(Day 33) Debark to Gedaref – 2 May 2011
Distance for the day – 438 km
Odometer – 10 918 km
Hours on the Bike – 07:15
Donations up to date for Adelaide Hospital – R 77 327.00
We were up early and eager to get on to the last bit of gravel road before we get to Gonder, from where all is on tar to Cairo. By the time we have reached the 11 000 km mark we have covered 1 663 km on gravel roads that took us 40 hours, 41.5km/h. This has proved to be very challenging on the bikes with bolts that have rattled loose and all kinds of breakages on the frames, radiators, shocks and panniers. Bottom line is if you plan to do gravel then take it slow and do not over load.
The road from Gonder to the Sudanese border is now Tarred and we got to the border post at Al Qallabat by 12:30.
It was unbearably hot, 52°C and we were approached by fixers to help us go through the immigration and customs offices. They warned us that our timing was bad because it was nearly lunch time, which meant that the offices will be closed till 15:00. It was chaos in the immigration office on the Ethiopian side with people pushing and shouting. It seemed that the fixer that shouted the loudest got the job done first. The official behind the desk could not be bothered and was just doing one task at a time. Norman went back to fetch Stelios’s documentation at the bikes, who was guarding them and when he returned was shocked cold. He could not find his passport. He placed it on the officials desk with all his required documentation and it somehow disappeared? There was a commotion and nobody saw anything. It could have been stolen or taken by mistake by one of the many people who gathered around the table. What now!? At 13:00 the official chased everybody out of the office and went off for his lunch break. He was not phased and frankly couldn’t have cared less.
Over the lunch time break we made some phone calls to see what the options were. It looked grim and Norman could not continue, without a passport or visa. We tried with the Police to get an affidavit signed with copies of his passport and visas, which he had, but no joy. His only option was to turn back to Addis Ababa, to get to the South African Consulate, 900 km away. Norman first had to go back to the office where his passport disappeared to get his Carné reopened for Ethiopia. The very same official that signed him out would now not sign him back in because he could not prove he had a passport! After another hour he finally said his goodbyes and set off to Gonder. We were all emotional and very disappointed but what can you do? We had this little bit of hope that he could get something sorted out in Addis Ababa and gave him the spare back tyre for in case he could return. We would even wait a week for him to join us again if it was possible.
The Sudanese side was even worse. It took us 2 ½ hours to do the same process. The only difference was that there was nobody else in the queue. To describe the experience is difficult and words like lethargic, spiteful, corrupt, unproductive and incompetence comes to mind. In one of the offices the official was sitting back with his bare feet on the desk while asking questions in limited English like “where from, why come here?” His cell phone would then ring and he would then leave his office to stand out side and talk for a while. At the next office the official was still busy with our paper work and suddenly jumped up indicating that he first had to go and eat something.
We bought black market petrol and left the border post with half an hour of sun left for the day. It was still a two-hour ride to Gedaref. We even considered to pull off and tent next to the road, but decided against it after passing several military lookout points with armed soldiers at their posts – what can we expect from this strange country?