From hieroglyphs to selfies - Sudan continued.

There is so much that we do not know
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Can you believe this?!? As it is, I'm already not very happy about writing these blogs because I do it on a tablet or on a smartphone. And the entire process of getting a blog online with the writing, editing, uploading, photos and more takes anywhere between 6-11 hours!! And a few hours ago I just finished writing the entire blog (3 hours), and then it disappeared?!? PUFF! Whaaaat? Please kick me when I'm lying down...anyway: here we go again:
 
According to genetic and fossil evidence Homo sapiens first appeared about 180,000 years ago. That is a really long time ago! And that has me wondering? But first let me tell you about a few of Sudans ancient kingdoms and dynasties. You may have heard about the Nubians? "Nubian" is Egyptian for "gold" and the Egyptians and the Nubians weren't always the best of friends with their kingdoms bordering each other. The first Nubian kingdoms saw their beginnings about 5,500 years ago and were dominant in terms of technology, knowledge and art. About 4,500 years ago the Kingdom of Kush rose to power and established its dynasty across Sudan and throughout Egypt. 
 
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Sudan remains mysterious to the world with many unlocked secrets just below its surface. As an example astronomical instruments have now been uncovered in the north which are at least 2,000 years older than Stonehenge. Therefore it is perhaps no great surprise that the Kush discovered steel before the Egyptians. As I remember the story, the Egyptians were lined up against the Kush. It was about to become a bloody battle as so often before. Only this time it would be remarkably one sided! The Kush had forged swords of steel while the Egyptians went into battle with the more conventional iron bladed swords. So as the steel blades struck the iron blades they were cut in half. Can you picture a surprised Egyptian warrior standing on the battlefield with only half a sword across from a pumped up Kush warrior? Game over!
 
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There has probably always been conflict and battle in the world. And it's almost always due to the few while the masses are indifferent. Eritrea is putting up a bureaucratic fight with me because I'm Danish. I don't have anything against Eritrea and I doubt that anyone there has anything against me. However there is no Danish diplomatic mission inside Eritrea and some men in fancy suits are unhappy about something. So while I couldn't imagine that the average Eritrean spends much time thinking about the average Dane, and vice versa, I'm simply stuck doing silly paperwork. At the Eritrean embassy I was asked to provide a recommendation from the Danish embassy in Sudan. But there isn't one so I asked if it would be okay to arrange for a recommendation letter from the Danish embassy in Ethiopia? The answer was no. That's how I got in touch with Salah Elamin who is the Honarary Consul General of the Royal Danish Consulate Sudan. And Salah is very likable! He almost immediately said something outspoken to me which didn't offend me the slightest. Then he immediately apologized by saying that he is very open and honest and that I should know that about him. He had me laughing a lot and promised to help me however he could. 
 
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In my experience you usually become an Honorary Consul when you are a well respected businessman with ties to both countries. Salah happens to be a well connected businessman who also runs the Lisamin Safari Lodge (http://lisaminsafari.com/). The Safari Lodge might by the way be your best choice for value in Khartoum. Check out the webpage and you'll see what I mean. Salah is the holder of a Danish passport and is Danish although you'd never guess it from speaking with him. But then he suddenly switched to Danish which is one of the many languages he knows. You'd still guess that his first language isn't Danish - but in his defense it's a hard language and he is living in Sudan. I also met his son who on the other hand spoke Danish with a real Copenhagen city accent :)
 
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Salah told me that recent discoveries point towards that the first humans may have come from what is today Sudan. So we are all Sudanese! :) Anyway this brings me back to my thoughts from earlier: If we appeared about 180,000 years ago and we today are baffled by ancient civilizations that are "only" 5-10,000 years old, then which kingdoms and empires could have gone lost 50-150,000 years ago, and are still unknown to us. And will we ever know about them? And did they ever exists?
 
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I've never seen meat presented like this in Denmark :) 
 
Sudan is a really peaceful country for the most part. It's somehow embedded in the Sudanese culture which makes them one of the most hospitable countries in the world. The capital (Khartoum) boasts around 5,000,000 citizens and yet there's no detectable threat other than crossing the road. I think I might have mentioned this last week, but I spoke with some Canadian and US American expats who said that Khartoum was the safest city they have ever been to. In fact they had never been harassed, attacked or heard stories of anyone who had, which is truly unique. Could you say the same for Paris or New York?
 
