For the first time since I began this weblog, I am appealing to anyone out there who may know the answer to a rather complicated question. After some days of trying to organise the various legal and visa requirements for the next leg of the walk, I have hit something of an unexpected snag.
When we originally crossed into France last year from the UK, nobody stamped our passports. We wandered, blithely unconcerned, down through France and over into Spain, with nary a problem. From Santiago, however, I flew back the UK for a weekend; and on re-entering Spain, my passport was stamped for the first time. I actually asked the guys at border control what the situation was, considering that I was on foot, and about to cross into Portugal; but they seemed entirely unconcerned.
Nobody gave my passport so much as a glance until the boat over to Morocco, where it was, once again, stamped without comment. On return to Spain after the three months walking in Morocco - again, no comment as Spanish border control stamped it. However, at the airport when I left Spain to fly back to the UK, Mr "I have a uniform and therefore I am" dickhead passport control got all excited at the fact that, on close inspection, he could see that I had stayed longer in the EU than my three month allowance under the Schengen agreement. He huffed and he puffed, and humiliated me in front of all the suntanned Easy Jetters waving their magic little red passports as they looked at my pathetic blue one pityingly, and then finally he condescended to wave me through with the strict warning that I would not be allowed back into the EU for six months since I overstayed my welcome last time. This, mind you, despite the fact that Gary - also travelling on an Australian blue one - was waved through without challenge simply because he had never flown out of Spain the previous time, and hence had no stamps marring his little blue book.
Now, we are booked to return to Spain on the 15th of September, from whence we had planned to take the boat to Morocco (it is approximately two hundred pounds per person cheaper to do things this way than fly to Morocco itself). Somewhat worried, I have been to the Spanish embassy today, whose advice went along the lines of: "well, just go on the plane and try. They might let you in and they might not" variety, which was rather less specific than I had hoped for. As far as the Australian embassy is concerned there should be no problem; the British Home Office, through whom I have Indefinite Leave to Remain in Britain, has no idea. (About the passport issue, either.)
So, here I am. The vastly amusing thing about all this is that I rang the Mauritanian embassy to get our visas sorted out and:
a/ got answered by a human being straight away
b/ was immediately emailed the requisite forms, and
c/ issued with a trouble free appointment to acquire the visa.
So much for Africa being the home of incompetencey and inefficiency. Compared to the utter mong brains of the EU, every African administration I have dealt with so far appears not only charmingly polite, but overwhelmingly straightforward, helpful and efficient.
I may never come back.
In the meantime, if any of you have any thoughts on this dilemma, please email or post a comment. I am off to drown my sorrows; at least that's one thing I can do without a bloody stamp.