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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.

Journal Entry:

Friday, November 15, 2013 06:44:43

BLACK SEA, SUDANS, ETHIOPIA 2013: 11 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Juba, South Sudan

Sunday, November 10, 2013

This morning there was a terrible wailing from speakers in town. I was surprised, as I know Addis is not a Muslim area, however it turned out to be from a Christian Church. I guess they figured they could do the Muslims one better, as it went on non-stop until after I had left the hotel.

The airport security in Addis Ababa was fierce - line ups for full security to get into the terminal, line ups to check the carry on, line ups for immigration, line ups for security to get into the air side of the terminal and line ups for the final security screening to get into the departure area. It was shoes off at all of them, and I was pretty fed up by the time I boarded and squeezed into the tight fitting seat.

Once in Juba immigration was straight forward. Fortunately my seat was near the front of the plane, getting me to passport control before the others. The back of the computers all had Canada stickers on them. My visa and papers are in order so it was quick through the gate, however on the other side I was sent back, as there is a counter where all incoming baggage, including carry on, must be inspected. There were no passengers there yet so I had my small pack inspected, and chatted with the lady inspector. I gave her a Canada pen, which thrilled her, but she said I must bring my checked bag to be inspected as with all baggage entering the country.

As usual, mine was in the bottom of the last luggage cart, so by then the area at the inspection counter was a swarming mass of people and luggage. The lady I met caught my eye and motioned me to her side of the counter, so I picked up my bag and fought through the swarm, made more complicated by those with inspected bags fighting back through others trying to get forward. Eventually I got within striking distance, swung my bag forward, the lady caught it, initialled it in chalk and waved me off.

Dennis Kaka was waiting outside the terminal. He gave a bit of a tour on the way to the AFEX camp, where I was met by Elizabeth Thumbi, the hotel manager with whom I had been in contact and who recommended Dennis. I'm in what they call a container, although they are really purpose built housing units. There is TV, wifi, air conditioning, mosquito nets, a large desk and work area plus a fridge and full bathroom. A comfortable unit in a very secure location, as the same company has a large security operation based here. We are the only tourist, the rest are rented to UN or NGO (Non Government Organizations).

Dennis waited until I'd got settled before we headed off on a city tour. There are about a million people in Juba, which is the capital of South Sudan. The main streets were paved, but off the main streets it is mud roads. There is a good sized university which teaches in English, and all signs and official forms are in English. Although a form of Arabic is the first language, it is rapidly being replaced by English - locals conversing between themselves are usually speaking English.

We stopped for a couple of beer (for me) at the Da Vinci Restaurant, right on the banks of the Nile. The local beer is excellent, and the river was in flood, so we sat and watched large chunks of vegetation carried along by the fast water on it's way to Sudan and Egypt. The restaurant menu was very good, so I had Dennis book a table to treat he and Elizabeth to dinner tomorrow night. We also made arrangements to drive up country in the direction of Uganda to see some water falls on Tuesday.

Back at AFEX I settled in and got caught up on email before dinner. There is a large oval open air bar just a few meters from the Nile River bank that has two giant screen TV sets playing English football games. It seems all the South Sudanese guys here have a favourite English team. Dinner is a buffet - the lamb chops were excellent and it was nice to have cold beer with dinner. The local beer is excellent.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dennis arrived as arranged at 10 AM. We started trying to get a photography permit, a very important document if you are not to have the local officials erasing everything from your camera. Government ministries - and there are a lot of them, are in a big walled compound. When we found the right ministry whoever was needed was in a meeting, so after a long wait we went to another place where whoever was needed was not in. After another wait we gave it up. Every official office, and in many other places, there is a large photos of the commander in chief of the military, a fierce looking chap in a black stetson cowboy hat..

We drove through much of the city, having a look at cathedrals and the many banks. The financial sector seems well represented, but there are no credit cards accepted. There were teeming markets with many stalls, most with sun umbrellas over them. We passed the blue house, a white building with blue windows, containing the security police. Dennis says out of 10 people going in only two will come out alive. Right across the street is a conveniently located cemetery!

Many vehicles belong to either NGOs or UN, all quite new white four wheel drive SUVs. At the brewery on the outskirts of town Dennis asked if we could have a look around. The fellow we talked to said it was lunch time, but he'd see what he could do and invited us to sit in a comfortable waiting room. He came back with visitors passes, safety glasses and ear plugs, so away we went on a tour of the highly automated facility. The manager of each area toured us through his section with a thorough explanation, starting where the grain and hops are unloaded through fermentation, ageing, filtering, mixing, used bottle receiving, cleaning & checking, filling, capping, boxing and palletizing for shipping. By the time we finished we had met most managers. Before leaving the general manager invited us to his office - he is from Cape Town, South Africa - the brewery is a division of one of the world's largest brewery groups, SABMiller.