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That's good because my fiancée is due to arrive tomorrow (Saturday) and I have been busy preparing. This is an Islamic country and I had to find out what precautions there might be. Also what kind of stuff will we be doing? When it's just me then it's just me and I'm pretty much on autopilot by now. But what happens when you throw a woman into the equation? What about clothing? Can we stay in the same room? Must she cover her hair? Can we hold hands in public? Is she allowed to smoke shisha (water pipe) in public? What about bathing in the Red Sea? Ah women! You can't live with them you can't live without them! ;) It turns out that she needs to cover her legs to below the knees and she also needs to cover her shoulders. She doesn't need to cover her hair, we can hold hands and we can kiss. However it's always wise to feel out your surroundings as people might see it differently near certain government buildings and mosques. She can smoke shisha and we can stay in a hotel room together. But the locals must present a valid marriage license to do the same which creates a parallel society. And I'm not to fond of that. In other words Sudan is a country where it benefits you to be a foreigner.
 
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I have been told that once we approach Port Sudan at the Red Sea everything becomes even more relaxed. This means that we can go swimming/snorkeling without her worrying about covering shoulders and knees. So that's all pretty good. I've been doing other stuff as well. I was able to find my tetanus shot at the Royal Care Hospital but they didn't have typhus. When I asked I was told that they can treat typhus but that nationally they do not prevent it - so I might get that one in Egypt and then my vaccines are up to date again. I also applied for and received my Egyptian visa which took only 4 hours. I wish all visas were like that. Please other countries: be like Egypt! :) The main thing which has been taking my time has been the Red Cross. As a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross I was tasked with writing an "always present" story from each of the 190 countries, where you find the Red Cross or Red Crescent today. That's effectively 190 stories I need to write about the same organization. It's not as easy as it might sound. My approach has been to visit the individual national societies for each country and gather enough information to write a story, that can promote their efforts and invite more volunteers and donations. It happens that I fall behind with my writing as I try to come up with a new and different angle. So I've recently written stories for Kenya Red Cross, Ethiopia Red Cross, Somalia Red Crescent and Djibouti Red Crescent, which brings me up to date.
 
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I have yet to visit a perfect country. But what is perfection anyway? 
 
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This was my USD 0.50 lunch :)
 
Because of USA sanctions it's not possible to use American credit cards in Sudan. And you'll quickly notice that a lot of them are: MasterCard, Visa etc... So you can bring USD and then exchange them to SDG. However I hear the sanctions have been lifted recently. Anyway: how much should we budget spending for the week my fiancée is in Sudan? Well my first though was that Sudan is pretty cheap. But then I slowly realized that I didn't really know what most things costs in Sudan? The case being that shortly after I reached Khartoum I met Hatem and Marwan.
 
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In this project we like to say that a stranger is a friend you've never met before. And that's great because it gets proven over and over again. Both Hatem and Marwan are lawyers although Hatem now works for GSS as their HSE manager. Hatem is Egyptian and Marwan is of Nubian decent (Sudan). And if you remember the brief little introduction to Egyptian/Nubian history in the beginning, then you can see that it all worked out fine. Because Hatem and Marwan are great friends. And they have both become friends of mine too. They have been chauffeuring me around between all my meetings, they have been taking me to restaurants and clubs, they have introduced me to people and have organized for, and helped me, on a daily basis. Furthermore they have basically paid everything. But I fixed a leaky toilet in Hatem's apartment the other day so we are pretty equal. NO! We are far from equal! :) I'm so much into their debt that it's ridiculous but they don't see it like that at all. In fact whenever I have tried to pay I have been risking a severe and violent beating from the two of them. This is their culture and I am a guest. Ergo: I do not pay. Besides they also see it as a contribution to the Saga. To top it all off I have been staying in Hatem's apartment almost since I arrived 10 days ago.
 
