Djibouti is a fine country. But let's go already!
This blog took 4 hours to write and 9 hours to finish. The iOS deleted the lower 3rd of the blog 4 times!!
I distinctly wrote in last weeks blog that I anticipated we would be back in Ethiopia by now. And in fact we have achieved the Ethiopian visa long ago in just 3 hours. Swift and efficiently thanks to the Ethiopian embassy (and a phone call from my friend Mohammed). I was feeling good about obtaining visas in Djibouti after this and found that it would be tactical to apply for the Sudanese visa as well, while still in town.
It went well at the embassy once I finally found it. They appeared surprised to see me, but were kind and helpful. I filled out the paperwork and handed over my passport. This is pretty straightforward and somewhat of a routine by now as Sudan is the Sagas 125th country. At times I feel like I have more experience than immigration and embassies have. But of course I do not. My experience is merely more varied. If you remember back to last week I was getting sick and that only got worse. So it felt good to be waiting for a visa as that gave me a mental excuse to rest up for a few days. Besides...at the Sudanese embassy they said it would only take a few days and that they would call me.
Chilling in Djibouti with shawarma and fresh juice.
But they didn't call me. And I ended up calling them to receive word that they had been trying to reach me for several days!! By mistake I had given them an incorrect telephone number - but they didn't go the extra mile to email me on the correct email address they had received. So who knows if they had even tried to reach me? Let's have faith in people and say they did. Now that I was on the phone the clerk told me that they required to receive the invitation letter by email from Maersk Line (www.maerskline.com) in Sudan. Maersk is helping me out as they often have done before. Come to think about it, so are 2 other transport companies: DSV (www.dsv.dk) and DB Schenker Denmark (www.dbschenker.dk). It feels good to be backed by shipping and transport companies as that is my own background, but also because it makes sense. Furthermore it makes good sense for Maersk since I'm expected to appear as a public speaker at their Khartoum office. And be warned: not too long ago I made an office employee cry at one of my talks! ;)
The days went by as I got more and more familiar with the bathroom. I was kind of still in control. But getting quite weak, I was having headaches and had difficulties staying structured and efficient. I also had a sore throat and stumbled upon some data that stated chocolate could be good for it. And lo and behold, as soon as I bought some dark chocolate and ate it, the sore throat went away. If you're not learning anything else by reading through this then at least you now know that :)
While I think it's fine to chew khat and everyone seems to do it, I have started to become annoyed by the smell.
Weekends here start on Thursday afternoon and then it's back to work Sunday. Maersk in Djibouti managed to send the invitation letter on behalf of their colleagues in Sudan and I believe the embassy accepted that. It wasn't exactly that simple as we first needed to get the correct email addresses which took an unnecessary long amount of time. Luckily Nasra came to my rescue. I met Nasra at the local Maersk office when I delivered my talk there. Have you noticed that Maersk has been mentioned a lot already? Just wait...there's more. So at this point the Sudanese embassy asked for a few more days, we ran into the weekend and things dragged out again. With the extra time on my hands, and as I was growing stronger again, I began to look into my options of reaching Lac Assal (Lake Assal). But that looked quite hopeless and expensive. Even finding transport to reach Ethiopia's border looked more complex than what it should be.
Around this time I came up with the idea of suggesting several topics to those who follow on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Once-Upon-a-Saga/320287321444752). The topics were to start a series of videos, in which I explain whatever interests people. As it turned out the people wanted to hear about "loneliness". So I gave the people what they wanted: https://youtu.be/Y2oGRHNmqQA I could have added that loneliness probably comes with the territory, when you are the only one on the planet doing something? And while I do value the Sagas partners it isn't exactly those who contact me and motivate me the most. But alas... the same day I noticed a tweet from Al Jazeera about the Passport Index 2017 (www.passportindex.org/) which had just been released. In a bit of fun I retweeted a map of the Sagas progress and said that we were doing pretty okay with 124 countries down and 79 to go. I was surprised when Leah Harding, a AJ journalist, replied that she would like to hear more? Within long she requested a brief video from me and that afternoon it was included in their segment on the AJ News Grid: https://youtu.be/qD_IyfS5u80 The last 30 days are looking really strong for the Saga with appearances on VICE, the Daily Telegraph, Lonely Planet, BBC, RTE and now Al Jazeera. Wow?!? Who would ever have thought?
