Lesotho was the 1st of a handful of failures we experienced while in Africa. Our travel isn’t perfect, and we learn new things everytime we travel. Our huge mistake in Lesotho was a crude reminder that we need to always pay attention.
The Issue: We didn’t get stamped upon entering Lesotho and didn’t even realize our problem until we tried to exit – Fail #1.
How did we make such a dumb mistake? We let our fatigue get the better of us. We had arrived into Johannesburg, picked up our car after quite a hassle and planted ourselves in our hotel room for a short rest before heading out on the road toward Lesotho. Originally we had planned to visit Swaziland first and continue through to the South Africa coast onto Lesotho from the eastside. At the last minute we changed our plans. We thought since we had a car we should travel at a slower more leisurely pace through central ZA.
What should have been about a 7 hour drive turned into about 12 hours. The day was a stress filled disaster. The traffic delays and the horrible road conditions made for a day full of frustration. Our rental car was teeny tiny and kept getting swallowed up by the enormous potholes all over the road. We stopped a few times to make sure the tires were still inflated and no major damage was done to the car. On top of it the view on N1 and R708 was blah to say the least. There was very little to keep our attitudes on an upbeat note.
When we finally made it to the Maseru Bridge we could not have been more relieved. As we crossed the bridge we complained of how tired we were, how excited we were to get out of the car and how we couldn’t wait to get dinner and some drinks. All the while completely spacing the building to the right at the end of the bridge, and the guy waving us past the entrance.We had checked prior to our visit and made sure we would need to stop at immigration and get stamped. We knew we had to get stamped, but we didn’t. Instead of even thinking to stop and question the gentlemens keep on moving waves, we proceeded to the hotel.
I couldn’t tell you what I thought of Lesotho because we didn’t venture out past the hotel – Fail #2. We stayed at the Maseru Sun. The staff, the grounds and the food were lovely. We were so exhausted from the drive that all we wanted to do was lounge around and relax. I would recommend staying there if you are on the West side of Lesotho. I would love to return to Lesotho and snowboard and visit the different parks. Don’t let our experience deter you from visiting.
When it came time to exit Lesotho an officer waved us out of the exit line and asked to see our entry stamps in our passports. As we handed over our passports it dawned on us we didn’t get entry stamps. Sh*t what does that mean? What happens now? The officer now bent over and pushing his head and arm through our car window started yelling at us. He stopped just short of calling us total &^%$*(& idiots, but pretty much called us arrogant, selfish and rude for entering his country without permission.
We apologized profusely over and over and begged for assistance. He asked why he should help us, and we explained we made a mistake, a really dumb mistake. He continued to yell at us about being arrogant Americans and then stopped and said he would get his manager. He headed off with our passports and this was when I got really scared.
We had entered the country illegally. We had no cash to give the officer, although he had not made any indication that he wanted money from us. I had noticed the US Embassy gate on the way to the border, so I knew where to run if needed. After about 10 minutes he returned with his manager. The new guy yelled and insulted us, they both yelled at us then the original guy handed over our passports and said, “good luck leaving!”
We thanked both of them several times with multiple apologies thrown in. As we headed to get our exit stamp I started to freak out that something more was going to happen. We got up to the window which was taller than me, so the employee couldn’t even see the top of my head. I had no idea what he asked me and I kept asking him to repeat himself. I think he was annoyed with me, stamped my passport and sent it flying out the window at my head.
Once we reached the ZA side of the bridge we both started screaming, “WTF just happened!” Come to find out later we are not the only ones that have experienced the Lesotho stamp issue. It was clearly our responsibility to be aware of where the immigration office was and the hours. It was clearly our responsibility to not let a guy wave us through the entrance without stopping to ask questions. It was clearly our mistake for letting fatigue and stupidity get the better of us.
If you are going to travel to Lesotho and enter via the Maseru bridge, please take note the run down building on the right is the immigration office. I question if there were any clear turn signs at all. But that does not matter, it is your responsibility to know. Yes, you do need to stop even if someone is standing in the entrance waving you to move on. Since then we have been advised that the entry stamp issue is a common problem in Lesotho. It is unfortunate how rude the officer was at the border, but I suppose he gets quite sick of foreigners making such a dumb mistake. Be sure to research the times and crossing locations. Here is one site to try.
The Moral: Don’t let fatigue or stress cloud your decision making EVER. There is no way to be 100% mistake free, but when faced with a difficult situation be calm and respectful to those involved.
This is a story of a major travel fail. The responsibility lies all on us; we were the travelers. It was our responsibility to know what we needed to do and when. Too many times simple incidences like these are what turn into stories of how I spent that year in a foreign jail. We were very fortunate in this encounter. The “I didn’t know” or “I am sorry” card doesn’t always cut it. Learn from us. Do your research and don’t let fatigue or confusion take over.