You know those moments when you realise you’ve made a MASSIVE mistake and your stomach drops away? Like when you text someone that the text message was about, or you find you missed two pages of the exam as they were stuck together, or discover that she’s actually a ladyboy? I had one of those moments yesterday. When I was stamped into Libya, I flicked excitedly through my passport only to discover the awful truth – my visa for Algeria expired that day, 28th February, yesterday.
I have never had a visa where the validity period lasted less than a month before – this one lasted just two and a half weeks. It never even occurred to me to look. I slapped my forehead like a Keystone Cop and muttered that this was another fine mess I’ve got me into.
WHY DIDN’T I GO TO ALGERIA ON FRIDAY?!?!?
Crikey – it didn’t seem like too big of a deal then, I could go on Monday – the ferry back to Italy didn’t leave until Tuesday anyway, it made no difference, right?
Wrong. It made ALL the difference.
Damn you Algeria. Damn you to hell. As I found out last time I was here, you can’t get an Algerian visa in Tunisia unless you are resident here, otherwise it’s back to London for you, young man.
Back to London?!
I would really, really like to get this whole silly adventure finished some time this year, I really would. I can’t afford to be making cock-ups like this, Graham you looooosertic.
Despairing for what else to do, I set off for the border anyway. Perhaps they won’t notice, maybe they’ll let me in anyway (they did in Nigeria and Cameroon), perhaps they’ll agree with me that it still is 28th February. In Hawaii.
Perhaps not. After a four-hour journey to the border I was to find that no, the visa was invalid and they weren’t going to let me in for love, nor money (I offered both).
Drat and double drat.
The border guys were friendly enough though. The guy I gave my passport to, his eyes lit up when he saw I was from Liverpool and he instantly wanted to talk to me about football. There was another guy who looked a little like Peter Sellers who spoke very good English and he was chatting to me about how welcome I was in Algeria, and how good it was to have tourists again, especially ones from England… things were looking hopeful… but then the boss came out, said an emphatic NO and I was sent packing.
All that time and effort for nothing. Nothing!! The Tunisians invalidated my exit stamp and back I came. I hopped a taxi back to Tabarka, the first town after the border, and then plunged back into a louage (shared minibus) for the disheartening trip back to Tunis.
You can’t do a lap of Africa. It’s impossible, I think. You could try to, as you can try to get across the Darien Gap that separates Central and South America, but you’d be very lucky to make it. You see you can go like this (off the top of my head): Morocco > Western Sahara > Maurtania > Senegal > Gambia > Senegal > Guinea-Bissau > Guinea > Sierra Leone> Liberia > Cote d’Ivoire > Ghana > Togo > Benin > Nigeria > Cameroon > Gabon > Congo > DR Congo > Angola > Namibia > South Africa > Swaziland > Mozambique > Malawi > Tanzania > Kenya > Ethiopia > Sudan > Egypt > Libya > Tunisia > Algeria…
But then you’d get stuck in Algeria… the border between it and Morocco is closed, has been for years, and is very unlikely to open any time in the future. You could probably make it through to Western Sahara, but there are so many Moroccan police checkpoints there, I think the only way you could do it would be with forged papers (never a good idea). Which is a shame, as driving a lap of Africa could become the new adventure holiday extravaganza.
If you’re frickin’ insane.
I guess your best bet would be to come over on the ferry from Spain to Morocco and go back on the ferry from Tunisia to Italy and just leave Algeria out of the equation. Which is a shame as the people of Algeria would probably quite like to see you.
I got to the embassy first thing in the morning and handed over my passport and another thirty quid. Things were looking good. I had to wait an hour or so (typical) but presently the lady returned with a my passport, and in it was my visa, the illusive access-all-areas pass to Algeria.
I rushed back to Dja’s place to pick up some stuff, and then (after a major argument with my taxi driver who purposely took me all around the houses) I jumped in a louage back to the bloomin’ Algerian border for the THIRD time of asking. I didn’t want to be hanging around, so as soon as I arrived in Tabarka I was in a cab and on the border. I got there at about 3pm.