The next morning a 4WD pulled up in front of Hotel Horseed. Inside I could see Nasra and her colleague Araleh on the backseat. Our driver was behind the wheel and next to him our guide Omar was smiling and ready to go. We took off and followed the railway for a while which was recently "inaugurated". It connects Djibouti with Addis Ababa, but around here "inauguration" doesn't mean that cargo and passengers can now board the train. Both will need to wait a few more months for that. So the road was heavily traveled by trucks carrying containers to and from Ethiopia and the majority of those containers were Maersk containers.
On the left it's the Arabic tectonic plate. On the right East Africa. And in the middle you have the "Djibouti Ocean" :)
Just around the bend to the left 70 degree celsius water pours out of a hot spring.
"Doctor fish" nibble on your feet and essentially clean them.
Omar was a great and enthusiastic guide. He knew a lot of interesting stuff and would over the course of the day tell us about factories, terminals, landmarks, historical construction, landscape, lakes, spirits, souvenirs, hot springs, "doctor fish", Lac Assal, tectonic plates, the "Djibouti Ocean" and a lot of other stuff.
The lovely Nasra in front, Araleh in the middle and Omar to the right :)
Omar is obviously more fun than me :)
The next day I gave the Sudanese embassy a call to see if I could come and pick up my passport. But to my regret I was informed that the consul had denied me my visa for reasons that nobody seems to understand. The bureaucratic treadmill now demanded that Maersk in Sudan would contact the foreign affairs in Khartoum so that the foreign affairs could green light the embassy in Djibouti? But unfortunately we were now running into a new weekend so nothing would happen the next few days! I'm absolutely fed up with visas and bureaucratic nonsense. I'm writing this from the 124th country I have dragged my tired body into. And this is far from the first bureaucratic hiccups we've been facing. FAR FROM! And yet we always find a way to get me inside the respective countries. So what's the point? Especially this unbelievably large continent has provided me with some solid headaches. I'm in no way in favor of Pan-Africanism in the sense that Africa is all the same. Because it's not. Some countries are flat and some have mountains. Some are warm and some are not. Some are costal and others are landlocked. And naturally all of that and more speaks to the diversity of people, cultures, development and more. But if we are to look at this continent as a single "place" then this is where I have been stuck more than anywhere else!!!
Lac Assal is the 2nd saltiest lake in the world and at the 3rd lowest location (-155m).
Come on Africa!!! What is wrong with you?!? Don't you want visitors?!? And at this point I should point out that I'm currently not shouting at the following African countries: Morocco, Senegal, Cap Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Chad, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. Those were all really reasonable.
Nomedic Djiboutian still collect salt for trade and haul it away with camels.
Lac du Goubet which is connected to the sea is connected to Lac Assal beneath the ground.
Fortunately Mohammed from Maersk here in Djibouti is well connected. He got me in touch with the dean of the ambassadors here in Djibouti. The dean himself is an ambassador of Palestine: His Excellency Kamel Qazzaz. Kamel took me into his office at the embassy with really short notice and offered me a cup of tea. We talked about what had happened and then we talked about a million other things. He's certainly a great guy and now I'm looking forward to reaching Palestine some day. The ambassador told me that there was little he could do during the weekend, but on Sunday he will call the ambassador of Sudan to see if we can solve this. A great man he is as I'm sure you have already understood. And naturally this adds to the proof that a stranger is a friend you've never met before.
I've been looking at the map lately and we've still got a lot of distance to cover within Africa. At least 2 of our last 6 countries are going to demand a great deal of finesse. And here I am in Djibouti loosing more and more time, which I will eventually need to take from somewhere else. There were several sights I wanted to see in Ethiopia which are absolutely unique to our world. But I need to remind myself that I'm not a tourist. I'm a man inside a tunnel of countries, searching for the light at the end. I will need to reach Khartoum in Sudan in order to apply for my Eritrean visa. To reach Sudan I must transit through Ethiopia and on route I will need to go through Gondar. I guess that's a good place to take a rest and see the castle before heading north to the Sudanese border. Now, I'm looking forward to enjoying the famed Sudanese hospitality, but I will get some of that just by reaching Khartoum. Also I will need to travel overland to Eritrea's border (south) which is in the opposite direction of Egypt (in the north). So how cool would it be to join a ship in Eritrea or Port Sudan and venture up through the Suez Canal to Port Said in the north of Egypt?! Sure I would loose a lot of overland travel, but I would also get a unique experience while resting up a bit. And I need to rest!
On that note I'm hoping to see my fiancée around the end of February. And that is certainly something to look forward to :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - 6 countries from leaving Africa!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga