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 – Zanzibar

Holiday horror stories – Zanzibar

Image source –
Image source –
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.
Image source –
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.
Image source –
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.
Image source –
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.
Image source –
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.  
Image source –
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.
Image source –
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.

Barging in France – Last day, boating tips and boat hire companies

Barging in France – Last day, boating tips and boat hire companies


Friday 18th September 2009
The taxi fetched us on time and dropped us at Villanouvelle station where we took the only train of the day back to Toulouse or the pink city as they call it in France.

Tips for a French Canal Boat Holiday

1.    Take gardening gloves if your hands are tender. Thick course ropes can shred your skin when you tie up for the night or secure your boat in the locks.

2.    Do try and learn basic French. The French speak a lot more English than they let on but it is only polite to make an effort to speak their language in their country. Besides you will need to buy provisions, read notices or maps and ask questions of the Lock keepers and locals. We bought the Michel Thomas Learning French CD set.

Greenie at Villenouvelle train station

3.    Pack sun-hats and sunscreen. The temperatures were between 23’C and 29’C when we went, which was between seasons. It is the south of France. The mornings were cool but the afternoons were hot.

4.    We didn’t take the extras on offer such as bicycles and the insurance in lieu of a deposit. There is so little time to use the bicycles and a short walk is just as nice.

5.    It would be wise to have some boat handling skills. No formal qualifications are required but the boats can be unpredictable in currents and wind.

6.    Pack light coloured sole shoes so as not to mark the boat and make sure they are non-slip. Leaping on and off a boat for locks and moorings is a lot harder if your shoes are falling off.

7.    If you wish to fly the flag for your country then take one with you. People greet their fellow countrymen with gusto. We always fly our flag.

8.    Pack running shoes. The canals are sheltered by the plane trees and an après journey walk or run is a great way to relax at the end of the day and stretch your legs.

9.    It is mostly older and retired people who do these trips and while they aren’t strenuous they do require some effort. You will be leaping on and off boats and heaving ropes.

Gare de Villenouvelle

10.     Go easy on the water when on a boat. They come with about 200 L tanks, which is not a lot. Get into the habit of re-using water for dishes and when showering use the spray to wet yourself and to rinse. Switch off while you soap up to conserve water. Save shaving and shampooing for when you are in a bigger mooring places where they have facilities.

Boat hire companies –
Nautic –
Nicols –
Locaboat –
Le Boat –
Rive de France – They also do bike trips –
France Fluviale –
Minervois Cruisers – English narrow boats –

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.

Barging in France – Day 15 and 16

Barging in France – Day 15 and 16

Wednesday 16th September 2009

Greenie driving the Penichette

This was our last day for taking in locks and doing mileage. We wanted to be close to our final destination to allow us time to clean and pack up. The locks were much quieter this end so we made good time and the locks were a breeze.

Obelisque to Paul Riquet

We passed the summit of the lock where the river feeds water into the canal from the mountains. They call it the parting of the waters. There was an obelisque to Paul Riquet who started building the Canal du Midi in 1667 although the Romans originally had the idea of a route between the two oceans. It apparently cost millions back then and Riquet spent all his vast personal fortune and the salt taxes from the region in the building of the canal. It took 14 years to complete with 4000 people working on it.

We never saw any working boats on the canal apart from one that passed this particular day. It was a tour/lunch boat taking people up or down the canal. Working boats always have right of way so they snuck into the lock ahead of us. After the summit we started locking down which took a bit of getting used to as we had only locked up till now.

Patrick on the bridge over the River Aude

Our mooring for the night was right outside our last lock of the trip. Usually there are bollards or pontoons near to the locks which means one doesn’t have to hammer pegs or stakes into the ground, which can delay mooring. We both had a last run along the towpath although a semi road had replaced the towpath but it was quiet and apart from one or two cyclists I was the only runner for the hour I was out.

The final lock was only 4 kms away so I got a chance to see where we needed to moor and what facilities we could expect. We were the only boat at this remote spot and being out in the country it was pitch dark. All we heard was the sounds of nature. We never got to speak as much French as we hoped. How we were taught and how they speak is not the same. The French drop letters and merge words together which makes it really hard to understand them. But mostly they understood us.

Thursday 17th September 2009

Greenie about to enjoy a boat meal

This was our last full day and we chose to relax and square up. We woke to ducks squawking, some roosters from a farm nearby and the birds twittering in the plane trees next to us. It was all peace and quiet at this mooring spot. We liked the handling of this particular style of boat. Boats vary in their shape and structure and thus handle differently.

