There's always a recipe for a solution...Cost and convenience are often the vital ingredients...


This fluffy little one captured our hearts.
"Sighting of the Day in the Bush"
Baby zebra sticking close to mom during nighttime activities.
I really don't know where to begin.  It's a convoluted story of inconsistencies, inaccuracies and rampant incompetency in one manner or another.  My intent is not to bash South Africa's governmental procedures. 

Instead, I reach out to you, our valued and loyal worldwide readers to share our story and to alert those of you who may consider a long-term stay in this country.


Don't get me wrong...we're grateful for the exquisite almost 10 months we've spent in the country in this isolated little world of paradise in the bush, Marloth Park.  

It's not like this everywhere in the country, animals roaming free as one might expect countrywide.  There are conservancies, game reserves, national parks and designated wildlife areas for that.  

The dry bush will brighten once the rainy season takes off.
The uniqueness of Marloth Park was the motivator for us to visit and subsequently return this past February.  Our future itinerary has us returning in about two years from now, but only for the allowed 90 days, no more.  We never want to deal with immigration issues again.

I won't reiterate the beginning of the story and the massive pile of documents we prepared to accommodate a request for a visa extension to February 20, 2019, the day we'd been advised to book a flight out of here to Nairobi Kenya for our next adventure.  If you'll click this link here, that portion of the story is told in its entirety.

But, it was the culmination of the complicated process that hovered in our minds as we wondered as to the outcome since September when we first applied, as it turned out, way too early, upon advice from others and ended up starting all over again on October 24th when we returned to Nelspruit the second time to apply.

While there in September, a rep made a handwritten notation on our document copy that we were to return on October 24th (still have this document) giving ample time for the file to be reviewed and meeting our planned departure date of February 20, 2019.
Waterbucks grazing by the river's edge.
Part of the application process required two departing-South Africa-airline tickets for ZAR 15461 (US $1132) for that date which we purchased at the time of making the first application in Septemeber.

Stay with me...we're getting there.  When we returned on October 24th going through all the forms with the reps at the VFS Immigration office, we were told everything was in order.  We were told to start checking online after three weeks passed to see when the response would be ready.

For those of you who read the prior posts, we indicated we'd have to appear once again once the notification indicated we were ready to see the answer in a sealed envelope which we'd open in front of the immigration rep.  

If we didn't like the answer, the only available process was to reapply once again. This was not an option for us.  Our visas had already expired on November 21st.  We weren't in a particularly good position for "negotiating" which in any case, is not a part of the process regardless of circumstances.
A lone giraffe munching on treetops.
Yesterday morning we took off for Nelspruit, typically a 75 to 90 minutes drive where many trucks and vehicles jockey for space on the highway.  We were told to arrive anywhere between 10:00 am and 1500 hours (3:00 pm).  

Once we were "scanned" by the security guard we entered the waiting area where several rows of chairs are lined up.  All the seats were filled and we had to wait, standing, in the back of the section of chairs.  As each person was called, everyone in the chairs moved over to the next available chair, kind of like a musical chairs thing.

Much to our surprise, the line moved more quickly than during our two other visits.  Within 40 minutes, we were standing at the counter awaiting our news.  Tom was handed his sealed envelope first.  Gingerly, he opened the envelope and immediately we were bost aghast.  He was granted an extension but only until February 15th.

We have paid our rent here to February 20th, paid for a rental car to February 20th and paid for the two airline tickets for February 20th.  We tried to explain that it was their manager who'd told us to return on October 24th allowing us ample time for the requested February 20th departure date.
Waterbucks live close to the river, grazing on its green lusher vegetation than in other areas of the bush, where everything is dried up during this year's low-rain period.
We even showed her the handwritten notes she'd made on the document telling us to return on October 24th.  She dismissed this written statement saying what she wrote was irrelevant.  The government's decision is all that matter, regardless of the number of days.

Then the weirdest thing happened.  I opened my envelope and was given until February 21, 2019.  Our files were linked as a married couple.  Why the six-day difference?  All kinds of thoughts ran through our heads.  No matter what we said, the only option they suggested was to start all over.  

There was no way we were going to pay the fees ZAR 3500 (US $256) again and start over the lengthy and painstaking paperwork process, all the while taking the risk that nothing would change.

