A rough overland drive of 4.000km to attend the birth of a new nation: South Sudan
14.01.2011 - 25.01.2011
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Best hotel in Riyadh: Al Faisaliyah*****, A Rosewood Hotel (founded by the Rockefeller family)
Our hotel in Jeddah: Qasr-al-Sharq*****, A Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (founded by Jacob Astor from Walldorf, Germany)
It was interesting to be invited into a "compound" in Riyadh. Most expatriates stay in compounds where they can live a "Western" life: women don't need to be covered in a veil and can even attend the swimming-pool in a bikini. Alcohol is informally available. The security fortifications are extreme, after several attacks on such compounds by extremists.
We drove more than 1.000 kms from Riyadh to Jeddah by night, bypassing Mecca at a huge sign and police check point indicating access "for Muslims only".
The visa for Saudi-Arabia is notoriously difficult to get, as you require a local "sponsor" for your invitation and guarantee. However, if you only stay for a few days you can get a transit visa for free!!! I suggest to use a professional visa agent.
Best hotel in Sanaa: Mövenpick Sanaa*****
We visited Sanaa on a stop-over flight with Yemenia Airlines. This way, we did not need a visa and the airline even provided for free transport downtown and free accomodation in the Al Musafir Hotel (2-3 star). Although we had to leave our passports at the airport, we were completely free to travel around. We even changed our hotel to the Mövenpick, which I can highly recommend. Sanaa is certainly among the most beautiful and intriguing cities in the world.
Best hotel in Djibouti: Kempinski Palace*****
Our hotel in Djibouti: Sheraton Djibouti**** (home to the German military contingent)
Djibouti is host to 2.000 US troops at Camp Lemonnier as well as 800 French foreign légionnaires and a small contingent of the Germans, the Spanish, the Finnish and the Japanese. Therefore Djibouti is a bit of a screwed up place without any real flavor of its own. It is also very expensive and attracts few tourists. To get a feeling of what I mean, I recommend to stay in the Sheraton Hotel (>US$ 150). If you prefer the most upmarket place, without any connection to real local life, this is the perfectly luxurious Kempinski Palace (>US$ 350).
P.S.: The Djibouti government deliberately blocks the Thuraya satellite phone system. The only country where I have encountered this "problem". Many other GSM systems (for example Telefonica / o2) also do not work.
The Djibouti visa costs US$ 60 on arrival. Transit Visa cost half but you need an onward flight ticket. There is no "multiple entry", so you will end up paying several times, if you come back from Somaliland or Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the border to Eritrea is still closed.
Ethiopia (incl. Omo Valley)
Best hotel in Addis Abeba: Sheraton by Starwood Luxury Collection*****
We had arranged for a chauffeur car to pick us up at the border town of Galafi. It is practically impossible to get a car for self-drive in Ethiopia and both the agents and drivers have a very bureaucratic and socialistic attitude in regards to travel times and distances. You see a lot of these Landcruisers transporting tourists on set itineraries throughout the country. Hardly any individual travellers. Rather like Rimini for intellectuals. Luckily our driver was good and flexible, so we managed to drive all the way (from Djibouti!) through the Danakil Desert to Addis Abeba on the first day. Through the Highlands to Arba Minch in a half-day. And to Omorate in another half-day. We were only interested in the world-famous Omo Valley with its unique indigenous tribes.
The Ethiopian Girls gave us their best smiles ...
... not so sure about these guys.
Kenya (Turkana Region)
One of the most exotic border crossings in the world
After crossing the Omo River in a barge, we were very lucky to find a friendly Turkana "businessman" who took us in his 4x4 from the last town in Ethiopia, Omorate through 60kms of no-mans-land to Todenyang, Kenya and further on an uncharted road via Kalokol and Lodwar to Lokichoggio. "Loki" has been host to many refugee camps but most of the NGOs have left, many of them to the now free South Sudan.
The bandits of the Turkana tribe who robbed and killed many overland drivers between Lodwar and the South Sudanese borders have also left, many of them presumably killed by the Kenyan army. Nevertheless our Turkana driver - for safety reasons - did not allow us to stop at the roadside for a pee. The driver was performing miracles in the sand, through river beds and on the potholed tarmac. He would be a rallye world champion if he tried. Finally, the friendly chap brought us to the decent "748" Hotel and Freight Services in Lokichoggio.
Own video: Sandstorm while crossing the no-mans-land and Ilemi Triangle
Crossing the Omo River (Turkana West Route)
It is possible to cross from Ethiopia to Kenya (or vice versa) with your own 4x4 or with local "private taxis", but it is tough!
