After two-and-a-half months visiting family and friends in Canada and France, I am back in Africa. Touching down on Kenyan soil, I was filled with a Freudian mixture of familiarity and foreignness. Two-and-a-half months is a long time, after all.
Over the past two years, Bruno and I have traveled to a dozen countries in Southern and East Africa behind the wheel of our trusty Toyota Land Cruiser. Now, in Kenya yet again, the obvious question is Where to next?
The answer, my friends, is North.
Our ultimate goal in the next year is to reach Canada with the vehicle. To do so, we need to catch a ferry from Germany. To do that, we need to go through the Middle East. And to do that, we need to leave Africa.
Soon – if all goes according to plan – we will say goodbye to a continent that has shown me lions and leopards, taught me how to ride a horse, fed me sadza, rolex, and chipsi maayai, and introduced me to my beloved Bruno and my nomadic style of life. It won’t be a goodbye forever – I still haven’t seen my big-maned male lion, after all – but more of a see you again one day kind of goodbye.
And it’s not goodbye just yet, anyway. Our passports are armed with tourist visas for Ethiopia and Sudan, and we intend to use them. Especially since getting them wasn’t an easy process. We’d learned that receiving an Ethiopian tourist visa in Nairobi was unpredictable, so we sent our passports to the Ethiopian embassy in Paris while we were in France, and received 3-month multiple entry visas. We were lucky we chose this option, because good travel friends of ours tried to get their Ethiopian tourist visas in Nairobi last week, and were refused. Twice. It turns out that new regulations (put in place on October 20th, 2014) forbid overlanders from getting tourist visas in Ethiopia. The only way to get a visa from East Africa, now, is to fly into the country and receive a one-month single entry visa on arrival. Or to get the visa in your home country. I’m praising Bruno, yet again, for his foresight.
While our friends were being refused their Ethiopian visa, we were struggling with our Sudanese visa. We had gone to the embassy with the standard documents – passport, passport copy, passport photos, forms filled out – only to learn that we needed letters of introduction from our respective embassies. We also needed photocopies of our carnet de passage and credit cards, but that wasn’t a problem. The problem was driving to the other end of the city to the Canadian High Commission, and then to the center of town to the French Embassy before coming back to complete our application.
We almost didn’t do it. The traffic in Nairobi is so terrible that we decided we’d get our Sudanese visas in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). A bit of internet research, however, showed us that Sudanese tourist visas are virtually impossible to get in Ethiopia, and that, to get a 15-day transit visa you first needed an Egyptian visa. Since we aren’t planning to go to Egypt – entering the country by road is one of overland travel’s biggest headaches, apparently – it was clear that we would need to make the long trek to our embassies.
I’m happy we did. It was easy (if expensive, for me) to get the letters, and we were back at the Sudanese embassy the next day. Our forms were handed in, we were asked to wait while they were evaluated, and 90 minutes later, we paid the 5000 shilling fee (about $75) and were told to come back 48 hours later for our visas.
Since I began traveling with Bruno, visas have been easy to come by. In every country, we were able to get a visa upon entry at the border, and in much of Southern Africa, visas were even free. This was thus my first experience with visa-related bureaucracy. It won’t be my last, I think, because we are planning to try to get the extremely difficult Saudi Arabian transit visa.
But that’s a story for a later time. For now, it’s off to the horn of Africa!