The border between Tunisia and Algeria is up in the mountains and boy was it cold and wet and miserable. The Tunisian border guards laughed at me – silly English bloke going back and forth. The jolly Algerian border guy who spoke English was excited to see me, but a little perplexed as to why I could just, you know, extend my visa. I told him that I was just as perplexed as he was. He asked me how long I was staying. I tried to explain that I’d only be here for a few hours, but he was having none of it – he had already set me up to get a lift in a shared taxi to the town of El Kala, a few miles down the road. It dawned on me that I was going to have to bite the bullet and stay the night. After all this palaver, if I left tonight they would think I was up to something, and I have no intention of being thrown in an Algerian detention centre.
THUMP! Down came the entry stamp. I was in.
Halfway to El Kala we got stopped by the Algerian security forces. ‘Oh god, here we go’ I thought, wishing I had got out the taxi 100 metres down the road and walked straight back to Tunisia. They took me out of the car and took me to a small building at the side of the road and asked me a ton of questions. For some reason they were completely convinced I was an American, so my British passport didn’t half weird them out. Yes folks – my LAST Francophone African country and LO AND BEHOLD I get a ton of grief of the Powers That Be. What a SURPRISE!
Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Cameroon, Congo, Djibouti and now Algeria… what is with the old French colonies, man? I can see the meeting of the Algerian Liberation Army in the 1950s:
REG: What have the French ever done for us eh?
Barry puts his hand up.
BARRY: Squat toilets?
REG: Yeah, well, they did do that…
STAN: Introduced dizzying levels of bureaucracy?
REG: Okay, bureaucracy… and…?
JUSTINE: Unjustified arrogance?
REG: Fine. Okay. Apart from the squat toilets, the dizzying levels of bureaucracy and the unjustified arrogance, WHAT have the French ever done for us?
STAN: Incompetent plumbing?
After half and hour they let me go and I arrived in El Kala before nightfall, checking into the Marsa hotel. My room smelt of effluent and the television only had one channel, but for four quid including breakfast I wasn’t going to start complaining. Something you should know about Algeria – everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) closes at 6pm. I went out at seven to try and find a bite to eat – all I found was a ghost town. I wandered about in the dark for about an hour before I stumbled over a little café which was showing the football – a pre-World Cup friendly between Serbia and Algeria. Serbia won 3-0. Bodes well for England eh?
I grabbed a hamburger (traditional Algerian dish I guess) and after the final whistle, returned to my lonely hotel room and fell fast asleep, dreaming of the day when I can tick the last that one last country off my ‘Africa’ list. At this rate, that day may well be many months away.
The town of El Kala was undoubtedly a rather pleasant one, a sleepy fishing village that would have gone down will with the tourists before the civil war of the 1990s that ripped Algeria apart and set the tourists packing, presumably for Morocco instead.
In the centre is a dilapidated old cathedral, beautiful in it’s worn, craggy features and down in the water are hundreds of little wooden fishing boats, much as it would have been in the past and yet still is today. I filmed some kids playing football (they demanded!) in the streets and grabbed myself a cup of coffee before jumping a taxi back to the border. No Algerian Security Services this time, just a clear run back to Tunisia.
A boat would be leaving from Tunis for Italy at 8pm tonight and it had my name on it.
At the border I was thankful that my English-speaking friend wasn’t there, it would have been just too awkward to explain that I couldn’t stay in his country any longer, he was so keen for me to come in, stay for a while and have a great time. In the shared taxi back down the mountain to Tabarka in Tunisia I got chatting with a lovely guy called Achraf who worked in Algeria and told me that I had really missed out not seeing Annaba – apparently, nothing new had been built there since the 1950s. Sounds like my idea of heaven. Could you imagine a concrete-less town? Hell, I’ve been around the world and (I-I-I-) I can’t find my unmarred city.
But that will have to be an adventure for another day. By the afternoon I was back in Tunis. I met up with Claire, giving her a towel I bought to say sorry for flooding her flat. We then went on a most excellent adventure in search of food and beer. After saying my goodbyes, I headed back to Dja’s place, catching him when he finished work to say ta-ra and grab my backpack.
A taxi to the port and a purchased ticket saw me doing all I needed to do to get on with The Odyssey – I was FINALLY heading back to Istanbul after a completely unwelcome, immensely costly and time-consuming back-track.
Well it’s taken me the best part of a year, but I’ve done it, I visited every African nation it is possible to visit overland. Eritrea will have to wait until I manage to find some way to get there on a boat, but for now I’m done with in this infernal, infuriating place.
