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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Known Felon

We left the hotel quite early.

It was sad… I knew my tenting days were about to begin and I bid adieu to the comfort of permanent structures.

If memory serves, the Nomad tents are dirty, rusty and very much reminiscent of war-torn relics from WWII.

Not exactly a cider... but this is the only photo I have

Of course, due to the splendid comfort, once again, I slept in. Yes… such an idiot. I had set my alarm for earlier, but had opted to ignore it in trade for extended slumber.

I woke up in a panic… and rushed. Ugh

I approached the front desk, as I had to check out and pay for the cider I had consumed the evening prior, at dinner. Well, I must have stood at the front desk for about 15 minutes, while the woman stared blankly at the screen.

I repeated, “Just had one cider,” credit card in hand.


Absolutely no response.

Just staring at the screen.

“Can I please pay for my cider so that I can have breakfast before my tour leaves?”

Seemed a reasonable request. I drank a cider and now, here I was, to pay for my cider. Finally she claimed she couldn’t find it on my room bill.


“I still had one,” I insisted. “Just need to pay.”


This was getting frustrating.

Regardless of if it was on my room or not, I still owed for it and I was standing there willing to pay.

“I think it was 350 shillings,” I said, and once again, held my credit card straight out to her. She just kept staring at the blank screen, as if she was waiting for the charge to suddenly pop up.

It didn’t.

Finally, my patience level had been exceeded. I threw my credit card down and told her I would be back. Breakfast was waiting and the truck would NOT be waiting if I didn’t have anything to eat. I scarfed down some fruit and headed back to the front desk to (hopefully) complete my transaction. I came back to find her in exactly the same position, just standing there, staring at the computer.

She still couldn’t find the charge.

“Can’t you just charge me for one cider?”


Obviously not.

Guess that’s too difficult.

Then she turned from the computer, looked directly at me and said, AND I QUOTE - “They didn’t charge it to your room, so you have not been charged for it, so you don’t need to worry about this. We will cover the cost of the cider for you.”

It was a lovely thing to say, but still… it was odd… and I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble or have anyone’s paycheque docked.

I had depleted the bulk of my Kenyan shilling, as we were headed across the Ugandan border soon. Considering she would not take my credit card, I emptied my change purse out in front of her and then handed her everything I had, which probably equated to about 225 shilling. It was the best I could do to cover the cost of a cider that I wasn’t being charged for.

Thank you… and I left the front desk to return to the restaurant.

During breakfast, I had asked the server for a coffee and by the time I finished my meal, the coffee still not arrived. I felt bad having ordered it… and then promptly disappeared, so I wandered back in to either pick it up or cancel the order. Well… oddly enough, the coffee was still not ready, but he let me know he could make it to go.

Ok… sounded great.

I like coffee to go…as opposed to guzzling a hot drink quickly... especially when I’m sitting on a bus for an extended amount of time.

I stood there for an additional 10 minutes, waiting… and realized this hotel had a bit of a theme. Waiting. My lack of patience surpassed the wait time. I simply could not handle the time frame presented and I waved off the coffee, demonstrating my panic to get to the bus on time. I could see through the front doors that everyone had boarded… and I was the only one missing.

I left quickly. We had been told departure was at exactly 6:01am… and it was already 6:15am. I scurried through the hotel lobby, and was almost through the front entrance, when the front desk lady beckoned me back over.

Did she finally find the charge?


She was calling me over to let me know the cider was 350 shilling and I had NOT PAID ENOUGH!!!!!!!

She wanted MORE MONEY.

Wow - that changed rapidly. It went from a complimentary cider to a demand of payment.

Of course, as I previously mentioned, I had exhausted my Kenyan shilling, so I was flat broke. She woundn’t take my credit card, because obviously she had nothing to tie it to in her computer system. I shot her my best “you’re fucking kidding me” glare and then took off running towards the bus to beg anyone to lend me around 200 shilling. Joyce quickly handed it to me and as I turned to disembark, I almost knocked over the breakfast waiter, who was standing at the door of the bus, with my to-go coffee on a serving platter.

Surreal experience.

GO TIME - Many thank-you’s… grabbed my coffee… hi-tailed it back to the front desk… dumped the remaining shilling on the desk… ran back… boarded the bus…

Ok… calm down

We had been reconciled with our two Nomad guides, Dings and Rims, and they were anxious to get their part of the tour started. It ended up being the longest day in the bus ever, and I was awake for the entire day… unlike the day before. Probably the coffee!!! I had secured a seat at the front of the bus, just to ensure that I didn’t suffer like I had the day prior. The back seat is always the bumpiest… from my experience anyway.

