, the barber started with the sides. Ok, not bad. — He continues with the top. Man! He clearly didn’t understand 50%… Almost everything on top is gone. I am wondering which number he used. In the end, it is not too bad, and quite nice actually in the heat. However, I know my girlfriend doesn’t really appreciated no hair on my head. Luckily, she is coming to visit me in a couple weeks, and not today..


Bad Idea

Windhoek, Namibia

“No..! You just started your trip to Cairo?! Really? I had the same in Egypt! Two south African guys just finished from Cape to Cairo, while I was about to start..! ”

“Really? Crazy! — But wait. You did it on a 30km per hour ‘moped’?!”

“Haha yes!”

“No! What were you thinking man?!”

“Well.. You see all these guys doing it on motorbikes or in their big 4 by 4’s. — So then I thought, fack it, I’m going to do it on my moped..”

“Haha Ok. And so far? Good decision?”

“Ehm. Haha. Sometimes I think it is a good idea, sometimes I think it is a bad idea.”

“Haha I see! Impressive! How long did it take you so far?”

“Hmm about 4 and a half months. — I can do max 200 km a day.”

“Pff still. Impressive man! And the moped lasted all the dirt roads, potholes and stuff?”

“Yes, surprisingly. But the chain is really, really thin now. About to collapse. I’ll see tomorrow if they can fix it here so I can hopefully continue on to Cape Town.”

“Haha you’re crazy! — But tell me! You must have many tips about the north for me!”

“Of course! I did the same in Egypt, when I met the South Africans. Ask me what you want and write it down!”

“I will, but first, let me get you a beer”

“Nah. Not sure. I had a couple already, and have to wake up early.”

“You sure?”

“Ok. Fack it, small one then. — Realize! When you travelling, never refuse anything! You never know when you’ll get your next meal, bottle of water or beer..”

“Haha true!”

After a long chat with this crazy guy, most of my worries I still had vanished. If someone made it all the way from Switzerland to Namibia, on a cheap 30km per hour Moped, then I would definitely be fine with my big bike!

Later, I saw a picture of him on facebook that he just finished his tour in Cape Town..!

What a guy!

The next day, I did the same

 Keetmanshoop, Namibia

“So you drove all the way from South Africa on a 125 cc, in the raining season through Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia?”

“Yes. The rain was actually not too bad. But man, my tent. Every time I packed, my wet tent was wet, and it couldn’t dry during the day. Terrible. ”

“Oef, sounds bad. — And you did not think about driving the other way and pass Cape Town and skip the raining season?”

“No, I did not plan anything, actually.”

“What? How did you came on the idea then?”

“Well, I met a South African guy and he just finished this route on a 125cc. The next day, I decided to buy a 125cc and do the same.”

“Really? Nice haha! You are the first guy I know who decide to drive to Africa on a motorbike ‘unplanned’, haha. In a way that’s the way to do it! I like it! — And how did you parents react when you told them your plan? Mine were not to happy..”

“Actually, my dad is just laughing at me. That I am driving here, in Africa, in the raining season, going max. 90k’s per hour. — My mom seems fine.”

“Ah better. You should have seen my parents when they visited me. — But how did you get registered and stuff? It took me more then a month to get registered.”

“Huh? They allowed you to get registered and buy a bike? Really?”

“Yes? Of course. If not, I would have never started my trip in Cape Town.”

“No? Really? I can’t believe that. I wanted that! They told me that I couldn’t buy a bike because I am not South African. — So I asked the South African guy to buy the bike for me. But now I have to go back, all the way to fackin Durban to sell the bike again. And I am not even sure if I get a new tourist visa.”

“Shit man, really? I heard they might give you seven days at the border. But I am not sure if you’ll make it back from the Namibian border to Durban in seven days.. And sell the bike as well.”

“I know, let’s see.. Fackin government.”

This guy bought his motorbike the same time as myself in December. Only in Durban, they told him he wasn’t allowed to buy a bike. While in Cape Town, for me, it was no problem. Guess I was lucky or he just unlucky. Anyway, this is just another example I’ve heard so far of the failing South African government.



German Namibia

Noordoewer Border Post, Namibia

“Good morning Miss, do I have to fill in this form?”

“Yes, please.”

“Ok. — Here you go”

“I can not read this. Use my pen to fill it in. Again.”

“I am sorry.”

A Namibian Male Officer next to her starts talking.

“Did you fill this form in with a pencil?”

“I am sorry ‘sir’, it wasn’t my intention.”

“How many official forms have you filled out with a pencil?”

“I am sorry. Again. I didn’t know, and look, my pencil looks like a pen!”

“Doesn’t matter. That is disrespectful! All you had to do is ask her for a pen!

“Sir, I am sorry!”

With an uncomfortable and angry look the male officer shakes his head and sends me back to the lady officer.

“I see your travelling with your own transport. Then you need a transit visa.

“I guess so.”

“This is for three days.”

“But Miss, please, that is too short. Namibia is huge, and I planned to go on to Botswana afterwards. I can never make that in three days.”

“Ok, when do you think you will leave Namibia?”

“I don’t know yet, Miss, maybe in 2 or 3 weeks?”

“I’ll give you 10 days.”

“Ok, thank you.”

I realized, in Namibia, German norms and values count. They are very strict. I accidently filled in my visa form with a pencil, of course, stupid. And I won’t do it again, but I didn’t expect this to result in a short transit visa. After the conversation with the mad male officer, I couldn’t be bothered to discuss the amount of days of my visa anymore. But next time I’ll make sure I will always apply for a tourist visa, and ask for the maximum amount of days.

After South Africa, I don’t want to find myself banned out of Namibia as well…





800 applications in one year

 Orange River Lodge, Border Namibia

“Just you? You are alone?”

“Also with my bike!”

“ Haha I see, ok, for camping?”

“Yes, please”

“That is 80 rand (4$) per night”

After I put my tent up I went to the bar for a beer and a chat with the manager who let me in, John.

“What a view, the river. Amazing”

“It’s nice, yeah”

“So how long have you worked here?”

“Not that long, since November I’ve been managing this place. — A permanent holiday retirement.”

“I see, you’re lucky!”

“Well, now, yes, but it was not so easy to get this job.. — Last year, I applied 800 times for jobs all over South Africa. I worked first in the mining business, but with the crisis, the whole company had to shut down. I hassled a bit here and there, but basically I was unemployed for three years.”

“800 times. Woh. That’s a lot. I am happy to hear you didn’t give up. — After all those years.. And look where you are now!”

“True, a ticket to heaven. When I heard I landed this job, my family and I moved straight away to this place. — And. I hope to leave when I am ‘done’…”

I am always very pleased to meet people like John. I currently travel during the low season and therefore many places are not that crowded. After a long, lonely day on the road, it is great to have a chat and a beer with someone like John. John clearly went through a tough time, but most importantly, he didn’t give up. His perseverance gave him this opportunity and now, he and his family can hopefully live like this forever..!