Sunday, January 29, 2012

The adjustments

Even before we have left, we had to adjust the plan already. News about the attack on tourists in the Danakil Depression remains elusive – the only thing everybody agrees on is that five tourists were killed. Now the ARDUF, a rebel group inside Ethiopia that fights for greater autonomy of the Afar region, claims that the tourists died during a shoot-out between the rebels and the Ethiopian army, after the kidnapping. We have decided to defer the decision to go there, and if we go, we will do it at the very end of our trip – if we do get kidnapped, at least we have enjoyed a fabulous trip beforehand. Just kidding.

The second adjustment came this week, when we were in Brussels to collect some of our visa – the countries we want to visit all require you to have a visa, but don’t have a visa-issuing entity in The Netherlands. Although an Ethiopian visa can be had at the international airport in Addis Ababa, they only issue the single entry type, for 30 days. With our plan for a two months stay, and excursions to Djibouti and Somaliland, that would not have worked. The good news is that, once inside the embassy in Brussels, we got our visas, multiple entry and for 3 months, within 15 minutes.

No such luck at the Djibouti embassy. Apparently, one can get a transit visa at the airport (although not everybody is very clear about this), but we were now planning to enter Djibouti overland, and there are definitely no visa facilities at the border. However, the embassy in Brussels insists on seeing a confirmed hotel booking in Djibouti before issuing a visa. Not something trivial like an email or so, no, no, a real piece of paper with a signature and a stamp from the hotel, nothing less! And we don’t even know when we will be getting there, let alone where we will be staying! We have dealt enough with embassy officials to give up, relatively quickly. We will now just skip Djibouti all together. A pity on the one hand, because I have always wanted to go there: some undefined, inexplicable fascination with this former French colony, mini-country, that contains the lowest place in Africa, Lake Assal at 150 m below sea level. But then, whatever I read in travel guides and from internet sources, the place is not particularly attractive, a dump really, and an expensive one at that, and not very friendly. Why bother?

The third visa, for Somaliland (and that is not Somalia, you need a separate visa for Somaliland) can only be found in London or in Addis Ababa, the only two places where Somaliland has a representation. Emails to the London office have so far remained unanswered, but apparently the Addis Ababa office can issue a visa on the spot. Let’s hope they can, we wouldn’t want our trip curtailed even further.

So: a new plan. First the Christian north, then to Somaliland and back, then the south of Ethiopia, and if all is well by the end of March, we’ll tour the Afar region. Back on the first of April.

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