Holiday horror stories – (Not) Welcome to the UK

Holiday horror stories – (Not) Welcome to the UK

Lake Windemere Lake District

This experience changed me forever. I have heard horror stories regarding customs and immigration officials before, but you know how it is when someone tells a story. It’s not happening to you and so you laugh, or sympathise, or whatever is appropriate, and move on to the next subject.

The background to this story is that my now husband, at this time he was my civil partner, does contract work in the oil industry. He holds a British passport and his family live in the UK, but he grew up in South Africa and we have a home together in Cape Town.

Banksy’s wall art in London

I travel back and forth so we can spend time together. As a South African passport holder, back then, we were commonwealth members and eligible to come to the UK for a maximum period of 6 months without a visa.

My partner had been working hard in Scotland and had planned for me to join him in the UK. From there we were heading off to Croatia for a few weeks holiday before he went back to work, and shortly after, I would return to South Africa.

Temple Wood stone circle

I duly arrived at Heathrow Airport and we spent a night or two in London with his aunt. Next we flew from Gatwick Airport to Dubrovnik where we had a wonderful holiday. On our return my partner went through immigration via the ‘UK Passport Holders’ section and I went where ‘All Other Passport Holders’ go.

St Pancras Station where the Eurostar departs

As I handed my passport to the woman helping me she asked why I had come to the UK only to leave a few days later. I explained. This wasn’t good enough for her. The questioning went on and on and the more I tried to explain the less this woman would hear me. I asked her what the problem

was. What had I done wrong? Then she became downright rude. She said that I couldn’t come and go as I pleased and she knew “my sort”. She threatened to deport me. To say I was shocked and upset would be a complete understatement.

I’m sorry to say that the situation actually got even worse. I explained to her that my partner would be worrying about where I was. She then told me that . . . . if my partner wanted me to be with him  . . . . .  he would have married me. 

I may come from Africa, which is viewed as third-world by some, but I have never been spoken to like that back home.

Narrow boating on the canals in Cheshire

I was ordered to sit. This woman helped the next person to arrive and ignored me. And she helped the next person. And the next . . . . 
I sat there. And sat. And sat.

Eventually my other half realised something was wrong and started looking for me. He made his way back into immigration trying to find me. I saw him and got up to wave and let him know I was stuck and no-one was helping me. This woman ordered me to sit back down. 

My husband realised there was a problem, found someone in authority and had a word. The person my husband spoke to came let me go. She suggested I get a multi-entry visa in future. Which I did.

My story is not unique. I know plenty South Africans who have had harrowing ordeals at the hands of the UK Border Control staff. I can’t help but notice that people who hold passports from so called ‘first world’ countries have far less of a problem than those who have other passports.

Covent Garden London

But I have heard even worse stories from people who have traveled to the USA. Being a member of the ‘first world’ passport holders club doesn’t help there. My husband missed a flight because he stood in a queue for so long, despite allowing more than the required time to board his flight. Meanwhile his cousin had a similar tale in a USA immigration queue. Babies were going without their feeds and diabetics were collapsing from waiting so long to move through immigration. Both have vowed never to set foot in the USA ever again.

Which begs the question, why would countries treat enthusiastic visitors with such disdain? I realise that many countries face huge problems with immigrants entering illegally. I understand these immigrants take jobs and benefits from people. But scaring off visitors or family members who come to spend money is hardly the way to go about solving the problem. Many people are too scared to visit the UK or USA because of other people’s horror stories. The balance of power is shifting and many ‘third world’ countries have stronger economies and visitors with money to spend. A debt strapped country could surely benefit from visitors.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a handful of people with a little bit of power and they totally misuse it. What would have happened if I had traveled alone, if my partner wasn’t British and if he hadn’t rescued me? I suspect if that woman had her way I would have been deported.

Cardiff Castle

So how did this change me? My partner and I got married. We try to arrive in the UK together. My husband always comes through ‘All Other Passport Holders’ section together with me now. Apparently Brits can enter any side they want.

We also make sure I travel with every possible document and all our travel information at hand so I am best able to answer the questions designed to trick you, even after a 13 hour long-haul flight and 24 hours of no sleep. It is now compulsory for South Africans to enter the UK with a visa but we made sure I had one before they became necessary.

Central London at night

I no longer view the UK as the land of my ancestors. My grandfather and my parent’s uncles on both sides of my family fought in two world wars for Britain. Lives were lost in my family for Britain. Marriages unraveled and children grew up without their fathers who believed they were doing their bit for Britain. But the descendants of these brave men are clearly not welcome in the UK.

