HELLO + WELCOME as we attempt to drive from Sydney to London in our trusty old LandCruiser.
It’s Kirsty writing today.
When we first entered Kenya our plan was to drive to the Masai Mara National Park, Nairobi and then North towards Ethiopia within a week. All of those plans changed when G became the sickest he has ever been.
After being kicked out of Kisumu, because the hotel was booked out, we spent our first days in Nairobi with Gareth resting and a second visit to the hospital.
When G gained his strength it was time to tackle our onwards visas.
In order for us to travel North we needed to arrange visas for Ethiopia and Sudan before reaching the border crossings. These are visas that have been difficult to arrange in the past because both are in remote parts of the World that are known for bureaucracy. However, we were confident. Our mates, and other overlanders, had been through the process within the past 12 months and we knew it should take three to four days.
We had all of our paperwork in order and were planning on driving North ASAP. The information we had indicated that the Sudan visa would take 24 hours and that the Ethiopia visa could be issued the same day as application. With that in mind our plan was to go for the Sudan visa first, hustle to get it back as soon as possible and then apply for the Ethiopia visa. Minimising our time in a city we had already spent far too long in and one that is amongst the World’s Most Dangerous. Those plans were about to be blown out of the water. I wrote a ‘Wrap Up’ blog post at the time and it was outdated basically by the time I hit ‘Return’.
ROUND 1: We hired a car and driver for peanuts and considered it the best possible insurance money we have ever spent on our Troopy. Being whizzed around Nairobi by a guy who knew the traffic and all the back lanes was golden. Lots of road work also made this decision a better option.
First stop was the Australian Embassy to arrange our letters of introduction for our visa applications. The security entering the embassy was intense. We were searched, scanned, passed through a bullet proof glass bunker and instructed to leave our mobiles outside. When we made a comment to the stern looking security guard he mentioned “We are all very scared at the moment. The terrorism is very bad. We are most scared of Al Shabab opening fire in a traffic jam and killing everyone”. Inside the embassy a tv was playing the morning news reporting a terrorist attack that lasted 7 hours where 60+ people were killed in Mpeketoni on the coast. Up until a few weeks before our arrival the letters we needed were issued without charge. Now they were USD $120. To add insult to injury the lady behind the counter did some creative accounting with the change she gave us and looked very sheepish when we asked for the rest of it.
Next stop was the Sudan Embassy. It looked more like a bomb shelter in the middle of a war torn country and the woman who sat behind the counter was battling to smile. We got her eventually though In fact she ended up giving us her personal mobile number to check in with the progress of the visas which we were issued 10am the next day, rather than 330pm. This was a massive win as it meant we could drive to the Ethiopia embassy and submit our application the same day.
^ We hired a driver with a car to scoot us around the back streets of Nairobi. In foreground is Kibera, Africa’s largest slum.
^ Inside the Sudan Embassy. We turned up the following day and waited.
ROUND 2: We were in high spirits. 1 visa down, 1 to go.
We arrived at the Ethiopian embassy with photocopies of every document known to man, plus plenty of copies of crap I knew we didn’t need but wanted in place “just in case”. Including: passports, credit cards, birth certificates, Carnet, Carnet De Passage stubs, itinerary, vehicle contents, electrical contents, letters of recommendation etc etc etc. I am a researcher by nature and I had made certain we had Every.Damn.Thing.They.Could.Possibly.Want.
We were so ready for this.
The guy at the front counter looked at Gareth dubiously when he said why we were there. We explained that we had been travelling too long to have applied in our home country and had proof of our extended travel. With that, he said we needed to chat with the Consul Head. Immediately, we were nervous. Which was strange because up until that point we had just felt like we were following protocol. We had researched plenty of peoples experiences and going in for a chat was all standard.