Some cabin cruiser boats slide about on the water. The biggest thing to grasp is that a boat does not have brakes. You can’t hurtle at full speed and then suddenly stop. The brief driving lesson and the instructions in the manual the boat hire company provide are well worth studying. It is vital to understand how to move a boat, particularly in small spaces like a lock.

Deep lock on Canal du Robin – see faces at top

For the most part the climate had been cool in the mornings and decidedly hot in the afternoons. But by the latter part of September the mornings were colder and I was wearing a warm jacket. The European holiday season typically ends the last week in September when the weather starts to turn.

Perving boats from the side of the canal

The boat hire company offered a cleaning service but we chose to clean the boat ourselves. Since it wasn’t a big boat and there were only two of us it wasn’t a hardship. We arrived early afternoon at the Locaboat office in Negra and arranged a taxi to collect us the following morning with the guy in the office. He wasn’t too particular about the boat being squeaky clean, just the basics such as strip the linen and mop the floor type stuff. The evening was a bit of an anti-climax as we so enjoyed our holiday. We shared our last bottle of wine and ate the last leftovers while planning our next boating holiday from a brochure we picked up at the office.

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.

Barging in France – day 13 and 14

Barging in France – day 13 and 14

Monday 14th September 2009

Castelnaudry Grand Basin

The mornings were becoming cool. I started wearing an extra top to keep warm. We got off to a swift start and there was so much talk about the boat that sank from various lock keepers along the way. One guy tried to sell us his home baked apple pie. He also showed us photos on his cell phone of the boat that crashed. Naturally each lock keeper swore blind it would never have happened had they been on duty.

Boat life

The appraoch to Castelnaudary was via the biggest of all staircase locks we had encountered thus far. It had four chambers and five gates. The lock keeper let the boats lock up, and down, simultaneously, so we passed each other in the middle chambers.

Basilica in Castelnaudry

Thanks to a planned extra day we had time to explore Castelnaudary. We managed to get to the local marche in time and my other half bought two pairs of boating shoes for €12.00. I got a pair espadrilles for €3.00. The markets are usually in the mornings on fixed days of the week in the different towns. One has to enquire which day is market day. To check when the market operates ask the locals, lock keepers, Tourist Info or other boaties. We had a small wander around the town. It was built in a circular shape around Le Grand Basin, which is a big pond really. Apart from the marche, Castelnaudry had the usual ornate Basilica or two, street café’s and some beautiful people wandering about. Sitting at the café’s allowed me a chance to be a voyeur to life in France. The French on average are beautiful in a natural, hip kind of way. Their outfits are sort of bohemian but never slovenly or dirty. They look fresh, but never contrived.

The mooring provided boat-to-shore power so we updated all our communications and inspired by boat life we searched the Internet for info on boats for sale. I tried to read a French fashion magazine, gave up and went for a run while my other half went for a walk. I got horribly lost on my run as I missed the road back to the towpath. I managed to find my way back and we settled down to another quiet evening together. We had leftover lentil curry and our usual after-dinner selection of cheeses and fresh fruits.

Canal du Midi

Tuesday 15th September 2009
We treated ourselves to a late start. We still had access to the Internet and shore-to-boat power so we get hold of family, downloaded photos and charged up cell phones, camera batteries, etc. The amenities at Castelnaudry were particularly good so we both had extra long hot showers.

Source of the Canal du Midi

It was nice just to stroll around with no real purpose other than to browse the shops and people watch. The French don’t really get the idea of drinking tea so we tended to drink “cafe” as they call it. It’s served as a tea bag in hot water in a teacup, milk is extra. Tea is more expensive than coffee. We took stock of our food so we could use up what we had. We did our last shop-up at the supermarche. There wasn’t going to be much between Castelnaudary and our final resting place in Negra. We went for another walk into the town to see more of the town.

One can hire bicycles but we chose not to. The amount of time we were likely to use them did not justify schlepping them around and they are an extra cost. However some people cycle the canals and we often encountered them passing our boat laden down with tents and maps.

Plane trees were planted along the canals to provide shade to slow evaporation of water, and their roots also help support the banks of the canal. Canals are cool for the most part, and cycling them as opposed to doing them on a boat could be a great alternative way to explore the area.

Languedoc region

My other half fancies the Dutch steel boats and I like the smaller barges, which are more like houses on water. We did some boat perving while we still had Internet access that evening.

The family moored next to us in Castelnaudary lived on their boat. They had two children they were home schooling on their boat. Slept well, of course and heard an owl hooting again.

Click here for Barging in France Day 15 and 16

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.

Pin It on Pinterest