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Nubians and Egyptians after all those years ;)
 
Okay, let's end this blog with a funny story. Because a few days ago Hatem had a bunch of friends over and we were sitting in the living room when a guy named Adil said: "you're not going to believe this!" Adil works at a company but has been attending classes lately regarding business and management. For this a Canadian in his mid 60s has flown in to give a series of lectures. This was the 10 day and the Canadian was complaining (only slightly because he was Canadian) about the heat. This is when the class learned that the Canadian had been wearing a BULLETPROOF VEST under his clothes for the past 10 days?!? The students were baffled?!? But apparently the Canadian had been advised to do so before he left home?
 
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Khartoum University saw its beginning in 1902.
 
Now here's what I think about that: fair game. He's Canadian and pretty much every other country in the world can be perceived less friendly than his :) But somehow he should have been aware about his surroundings. I mean: this was his 10th day! He should have been aware how ridiculous it was already on his second day. Then on the other hand I did once meet a guy who proclaimed that we have a day in Denmark each year where everyone is naked? I guess I have missed out on that somehow throughout my childhood, adolescence, career etc...people are just people (and some of them are weird).
 
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Khartoum University was my 8th public talk in Sudan. And I haven't needed a bulletproof vest once ;)
 
Oh?! Let's really, really end this blog with this! Have you heard that we recently discovered 7 earth sized planets in a solar system only 40 light years from earth?!! 3 of them are firmly within the habitable zone which means that there could be water and almost certainly life as we know it! In theory there could be life on all 7 planets! Now all we need to do is work out how we could travel with the speed of light and then put aside 40 years to get there. I sense something coming up: Once Upon A Saga 2 ;)
 
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Al Sunut forest - and some plastic.

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - stuck but moving
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga
 
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Sudan: "land of the black" - Mysterious, friendly and fun

Sometimes I feel like we got it all wrong 
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I grew up in Denmark. There is much that you can complain about in Denmark. And people do. It's sort of a national sport to complain about stuff back home. When you lean back and see it all in a bigger perspective then I guess many of our complaints seem rather silly. And while others are legit it all becomes rather relative to the rest of the world. Denmark is a pretty good place to call home.
 
Sudan literally means "land of the black". It's a rather mysterious country with an extraordinary history and colorful culture. Until 2011 Sudan was the largest country in all of Africa. But South Sudan broke off and left Sudan to be the 3rd largest country in Africa and the 15th largest in the world. It's a huge country! You're unlikely to have heard about Sudan in connection to anything else than a region called Darfur. Darfur has been conflicted for a long while, but you can safely travel there if you take your precautions. I've been told that it's a beautiful part of the country. Anyway you should know that 75% of Sudan is not Darfur. You should also know that Sudan has 853 km (530 mi) of pristine coastline along the Red Sea. You know, that same Red Sea which tourists visit all the time to go snorkeling and diving. But in Sudan you get it pretty much unspoiled and all to yourself...because people don't know. You also have a small area of Sudan which contains more pyramids than what have been found throughout all of Egypt. But most people don't know that either... If you only take one thing away with you from what you read today then let it be this: the Sudanese are famed across the world for being amongst the most hospitable people on the planet - and I agee.
 
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I entered Sudan from Ethiopia which is known to be the highlands and most mountainous country in all of Africa. About here I'd like to remind you that Africa is that huge continent with 54 countries and that to go once around the continent would be equal to go once around the planet. Sudan is far less mountainous and I immediately felt the heat! But a minibus got me from the border and to Al Qadarif which is a very nice and very Arabic town about 2 hours from Ethiopia. That's where I spent my first night. 3 wheeled motorcycles (tuctucs) where a common sight and a tuctuc driver brought me to a pretty posh hotel. I thought he understood my simple Arabic instructions but obviously he didn't. So I asked around and quickly found a cheaper place which suited me fine. I then drank as much water as a thirsty camel.
 
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My first Sudanese dinner was great! But in reality you find a lot of Syrian and a Lebanese food too - which is also great!
 
