I’m never keen on arriving in a new country alone late at night without very explicit instructions, and I was possibly overzealous to get the instructions from my new boss, who worked for Thomson Reuters in Washington DC. I was able to get a visa on arrival for Sierra Leone, but also had gone to some lengths to obtain year long visas for Liberia and Guinea. Guinea was the most bizarre – their embassy in London was away from the usual rich Georgian honeypots of Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia or Kensington, but was in the north London suburb of Kilburn, not far from the High St train station. There were no markings on the outside to show it was Guinea’s representation in the UK, and when I went inside I realised the building was shared with several businesses. I never got to see the embassy offices that time, but was asked to sit in a lobby area – looking like a cafe without any coffee in sight. A pleasant enough guy eventually came down from the offices and I showed him all the relevant documents – the passport itself, photos of myself, the application form. He flipped through it and asked me about the cash – several hundred pounds. No hope in them having a card machine; I had to pay cash. And I did not have enough in my pocket. So he took all my materials and asked me to meet him back here in an hour with the cash. So I wandered the streets of Kilburn with a wad of twenty pound notes in my pocket. When I returned, I was relieved that the embassy was still there and I had not been hustled into handing over my passport to a bunch of con artists. He showed me the visa in the passport (saying “the visa is the only receipt you have”). It was a blue label stuck to a page, with text that I could easily have printed out for myself. Indeed when I got home I had to Google the visa and find it was actually legitimate.
By comparison the Sierra Leone visa was a breeze. A company called VisitSierraLeone helped to deal with payments and forms, as well as a whole host of other tourist activities. I was soon to discover that Sierra Leone had a very small tourist market but this company obviously helped to take some of the stress over logistical arrangements and I heartily recommend them.
I drove back to Kent the next morning and took the next evening’s flight to Mauritius. In theory I had about four hours before my Rodrigues flight, plenty of time to get through the queues at immigration. As ever the jumbo jet from London was very full, mainly with holidaymakers, and the immigration room was packed. I was near the back of one queue and as I got to the desk smiled as usual, and let the officer read my official letters of introduction as a government contractor and stamp my passport. He did the first, but not the second.
He asked me to stand aside a moment and got his supervisor. While the first officer continued to process the remaining queue behind me, I was asked to wait on some chairs at the back of the room. I sat there for over half an hour watching the room empty. I had no real idea of the delay until the supervisor returned and very pleasantly and very firmly told me that I was not allowed to stay in Mauritius. I showed him the letter once more, and that I had been given right to be a consultant for the government here for longer than the usual tourist visa.
Unfortunately, this was no good. The supervisor explained that I was allowed on this visa only to stay in Mauritius for 90 days maximum in one year, and with the two months I had been here in the spring, and the two months in the autumn, I had now more than exceeded that limit. I explained that I was working for government and was due on a flight to Rodrigues in under two hours time. They tried to ring the Ministry of Environment but of course it was a Saturday. It turned out that my clients should have filled in some paperwork when I arrived to allow me to visit the Immigration Department in Port Louis so I could get a proper visa, that would have allowed me to have an unlimited visa period. With a lot of careful negotiation and patience, I eventually was given dispensation to travel to Rodrigues, with the promise that when I returned in five days time I went to the Immigration Department. In the meantime, they would inform the Ministry of Environment to get them to start processing the paperwork.
With barely an hour to go I finally headed down to the baggage hall; fortunately my bag had been set to one side and I was able to retrieve it easily and dash round to the Internal departures check in. It was barely ten minutes before I was aboard the ATR prop plane and heading east.
Plaisance Airport behind Mahebourg