I am in Africa. After almost three weeks it’s still hard to believe that I am really here, on the continent which I consider to be the most important and challenging part of my journey.
Honestly, there were moments when I was seriously thinking of skipping this continent and moving on straight to Europe. Upon my approaching to Africa, many of my friends started to get nervous and very unsupportive of my idea to continue my trip in Africa. By that time I already learned from my own experience that the devil is not as black as he is painted, and some countries are not as dangerous as they are considered to be if you follow simple rules of common sense. But this is Africa, this is a different story…
Moreover, feedbacks of people who actually visited Africa were so different and even opposite to one another, ranging from absolute delight to obvious and genuine horror, that I was really confused and didn’t understand whom to believe.
There arose another problem, unexpected and unforeseen, which made me even wonder whether it was a sign from above not to go. My African route had to start with the Republic of South Africa (RSA). I knew that I would need visa for this country but I was not much worried about that. So far the following mechanism worked: before entering a country requiring visa I applied for a visa in the corresponding embassy in a neighboring country, and after several days I had my visa stamped in the passport. My plan was to follow the same procedure in Brazil from where I was going to move to South Africa.
Right upon arrival in Brazil I found out where the consulate of South Africa is located. Perfect, in Sao Paolo, it’s exactly on my way, I was planning to stop by in this city in any case and resolve several issues, including my visa. I decided to ask my friend from Rio de Janeiro to call to the consulate and check in advance which documents are needed in order to prepare well.
And what a great surprise and disappointment were awaiting for me when I received reply from the consulate saying that I shall not be bothered about applying for a visa at all. The consulate accepts documents only from residents of Brazil. And I can get visa to South Africa from the embassy in Ukraine. It was like a thunderstorm from the clear sky. I could not expect such a turn of events. But there should be a solution! By that time I already made good contacts with the guys from Touratech Brazil and I shared with them the news. We agreed on that we need to try to set up a personal meeting with the consul and explain him my situation. But second call brought even bigger disappointment. The consulate said that they already heard about me and my story but personal meeting with a consul would not change anything. Rules are rules.
Oh well, which options did I have? The very first and obvious one was to return to Ukraine. The option very expensive, and I could not afford it. Also I could start my journey in Africa not from the Republic of South Africa but from Namibia, for example, which did not require visas from Ukrainians. Not very desired option. I preferred to start my African trip from South Africa in order to prepare my motorcycle well at KTM dealership and to prepare well myself. I had more contacts in South Africa than in any other African country. I decided to check if I could get visa to South Africa in other countries, let’s say, Argentina or USA. It was much easier for me to return to any of these countries. But the reply was the same, unfortunately, no.
By that time I already had no doubts that I wanted to go to Africa. Just now circumstances above my control intruded. Or actually I had to try hard and make sure that nothing could be done to change them.
By the time I reached Sao Paolo I already got some useful contacts in the Embassies of Ukraine both in Brazil and South Africa, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. They truly say that a friend in court is better than a penny in your purse. Thanks to these good friends of mine I got those contacts. Faint hope for my problem to be resolved returned back to me..
When I arrived in Sao Paolo, the first thing I did was to visit the consulate of Ukraine and meet the Ukrainian consul Mr. Valeriy Hryhorash. He sympathized me with my problem but could not promise or guarantee anything..
The next day there was appointed my presentation in a new Touratech store, and Mr. Valeriy also was there. Before the beginning he gave me a folded piece of paper and asked me to open it and read it to the audience. I was intrigued and could not wait to read the content.
When I was opening the letter, my hands were shaking, my voice shivering. It was a letter from the consulate of South Africa in Sao Paolo. It was saying that according to the rules of the consulate, only residents of Brazil have the right to apply for a visa to South Africa. But due to special circumstances, the consulate took a decision to make an exception for me, and I can apply here, in Sao Paolo. It’s been the most incredible and unexpected surprise since recently. All people in the audience were loudly applauding. I could not believe my eyes, I could not believe my luck.
When after several days I came to the SA consulate, I was welcomed with words: “Good morning, Anna! You’re already famous here : ) You should be thankful to your friends!” Of course, I am! This miracle became possible thanks to joint efforts of my friends and people willing to help. I am lacking the words to express all my gratitude and admiration.