In Sudan drinking water is available left and right. You can obviously buy it bottled but you can also simply help yourself to a cup of free water in most stores and on the streets. I really appreciated that as I walked about exploring Al Qadarif. I was feeling the heat as the sun set and prepared me for my first Sudanese night. And this wasn't even summer? What would the heat be like in the summertime? As the sun set people came out and the streets filled with life. The smell of the sizzling meat which was being prepared left and right filled the air. Sporadic fruit juice shops popped up as Al Qadarif came to life and I enjoyed a refreshing mixed juice while I took in the new culture. In some ways it felt like we were now coming full circle. We started in Morocco and now we were once again approaching Northern Africa. One of my heroes, Mohammad Ibn Battuta, is easily one of histories greatest travelers. He has such an interesting story which takes place when he was alive back in the 14th century. Ibn Battuta is recognized for traveling around 130,000 km (80,778 mi) on an incredible journey from Morocco to as far as Sri Lanka. I can hardly believe that I have now traveled much further than that without taking a single flight. In fact the distance we have covered throughout the Saga nears going halfway to the moon! No wonder I'm tired...
 
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Al Qadarif - charming at night. Less so under the sun ;)
 
You might recall I met Steve Felder of Maersk Line (www.maerskline.com) when I was in Nairobi, Kenya. He connected me to all his country managers throughout Eastern Africa and that has in fact been crucial to how far we have come. And it was through Maersk in Djibouti that I was introduced to David Hanse from BMMI (www.bmmigroup.com) who happens to manage a devision in Sudan called GSS. David happened to be in business in Sudan as I reached the capital city Khartoum. It might interest you that Khartoum is the very point where the Blue Nile runs into the White Nile and they both merge into the Nile, which runs all the way up to and through Egypt. Anyway, as soon as I reached Khartoum, David sent a driver to pick me from the bus and bring me to his office. I was quite exhausted which is something that had been building up for a while. So I was delighted to see David again and have lunch with him at the office. He then offered me to go to sleep for a few hours in an apartment on top of the office. I had a quick shower and then my lights went out. Later that evening David invited me to join him and some of the GSS (Global Sourcing and Supply) staff for dinner. We went out to a nice restaurant and had fresh fish from the Nile. Then we headed out to Davids expat apartment where I was given a room for the night.
 
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The crew at GSS (BMMI) in Khartoum. That's David in the pink shirt.
 
For the first few days in Khartoum I stayed at Davids apartment while I kept myself busy with talks at various schools and businesses throughout the capital. As per usual I was invited to meet with the staff and do a presentation at Maersk, and I finally got to meet the country manager Nadeem Ahmed, whom had been a massive help to me regarding obtaining my Sudanese visa. When David left to return to Djibouti I moved in with Hatem who is the HSE manager at GSS. Hatem is Egyptian and has studied law. And his Sudanese friend Marwan is a lawyer and quickly became my friend too. Also Per, who's a world traveler from USA/Denmark, was in town and we naturally had to meet. I had in fact gotten to know Per a year earlier when I met him in the Republic of Congo. So it was fun to meet again on Africas eastern side. Furthermore a Danish traveler I know from the Danish travelers club (DBK) was in Khartoum and we had a chance to meet for the first time. His name is Claus and he has visited 174 countries which beats Per's 170 :) 
 
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Can you imagine the conversations around this table?
 
Then Hatem and Marwan began working on a deal with Zain (www.zain.com) which is a network provider from Kuwait, which might be interested in providing the Saga with network coverage throughout the remaking adventures. Possibly even internet. How great would it be to get that from a company in Sudan? It would be like "in your face world" if you know what I mean? Sudan has been heavily sanctioned by the United States of America and as a result millions of ordinary Sudanese are struggling to have a normal life. The Obama administration lifted the sanctions towards the end of his term through a trial period where Sudan has to live up to certain goals. The Trump administration appears to be taking things in a different direction. What does this mean for you? Well, if you come to Sudan then you better bring lots of dollars because they like them here. And you won't be able to use your credit cards. If you are a foreign company operating in Sudan then you are prohibited from using USA software of any kind which is most of what we are used to using where I come from: Microsoft, Windows, Skype, Dropbox etc. These are not blocked off in any way and you can use them with ease. But you're not supposed to.
 
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3rd floor at Zain Sudan in Khartoum :)
 
I also dropped in on the Red Crescent who are doing a great job here in Sudan. And as it happens there is a delegate office from the Danish Red Cross here which is operated by Louise, whom I met in Kenya. So that is great!
 
