Tag Archives: Journey

Ummm… We’re in Georgia?!?!

Three Customs officials, came to our car, started asking us where we were from and if we were here on business. We explained that we were on a safari all the way from South Africa. One officer explained South Africa to the others as “Waka Waka”. There was a quick search of our car, a dog sniff and with smiles we were welcomed to Georgia. We are still asking ourselves how did we end up in this small country in the Caucasus when we had never even thought about going this far north.

Our plan to enter Iran was completely different to the way it is turning out. While looking at the map and deciding on countries, we spoke much about going to Turkey but agreed that it was too far out of our planned route. But as our good friend Moulana Junaid Kajee always reminds us: “Things may not be going well in your plan but in Allah’s plan everything is going swimmingly well!”

And things were not going according to plan when we couldn’t drive our car in Saudi Arabia and then had to leave Jordan immediately after receiving it there. In Palestine, after mulling over our route for the next leg of our journey we realised that to go back to Jordan would be a dead end. So we looked at options and the only other country that was not at war and through which we could to get to Iran was Turkey.

We received our car in Jordan after it was trucked from Saudi Arabia. We waited 10 days in Aqaba.
We received our car in Jordan after it was trucked from Saudi Arabia.

A few emails and phone calls later, we had a shipping company that could ship our car, a customs agent to put it on the ship and a 30 day e-visa for Turkey that took all of 5 minutes to get and was free!

On 15 August 2015 we were in Istanbul, eagerly awaiting the arrival of our car to Istanbul.

Earl II waiting for us at AutoPort
Earl II waiting for us at AutoPort

Arrive it did, but 10 days late. This gave us an opportunity to spend some time exploring Istanbul and applying for our Iran visa. On the 3rd of September with the car in our possession and Iran visas in hand we started a slow drive east-ward along the southern coast line of Turkey towards Iran.

We still had 2 problems.
1. The delay in Istanbul meant that we would run out of our visa before exiting Turkey.
2. The Auto-mobile Association of South Africa (AASA) does not validate the Carnet de Passage for Iran.

After much research and visiting the Police Station and Department of Foreign Affairs we learnt that Turkey does not do visa extensions. We had to apply for a Short-term Residence Permit – called Ikamet. We completed forms and booked the interview in the city of Izmir.

In Izmir we were told that we cannot be given a 15 day residence permit, we should rather overstay our visa and pay the penalty at the border when exiting – problem number 1 resolved!

On the Carnet issue, research showed that it was both possible and impossible to get into Iran without a Carnet. We had no other option but to try entering Iran without a Carnet, hoping that we would be given an alternative option at the border.

Due to the political issues in Turkey only one border crossing out of three with Iran remained open. We were warned by many locals along our route that given the tense political climate, this border crossing was best avoided.

Across that gate is Iran!
Across that gate is Iran!

Other overland travellers we spoke to, were adamant that the crossing was far too difficult to get through and suggested we reroute via Georgia. Given that we were in violation of our visa period, as well as the impending end to our driving permit, we proceeded with uncertainty towards the much dreaded Dogubayazit border crossing.

On the 26th of September the alternative option provided by the Iranian customs officials and fixers or “companies” as they are called, was way too expensive for us and they expected us to drive across Iran to Pakistan in 10 days max. This after we had negotiated them up from their initial offer of just 3 days. After much discussion with Iranian customs, we decided to go back to Turkey.

We had previously read about a guy in Iran (www.overlandtoiran.com) used by most overlanders for Carnet services who could provide a Carnet for the period of the visa but only with entry from Armenia. We contacted him and he confirmed this option. Since Turkey and Armenia did not have an open border crossing, we would have to go through Georgia and being South Africans, we did not need visas for Georgia – Bonus!

We reapplied for Iranian visas, flew to Ankara for Pakistani visas, returned to Trabzon and started our journey to Georgia.

On 17 October we exited Turkey for the second time to enter the border control offices of Georgia. The border post looked like an airport terminal for passengers on foot and a high-tech toll plaza styled building for vehicles. The processes were quick and efficient and we were welcomed with smiles by Customs Officials and Police. One official even showed us the score of the latest rugby match between South Africa and Wales, which South Africa had won. More smiles and stamps and we’re in Georgia!

Day 2 – Dog pee and police clearance

We woke early with the sound of the Adhaan, prayed Fajar (morning prayer)  and went back to sleep. We woke up again much later and had to rush as checkout time had approached. Being stressed about not getting late for checkout, K began taking the bags to the car and left them next to the car.

As we started packing everything into the car, to our horror we saw that one of the dogs from the lodge had peed all over our stuff!! Great start to an epic journey!! hmph! With a bit of anger and a hint of depression we rinsed our stuff before packing it back into the car.

During check out we asked the receptionist about the closest border crossing to Botswana. He advised us to use the Skilpadshek border crossing as it was less busy and not as frequented by trucks.  But before we headed to the border we had some admin to take care of.

We drove to the Zeerust police station where we needed to get some documents certified and get a police clearance for Earl II. At the station we got reprimanded for trying to park our vehicle in the parking area that said “visitors” so we promptly reversed outwards and parked across the road.