On the Kenyan side you can take an uncharted sandy track (in the dry season) from Lodwar via Kalokol to Todenyang or the rocky track shown on the maps from Lokitaung to Todenyang. The crossing of 60kms no-mans-land is almost impossible without a guide!
On the Ethiopian side you can take the tough track through the Omo Valley Park via Kibbish and Maji to Jimma or get your car lifted over the Omo River by crane (at least US$ 120) and drive on a good piste via Turmi and Konso to Arba Minch.
This border area is disputed. There is no immigration post on either side, but crossing is not illegal either. Get a police stamp in Omorate and report to either Nairobi or Lokichoggio or Addis Abeba for your immigration stamps. The area is part of the infamous Ilemi Triangle (click).
Our hotel in Lokichoggio: 748 Hotel and Flight Services***
Another lodge in "Loki", with a swimming pool: Kate Camp***
The movie "The Constant Gardener", based on John Le Carré's book, plays in part in Lokichoggio.
South Sudanese Visa
We took a taxi up to the border at Nadapal to obtain our South Sudanese "visa", a travel permit by the G.O.S.S. (Government of South Sudan). Like most visas on this trip it cost US$ 50. Technically we were now in South Sudan and could have driven 350kms onward to Juba, but there is still a bandit area between Kapoeta and Torit (starting at "Camp 15"). If we would not have been able to hop on a UN airplane, we would have driven on that road nevertheless.
UN flight from Lokichoggio to Juba
We managed to negotiate our way onto a Dash-8 propeller plane, operated by the United Nations for the World Food Programme, by way of "donating" to a christian missionary organization. We had the whole plane to ourselves :-)
Best hotel in Juba (downtown): Hotel Equatoria****
Best hotel in Juba (White Nile riverbank): Oasis Camp***
As members of MostTraveledPeople.com we were particularly interested to visit South Sudan (predominantly Christian, led to independence by Dr. John Garang, now governed by Salva Kiir) where during the current referendum for secession from the North (Muslim, under Omar Bashir) most likely a new UN nation is to be born.
The nation's capital Juba is still a wild and rough place and could well qualify for the most expensive city in the world. "Hotels" start at US$ 150, but that means sleeping in tents. Most "rooms" are in containers, starting at US$ 200. No wonder, as the place is full of hundreds of different NGO "workers" who have a good time spending "other people's money".
Thus the connection by air is very good, with airlines such as Egypt Air, Ethiopian, Kenyan, Ugandan etc. flying to Juba. We opted to drive out overland by taxi (US$ 300 for 180kms) to the South at Nimule, direction Entebbe Airport in Uganda (US$ 200 for another 500kms).
The road is still bad, currently being upgraded by Turkish companies who were protected by guards carrying machine guns. Many uncleared mine fields line the road, as well as the occasional rusty bombarded tank. This used to be a civil war theatre and potentially continues to be a playground for the LRA "Lord's Resistance Army", the world's most dangerous (Christian fanatic) terror group, led by Joseph Kony, who is a fan of child soldiers, abductions, mass rape, sex slavery, amputations and other madness. He is undoubtedly protected and hired by outside forces and was born in Gulu, a city were going to pass on the road at night.
After the border, our new Ugandan Landcruiser taxi allowed us to self-drive, but he warned us that hitting one of the many pedestrians would mean to get killed on the spot by the local Acholi people (Joseph Kony's tribe, by the way). Drunk truck drivers on the other hand attempted to kill us for no reason by using the whole width of the bad roads at a minimum speed of 100km/h. We arrived at the airport at 2.30 am, just in time for our flight, after a mad 12 hour road rush. It was a trip to another planet ... probably Mars.
Own video: Speeding through Northern Uganda (self-drive)
The LRA, a religious fanatic terror organization we rarely hear about:
Inside the LRA (Source: journeymanpictures on youtube)
a former Hell's Angel turned Hero who rescues children from the LRA,
based in Nimule, at the border of South Sudan with Uganda.
Machinegunpreacher (Click here)
It is possible to travel overland to Juba, both from Uganda (Nimule - Gulu) or Kenya (Nadapal - Lokichoggio). The security situation seems under control, but there is no guarantee and the general atmosphere is rough and tough. Visas are available on arrival at the borders, or at the G.O.S.S. missions in Nairobi and Kampala.
Interesting foto travel report about South Sudan: Weiterhin Lebensgefahr bei Reisen in Südsudan 2010 (click)