The Uganda capital is a bustling, dusty and noisy traffic jam of taxis, mini-busses and lines of nondescript shops touting electronics, cameras, clothing, souvenirs and more. And I can’t forget the motorcycle taxis – these dangerous, helmetless kamikazes that sometimes pile 3 or 4 people to a small chinese motorcycle. In Kampala, my residence for my short stay is the Equatoria Hotel, complete with wireless internet access, albeit a bit slow. The usual crowd circles me and Doc as I start pulling off my luggage. A security/bell-hop pushes his way through the crowd and hurriedly takes my bag to the room while Doc finds a shady spot under the awning and next to the massive six-cylinder headless diesel engine sitting in a pile of dirt.
Sure Kamapala has a seductive energy to it as the influx of ex-pats, NGO employees and air workers makes for a metropolitan mix not unlike Rwanda. But I’m not here to take in the nightlife, restaurants nor coffee shops. No. As my itinerary has now changed dramatically, I must get down to business. First, I look through several tiny bookshops for a guidebook on Sudan or Egypt with no avail. Thanks to another good samaritan Ugandan, Diane I’m able to find the biggest and best bookstore in town, but even this effort proves fruitless. Next business is a Sudan Visa. I’ve read horror stories of month-long waiting period for US applicants. Others have been flatly turned down and told to go home – or elsewhere. At the tiny cubed building with a gun-toting guard, through a thick paned glass window that hasn’t seem to have been cleaned since Idi Amin’s regime, the pudgy round-faced clerk pulls out a faded photo copy of VISA requirements and tells me they’re “finished” today and to come back tomorrow. With a leaky ball-point pen and circles one of the requirements: Sponsor must submit a letter of recommendation to immigration office in Khartoum. Upon approval application will be processed. In other words, get set for a Chinese slow train to destination Sudanese Visa.
Another day in Kampala.
Sitting on one of Kampala’s many hills is the Libyan president’s gift to Uganda – a massive mosque with a capacity of 17,000.
Tapping on the dirty window, even though the building is less than 200sq feet, it takes a lot of effort to gain the attention of my photocopy pushing clerk. “Excuse me,” I cough and plant the application requirement sheet to the window, “I don’t have a sponsor,” trying to see if there’s a way around this issue, I beg the forbidden question and worry about offering too much information, “but you see, I’m riding a motor bike through Sudan as a tourist. Is there any way we can get around this requirement,” I confidently ask the question while pointing to his leaky ink scribble on the photocopy.
“You have to ask the deputy secretary,” he matter-of-factly stated and turned his back to me. “He not here today. Come back tomorrow”, the muffled behind the back voice squeaked out.
Great. I’m only in the embassy visa section for five minutes and my instinct and research proved to be valid. This is going to take work. Meanwhile back in the states, my brother Jonathan, who’s completed nearly a half-dozen assignments in Sudan, including Darfur and Khartoum, was talking to the people in the Sudan embassy based in Washington, DC. At this point of my trip, timing is everything. And losing time is something I cannot afford as it impacts riding weather, ferry schedules and more. Plus, I don’t like sitting idle in African cities, Cape Town excluded.
Through the same dirty glass the next day my clerk candidate for a personality and customer service award tells me, “No. Not here today. Deputy secretary.” I sigh and look him woefully directly into his weathered dark brown eyes. “You come back tomorrow.” I was getting a ride for which I did not nor wish not to have a ticket. It took another day but Jon and I connected and conferenced called the Sudan Embassy in Washington DC. Jon’s contact promised to connect with a friend working in the Sudanese Embassy in Addis Ababa to detail my plight. He strongly suggested that I secure a Visa for Egypt as Khartoum will want proof that I plan on leaving the country. In most cases and airline ticket would work, but since I’d be crossing a small little-used land border with Ethiopia, the Sudanese want to see I will exit through a neighboring country. The Egyptian Visa would be my best shot.
The next morning I blew off the Sudanese for favor of a visit to the Egyptian Embassy, which had moved just one week prior making for another traffic choked tour of Kampala, and filled the application, dropped my passport and about $20 worth of Uganda Shillings and was asked to come back at 4pm. Arriving at 3pm the personable gentlemen filled with tips of tourists locations in his country, handed me my Visa and a couple bucks of change. Riding past the Sudan Embassy and out of town, I am hopeful that my luck will change in Ethiopia. It’s a risky proposition as I could try Nairobi. But I’m going forward with my new information and my fingers crossed.
I made my way for the source of the River Nile – to Jinka just a few hours from Kampala — out of the city at last!