We walked out the door, neither of us talking and made our way to the parking ramp, thoughts racing through our heads.  On the return drive, we reviewed our options but Tom, bordering on "overly grumpy," was more engrossed in his driving in traffic than a lengthy discussion over our options.
On Sunday night while situated on the veranda, speaking on Skype with my dear friend Karen in Minnesota, a dazzle of zebras appeared.
Instead of pressing him, I wrote the text for yesterday's post on an offline app on my phone, determined to get it uploaded before the power went out due to "load shedding" again at 1500 hours (3:00 om).  

As soon as we returned I immediately got to work on the post, albeit with less than my usual enthusiastic demeanor.  Miss Overly Bubby wasn't in.  I rushed to get it done but the power went out earlier than expected and I wasn't able to upload it until after 1730 hours (5:30 pm).  Sorry for the delay.

At 5:30 we set up the veranda for the evening, made ourselves a "sundowner" and sat down to discuss our options.  They included the following:
  • Reapply and start the entire process all over again with no guarantees.  We tossed this idea out the window.
  • Tom could leave and go to Kenya on 15th while I stayed alone in Marloth Park, using one of the two non-refundable flights from Nelspruit to Nairobi on February 20th (my birthday).  This raised many questions...hotel for Tom, transportation for me to the airport...me being alone for the five nights until February 20th when I could depart...traveling apart...handing luggage...and on an on.  We tossed this idea out the window.
  • The rep told us Tom could go to Mozambique by car and see if he could end up with the extra five days.  This was a very risky idea.  When would he go?  He could easily have ended up with no more than what he has or even less, depending on what transpired at the border.  We tossed this idea out the window.
  • We could try to get some form of credit from the airline to change our travel day to February 15th, change our end-of-rental date to February 15th, change our car rental period to February 15 and clear out of South Africa.  We decided this was our only option, with both of us departing on February 15th, regardless of the cost or inconvenience.
There was a total of nine zebras including the baby.
Immediately, we got to work on Expedia.com on our website to see what we could first accomplish with the tickets.  In all these six years of world travel, we've never canceled or changed a single flight.  Somehow the preplanning has always worked for us.

We knew that flights were non-refundable but never encountered an opportunity or desire to change a flight.  The website offered such an opportunity and for a grand total of ZAR 2156 (US $159) we changed our tickets to February 15th.  We were relieved.

At this point, we'd yet to book hotel accommodations in Kenya which we'll do this month.  Not having done so was one less step to handle.  From here, we'll see about our rent and early return of the rental car, both of which should save us a little more to apply to the added cost of the extra five days in Kenya.

Whew!  What a relief!  Drama averted.  Immigration issues averted and massive lesson learned:  When we return to South Africa in years to come, we'll only stay 90 days.  Period.


Preoccupied with my phone call, I wasn't able to get a photo of all nine at once.
We skated through the first three 90-day periods by leaving the country twice to travel to Zambia to get another 90-day visa each time.  We just weren't able to pull it off the third time.  These two one-week trips cost us upwards of ZAR 111628 (US $8232).  Surely if we'd tried traveling out the country once again, we'd have incurred similar costs with no guaranty on the ability to return.

And so it goes.  We're good again.  Cheerful, but hot in the temps above 40C (104F).  And, we're back in sync with our otherwise pleasing lifestyle and of course with one another.

Today, we'll lay low in the heat and humidity but who knows what tomorrow may bring.

Happy healthy day to all.

_________________________________________

Photo from one year ago today December 4, 2017:

Children playing at the beach with views of colorful fishing vessels in Pisco, Peru.  These boats remind us of the colorful fishing boats in Negara, Bali. (See that link here).  For more details from the one year ago post, please click here.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey you lucky guys! Leaving on Feb 15 i.s.o. Feb 21 is much better than leave SA within 10 days. Some money to change the tickets, possible loss of some money for the rental car and the house, but everything better than leaving this month.
We wish you lots of fun and a very good time in Marloth Park.
We hope to return in 2020.
Regards from Rina & Cees

Jessica said...

Rina and Cees, you are so right. Now that we've figured out a plan we realize it could have been worse if we had to fly to New York for 48 hours and return. That was our backup plan. As it turns out, we're managing to get credited for the five days we won't use here and we are very grateful. What a difference a day make.

Hugs always to you both,
Jess & Tom

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