Crinan Marina Scotland

I expected that people in a first world countries would be well behaved or at the very least civil and hold progressive views. Boy was I wrong. 

For more Holiday Horror Stories read – Wrong airport in IndiaCanal boating on the Rochdale Nine and Taxi in Zanzibar
Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.
Holiday horror stories – Wrong airport in India

Holiday horror stories – Wrong airport in India

Myself on the right and room-mate on the left

I went to India at a time in my life when I needed to make big changes. It was a time to reflect and reassess. I booked a three week package tour with Imaginative Traveller which covered the Golden Triangle. An area that includes famous cities such as Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur, etc . .

Indian sweets on sale for Diwali – highly addictive and sublime

I arrived in India, did the usual immigration routine on disembarking and went to collect my luggage. The conveyor belt went round and people collected their luggage. 

One quirk about Indians is they wrap their possessions in a blanket and tie it with rope. Plenty of those went past, but not my luggage. Eventually there was no-one left in the hall but me. The conveyor belt was going round and round with the last few bags, but my bag wasn’t on it.

Imaginative Traveler had arranged a collection for me at the airport. So much time had lapsed I was worried the shuttle bus would go without me. I made enquiries about my bag and the next thing my bag appeared. I remain suspicious about why my bag took so long to come out – especially after what happened on my last day in India.

Beautiful old buildings

When I finally got out the airport, of course, there was no shuttle bus. Fortunately most people in the cities in India speak English. I went back into the airport to the information desk. They arranged with Imaginative Traveller that a taxi would collect me. I missed the welcome and briefing but at least I was with the tour group.

Someone told me to be prepared for great beauty and harsh poverty in India. They were right. I always thought we had poverty in South Africa but India was truly shocking. However, the rich culture and history make India an absolutely fascinating and enchanting destination.
The Indians are friendly to fault and will follow you

One couple in the tour group had real rubbish luck. They were robbed and she broke her foot on a walkabout. Yip, $#!t happens even on holiday. I managed to avoid the dreaded Delhi Belly for all but the last three days of the tour. I got brave and ate away from the recommended places one night. Big mistake. It’s one way to lose weight.

When the time came to go home, my room-mate and I agreed to share a trip to the airport. She arranged the deal and was I happy to pay half. A really young boy collected us. He asked if I was flying Indian Air and it sounded about right so I said yes. I was flying to South Africa and my room-mate was flying to Australia. Turned out we were going to different airports. Did I question why we were taking international flights from different airports? No, I didn’t.

Colonial legacy – hunting trophies on the wall.

I should have taken out my ticket and had a look. My ticket was actually for Air India. Indian Air. Air India. They sound similar but as I was to find out, they are very different. I thought this guy knew what he was doing.

It soon became apparent this guy wasn’t authorised to drive us. I have no idea how my room-mate found him. At the very first check point there was a hellava argument between our driver and the authorities. I suspect our driver bribed the officer. At every check point after that we went through the same palaver.

Exquisite historic buildings were our accommodation 

After he dropped my room-mate this boy was anxious to get rid of me. He disposed of me at the “airport” and was gone for dust. 

I quickly discovered this “airport” was closed. There was no-one there except for a guard. Much later I realised that it must be an air force base. What was this kid thinking dropping me there? I don’t think he thought anything and I doubt he was old enough to drive. Who knows if it was even his vehicle? He saw a gap to make money off me. And the officers at the check points were making money off him.

Tourist travel option

Meanwhile I was alone in the middle of nowhere with a flight to catch. I approached the guard to help me. He saw a lost foreign woman alone and a chance to make money. He would only help me if I paid him. Then I saw a tuk-tuk coming along the road and raced toward it with my bags. I asked the driver to take me to the airport. This guy wanted some outrageous sum of money. I opened my purse and showed him what money I had. All of a sudden that amount was fine.

A welcome flower necklace at one of the castles

While we putted along in this tuk-tuk I was having a major panic. I feared we would be late and I feared this tuk-tuk would never even get there. I had no idea where I was or where I was going.

I got to the airport with the minimum time in hand. At check-in they demanded airport taxes. This had not been mentioned by Imaginative Traveller or the travel agent. Both had given me detailed information about India and the trip. I don’t believe that airport tax was actually due. But these guys were adamant they wanted money and if I wanted to go home I had to pay up. It’s not like I had a lot of time to argue. They knew I had no more money and pointed me to forex to change money so I could pay them off. So much for the country that invented karma?