A well stocked drug store provided a replacement supply of the pills that I'd left in Addis, then I bought a converter for local wall plugs. It is the same three prong plug as used in England. When Denis arrived Elizabeth (the hotel manager) joined us for dinner at Da Vinci Restaurant. It was an excellent meal, accompanied by the appropriate amount of beer and wine.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dennis arrived at 8:15 AM to make a rendezvous with one of his drivers, Peter, who had a comfortable four wheel drive van for a tour of Nimule National Park near the Uganda border. We were stopped for 45 minutes waiting for a crew to pause in clearing land mines from alongside the road. The countryside is fairly flat with lots of trees and bush. Along the road were a number of trucks that had rolled or been in a crash, plus cars in the same state. It seems they are just left there. The road is good pavement right to the Ugandan border, the only good road out of Juba and therefore the source of most supplies.

We turned onto a dirt track where we picked up a soldier with an assault rifle. He is from Juba, but has been stationed in the park for a number of years. The track into the falls requires a serious four wheel drive, but Peter, our driver, managed to get the van over boulders and through streams. Our soldier had sharp eyes, spotting a group of 6 hippos on the other side of the Nile river, the first of several sightings. On the hike into the first falls we came across a family of monkeys, and along the road in were lots of signs that elephants had spent the night, although we didn't see any. The soldier said a lot of animals fled into Uganda during the war, as both sides were killing them for food. We left the car at an abandoned army commando training camp near the river.

The Nile was swollen with the heavy rains they have been having in Uganda, and although the falls are what we would call rapids they would be in the class 6 range. Huge spumes of water would leap into the air as the river roared over a gradual drop of several meters. We then hiked to the second falls, even more dramatic, where the river narrows and the velocity of the water was increased. At the final falls a group of soldiers were camped. They had constructed a number of fire-pits out of the flat rocks of the region, and in one had fish they had netted being smoked. The Nile at this point is clear water, as we are not far from the source in Uganda.

Next we drove along a rough dirt track on the bank of a small stream that is the border between South Sudan and Uganda. There are no defences and no problem for anyone who wanted to cross from one country to the other. The road ended at a crowded, chaotic official border post where small boats brought goods from Uganda, today mostly sacks of oranges. The money of both countries is accepted readily. The idea was to hire a boat here, but one would not be available for some time so it was decided to skip it.

When we dropped the soldier off it was necessary to pay $70 park admission fee before we headed back to Juba. We passed a bus knocked off the road by an empty gas tanker truck along the way. Back in Juba the driver found that the road we drove would be closed for 6 days due to flooding on the Ugandan side, so there were shortages of everything as people were panic buying. Long lines at gas pumps soon exhausted the remaining supplies, causing big problems for Dennis' fleet of vehicles.

Dennis was to pick me up to go for dinner at Notos Restaurant, but was trying to solve the gas problem so sent a driver. The restaurant was amazing, packed with people. I had a steak of local beef - it was tender, delicious and cooked perfectly. Dennis arrive after dinner, but had no time except to drive back to AFEX. He said he had waited 2 hours in the government office during the day for the photo permit, but then was told the person who needed to sign the permit would not be back. There is no refund of the $50 fee!


South Sudan has a lot of natural assets to attract tourists. There is a wild animal migration to match those in Tanzania and Kenya, the White Nile flows through one of the world's largest wetlands, and most people speak at least some English. More are speaking it all the time as government documents are in English, there is lots of English TV and the university teaches in English, so anyone with English as a first or second language can easily talk to local people.

On the other hand, when the government was set up they created a vast number of ministries, including the ministry of ministries, so an impenetrable bureaucracy has developed. Even the simple act of getting a photo permit proved impossible and the attempt costly. They claim to want tourism, but it is blocked continually. Credit cards are not accepted as another drawback. AFEX accepted mine with a 5% fee, but only because their head office is in Kenya and they will process it there. People won't believe you are a tourist - I saw no others. In rainy season it is only possible to reach Uganda by roads.

Development is going to be very slow. The law says a business must have a South Sudanese citizen as a 30% partner, not likely acceptable to international investors. There are no ocean ports for shipping. A large portion of small businesses are owned or managed by people from East Africa, particularly Kenya and Uganda, but they are not treated well by the government even when living in South Sudan for many years. I'm told the government budget is 90% dependent on oil revenues, something they hope will increase when China builds a promised new refinery. Currently they must pay huge commissions to Sudan, where the pipeline runs for processing and export through Port Sudan. It is so expensive that it is cheaper to truck gas and diesel from Uganda. There are many big buildings including a new airport terminal, on which construction has stopped due to lack of funds - most were started by Sudan. There is new construction, such as a new Sheraton, but most is geared toward the huge number of NGO and UN employees.

Most vehicles come from Uganda, and so are right hand drive. There seems to be strong ties to England, BBC is a favourite on many radios and TV sets, and almost all Sudanese have a favourite team in English football, which is followed closely. There are frequent police checks throughout the country. Humidity is so high it is almost impossible to dry cloths, so AFEX includes a free laundry service for people staying there.

I would predict that it will be a very long time before South Sudan shows any sign of prosperity.