We spent 14 hours on the bus.

It was our own private hell.

Yes, we stopped temporarily for bushy bushy and a quick lunch stop… but the road never seemed to end. On the main Nomad itinerary, they had written the highlight of the day was crossing the equator, but no one even mentioned it when we drove across.

I had my first article for Verge due and I was in a race to get it done before we reached the Uganda border. Even though we had been promised WiFI at the resort for the evening, I knew better than to trust African internet promises. My Kenyan data would expire at the border, if the promise of WIFI didn’t follow through, I would be left without access to the outer world. I must have written for 3 hours straight on the bus… but my hard work and determination paid off. About 5kms from the border, I completed my article and sent it in… with a full 13% power remaining on my computer.


Right after lunch and as I was helping with dish duty, Ding came up to me and asked me if could speak to me in private.

Was I in trouble???

He led me away from where everyone was standing, and to the back of the Nomad bus. Once we were in private and away from the prying eyes of all others, he took my hand, like he really had something significant to say… He looked nervous and uncomfortable…


What had I done?

Finally it came out.

The hotel had called him…

Of course, my first thought was the bloody cider.

They probably wanted more money for my f’ing complimentary cider.

But I was wrong…

The hotel had called him because they believed I had stolen their towel from the room.


In order to save me some humiliation, he put a spin on the story in an attempt to dull the sting on my perceived theft, suggesting that perhaps I’d left it by the pool…


There was a POOL?

Oh man… it just kept getting better.

I explained my shower the night prior… and how I’d been forced to shake myself dry and pat myself down with a small hand towel. I even offered for Dings to look through my belongings.


... only me.

So now I’m a towel thief. To be honest, I had actually considered stealing a pillow… but had not fallen into a life of crime so easily. Later on, the hotel phoned back to let him know they’d actually forgotten to GIVE ME TOWELS…! I can’t make this shit up… So I was off the hook with the Kenyan police for that one.

Their hotel motto is "We will take care of you"... unless you steal a towel...

Then… we reached the Uganda border.

Trouble was brewing. I knew it.

My problem of a 01 instead of a 04 wouldn’t be as easy to fix as it rightfully should be… and although the fault lie with their process… I knew they would spin it in a manner that would ultimately force me to pay.

If you haven’t already read about my issue with my East African Visa - it’s all right here!

I had to prepare.

FULLY prepare.

This wasn’t going to be simple… please Lord, grant me the patience to get me across the border…

Diligently, I stood in line to get my exit stamp for Kenya before I would be permitted to cross to the next line to gain access into Uganda. Rims had promised to stay by my side through the entire process, and offer his assistance where needed… but he was utterly useless. As soon as it was my turn, I stepped forward and with a trembling hand, handed the border patrol officer my passport.

He noticed right away.

Game on.

The officer immediately insisted that I had to leave the country.

I disagreed.

Let the battle begin because I wasn’t backing down until he heard me out, as much as he didn’t want to. ALL African guidebooks will encourage you never to argue with border patrol… at all… BUT… I had some serious ‘splainin’ to do!

It was a back & forth conversation, but more like a rapid fire debate.

~ He told me I had to leave the country.

I told him I’d just arrived.

~ He showed me the expiry date of my East Africa Visa.

I showed him the entry date and stamp of my East Africa Visa.

~ He told me that I wasn’t permitted to extend my stay.

I told him I wasn’t trying to extend my stay, nor would I EVER try to extend my stay.

~ He told me to get out on the 25th of January.

I told him sure, even though that was impossible, considering I’d only arrived on the 26th.

~ He told me I had to go back to my original point of entry and make them fix it.

I asked him why I had to suffer because of such a simple KENYAN mistake.

According to his narrow-minded way of thinking, my VISA said to get out on January 25th and I was 5 days behind. Technically I was breaking the law.


I was NOT having it.

Any of it.

In a temporary moment of exhaustion, passivity and submission, I lapsed from my determined state and asked if I could just purchase another East African Visa and he agreed… but as soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to retract them. The though of re-spending $140 Canadian for what I ALREADY had, did not exactly sit well with me.


... AND... back to the battle...

FINALLY… we set about trying to negotiate a solution. Negotiate is probably the wrong word to use. I wasn’t really in the mood to negotiate, per say. All I wanted done was a 01 changed to a 04 with a blue pen. Something I could have done myself and avoided this whole debacle.

His solution?

I’ll give everyone 3 guesses…

  1. Cash.

  2. Cash.

  3. Cash.

His first offer was $100US.