Once on the plane I was relieved to be going home. One other quirk about Indians soon emerged. Apparently it’s not necessary to use the toilet bowl to relieve oneself. The entire room is good enough. Half way through the flight, the toilets were un-usable. No food or drink for me.

Sacred cows roaming the streets

India was a special place where I did a lot of thinking and decision making. Many positive changes in my life came from my time there. But my memories are tainted by the last people I had dealings with, who so blatantly ripped me off. Those dashing, chivalrous, Indian heroes that we read about? Some villainous Indians too I’m afraid. 

My advice is only travel India with a well known tour operator. I was fine the entire time I was with the group. Its was my trips at the start and finish where I encountered problems.

For more Holiday Horror Stories you can  go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. 

Holiday horror stories – Rochdale Nine

Holiday horror stories – Rochdale Nine

Greenie driving the narrow boat

My maiden voyage on the European canals was when we did the Cheshire Ring in England, 2007. We hired a narrow boat called Ramsdell from –  Heritage narrow boats – and began our journey from Congleton where they were based.

The picturesque and tranqil country canals

Canal boats mostly cruise along the canals through the countryside. You pass through pretty villages and it’s all very relaxed and laid back. The only minor effort required is when you move through a lock. Locks are the waterway equivalent of an elevator. To move up, you open a lock, drive the boat in one end and allow the lock to fill with water. The boat rises with the water, and you drive the boat out the other end at a higher level. 

Greenie on an aqueduct

It’s the same process going down, only it works vice versa. Once I got the hang of opening and closing the locks that became my job. Things were going well.

The Cheshire Ring has quite a few locks which you manage yourself. Some countries have lock keepers and fixed times to move through locks. On the Cheshire Ring, you can pass through these locks any time of the day although it is not recommended that you cruise at night. Opening and closing a lock doesn’t require great strength but you do need the British Waterways equipment to be able to lift bridges, access water points and open some of the locks.

Moored up after Manchester

Our guide book gave suggested routes and distances to cover and we followed them. Except we did the trip in double the recommended time. The book strongly advised boaters not to over-night in Manchester as there had been instances of vandalism and hooliganism. That meant we would have to do 27 locks in one day. Significantly more than we were averaging. We moored right outside the intended first lock in Portland Basin. We planned to get going with the first lock of the day at sunrise.

Getting ready to knock in pegs to tie up for the night

We woke to a miserable, wet day. It was the last thing we needed. But by midday with 18 locks under our belts, we were looking forward to finding a mooring spot for the night. We were a great team. Or so we thought. Straight after our lunch stop at Piccadilly Basin we carried on in the pouring rain to the last nine locks – The Rochdale Nine. Our afternoon from hell began.

Somewhere on the Cheshire Ring

The rain had filled the canal to such an extent that the locks were overflowing. The water simply wasn’t draining. Manchester has tamperproof gear on each lock. The extra steps involved in removing the tamper proofing made the process complicated, laborious and time consuming. I suspect the tamper proofing may have been tampered with.

The Rochdale Nine are double-width locks. They have larger heavier gates at each end as opposed to single-width gates. Because the gates are so heavy, they have a complicated chain winding system to move them. I could not get the chain system to work.

A really remote mooring

The canal plunges into a dark and gloomy underground area. Lurking there was a chap who was mentally handicapped. He was hell bent on “helping” me. As fast as I was trying to open the locks, he was closing them. I would run back and re-open the lock and ask him not to close them. He insisted on “helping” me. It was hopeless. 

Macclesfield Canal

One of us had to drive the boat. The other had to figure out how to open the locks and tell this bloke firmly to leave us alone. There were only two of us. I had never driven a boat in my life.

I had let my husband do all the driving, but now, all of a sudden, I had to learn how to drive, steer and manoeuvre this boat. The other option was to spend the night in Manchester, which wasn’t an option.

The last lock before the end of our trip

We battled our way through these locks in relentless rain. Halfway through the Rochdale Nine my husband figured out that we could pass through the locks by only opening one gate. This helped speed up our transit time. My boat handling improved and we eventually passed through all nine locks by nightfall. We tied up in Castlefield Basin. Both of us were physically and emotionally drained, bedraggled and cold. 

The rest of our trip along the Macclesfield Canal which followed from the Rochdale was a pleasure and we took turns driving the boat. I guess had it not been for the Rochdale Nine, I would probably not have tried to steer the boat.