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And I got a hug from Louise which means more to me than you'll ever know.
 
Then there has been the Eritrea predicament, which is sort of a silly political thing. Eritrea is an absolutely amazing country which boasts culture and history alongside its coastline to the Red Sea. Yes, this is the same Red Sea which has the same colorful aquarium fish as the one alongside Egypt and Sudan. In fact many Sudanese cross the border in and out of Eritrea every day so we know that the predicament isn't physical or geographical. It's political. There are many people with travel lust who simply cannot obtain their visa for Eritrea. The country is rather famed for this amongst travelers. It all becomes a little more complicated when you are not willing to fly. This is often because airports possess far more security than land borders and therefore you are often welcome to fly but not enter by land. The same applies for visa on arrival for many countries. 
 
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The Ahfad University for Women was founded in 1966, but the groundwork was laid down as early as 1907 with a secular school for girls.
 
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I had no idea how well my talk had gone until it was time for pictures :)
 
I have been in close contact with Tekeste in Eritrea who is well known for being helpful. In fact Tekeste and I have been in touch for about 6 months! I have also spoken to Carla who is an Italian tour operator in Sudan/Eritrea. And I have met with George who is somewhat of a legend amongst travelers who reach Khartoum. And I have spoken to a whole lot of other people to and I have read articles and I have.... well, it all kind of caught up with me. I fell sick and I needed sleep. I have been on a collision course for a long time now and I knew it. In fact I have been promising myself that once I reached Khartoum I would find a nice place and rest up for a few days. But that never happened. I have appeared as a public speaker on far more than 10 occasions in the short time I have spent in Sudan. So my stomach broke which I think is psychological more than anything else. And then I went to sleep for a very long time :)
 
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After the talk at GSS :) 
 
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Hanging out with the Hash group after my official initiation :)
 
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My first visit of two to KICS :)
 
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My friends at Maersk Line Sudan after the talk :)
 
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I did several talks at WNS and these cuties were the youngest :)
 
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I'm aware of several cities with beaches - but a Khartoum is the only one I know that has one in the middle?
 
Somewhere throughout all off this I have also managed to fit in 5-6 interviews and I went out on "the Hash" with some new friends. Remember that I told you that the Blue Nile meets the White Nile in Khartoum and forms the Nile? Well there is a small island in the middle of all of that called Tuti Island. "The Hash" actually originates from The Hash House Harriers and has been around for decades. It's a walk/run which is ideal for expats and locals alike. I was invited by Jessica who's a teacher at Khartoum International Community School (KICS). Great Stuff. That's where I met Mandy from Texas who works at White Nile School (WNS), which I also paid a visit. 
 
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In reality Khartoum isn't very pleading for the eye. The overall logistics are however good and there are plenty of restaurants and clubs.
 
The social media of the Saga keeps growing and I'm just about my limit for what I can handle. There is truly a lot of activity, comments, questions and more. I grew up in a village with about 1,200 people and my school had about 325 students. So these numbers are quite impressive to me:
 
Facebook: 16,858
Instagram: 9,730
Twitter: 2,099
YouTube: 1,389
Blog: 699
 
Surely some of you follow more than 1 of the above and I would personally be following a combinations of the blog and Instagram if you were doing the Saga and I was comfortable back home. But I'm not back home and I haven't seen home since 2013. There is no way around it: I chose this upon myself. But I sincerely believe that in these times of fear and doubt the Saga is more vital than ever. We cannot go on believing the world is on fire and that our neighbors are our enemies. We must be aware that people are just people and that in Sudan people take selfies too.
 
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How cool is this!!
 
I'm only going to do this once...and as long as we circle the sun I promise that I will do it right the first time! ;)
 
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Thank goodness for VoIP calls :)
 
While I'm feeling more rested now and ready to "fight" again I can briefly mention that I have spotted a few angles to enter Eritrea legally so I feel like we are going to be fine. And something which might have you smiling is the very fact that my one of a kind fiancée has booked a flight to come and see me in Khartoum ;)
 
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Happy belated Valentine's Day from me and the kids at WNS :)

 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - happy to be in Sudan
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga 
 
 
 
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Lost passport, friendship, volcanos and other planets! (Ethiopia to Sudan)

A stranger is a friend you've never met before
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That stranger attitude proved mighty efficient in what should have been described throughout last weeks blog. And by the way: Sorry for not posting a blog last week. Life on the Saga has been quite hectic for a while which you're soon about to see. And when you combine that with near hopeless internet connections and a lack of sleep...well...
 