After one week I had a visa to South Africa in my passport, and now it was certain – I am going to Africa! And I start my African journey with the Republic of South Africa!
last two days in Sao Paolo it was heavily raining, first time since I arrived in the city. Some of my friends explained that in this way Sao Paolo was crying for my departure. People in Ukraine believe that rain before starting a journey or any new adventure is a good sign and blessing. I truly believed that this rain was an indication that Africa would accept me and would be kind to me.
I had a night flight from Sao Paolo to Johannesburg by South African Airways. Very comfortable direct flight, only eight hours and you are on another continent. When the airplane was landing, I literally glued to a window in order not to miss any first images, any first impressions.
When the airplane landed and passengers were getting ready to exit, an announcement by a flight attendant made me a bit nervous. She asked passengers to prepare their passports. The fact that I got my visa to South Africa with so many efforts engendered fear inside of me that something might go wrong and I would not be let into the country. Right at the exit from the airplane there were standing ten people checking passports and asking questions. “Traveling all over Africa” was my reply to such question addressed to me. The guy looked at me with suspicion but gave me back my passport with no other words and let me go.
Passport control was of even bigger agitation. There were many checkpoints , and lines of people to each of them were not long but I had enough time for millions of thoughts and fears to rush through my mind, along with alternative actions in case anything might really go wrong. These thoughts were partially grounded by a remark of a clerk from the SA consulate when he was handing me back my passport with visa. He said that he hoped there would not be any problem with my yellow fever vaccination certificate. Yellow fever vaccination and the proof of it is obligatory to apply for the visa and to enter the country. I had this sorted, I made vaccination in New York more than a year ago, and it is valid for ten years. At the airport of Sao Paolo they checked my certificate before giving me my boarding pass.
And now it was my turn for passport control. A man behind the window struck me with a question with no emotion on his face: “Why are you here today?” I tried to come back to my senses fast and not to show being surprised by the question. He listened to me attentively, with the same lack of emotions, put a stamp in my passport and gave it back to me. Now I can sigh with relief, I am allowed to enter the country, and now I have full right to announce that I am in Africa!
The only thing left to do was to receive my luggage. And at this moment there happened something weird I cannot explain to myself even now. I quickly found information about the carousel where the luggage from my flight would be delivered, and went there. There was one single bag riding around the carousel. I was not much worried about this fact. The airplane just landed recently, all the procedures were passed quite fast, so the luggage might not be unloaded yet. I waited for several minutes and suddenly I realized that it was not strange that there was not luggage at the carousel, it was strange that there were no people waiting for their luggage. It means that either the luggage and the passengers are at some other carousel, or all passengers already got their suitcases and left.
I approached a group of ladies looking like the airport employees, and they directed me towards the South African Airways desk. I asked a beautiful black lady sitting at the desk where I could find my luggage. She started to check something at the computer, took my ticket, and finally asked my local address where they could deliver the luggage when they find it. Oh no! My African journey starts in a great way – with loss of my luggage! I said that I do not know the address because my friends will pick me up from the airport. Then she suggested to drop in to the office of lost luggage right at the airport exit. “Or you can attentively look around, maybe you will notice it somewhere”. I was walking towards the exit with hard feelings. I noticed local time at the watch – almost 3 pm. The airplane landed without any delay, at 1 pm. Talking to people at the airplane exit and passport control took maximum 30 minutes. Where another one hour and a half were gone, I had no idea. It seemed like they just somehow disappeared from my life. Anyway, let’s assign it to being still sleepy and somewhere between the dreams and reality. I was distracted from these thoughts by the look of my two KTM bags which a lady worker was pushing somewhere on a cart. I quickly ran to her, told her that they are mine and grabbed them from the cart. With huge relief and smile on my face I headed towards the exit.
Among many people waiting for their guests I almost immediately recognized Treffon Smith from Adventure Riders SA group who we kept in touch for a while with and who promised to pick me up from the airport. Warm welcome, South African flag with the words Welcome to South Africa, Anna! on it, finally I start realizing that I am here and a new chapter in the story of my trip just started.