For more Holiday Horror Stories you can read – (Not) Welcome to the UKWrong airport in India and Taxi in Zanzibar.

Follow this link for a virtual journey of the Rochdale Nine – virtual jouney through the Rochdale Nine.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Holiday horror stories – Zanzibar

Holiday horror stories – Zanzibar

Image source –
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Most holidays turn out well, but every once in a while something goes wrong. And sometimes things go horribly wrong.
My other half and I originally planned to visit Madagascar but we had to change our plans when the country was gripped by political uprising. So we chose to visit the island of Zanzibar instead.
We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The next leg of the flight was to Dar es Salaam. We noticed the Air Tanzania flight changed to Nationwide Air, but we weren’t concerned.
We duly arrived in Dar es Salaam and waited for the final flight to Zanzibar. No one called our flight and we were never issued with a boarding pass. We did ask, but were told not to worry.
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When the flight was ready to leave we joined a large group of people on the runway. A pile of luggage was lying next to
 the plane and we were asked to identify ours. A group of guys hauled the bags up on the plane. We picked any old seat and off we went on the very same airplane. If I didn’t know better I would say that flight was a free for all.
We arrived at Zanzibar airport outside Stone Town and waited for our shuttle bus. It hadn’t arrived. There was a fleet of mini buses and their operators hanging about offering to drive us to our hotel at exorbitant prices but we had pre-booked and paid for a shuttle bus so we declined. And waited.
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We waited forever. It was dark, the airport was closing for the night and the taxi drivers were going home. One bloke asked if he could take us to our hotel. He said not to worry; he would sort out the bill for our transfer with the hotel. We nervously agreed.
He walked right past all the mini buses and on to the most wrecked car I have ever seen in my life. We had grave doubts about this car but he helped us in and off we went. 
Our driver required a permit to transport us, which he didn’t have. So first he had to get one. We went to a place that issues permits and our driver disappeared leaving us alone in the car for ages.  Once his permit was sorted, we resumed our journey.
The roads in Zanzibar are horrific. This bloke was weaving the car from the far left of the road right across to the extreme right to dodge not potholes, but huge big craters.  We passed through countless check points. The permit was scrutinised and the authorities would waive us on.
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We had no idea where we were going. There was not a single sign indicating distance or our destination. Zanzibar doesn’t have street lights.  And, that’s not all; children, villagers and animals were wandering all over the road. It wasn’t just dark, it was pitch dark.
But our night was far from over. We noticed a burning smell and smoke coming from the engine. The driver kept stopping to have a look. It soon became clear, this car wasn’t going anywhere. 
The driver decided he had to find his cousin. He kept assuring us that he would get us to the hotel but first, he had to find this cousin. We took another detour to a village and sat alone in the back of the car – again
Unable to locate his cousin, our driver gave up. He got the car going and we limped on with smoke belching from the engine. Neither of us had cell phones as roaming hadn’t been invented. 
We honestly believed we would never get to our hotel that night. Our fears were also that something more sinister could happen to us in deepest, darkest Africa and no-one would ever know.
The next thing, the cousin drove past, in a great big shiny mini bus. Our driver waved and hooted to stop him. We climbed out of the beleaguered car and into the taxi. Our driver left his cousin on the side of the road with the old car, and took us to our hotel. It’s possible that a cousin could also be a friend in Zanzibar.
True to his word, our driver sorted out the cost of the trip with the hotel. Would you believe the hotel had kept the restaurant open? They served us a really late supper.
I am going to skip the details of our stay in Zanzibar but I will say it is, well it was back then, completely unspoiled. No shopping malls, no entertainment centres and no vendors of plastic tourist tat. We relaxed on home-made loungers, swam in the shallow, warm ocean, ate limited local fare at the restaurant and took moonlit strolls along the beach. Zanzibar is the place to chill and be still.
The day before our return, our hotel confirmed our Air Tanzania flight, gave us a confirmation number, and organised a shuttle bus. All good.
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We checked out early that morning and got to the airport with plenty time in hand. I do need to point out that Zanzibar airport has a chalkboard for its flights – if there are any for the day. The parking area outside is gravel and there is no cafeteria inside. It is by far the most rustic airport I have ever been to. As we made our way to the front door a lady told us there was no flight that day. We almost laughed. We had a ticket and a confirmation number, how could she say that? 
A few more people arrived for the flight and she told them the same thing. We protested but she was unmoved. When the time for our flight came, and went, we realised she might be right. Now we wanted to know how we were supposed to get home. Another couple also planning to fly that morning had kept their driver with them. They let us share a lift into Stone Town to find the Air Tanzania offices.
Air Tanzania told us – there was no flight. So much for Air Tanzania flight schedules. The next flight out would be later that evening. The driver agreed to collect us and the other couple later.  
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By now we had spent almost all our money. Meanwhile we had an entire day to kill. I recall sitting on a cup of coffee for hours at one of the hotels. We walked around the dusty city of Stone Town until our feet ached. 
The driver collected us at the end of the day and we returned to the airport where a fair size group were all waiting to leave the island. Sitting at the airport I noticed Air Tanzania airplanes on the runway. They did not look good. One plane was lying on its side and the rest were rusting and falling apart. My next fear was actually flying on one of those planes.
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Then we saw a Nationwide Air plane come in to land. We were hungry, desperate for a shower and relieved to be going home. Our flight arrived in Johannesburg too late for the last connecting flight to Cape Town. Air Tanzania put us up in a hotel and took care of all transfers and costs. We finally arrived home in Cape Town a day later. 
Would I go back to Zanzibar? In a heartbeat. It’s one of the few unspoiled places left on earth. But now I know that first world travel is not going to happen and I would probably do the trip as part of a group.