We had even heard that a lone female would fare better than a man, so I was prepping to go in. But as G and I sat in the waiting room we looked at each other communicating silently with our eyes… both trying to shake off a sinking feeling. The Consul Head is a lady named Alem. She has layers of tatoos cascading down her neck and a tattoo of a cross on her forehead. Gareth was called to her office, which inadvertently kicked our ‘female’ approach to the curb. We went in and after she glanced at our papers told us in broken English, ‘I have new high direction that I can not give visa for land borders. If you are not Kenya permit holder I can not issue.”
We tried every angle with Alem. “I’m sorry but you must cancel your plans, there is nothing I can do” she said.
My mind went in slow motion. I can see every curl of her lip in detail. as she told us the rules had changed just weeks before.
The emotions that ripped through my body when she said that are indescribable. We have been planning this journey with an end game in mind for years. The only viable road North from Kenya is through Ethiopia.
At wits end I asked if it was possible to see the direction from her boss so I could understand it further, she became furious and red faced. I apologised saying ‘ I’m very sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, I would just like to understand further” and the colour disappeared from her cheeks. But I remembered the flash behind her eyes. Something else seemed to be going on.
She eventually told us the only option was to fly to Ethiopia. Or, ‘You can try to ask your embassy in Addis to contact our immigration headquarters. And if they give me authority I can consider your application’. It was essentially the same message we had received in Uganda. Cue: feelings of being out of control. You mean, three strangers hold our fate and they will most probably be completely unmotivated to do anything about it?
To write in detail about the week and a half that followed would take pages. And quite frankly I don’t feel like navel gazing about the emotions we went through. But it went a little like this.
ROUND 3: Depressed and emotional ride back to our accommodation in Nairobi. Send angry messages to friends about what happened. Gather thoughts. Call Australian embassy in Addis. Engage with a diplomat who couldn’t believe it. By 7PM we have an email from the diplomat saying the head office relayed there was no reason whatsoever that we shouldn’t be issued the visa in Nairobi.
Including, that the head office would be in touch with the local office in the morning to tell them so.
ROUND 4: We arrive at the Ethiopian embassy at opening time. We give Alem the letter and she looks embarrassed. Really embarrased. But then tells us that it does not change anything until she receives a message from her “Big boss”. We wait five hours at the embassy, waiting for her to receive the phone call. It feels like a game, not like a nightmare. The head office call her to instruct her to consider our application. But she does not accept it. Instead she refuses as she wants a call from the same boss that issued the directive. To say we were frustrated at this point is an understatement.
ROUND 5: At 3:55PM, five minutes before closing time, we receive a call. She tells us to come in the next day to submit our details that will be sent to her boss. All could have been given the day prior.
ROUND 6: Denied again. There is no way we will get it unless we have a Kenyan permit. It was an awful phone call.
ROUND 7: We consider leaving the Troopy and flying to Ethiopia. The return flights would be $700. The idea being: fly in, get a multiple-entry visa, and then fly back to Nairobi with the visa. The Ethiopia embassy in Australia say we can “definitely” get a multiple entry visa. It would be a big expense gambled if this is not the case so we ask our Australian embassy in Addis to confirm this with airport immigration. We are told “You can not get a multi-entry visa”. Another dead end.
^ Arriving before the embassy opens
^ Inside the Ethiopian embassy. This looks posed but it’s not. This was the morning we hung about waiting for 5 hours. The head office in Addis called her this day to say they should issue our visa, but the Head Consul wanted another phone call from someone higher up.
^ At least we had a nice place to pass the time while waiting.
^ Sorting out all our paperwork, in a bit of a tired and frustrated state
^ When the weather matches your mood
During all of this we had contact with the Australian embassy in Nairobi and Addis. We exhausted all options as quickly as possible. It was very frustrating. Other overlanders turned up after us and benefited from our week of jumping through hoops. It’s sad to say, but I think because there were so many of us wanting the visa at the same time (6 all up) it meant that the rules could not be flexed. We were all denied.
Our last resort was to send our passports home to Australia. We knew this all along, but never thought it would eventuate and kept hanging on the hope given to us by various embassies. So, after 2.5 weeks in Kenya of sickness and red tape we had no onwards visas. What were we to do?