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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Africa on the Threshold

Almost 2 weeks in Singapore now and I am ready to set off for the third & final phase of Odyssey2. This is a 5-months' journey through Africa and the Middle East that will take me rather less safe (maybe mere perceptions?) and controversial lands. Or maybe it is just because I am an "African virgin". I need to conquer that fear, as it did with South America and India.

I will be flying Emirates via Dubai. My first stop will be Ghana, which is a rather easy place to visit - they call it "Africa for beginners". There will be a visa-rush in Accra where Gordon, my old Aussie friend now accompanying me on my first month in Africa, and I will be trying to get as many visas as possible, in particular, that visa entente, which is a five-nation (Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso) joint visa.

We also have an Emirates ticket to fly from Accra to Abidjan, the economic capital of Cote d'Ivoire, on 13 Feb 08. CI used to be an example of an African miracle story but have been wrecked by two coups in 1999 and 2001, which then led to a civil war since 2002 which tore the country into two. A peace accord has been signed and the rebel chief has been proclaimed prime minister. It remains to be seen if this would lead to a long term political settlement.

Our subsequent route is not entirely certain, as it depends on whether we get all the visas we want on time, and whether we can find the right means of transport. Gone are the days when both of us are willing or have the patience to brave haphazard rural or local transport to cross borders of undeveloped nations. To save time and preserve a degree of physical comfort, we will try to take some flights between capitals. The biggest problem is the lack of information about flight availability. Indeed, it is often said that the local airlines are highly unreliable, whether in terms of safety or punctuality. We can't do much about this until we get there. Inshallah, we will achieve most of our goals. Main aim is to visit as many "non-touristy" states of West Africa as possible. We can leave those countries with more things to see for a future occasion. We will do the less safe ones now and get some assurance through safety in numbers.

Gordon will be with me for one month after which I plan to visit Mali more thoroughly and do side trips to Nigeria and possibly Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe and Equatorial Guinea. Getting visas for the last three countries require a bit of effort and imagination. By April, I shall make my way to Ethiopia and the surrounding states in the Horn of Africa, and possibly Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. I have a ticket to fly from Nairobi to Dubai but the situation in Kenya is extremely chaotic at the moment. Perhaps it would become better, or I would have to make some major flight alterations that could be costly. Adding to the confusion is Gary's invitation to join him in Libya in late April. In order to satisfy the Libyan rules for the foreigners' passport to be translated into Arabic AND with the translation duly endorsed by the home country passport issuing authority, I spent the last thirty hours in a panicky scramble for documentation. Let's see how this would pan out. Mother said, "Why bother?"

Once I got out of Africa into Dubai, the tentative plan is to cover Lebanon and Iran, but I may also include parts of Egypt and Eastern Turkey I hadn't visited or Iraqi Kurdistan if it is safe enough.

Right now, I have visas for Senegal and Ethiopia, which proved easy to obtain, and that for Nigeria, for which I suffered some stress and made more efforts than what alot of people would have bothered. It took me three visits to the Nigeria High Commission which included an interview with a senior official in which I showed my CV, my ex-co's annual report and media reports about me as a corporate and travel personality, so as to show that I was what I said I was, and that I could afford to finance my travels. As a result, the Nigeria HC waived the requirement for a letter of invitation and gave me a 6 months' multiple entry visa.



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