We reached Addis! After picking up Margot, a friend from San Francisco, we dropped our bags at Wimms Holland House. Notorious as the overland camping site, the place has fallen a bit in amenities and hygiene. But it’s right in the middle of the city, which was perfect, given we needed to extend our Ethiopian visas immediately a few blocks away.
Getting your visa extended is actually a simple process, if you know how. But given Amharic is the language used, I couldn’t help but feel bad for all the foreigners figuring it out by trial and error. Not to mention the 1,000+ Somali/Yemen/Sudanese refugees lined up outside. After shuttling around a few rooms getting our information verified, we finally reached the photo stop in Room 77. The woman in charge saw my Chinese passport. “Sorry, 15 days from today.” My current visa expires in 14. “Come back when expire.” That was definitely not an option.
She notices Eugene’s Australian passport. “30 days for you.” When asked why, she pushed my passport away and said to stop wasting her time. She motioned for the next person in line. We had waited an entire morning (including Ethiopian lunch) in line; given our travel plans in Northern Ethiopia, returning back to Addis for another 2 week visa was not feasible. We continued to explain the situation, and exasperated, she sent us to her boss in Room 89.
Off we went, and clearly the boss had better things to do. Without hesitation, he gave us 60 days each. Victory!!
We went back and showed her our 60 day approval. Easy! But nope, she wasn’t happy. She stormed off to the boss and came back: only 15 days for me again – the boss has made a mistake. Eugene can get 60. She said it was the rules. “That makes no sense. You can bend the rules for an Australian, but not for a Chinese?” Our persistence agitated her. She went to the boss, returning with a triumphant smile. Now Eugene also gets the original 30. Rules are rules.
Given we desperately needed the extension, we went back to Room 89. After some arguing, the boss personally brought our passports back. “Give. Them. 30. Days.” Furious, she complied and threw our passports at us. Overall, a very tiring experience, but we got what we wanted!
The problem, as with most hasty route decisions, is the visa. We turned up at the Sudan embassy hoping for the best. After waiting for an hour, Eugene joined the line to speak to the boss. We got nervous when the 20 girls in front of us got sent off crying, some being pulled away by two security goons. Finally, it was our turn.
“Tourist visa please.”
“You need a letter from the Ministry in Khartoum.”
“But… how do we get to Khartoum without a Sudan visa?”
Confounded, we got in line again to talk to the ambassador. Attempt number two: Change the type of visa.
“Transit visa please.”
“Where are you going?”
“You need an Egyptian visa first. NEXT.”
While Eugene tried to find a workaround, I was crippled in the waiting room with a stomach bug. A friendly Sudanese expat felt sorry for us, and gave some advice: the less information you give, the better.
So off Eugene goes, back to the ambassador. Attempt #3.
“After, where do you go?”
“I’m… going back to Australia.”
“No. Back to Australia.”
“She’s my cousin. She’s going back to China.”
“OK. Only Australia and China?”
“Come back tomorrow for visa.”
And just like that, we got our ticket to Sudan.
Addis was tough going. After 4 stomach bugs between us, endless diesel fumes, and incessant pickpockets, we rushed to leave. Now pushing to Lalibela, the holy town of the Orthodox Christian church, with Margot in tow. Til next time!