Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Saturday, October 19, 2013 06:16:02|
BLACK SEA, SUDANS, ETHIOPIA 2013: 1 - Getting ready and getting there
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Yesterday we got underway after a long period of preparation. Pam Barras, president of the Traveler's Century Club, has the name of a book called "Real Travel is Real Work" on her blog, and it is certainly true - before and after the trip. The South Sudan visa seemed almost impossible, until I phoned several times to their Washington embassy, one of the very few they have, and made a contact who helped right through the process. There are no reliable tour or travel companies in South Sudan, but Steve Warner recommended the AFEX camp who in turn recommended a fellow who does some tour work.
Flights were set up, changed, and set up again. Bestway Tours and Travel have arranged many of my complicated or difficult trips, and they hooked me up with Ahmed at Caraval Tours in Ethiopia, who did a good job of putting together a comprehensive tour that will take in all the provinces.
Achmed of Raidan Travel worked me through the unbelievable red tape and set things up to clear hurdles when I arrive. Permits and registration are required for almost anything one does in Sudan. He has also arrange for the visa to be at customs on arrival. Two days before we left I was going through every detail of the trip and found that Ethopian Airlines issued my return flight to Cairo from Addis Ababa for December 12 instead of Nov 28. This is critical as it connects with my 3 return flights to Costa Rica. I tried phoning both their England and US phone numbers, without success, but when I emailed "firstname.lastname@example.org" I received an immediate response. They promptly changed the date without charge, confirmed all 10 of my other Ethiopian flights. They were very courteous, helpful and efficient.
The Delta Airlines flight was on time to Atlanta, although the seats were the closest together I've seen in business class anywhere - my knees were against the back of the seat in front of me. On arrival we went straight through immigration and customs non-stop. This has to be the friendliest airport anywhere - there must have been a dozen people directing traffic, all welcoming everyone with a big smile. Southern hospitality is alive and well! I was telling the immigration officer how great it was to have no lines, and he said they are working without pay to keep it that way, rather than do the cutbacks that have affected other airports, causing huge lines. I had time to catch up on emails and down a double scotch before the next leg to Rome, Italy. The A330 plane boarded on time, but the baggage handlers took an hour to load luggage AFTER passengers were on the plane. We finally taxied out, but didn't get to far when the captain announced that that computer was giving engine problem warnings. We returned to the ramp where a swarm of ground crew came aboard. No drinks were served during this period, but I did sweet talk my way into a beer by going to the flight attendant's station. After another hour and a half we finally took off, too late to have much hope of making our connecting flight from Rome.
When the question was asked before the flight, I was assured the seats reclined to make flat beds, however they did not. It was like being on a wood plank inclined at 45 degrees, sort of like sleeping on a teeter totter (see-saw) It was a very uncomfortable night. We arrive in Rome 40 minutes before our connecting flight was to leave, but the airline made no effort whatsoever to help us get to it. An unfriendly agent met us to say the next flight to Istanbul would leave that night, to arrive at 1:30 AM. When asked if there were any flight earlier on other airlines she said there were not, however I checked the departure board and found there were actually 3, one Turkish flight left in a hour, but by the time we dealt with the agent, gave up on her, cleared customs and got to Turkish the flight was closed, so we bought tickets on another at 3:55 PM.
Rome airport, never one of my favourites, did not let me down. Although the immigration line up was reduced to something over half an hour from the 2 ½ hours the last time we entered Italy, it is still an airport of long, slow lines and chaos. Once we endured various other lines to get onto the plane things went well - the 2 ½ hour flight was on time, comfortable, and a full course meal with drinks and wine was included in economy. My seat mates in the exit row were Mark & Robyn from South Africa, and a lively conversation made the time fly by. Turkish immigration and customs were quick and friendly.
The cab ride to the SuB Hotel was slow because of traffic, but once there we were checked in quickly. The room was small, but had most extras, and we fell into the comfortable beds exhausted! I didn't wake up until 10:30 AM.