I don’t know where to begin to tell this convoluted story of sheer travel frustration and dismay.
In many ways, the details of this story only compare to the fiasco of attempting to find a place to stay when we ended up in lockdown in India when Covid-19 hit. That resulted in our being trapped in a hotel room in Mumbai in March 2020 for ten long months, indeed a somewhat awful travel memory.
Now, this new harrowing experience is more than a correlation between our determination to continue traveling and our intent to maintain an optimistic attitude during one of the most complex travel situations over the past ten years. But. this current situation could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back had we been considering putting an end to our travels.
After ten years of highly experiential travel, we pride ourselves in being well-prepared and knowledgeable on most potential challenges we may encounter.
So here’s how it all began and ultimately played out starting Thursday. November 24, a mere three days ago.
The drive from Marloth Park to Nelspruit/Mpumalanga/Kruger Airport was relatively smooth and uneventful. We dropped off the rental car and wheeled our two well-stuffed duffle bags into the lovely little airport, checked in with our two duffle bags looking forward to a pleasant, albeit long 19-hour trip, including layovers, until we’d land in Mahe, Seychelles, with a one-night stay at an oceanfront Hilton Hotel.
We didn’t anticipate any problems. Our documents for our arrival in Seychelles and our subsequent return to Marloth Park 12 days later were in order. Or…so we thought…
When booking the Seychelles cruise with Intrepid Travel months ago, we asked countless questions and conducted extensive research on immigration and Covid-19 requirements. Our online research verified that we’d receive a Seychelles visa upon arrival to the country.
Nothing in the comprehensive documents and instructions from Intrepid Travel over the past months stated that any additional documents would be required than the requested copies of passports, vaccine certificates, and my food preferences.
We verified what Intrepid needed via multiple email messages and a chat module on their website.
Once we completed the usual easy flight on Airlink to Johannesburg Tambo Airport, around 7:30 pm,1930 hrs., we checked in at the Ethiopian Air counter. The rep gave us all the boarding passes we needed.
The agent asked to see the border authority’s approval for arrival and departure for Seychelles. We were dumbfounded. We’d never heard of such a form.
The rep firmly stated, “You need to have approval from the Seychelles border authority that you’ve been approved to enter the country.” She gave us a link to begin the application process, which we could do online right then and there. At this point, we had four hours until our flight, and we weren’t concerned. Surely, we’d get the form completed and processed on time for our flight.
At first, we thought it was no big deal. It was just a minor inconvenience. We found a good place to sit and began the process. The WiFi signal at Tambo was very poor. I could get online on my phone with the weak signal but not on either of our laptops. While we started the application, we were approached and asked by other passengers if they’d been informed of this requirement. They, too, had no idea about applying for this border authority permit.
Fast and furiously, we scrambled on our phones with the awful signal trying to get the forms for each of us submitted. The application kept shutting down due to the poor signal, and we didn’t get our forms submitted until about two hours before the flight. We had options to choose from as to how it would cost for various expediency, based on the urgency of the approved documents. We choose the most expensive option for the fastest approval at Euro 78 per person, US $81.23.
We waited and waited. One of the other couples going through the same process got their approval, but the others, including us, did not.
We all asked if we could board the flight to Addis Ababa, the next leg of our flight which was five hours, with a three-hour layover, before our last flight to Seychelles. Nope, this was not allowed. We either got on now with the approval or…this was it…we weren’t going. By the time we were supposed to board, while we were still at the Ethiopian Air counter, we still didn’t have the approval. The Ethiopian Air agent told us we were too late to board and weren’t getting on the flight.
At this point, I should mention there was not another available flight to Seychelles that would allow us to board the ship in time for the sailing.
But, here is the clincher. All this occurred at 10:40 pm, 2240 hrs, November 24, 2022. At this point, we had less than 26 hours to get out of South Africa, or we’d become “undesirables” and couldn’t reenter South Africa for five years.
Instantly we knew we needed to have a Plan B. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll share Plan B and tell you what transpired.