So if you're not up to date on the Saga then we had reached 124 countries all without flying or returning home. No cheating here. It has been quite an adventure and last week I had just left Djibouti in Eastern Africa and entered Ethiopia once again. Ethiopia was country number 122 before we entered Somalia and Djibouti. Now Ethiopia was basically a transit country in order for us to reach Sudan. But something went wrong!
 
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Sharing fresh groundnuts with the guy next to me in the bus.
 
I reached Addis Ababa...well tired after a very long journey from Djibouti! I somehow summoned the strength to head over to the booking offices where I secured a ticket for onward travel to Mekele in the north of Ethiopia. After I paid for the ticket I checked my pocket and noticed that my passport was MISSING?!? I then immediately checked EVERYTHING! You know how you don't panic immediately, while you just hope that whatever you've lost for some odd reason is in another pocket or on the floor behind you? It wasn't with me!!! This was a first for the Saga!! Something which had never happened before! I have never ever lost my passport! Horrific!
 
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The idyllic sight of corn being harvested was visible for several hours. I hear that khat is replacing corn for more and more farmers.
 
Where could I have lost it? I had no idea? Come on Thor! Think about it. Wake up. Rational thinking: My passport had to be in Ethiopia or else I wouldn't have been! I remembered taking it out of my pocket at a checkpoint between the Djibouti border and Dire Dawa in East Ethiopia. I also remember showing it to a guy in the bus. His name was Said. Said is from Djibouti and was traveling with his mother, planing to stay 2 weeks in Dire Dawa. When the bus reached Dire Dawa Said and I had already become friends and he showed me a hotel nearby the terminal. I was so tired that I could barely stand. I then said farewell to Said and checked in. That night I barely managed to get something to eat and brush my teeth before the alarm rang and it was 03:30am. Time to get up...I left the hotel after checking my room for forgotten items. That is a routine I have developed long ago. It was dark outside. A tuctuc (Bajaj) got me to the bus and 11 hours later I was in Addis Ababa...
 
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I don't like coffee. But in Ethiopia I do.
 
Was there any way my passport could have been at the hotel in Dire Dawa? What was the name of the hotel? I had no receipt? But really?!? I don't remember giving the hotel my passport? It was more likely that it would be in the bus!! Oh no? I hope not! If that was the case then I would never see it again. My brain was in pain and I'm sure smoke was rising from my head. I could find a way to manage without the passport. There's a Danish diplomatic mission in Ethiopia, which can issue a new passport for me. It would be difficult, but possible. However I could not do without the SUDANESE VISA in my passport! I felt like crying. Why this? Why now?!?
 
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Njera is the stable food of Ethiopians.
 
In Addis Ababa a guy named Mitiku was trying to help me at the booking office, where I had just bought my onward ticket for Mekele. Mituku thought I might have lost the passport in the bus from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa. I didn't believe that was plausible, but he worked on that for 45 minutes until he confirmed it wasn't the case. Then he helped me for about an hour as we tried to work out which hotel it could have stayed at? We googled photos of hotels. Mission impossible! Dire Dawa has tons of hotels. Meanwhile I was trying to contact Said! Said and I had exchanged contact details, but knowing he was from Djibouti he might not be reachable for the 2 weeks he was going to be in Ethiopia? I tried to add him on FB, I sent him a WhatsApp message and I called his Djibouti number several times. COME ON SAID!! I finally decided to return my ticket to Mekele and bought another one to return to Dire Dawa - 11 hours in the wrong direction! And with no real lead other than "hopefully I could find the hotel"? That was a heavy decision, but it also had to be the right one.
 
(There are 2 daily flights from Addis to and from Dire Dawa - just to add to the pain).
 