One of the things that holds back many people from travelling is the prospect of wasting time and effort attempting to get into countries that would quite prefer it if you didn’t bother. However, it is a false presumption. In more than 150 countries worldwide you can turn up without shelling out $$$ for an invitation first.
So here’s a comprehensive list of the visa requirements for British Passport Holders for every country in the world, although it may come in useful for other nationalities as well.
I’ve split the world into four main categories: No Visa Required, Visa On Arrival, Prior Visa Required and Letter of Invitation (LOI) Required.
No Visa Required: You beauties!! Note the (very) high prevalence of prosperous, confident and democratic countries in this list.
Visa on Arrival: Not quite as good as no visa at all, but much, much less hassle than:
Prior Visa/LOI required: Crikey. What a bitch. Don’t turn up without a visa to any of the countries on this (mercifully short) list of grubby and inhospitable nations. They will fly you straight back home again at your expense because you didn’t ask their f—ing permission first. So go queue outside their ostentatious embassies in the pouring rain for hours, pay them a bundle of fivers and then wait and wait and wait for the privilege of visiting their stupid godforsaken country.
I find the whole process quite demeaning – it’s like having to write to someone to ask if you can attend their wedding – take the hint man, take the hint – these countries are obviously not much interested in you, or tourism in general.
Many of these countries hilariously require an onward ticket, some want you to write a begging letter to come in, others want a letter off your employer or even copies of your bank statements… remember this is not to LIVE THERE, this is just to VISIT FOR A FEW DAYS.
The worst of the worst require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) – I’ve cast these down into the very lowest rungs of hell. Not only do you have to pay extortionate amounts of money to Ambassador Ratbag for the stamp, you also have to pay someone in the country to ‘vouch’ for you.
I would actually like a list of all of the illegal refugees and economic migrants pouring out of our rich democratic nations and claiming asylum in… Nigeria? Papua New Guinea? TURKMENISTAN?? Seriously? WHAT?
I hold Australia in particular contempt for this policy – it is the ONLY rich westernised power on an otherwise quite hellish list of paranoid basketcases.
Oh, and by the way, Aussie tourists are granted a SIX MONTH stay in the UK, upon arrival, for free. So, Australia, when you ask me in your rasping nasal tones where the bloody hell am I – I guess I’m in a country that welcomes me with open arms rather than a punch in the face and a bill of sale.
But look on the bright side, there are 150 (other, better) countries which don’t make you beg for permission to pop in for a visit…
Here’s your at-a-glance VISA MAP OF THE WORLD:
NO VISA REQUIRED (WOO!)
Antigua & Barbuda
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago
USA (but you do need a prior visa if you arrive on private boat or plane)
Bosnia & Herzegovina
THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Iraq (Kurdistan only, entered from Turkey)
Jordan (if you enter on the ferry from Egypt)
VISA ON ARRIVAL
Cuba (well, I got a visa on arrival, but I came on a yacht…)
THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA Jordan
SE ASIA/OCEANIA Burma (but only valid for border regions)
East Timor (though no longer available on land border with Indonesia)
Indonesia (though not available on land borders with East Timor and PNG)
That’s over 150 countries where you can get in without asking prior permission. Now here’s the naughty list:
PRIOR VISA REQUIRED
Suriname (letting the side down there somewhat)
Cuba (but I doubt they’d turn you back)
EUROPE Belarus (no surprise there – they still have the KGB)
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
Eritrea (best obtained in Jeddah – next day delivery)
Ethiopia (best obtained in Nairobi – same day delivery)
Madagascar (but it’s free, so can’t complain)
Sao Tome & Principe
Sudan (best obtained in Cairo – same day delivery)
Burma (for travel into interior)
India (AND now requires you to leave for 60 days between visits!)
Iraq (for travel beyond Kurdistan)
Papua New Guinea
*visa obtainable on arrival at airport with prior permission over internet
LETTER OF INVITATION (+ PRIOR VISA) REQUIRED
Azerbaijan (no LOI required if visa bought in Georgia)
Libya (AND you must pay for a ‘guide’)
THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
*To make matters worse, these visas can only be obtained in your country of origin (although it is possible to get a Nigerian visa from Ghana and an Algerian visa from Mali if you’re lucky).
Right. That’s it. If there are any mistakes/updates/excuses you’d like to make (this is pretty much all off the top of my head), please comment below.