Officers at the station were firm but professsional, and the officer helping us warmed up after K struck up a conversation.  We understood his initial irritation due the large stack of papers we gave him to certify. We left there with certified documents but without the police clearance as the relevant officials were on sick leave. Officer Lekgoba advised us to proceed to Lehurutshe police station to get this. It was quite entertaining getting the pronunciation right (or wrong).

Nicely built and good service. They helped with a print out of our vehicle to serve as clearence.
Nicely built and good service. They helped with a print out of our vehicle to serve as clearence.

The Lehurutshe police station was a huge police compound with several buildings. People there were extremely helpful and one lady officer even walked to us to the correct building. At building two, the friendly ladies gave us a place to sit while they organised the relevant office to attend to us and discussed quad bike with us that was for sale from theft stock. An officer who was on leave that day was around and kindly agreed to assist us. With police clearance in hand, smiles on our faces and the dog pee in distant memory we made our way to Skilpadshek border post.


Road sign to the Skilpadshek Border
Road sign to the Skilpadshek Border


The very shnazy and efficient Skilpadshek border crossing. Thanks to the guy at the BnB we stayed at for sending us here.
The very shnazy and efficient Skilpadshek border crossing. Thanks to the guy at the BnB we stayed at for sending us here.

Border processes here were extremely efficient and we were on our way within minutes. It was hot day but not unbearable. From the border office we proceeded to the last couple of gates that marked the end of South Africa. As came to the first gate, we came across what would be our first and only encounter of officials demanding something from us (at least in Africa). The officer insisted we give him something to drink. In our panic, we parted with one of our two precious bottles of ice cold Coo-ee Lemon. A few meters down the next officer who noticed this, insisted on getting something too and we handed over a R20 note. That is SA we thought as we left our homeland for over a year.

At the Botswana border they were a little more thorough and asked K twice why we were visiting and the exact names of people we were visiting. Luckily we had been invited by the Peerbhay’s to stay with them in Gaborone so providing those details wasn’t a problem. As we got back to the car after the formalities, a kind man next to told us to go back and pay for our TIP – Temporary Import Permit – for the vehicle.

#Lesson: we learned that if we had kept the TIP from our last trip to Botswana in December we could have reused it. It is valid for 12 months.

With all the border admin finally completed we made our way to Gaborone which was just over an hour away. We relaxed for the next two days at the Peerbhay residence and completed some final outstanding items on our checklist.

Day 1 – Sunday 01 March 2015

Our Sunday farewell was a bit surreal. We had obviously been planning for almost eight years for this day and it had finally arrived. It also felt surreal because for the last two weeks we had been working tirelessly ticking off last minute action items off several lists. This meant that for two weeks prior to this day we were eating junk takeaway meals almost daily, barely sleeping and totally getting on each other’s nerves.

Nervously we gathered and packed the last few things into the vehicle, later realising we had almost forgotten thirty percent of our foodstuff, which would make a big difference later on. We were about an hour late at our own farewell but it was all okay and today our friends and family would forgive any failures.

We chose the Turkish Masjid (Mosque) for its size and centrality, no catering and organizing fuss and symbolically leaving from a Masjid made sense. We both hoped that we had planned it a little better so that there would be a few planned prayer items and maybe a few words from people we had asked far too late and who understandably could not make it. But even in this unplanned chaos of the day, it all turned out okay. It was an emotional day where many of our friends and family gathered for hesitant farewells.

Farewell from Nizamiye Mosque, Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Farewell from Nizamiye Mosque, Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Later that day on a Facebook post, I described the day “It was a send off to be remembered today. Everyone gathered at theNizamiye Masjid in Midrand for an overwhelmingly emotional morning. The two of us are on the road now filled with feelings of intense gratitude for having reached this point. Thank you to all who were present in person and spirit to send us off with prayers and positive energy. The destination does not matter, how far we get and how many countries we cover is irrelevant. This moment matters and the journey has begun. #Alhamdulillah“.


Driving away after from our farewell
Driving away from our farewell
Visiting dads grave before leaving Joburg
Visiting dads grave before leaving Joburg

We then drove to the Westdene cemetery to pay respects to Farhaan’s late dad. K read the traditional script from the Qur’an – Surah Yasin and her dad prayed the closing prayer with both our families present. We then made another graveyard visit to Lenasia to pay respects to Farhaan’s late grandfather who had undertaken a similar journey with his family in the 60’s (more here).


At this point K was bursting for the toilet. We soon learned that this would be a consistent problem of our travels that would give us many teary eyed giggles on the way.  We stopped at K’s cousins place in Lenasia who was delighted to have us for a few minutes, gifted us some Coo-ee Lemon (local carbonated drink) for the road and we were on the way.

Zeerust (close to the border of Botswana) was our first stop and the weather was lovely and overcast all the way. We spent the night at Sha-Henney’s guest house where a strange looking Afrikaans speaking man in a mullet and a tiny pony tail at reception helped us with the booking and also cautioned us against having the breakfast due to “respect for your religion”. We were impressed and obliged.

We were both extremely exhausted and ate some of the pies that were packed for us by family, showered and literally collapsed into bed after Maghreb (evening prayer).