While in the metro, on my way to my host family in Addis Ababa, my phone suddenly rang. IT WAS SAID!! I told him what was going on and he gave me the name of the hotel (Garany). But furthermore he quickly made his way to the hotel and soon called me back: "I've got your passport!" YES!! Way to go Said! We then tried to decide what was better: 1) send it to Addis Ababa? or 2) I would return and collect it? Although far less elegant we decided I should return. After all, it's my passport and too valuable.
 
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I'm not fond of extra transportation. Backtracking falls into that category in a very real and uninteresting way. At this point of the Saga we have covered more than 160,000km (100,000mi) which at times feels like enough. But here I was adding another 11 hour bus ride to the fun. When I reached Dire Dawa I was told that all the busses back to Addis Ababa were booked out for the following day. "Sorry, do you want a ticket for Tuesday?" No I did not want a ticket for Tuesday thank you very much. I wanted to get my passport, go to sleep and leave the next day. So this nice guy behind the counter told me to come by the terminal around 04:30am the next morning and we would try to sort something out... I have friends with children. These friends are severely sleep deprived. I wonder if there is any comparison?
 
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Hoping to get a seat in the bus.
 
I got up at 04:00am and it all worked out. I think I got the stewards seat? It went for the same rate as a normal ticket and 12 hours later the bus rolled into Addis Ababa again. As tired as I could be I still headed over to secure an onward ticket to Mekele. But I had arrived too late - the offices were all closed. I then met up with Michele whom I had first met in Djibouti. Michele is quite the adventurous Italian who takes great photos and had an encounter with a bear (yes!) in his small hometown village. This is how he found himself in the Swiss newspaper "20min", which just so happened to be the same issue as the Saga was featured in. Small world? Anyway, we had a good time in Djibouti and since we were both in Addis Ababa now, we met up again and enjoyed some well deserved Ethiopian beer!
 
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Then I got on the metro again. An hour later I had returned to my "Ethiopian family" just outside Addis. I was well received like the many times before, I was well fed like every other time and I slept like a baby...until 03:45am when the alarm rang. A taxi brought me to Meskel Square where the busses leave from - I secured a last minute ticket to Mekele and then an 18 hour bus ride began.
 
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I cannot describe how amazing these 2 are. It is extraordinary!!
 
The bus broke down twice which surprised me. In Western Africa every vehicle broke down at least once during transport. But I honestly can't remember the last time a bus broke down? Africa is a vast continent and I cannot stress enough how much diversity it contains. There is very little resemblance from one area to the next. And development would surprise most people I think. But we did break down...twice.
 
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I had this fellow staring at me for a good time.
 
Mekele looks like a very fine town and I would have loved to explore it further. But I arrived late and had book a 4 day tour through http://www.ethiotravelandtours.com (E.T.T). It's highly recommendable! Prices for the 4 days start at $600 but can be negotiated. It's way out of my $20/day budget, but I had to see this! Erta Ale is a highly active volcano which you can walk straight up to and see the bubbling lava lake. Then there were the salt flats, the Afar tribes, the Danakil Depression and the other worldly sulphuric lakes. This isn't your average stuff! My visa for Ethiopia was running on its last few days before it would expire - but I had time for this (however not the money). Ethiopia holds so many mysterious and wonderful sights. I didn't get to go to Axum, to Lalibella or to a number of other places. But I did get this 4 day tour. As I mentioned it was late when I reached Mekele. I found a cheap bed, some street food and went to bed.
 
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Team 6!
 
The next morning I met up with E.T.T. and they teamed me up with Mike and Sara from Ireland. They both quit their jobs to go and travel the world and I might actually run into them later on in Asia? We were also teamed up with Tim from the Netherlands, a scientist who specializes in nutrition. Our driver was Bela from Ethiopia who used to work for the UN and together the 5 of us formed team 6. This was the best team out of 10 vehicles. It's true! The best. Really amazing and with a YUUUGE impact. But no walls what so ever.
 
