Visa week. What was I smoking when I called it that? If you count Sudan, then it’s been more like visa month, with no likely end in sight. This is problematic when going around it to the west would involve Northern Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance army, Chad and the Central African Republic. Which means not good. This is more or less how it has all gone down, with a little bit of what-now thrown in.
Visa-hunting in general has gone pretty well, just taken slightly longer than expected. Being a South African travelling in Africa has its perks, like being part of a country in SADC (the Southern African Development Community). Besides being useful in propping up dictators in places like Zimbabwe, it is also a kind of gentlemen’s travel club, in the same way as, say, the EU – just smaller. Much smaller. To cut a long story short, travel to Zimbabwe and Zambia is visa-free. You just pop up on the border, passport in hand and doe eyes ready. Then a stamp, a wave and off you go.
The website soothingly assured me that visa applications would take at most ten days or so. So I ignored an Internetful of contrary advice, gave in my papers and things and waited. I am still waiting.
In some other countries, for reasons I don’t quite understand, South Africans also get the no-visa treatment. Like Kenya (bless their socks) and Egypt (for which you do technically need a visa, but it is free). Which really only left Tanzania, Ethiopia and Sudan.
I went to the Sudanese embassy a month ago. A month. The website soothingly assured me that visa applications would take at most ten days or so. So I ignored an Internetful of contrary advice, gave in my papers and things and waited.
I am still waiting.
When last I phoned the embassy, the lady indicated that they were still waiting for a letter from Khartoum to confirm that I can be given a visa. The more I tried to push and probe for any likely timeline, the more I started to suspect that when the voice on the other end explained “waiting for a letter”, it very sincerely meant just that. Waiting for a letter. As in posted. From Khartoum. It seems incredible, but with each passing day and no visa being confirmed, the less unlikely this is starting to seem.
In desperation, I asked if I could loan my passport back from them while I waited, so that I could go and get the other visas I needed, rather than have this one hold up everything else. Which they allowed.
Every other visa application since then has gone smoothly, with at most a three-day wait (Egypt). By Tuesday next week, I should have all of my visas sorted and will be properly ready to go. Except for Sudan.
It’s no small exception, as the country sits slap bang on any practical route between Ethiopia and Egypt. To go around it on the western edge would be too far, even if it were safe.Which it isn’t. That route would add a good few thousand kilometers and cross at least four currently active warzones. I’m not a photojournalist yet, and even if I was, I’m not stupid.
That only leaves, in the worst case scenario, an eastern workaround. Sudan unfortunately reaches all the way to the coast, but there may possibly be a route via Ethiopia->Djibouti->Eritrea->boat->more boat->Egypt. Or there may not. Frankly, trying to find much travel information is like Googling cold fire. Though the accounts of Eritrea describe it as cheap, friendly and beautiful, less people seem to have been there than have explored, say, the Arctic.
There is some time yet and the letter from Khartoum may yet arrive and grant me my visary goodness. So I’ll be spending the next fortnight planning alternatives, hoping all the time that I won’t need them.