The flight from Livingstone was delayed. We later discovered it was due to a mechanical issue before it took off for Zambia. As we sat in the cafe at the airport, we were only concerned about the delay in the event we wouldn’t get to Nelspruit in time to hit the road, the dangerous N4, before dark.
It’s never wise to travel on this two-lane highway at night due to heavy truck traffic and carjacking risks. If our flight didn’t arrive at the Nelspruit/Mpumalanga/Kruger Airport by 5:30 pm, 1730 hrs, we’d have no choice but to book a hotel room for the night. Sunset was at 6:05 pm, 1805 hrs, and with the usual 90 minutes required to make the drive to Marloth Park, at no point during such a drive would being on the road in the dark be worth the risk.
Finally, after an hour-long wait, the plane arrived and prepped for our flight. By 2:30 pm, 1430 hrs, we were on the runway with only six passengers, including the two of us. It took off with the lowest number of passengers we’d experienced on this particular small jet with Airlink.
The flight was smooth and uneventful, and we arrived in Nelspruit by 4:00 pm, 1600 hrs. All we had to do at that point was get through immigration without a hitch, collect our two duffle bags, pick up the rental car and hopefully be on our way. We approached the immigration desk with passports, documents, PCR tests, and proof of rental in hand, hearts pounding, hoping for the best.
The immigration officer was immediately well aware we’d done a “visa run” often frowned upon. With the thought that we’ve been classified as “undesirables” twice in these past nine years of travel, we were prepared for the worst. The first time was in Australia in 2017 when we made the mistake of “assuming” going on a cruise out of Sydney, visiting other countries, with the cruise ending in Sydney, only to discover we’d “overstayed.”
After days of stress, documents and worry, we finally were able to work it out with the Australian immigration department to stay until our next cruise a month later that had us officially leaving Australia.
The next time we were “undesirable” was after we had no choice but to overstay after I’d had open-heart surgery in February 2019. We were banned from South Africa for five years, requiring us to hire a lawyer to lift the ban, successful many months later.
Had we not had these two scary experiences, yesterday we may not have been so apprehensive when we tried to re-enter South Africa. After all, we’ve been here since January 2021 and hoped to stay until January 23, 2022. When the immigration officer carefully examined our passports, checked our records on his computer, he asked one question:
“When are you returning to the US?”
Without hesitation, Tom held up a copy of our return ticket to Tampa, Florida, USA, dated January 23, 2022. He read it carefully, pulled out his stamp, and proceeded to stamp each of our passports, writing that date as our final day without saying another word.
With only six passengers on the plane, the bags came up quickly. We struggled to keep from cheering instead of walking away briskly to collect our bags which were already waiting for us on the carousel in the next room. Tom grabbed a trolley, the bags, and we were on our way to the rental car area. By 5:00 pm, 1700 hrs, we were on the road.
How did we get away with staying in South Africa for so long after receiving our original 90 days upon entry?
- President Ramaphosa issued a visa waiver for those who’d arrived around the time we had – 90 days.
- We went to the US for a month and received another new visa – 90 days
- Yesterday’s new visa was issued for traveling to Zambia, luckily accepted – 90 days
Until darkness fell, Tom drove fast and aggressively, never forsaking the law or safety with only a short time. We pulled into the Gate 2 entrance to Marloth Park 70 minutes after we left the airport. Safari luck? Perhaps. In any case, we are grateful.
Once back at the house, which smelled clean after the spring cleaning Zef and Vusi did in our absence, we quickly unpacked, plugged in our equipment, freshened up a bit, and made our way to Jabula, where Dawn and Leon greeted us with the warmest of hugs. It was great to see them again, and we all sat at the bar, listening to great music while Dawn ran back and forth serving customers. We didn’t head out the door until 9:30, 2230 hrs.
A good night’s sleep was had by both of us. I awoke at 5:00 am, chomping at the bit to get outside to welcome our furry friends back into our lives. But, I stayed in bed to avoid awakening Tom. Throughout the day, they’ve returned, one after another making us laugh over their apparent enthusiasm at seeing us back here. We’ve yet to see Frank and Little but give it a few more hours, and I imagine we’ll see them too.
We couldn’t be happier to be back among our human and animal friends. Life is good.
Have a spectacular day!
Photo from one year ago today, October 27, 2020: