Border Crossing: a solo travelers list of blunders from Durban to Maputo

The Global Entity
E23S1 Border Crossing: a solo travelers list of blunders from Durban to Maputo

Solo traveling to Maputo from Durban by bus, attempt one

After I had dropped my mom off at the airport it was time to get my shit in order. My South African 90-day visa was about to expire and I needed to get out of the country. I had decided to go to Mozambique and had two days left to prepare to cross the border. I’m going to take the bus to Maputo from Durban. Since I have never crossed an African border by land before I decided to book the trip to Mozambique a few days before my visa expired and thank God I did! The day of, I get up at four AM to get to the bus station. When I get there I can’t find the bus anywhere. There are no signs even indicating that the bus company I bought the ticket from exists. After stressing around with all of my luggage, a vague memory of a hotel resurfaces in my mind. I’ve heard people being picked up there by big busses before. Unable to order an Uber from the bus station due to the tensions between the online taxi drivers and the ‘normal’ taxi drivers, I had to pay the much higher standard fee to drive the five minutes to the hotel.

When I get there I rush into the lobby. The hotel staff confirm that I am at the right place but say there is no bus today, only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I show them my ticket and they shrug their shoulders. After waiting for the bus for two hours, I accept no bus is coming. After calling every bus office in all of South Africa without any response, I dial the number to the Maputo office and finally, a kind lady answers! She doesn’t speak English but I manage to understand enough of her Portuguese to understand that there is no bus today. But I bought my ticket for today, I say indignant. “Oh, that’s no problem. You can use the same ticket for the Saturday bus.” The lady responds and hangs up. I’m baffled by this reply. I definitely feel it’s a problem for me. However, there is nothing to do about it. I book myself two more nights at a hotel and spend my days in Durban botanic garden hugging trees.


Attempt 2 of entering Mozambique: a hail mary!

Saturday morning starts off better than the last attempt. I am at the right place, at the right time and the bus arrives! When the bus starts rolling down the streets of Durban I feel happy and excited and nervous, all at the same time. I am going to Mozambique! I am going to a completely new context and I have no idea what to expect. The excitement doesn’t last long though; thirty minutes outside of Durban the bus breaks down. Two hours later we are still waiting for a mechanic. Fantastic. I am starting to feel stressed about my whole situation. My South Africa visa expires today and the guy who is sitting next to me wont stop chewing gum as loudly as he can. If you want to ensure to not be my friend, this is a safe way to do it. Chew loudly. I cannot stand it.


Suddenly the guy turns to me, says there is another way to get to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. He asks if I want to join and my first instinct is to enthusiastically say yes! At this point I am eternally grateful that my angry glares earlier had not scared him off. He orders an Uber to come pick us up right there at the highway. While we wait I start doubting my decision. It is not wise to get into a car with a stranger, a strange man that is… but, with my visa predicament I didn’t feel I could give up this opportunity. As I stand there, trying to calculate the risk, a Mozambican family comes up to us and asks if they can join our Uber to get to the taxi rank. I thanked my angels for this, it felt a lot easier making the choice with another woman and her family there.  When we get to Durban’s taxi rank the waiting begins. Taxis are mini buses that function as the unscheduled public transport of South Africa. They play an essential part of locals’ everyday infrastructure and you cannot avoid noticing them when you are here. 


Traveling like a local: Durban's internationl taxi system

I have definitely been warned about the Durban taxi rank, or taxi ranks in general in South Africa. The risk of getting mugged as a tourist is said to be bigger here than other areas. I’ve always felt the place to be extremely chaotic when I’ve been here before but now that I am sitting here just waiting, I am amazed by the order of everything. Even though I don’t understand how, everyone, absolutely everyone knows where to go. Vendors, taxis and people all coexist together in a very limited space and yet no accidents happen, no foot is run over and nobody is squished between the moving and still vehicles.  Absolutely amazing!

We have to wait until every seat in the taxi is full before we can leave, that’s how this unscheduled system works. When we finally start rolling out of Durban, I’m exhausted. I don’t think we even have time to leave the city before I’m snoring. I am woken up a few hours later by the guy who helped me onto the bus. We have stopped for a bathroom break at a gas station and the guy explains that he is getting into another car. When I ask why he looks at me like I’m an idiot and says that the border closes at five. What the actual f*ck? He wishes me luck, promptly turns his gum chewing head around and walks away.

Once everyone, except for him, is back in the taxi and we start driving again, I start feeling real nervous. This was not a good idea. What if we don’t make it cross the border, what happens then? And even if we do manage to cross the border I have no local money, no local sim card, no way to contact with anyone. I don’t even know where this bus will be dropping us off. I just have the address of my hostel on a note in my phone. It’s at this point that I’m starting to feel dumb. Real dumb. This was a dumb, dumb choice. As the clock ticks closer to five, I am sweating. Nobody else seems to be bothered though. I try to ask the lady besides me but she doesn’t speak English.

Crossing then South African border into Mozambique

We are about forty minutes late when we finally arrive at the border. The migration staff wave the driver through, it’s almost like they were expecting him. I go through the South African border with a sense of relief, I made it! I should not have been so quick to celebrate though. The border is a very serious business and the lack of smiles makes me nervous. When I get to the Mozambican border, there are even less smiles. The migration officer in front of me does not speak a word to me, only grunts. He doesn’t look at me but rather down at me. He grunts for me to follow him into his office and I oblige. Here follows a ninety minute long procedure of checking my papers, not just my passport but my booking confirmation and any and every other detail of my journey.


It’s a huge problem that I don’t have my booking confirmation printed. An even bigger problem is that I don’t have the hostel’s phone number. I desperately try to google it but I am in Mozambique now and no longer have cell service. I look up at the officer who is sitting in front of a computer. He could definitely google that for me, but he just stares at something slightly above me. It feels like I’m suspected of a crime and have to justify my journey. I pretend to find the number to the hostel and just write some random numbers down. After an hour of back and forth, the taxi driver comes looking for me. The officer looks irritated to be cut off but I am grateful for the break in the interrogation. They exchange words in a language I don’t understand and I quickly turn around to the taxi driver and beg him not to leave me. It just hit me that that is a possibility but he ensures me that they will wait.

Thirty minutes later, the sour migration officer finally asks me for my border visa payment. I sigh in relief, payment equals visa. I am getting my visa. I count the money in front of the officer, scoop it up and hand it to him. He picks it up and starts counting it in front of me, two and two. The last three notes he also counts as two. He looks at me with his tiny eyes and says to me with perfect English “You are missing fifty rand.” I’m shook. Both by the fact that this man, who has refused to explain anything to me in English for the past ninety minutes, speaks perfect English. But also by the fact that both him and I can clearly see the money he is holding. I am about to say something, protest, ask to recount the money myself, just anything before I remember: he has all the power. I can’t go back to South Africa, I don’t have a visa there anymore. I have to get to Maputo. I swallow my pride and realise that fifty rand is a cheap price for me to just get through the situation. I could also be wrong about what I saw.

Arriving in Maputo, Mozambique

I am the only one in the bus who had trouble at the border and my fellow passengers are less than happy with me when I return. However, the mood in the bus changes as we pass herds of zebras, antelopes and even a few giraffes! It’s absolutely amazing! The border at Punta d’Ouro has a lot of game reserves nearby and apparently they all come out at dusk.

The feeling of awe quickly changes into tense, silent panic as we run into a flock of elephants. The whole bus gets real quiet and stops. I can almost feel the tension in the air as one of the younger male elephants start walking towards us with his ears up. I am both amazed and painfully aware of the fragile material the bus is made of. To be so close. This elephant would only have to lift its left front leg and it would crush us like a bug. Something happens within the herd and the elephants start moving to the left, off the road. The young male looks at us a little while longer before he sort of shrugs and joins the rest of them. We start creeping by, slowly, slowly.

As we get past the elephants people start talking again and laughing, exhilarated by the experience. Never before have I experienced something like this. This can’t be normal? The rest of the drive goes without any further hiccups. When we finally start rolling into Maputo, it’s already after ten at night. Maputo’s equivalent to a taxi rank is called Junta, looks like football field and lies outside of the city core. Even though it’s night Junta is filled with people. As I wait for my bag to be handed to me I try to look for the mother who I shared an Uber with earlier in Durban but she is nowhere to be found. I wanted to ask them to share a taxi with me as I had no idea where I was. Instead I get overwhelmed with taxi offers and people who want to carry my bags.

Not knowing the customs here, I hold tightly onto all my things and decide to go with one of them. I know he is ripping me off even though I manage to get the price down. But, I’m in a taxi rank at night in a country I don’t know. I have to just do the best out of a shitty situation and get to my hostel. Even though the taxi driver doesn’t understand a word of English and I can’t speak a word of Portuguese, he talks the whole ride through. He stops to ask the way and finally parks in front of a blue garage door. Fatimas Backpackers it says in big letters on the house. The driver steps out and asks the guards if this is The Base Hostel. The oldest of the guards stands up and confirms. I ask one more time just to be sure and they all nod. I pay the driver the last of my rands (South African currency), get my bags and start walking inside.

When I get inside, there is a huge, artsy bar and in the middle of it, a super cute receptionist. “Is this The Base Hostel?” I ask directly without even saying hello. The cute guy look at me “No, this is not the base…”

F*cking f*ck.


I instantly drop all my bags and run outside to catch the cab before he drives off with the last of my cash. He is on his way out, already rolling, when I burst out of the garage doors roaring from the bottom of my lungs. The guy looks terrified and in hindsight, I can absolutely understand that. I was a bit unhinged. But the stress of the past 18 hours and not having more cash on me made me desperate.

As he parks, I go back inside to get my bags. The old guard asks if he can help me carry my bags. “You have helped enough” I say unnecessarily and stomped off with all my luggage. The moment I sit down in the car the anger and fear evaporates and I realise I’ve been an ass. A real, royal, tourist jackass. I sink into my seat in shame. To my horror I see how the whole staff has gathered outside the garage door and look at me. With pity. Or is it worry? I wanted to sink through the ground.

I wish that was the end of it but no. After driving for ten minutes, I realise we are lost. The driver is irritated with me because I don’t have any internet. I’m just irritated. After getting directions from some homeless man we stop in an alley. The driver turns around in his seat, looks at me and says, “I want more payment.” I answer with an “excuse me”. “This is a longer trip, I want more payment.” This is such a stupidly dangerous situation to be in that I don’t argue with him. I’m not sure if he is intending to be threatening or not, but the very precarious situation I am in where I am 100% dependent on him to get to my destination makes me scared.

I answer that I will pay him on arrival. I don’t have any more cash but that’s irrelevant right now. The driver seems satisfied with my answer and starts driving again. Ten minutes later we arrive at The Base. Finally. Thank goodness. Thank God. Thank everything and everyone. I roam through my pockets and find ten rand and stuff it in his hand and pray he wont argue. What a day! What a crazy, fricking day. So many mistakes were made, so many risks. But I handled it. After checking in, I sit down on the veranda, too wired to be able to sleep straight away. The wind is chilly but the Maputo air is humid and warm. I have arrived.

Border Crossing: 2 Tips for Solo Travelers

Well, frankly I feel this text is pretty straight forward in what not to do when you are about to cross a border for the first time. However, we learnt a lot!

This post was a long one so I will jump straight to the two main lessons:

  • Print everything.
  • Don’t be a prick. Just because you are overwhelmed,
    you chose to be here.

I think that pretty much sums it up.

6 thoughts on “Border Crossing: a solo travelers list of blunders from Durban to Maputo”

  1. Monica Andersson

    So you shared the taxi with a man chewing loudly 🤣 you must have been desperate

    What an adventure meeting the wild animals

    Passing the borders seems tricky and not very secure

  2. 1. You’re such a great storyteller!!
    2. What a heck of a journey!! 😯

    I wish people would be friendlier towards travellers. ESP at the border! It’s daunting enough to be far from home and familiarity.

    And as someone who uses public transport, I wish the public transport system in SA will improve one day. It’s incredibly frustrating and inefficient. Sad how corruption has robbed us of so much.

    Nonetheless hope your time in Maputo is refreshing! 🌸

    1. Thank you so much dear!! Yeah hey I completely get you, at least when it comes to authorities and bureaucracy they can be so rude!
      It does deprive you, you are absolutely right. When I was traveling SA now I used mostly Uber or Bolt but that would be impossible to maintain on an evveryday level financially. Not having a better, safer and more reliable public transportation system makes freedom of movement a question of class and riches. It’s sad.

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