If you're trying to clear customs in Gaborone, Botswana with several boxes of bicycle parts, you may want to budget more time than your flight took.


The turbo-prop flight (a little bumpy for my already-queasy stomach, thanks) from Jo'burg to Gaborone took a little over an hour.

Clearing customs took almost three.

We were quite thankful that our checked bags along with all four boxes of much-needed supplies that we brought for Jonmol Bicycle Services made all three of our flight legs and arrived safe and sound in Botswana's one-room and non-air-conditioned airport. Little did we know, however, getting them into the airport would prove to be much easier than getting them out.

Our two customs agents were understandably baffled when we insisted that the contents of our boxes were a donation of bicycle parts, since they really had no idea who the heck would need or want bicycle parts in Gabs (as Gaborone is affectionately known to locals).

What made the process drag on for hours was that the agents, really just trying to do their jobs, insisted on counting and cataloging every single thing we brought in. This gets to be pretty challenging when you have to explain things like what a replacement bicycle handlebar grip is used for. It was also an eye-opener for me as to how "official" things work in this part of Africa. Nothing is rushed or formal in any sort of authoritative way like it would have been as a U.S. airport, and there was lots of back and forth banter and certainly some, let's say fudging, of the numbers here and there.

Once all of the boxes were opened, unpacked, counted (including hundreds of inner tubes), the haggling began. Since the purpose of the goods and our mission didn't really fit neatly into any of the Botswana standards for customs charges, duties, VAT fees and the like, Ken and Matt had some negotiating to do. After going round and round at the counter with our friendly agents, they ended up having a sit-down in the customs office (more of a walk-in closet really).

After at least another half hour of discussion, everyone emerged weary but smiling. The charge ended up at 10% of the value of our donated bike parts, dutifully "estimated" by the customs staff. While it was no paltry sum in the end, it could have been higher even than the wholesale price we paid for the parts and accessories in the first place, which wouldn't have gotten a smile from Ken or Matt, that's for sure.

To see more pictures of our adventure at the airport in Gaborone, Botswana, click for here.