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I see why so many people fall in love with Ethiopia. It truly is an extraordinary country which has an abundance to offer all its visitors. And I believe I'll return some day with my future family - because they need to know. Team 6 and the other 9 vehicles were a bit unlucky with Erta Ale. Now, Ethiopia isn't the only place in the world where you can stare into an active volcano. Hawaii, Nicaragua and DR Congo are in the same category. But that wasn't where we were. Erta Ale was erupting which made it more dangerous. Not really dangerous though. But we couldn't go to the edge, because the sides had collapsed and fallen into the fierce volcano. Interestingly enough a completely new lava lake had formed not far away. So new that it is yet to be given a name.
 
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Not really my style. But if you're first out of the vehicle you can get a photo without people in it.
 
We drove on a superb road from Mekele towards the Danakil. Then we turned off onto some less favorable roads and finally ended up walking for several hours in the dark across lava stone.
 
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The brittle fresh lava stone was sharp as a razor blade.
 
Eventually we reached only 6 day old lava stone which is rather brittle and "crunches" when you walk on it. It very much feels like you could break through at any time. And sometimes we would. But we never dropped more than knee deep. At one point we were completely engulfed in toxic fumes which had us all coughing, our eyes running and our throats sore. That went in for ours. Tim reminded me of a story he had heard, where entire groups died from volcanic fumes. Thank you Tim ;) We had police and military escort along with the group. They advised us to stop about 500m (1,500ft) from the lava lake.
 
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It was a little more clear with the naked eye.
 
So we did get to see it, but from quite a distance. 40 minutes later we were walking again and went to sleep on the volcano around 2am. Fortunately with less fumes and with a lot of harsh wind. A few hours later we woke up to make our way back down again. It was quite the adventure - but debatable worthwhile the hassle.
 
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Michele felt sorry for me so he edited me in on his own photo from weeks before :) 
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The days went on and we saw "it all". It's a rather good tour and E.T.T. do a great job out of coordinating it. The volcano part of the trip will fall into place again once Erta Ale settles down a bit.
 
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An Afar village. Nomadic people.
 
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Mining for salt. You won't believe the heat!!
 
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On our 4th day team 6 and everyone else returned to Mekele. We had a good nights rest and the next morning Tim and I were on our way again. Sara and Mike stayed behind in Mekele for a few more days. Tim and I had secured a ride with one of E.T.T.'s vehicles, which was on its way to Lalibella presumably to pick up some guests. That would bring me almost halfway to Gondar from where I could reach the Sudanese border. When we reached the turnoff to Lalibella Tim and I parted. But I think we'll meet again someday in the Netherlands.
 
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I continued in another 4WD until I got in a minibus which lead me to another minibus and 15 hours later I was in Gondar. Gondar is famously known for several sights including its castle. But I was out of time. I had a sandwich from the street, found a place to sleep and the next morning I was with another minibus heading to the Sudanese border.
 
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One of these cuties is the daughter of the immigration officer.
 
It had been a bit of a hassle to obtain the Sudanese visa, but now that I had it crossing the border was easy. Farewell Ethiopia and hello Sudan. Out of Eastern Africa and back into Northern Africa. We haven't been in Northern Africa since April 2015 and now we are coming full circle.
 
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I couldn't believe the heat in Sudan!! The cool breeze of Ethiopian mountain air stood in contrast to the Sudanese lowlands. And it's winter in Sudan right now!! Once in Sudan I immediately continued towards Al Qadarif to spend the night there. I minibus brought me and if you are ever to copy that then make sure you bring plenty of water. I was dehydrating rapidly. Looking through the window I could see the landscape passing by. It was mostly farmland with endless fields of dry looking crops. It looked like corn. Truly endless on both sides of the road. This must surely be able to feed a lot of people? Once in a while I would spot a green John Deere harvester. I wish I had a photo of the modern harvester I saw parked next to a group of traditional round huts. The world is truly contrasted...
 
That was a rather long blog. I hope you enjoyed it. We are now facing some serious challenges regarding our next country, which is Eritrea. It's a rather secluded country which is notorious for keeping its visas close to the body. But frequently travelers obtain their visas and fly in. Going overland adds to the difficulty so this will be interesting.
 
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I'll leave you with this: No matter where I have gone or whom I have met, I have gathered no evidence which contradicts that; people are just people. And here we are inside country number 125. Welcome to Sudan.
 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - feeling the progress
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga
 
 
 
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Once Upon a Saga
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