For more Holiday Horror Stories you can read – (Not) Welcome to the UKWrong airport in India and Canal boating on the Rochdale Nine.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

The ultimate travel packing checklist – Part 1 – Before Trip and Basic Travel Requirements

The ultimate travel packing checklist – Part 1 – Before Trip and Basic Travel Requirements

Cape foral kingdom
Before your trip

Check expiry date in passport
Book flight
Arrange travel insurance
Get visas
Buy forex and clear credit cards with banks
Prepay any bills due
Make sure all your clothes are washed
Charge all batteries
Make sure your home and car are safe
Check in on-line
Confirm special meals
Switch off appliances where possible
Turn off heating and cylinder
Turn off refrigerator
Divert phone calls
Clear out rubbish
Book airport transfer
Away message on e-mail

Cape floral kingdom

Ensure plants watered and mail cleared
Inform your neighbours
Weigh your luggage
Lock and secure home

Basics items to pack
Suitcase lock
Hand luggage/bag/back pack
Reading material
IPod or music device and ear plugs
Travel guide on destination
Cash in small and large denominations

Cape floral kingdom

Credit and debit cards
Camera, spare batteries and charger
Mobile phone and charger
Vaccination documents
International drivers license
Flight tickets/details
Frequent flyer cards
Travel insurance details
FICA compliance information ie utility bill
Accommodation details
Airport transfer details
Maps or map apps
Phrase book/translator or app
Local money/travellers cheques
Laptop/notebook and charger

Cape floral kingdom

Copies of all flights, passport and travel bookings
Home emergency contact numbers
Luggage tags with your details

Travel packing list part 2 – on flight and clothing – click here.

Travel packing list part 3 – first aid and miscellaneous – click here.

Travel packing list part 4 – toiletries and camping – click here.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Off to Namibia . . and Botswana . . and Zimbabwe!

Sand dune Namibia

I am leaving in a day for a camping trip into Southern Africa. It’s going to be three weeks of dirt roads and dust. Sleeping in tents and getting up close and personal with nature. My usual weekly posts on what’s going on in Cape Town will take a short holiday. I don’t expect much communication in the bush and am disinclined to want to subject my precious laptop to the current crisis floods in Northern Namibia, endless bumpy roads and piles of fine dust.

When I get back I will share what our neighbouring countries look like in a few posts. Sixteen of us, in a big overland truck, will be going up the west coast of South Africa into Namibia. When I say big truck, I probably should say seriously big truck. The vehicle is 4.1m high, 2,5 m wide and 9,5m long. It is carrying our food, tents, cooking utensils and us.

The tour includes the Fish River Canyon and Ai Ais hot springs, then it heads up and toward the coast where we stay in Swakopmund. From there we go further north to the Caprivi strip and into the Ethosha and Okavango swamp area. Then we head across to Botswana and Chobe Game Reserve. We finally end up in Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls. It’s a long journey.

I will also be spending a few days in the city of gold aka Johannesburg aka Gauteng, also known as Egoli. How does one city get to have so many names? Hopefully, I will get to ride the new Gautrain. I’m told it makes the London underground or the Paris metro look old and ugly. Have to see for myself.
Watch this space!

Photo courtesy of Elred Lawrence

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