Before we made plans for traversing bandit riddled landscapes and dodging their rusty AK-47s and Martini-Henri rifles we needed Ethiopian visas and like good little boys and girls we headed straight to the DHL office at the western style mall called The Yaya Centre. DHL saw us coming (they see everyone coming) and charged us a hundred and ten quid to ship our passports to the Ethiopian Embassy in London and then return them to Nairobi. We managed to get the price down a little bit when they took off the insurance and the ‘express’ delivery option but they still took us for close on ninety quid. Still, there was little else that could be done in our situation and we managed a smile as we handed over our passports to Edna, deliberately ignoring the sign stating ‘It is illegal to send money.’
An hour later we were back in the office, and Edna was pointing at the illegal-to-send-money sign whilst we opened our parcel and took our payment in cash out of the envelope; who’d have thought DHL had x-ray machines! It was Friday afternoon; Edna informed us that the passports would be in the embassy on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. For the last six months, Laura had been teeing up a chap at the embassy named Yared and he’d assured us a rapid issuance of both visas. We reckoned that by Wednesday or Thursday we’d have our passports in hand. If we were paying through the nose at least we’d be getting a decent service.
We’d been in touch with an old mate from university called Will who was doing a PhD out at Busia, a Kenyan town on the border with Uganda. He’d told us that he and a few friends were planning on going out to a farm for the weekend just an hour from Nairobi and had asked did we want to come along. We did, and we told him so, and then we sat back to enjoy our new surroundings at the Jungle Junction campsite in Nairobi. It was about that time that our first serious budget crisis started brewing.
We’d started with a budget in US dollars per day and had been nicely underneath it so far, but, our initial budget had only really been estimated to cover around six months on the road rather than the eight the trip appears it will eventually take. Day to day costs had been easy to account for, the price of food, beer and accommodation were all relatively cheap; we were camping nineteen days out of twenty and shopping with a budget in mind. But the real problem, we were beginning to realise, was that north of Kenya everything becomes a little bit grey, especially on time scale, visas and ferry services. First was our problem of obtaining an Ethiopian visa, a feat only possible from the embassy in your home country. We were onto that, the unknown would be known in one week’s time. But that was only our first issue. Our second issue would be obtaining a Sudanese visa. This is easiest to obtain in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when ascending Africa, but we’ve no idea how long that’ll take and we’re informed it’s not cheap, especially when we’re paying David Cameron for a letter to say our passports are real. Our third issue will be the ferry across Lake Nasser from Sudan to Egypt. It runs once a week, it doesn’t hold many vehicles and the passenger ferry leaves before the vehicle ferry. There is a brand new road alongside the lake but the Egyptian government owns the ferry, and it’s expensive, and it’s busy; with this in mind there is no border control along the road, just soldiers. The only border control point is at the ferry terminal. The ferry costs we already know, but the costs of ‘fixers’ to arrange visas and ‘guards’ to look after Redvers whilst we’re on another ferry and in another country are more difficult to predict. The very idea of leaving Redvers behind is frightening.
Our fourth problem is by far our biggest; our exit strategy. At the end of this trip we need to leave North Africa; an area that hasn’t seen so much political and civil unrest since the British were ‘doing their thing’ not far from a hundred years ago. The ferry from Egypt to Italy has been suspended indefinitely because it goes via Syria, and Syria is having a bloody inconvenient ‘moment’ in its national history. Our Plan B was really our original Plan A and was to drive through Libya. Eighteen months ago tourism was building nicely and you could drive the road that passed alongside the Mediterranean visiting coliseums and battle fields along the way. From Caesar to Rommel and, more recently, from the UK to the freedom fighters, there’s some history in those sands, but anyway, our plans were scuppered when Gadaffi was suddenly declared persona non grata. That trans-Libyan route would have led us to Tunisia and its capital, Tunis from where we could have sailed to Italy and driven home to the UK in just a few days. (This incidentally is still our preferred exit route at the time of writing, but will require a very careful argument with Libyan officials in Cairo when requesting a transit visa.) If Plan B goes wrong then we have to think about cargo ships; Alexandria in Egypt to Turkey is apparently the only real route we’ve heard about and that anyone has been able to use, but its hellishly expensive for Redvers and we’d need airplane tickets, otherwise, maybe we can drive to Israel and find a boat. The original Plan C had been a jaunt through Syria, but, well that’s not ideal anymore either. Still more extreme plans are to drive back south and choose any port from Port Sudan in Sudan, Mombasa in Kenya or Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. If budgets didn’t exist we could even drive into Saudi Arabia, on into Oman, catch a ferry across the Gulf of Aden into Iran and then get out through a something-istan and into Turkey. There is also chatter about ferries from Israel, but we’ve only found passenger ferries so far. All in all we have lots of options but costs on each route vary and none are cheap, none are straightforward and none are easy. The only easy aspect of it all is seeing why leaving Africa is our biggest stress.
With our budget altered a little and our fixed costs calculated there didn’t really seem to be a crisis, we cut our days planned for Uganda and Rwanda, cut ‘big spends’ on climbing Mount Kenya and tracking Chimpanzees and set out targets for Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt: then we had a cold beer because, after all, we were still on holiday.