$100 to change an 01 to an 04? Are you f’in kidding me?

I didn’t have $100 US. In fact, I had NOTHING.

I had given the very last of my Kenyan shilling to my complimentary cider. In addition to my impoverished financial state, I OWED people on the bus already. People I didn’t really even know yet! Joyce had lent me the 200 for the cider earlier and Tony & Lisa had bought me a beer at lunch.

The border patrol looked me up and down and said, “You look rich.”


I looked myself up and down in an attempt to see what he saw. Rich, I was not, nor did I look it. I was in a dirty black t-shirt and stretchy old shorts, which most people would not dare be seen in public wearing. I was a sweaty mess. My feet were a filthy shade of dirt and my hair was mangled, unwashed and tossed up in an untidy clump on the top of my head.

Nothing about me screamed rich.

Nothing about me even yelled middle class.

Poor… most definitely.

Finally he ended his barter at $50US… and would NOT budge from there.


HELP… I needed help… in the form of cash… and not just any cash… I needed American currency. I was desperate. I needed $50US to pay this goof off in order to properly exit Kenya without being escorted out by armed guards.

One of the girls on the tour, Preya, reached into her wallet and pulled out $30. It was all she had on her person. I handed the man $30US, in an attempt to further bring the bribe down… but he shook his head, unyielding.

“$50US or you can leave now,” was his final answer.


That’s when I couldn’t handle it anymore.

My face turned a bright shade of pure frustration… and tears flooded my eyes.

As soon as I exited the building, tears were rolling down my face.

When in doubt… cry.

I was being punished for a mistake made my a government official… and in addition to it, I was being rolled over and taken advantage of. This was the second time I’d had VISA issues and I couldn’t afford to keep doling out funds to have their deliberate mistakes rectified.

*Note to ALL travellers - DO NOT trust the border patrol professionals… EVER!!! ALWAYS check and double check your VISA before passing through. TRUST ME...

Rims escorted me back to the Nomad bus and although I think he was attempting to be comforting, his words of “Don’t cry or we will all be in trouble” didn’t quite do the trick. I shot back with “thanks for being so helpful,” but my sarcasm went right over his head. He had abandoned me.

Beat it.

I rummaged through my entire bag in a desperate attempt to find anything slightly resembling American money and I finally got my hands on $23. With Preya’s $30, I finally had the $50 he was demanding.

Once again, I waited patiently in the Exit-Kenya line up… and when I finally reached the front, I noticed Dings in the office speaking with my new corrupt friend. I handed my phone over to show the email confirming my 3 month VISA, proving I had been granted more than -1 one day. It was time to pull all the punches now. Dings even mentioned my volunteer work.

Finally, he relented… and agreed to take $30. He made a big grandiose speech about how this was not my fault, yet he couldn’t be expected to have to sit around and fix mistakes all day long. Puuuulllleeeaaazzzzeeeee... Apparently my VISA was done properly in the system, so technically I could have just changed the 01 to a 04 myself and no one would have been any the wiser. This scoundrel was only lining his own pocket.

With my $30US securely in his hand, he promptly changed the 01 to an 04, stamped the exit approval from Kenya and let me pass through to Uganda customs.

Holy shit… what an ordeal.

Of course, I gave everyone something to chat about and it’s a story I’m sure no one will ever forget. I have definitely demonstrated the necessity to remain alert about every VISA received from now until eternity.

So… a full day indeed.

Towel thief. Cider payment evader. Trespasser. Illegal border jumper.


*still laughing about that one.

… and I’m confident that more is on it’s way.

The rest of the tour gang has already pinpointed me as serious bad luck.

There is a Nile River white water rafting trip coming up… and no, I will not be joining them on that adventure, much to their delight.

Can you imagine?

The raft would flip for sure.

The guide assured us that there are no Hippos... and that Nile crocodiles are vegetarian, but I'm slightly hesitant to believe that.


I’m good.

I had enough fun in Africa three years ago when I flipped an ATV over myself. I really don't feel the need to top it with wild rapids, hungry crocodiles and the lives of absolutely everyone aboard.


But… hey... welcome to Uganda, Joanna.

What a ride!

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Feb 17, 2023

Enjoyed reading this! Only been to Africa once, but not really so interested to ever return due to shenanigans like you mention. Way rather spend my dollars in Asia or Europe, but it surely builds character! Thanks for sharing and good luck!


Feb 13, 2023

Wow you sure are 'having a time" but gotta give it to you your tenacity outweighs the odds you have been up against...

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