Thursday, May 5, 2011

Embassy Hunt

Daryll writes:

The main reason for coming to Zimbabwe was not only to stop off at Victoria Falls, but to also head for Harare, the capital city and try to sort out our Ethiopian visas.  Prior to us leaving Canada, we learnt that the elusive Ethiopian visa can no longer be issued in Nairobi, Kenya and Harare was the best place where we could pick them up beside having our passports sent to the Ethiopian embassy back in Canada.  I didn’t really want to have our passports sent via courier service back home and us being stuck in an African country without our ticket out basically. 

From the small tourist town of Victoria Falls, we headed to Bulawayo, our first big African city.  The roads leading to Bulawayo were in good condition and as usual, the radar guns and traffic cops were out in full force.  It helps as Ang and I tend to stick to the posted speed limit regardless of how slow it is and how painful it can become, but the others that we are with, tend to go slight over.  Pat on the Africa Twin was triggered at 87km/hr in a 80 zone, but apparently was going to fast for the officer to safely stop him, so got away this time.  Dom who followed in his tracks was triggered at 86km/hr and by this time the officers were already on the road and stopped him dead in his tracks.  Apparently the fine had started off being US$10, but Dom gave the officer a really true sad story of how he was fleeced of US$20 earlier that morning from a t-shirt guy that he had ordered a custom t-shirt from who never showed up, so the officer felt sorry for him and had to pay a $5 fine instead and he even got a valid receipt as well.  We spent the night in a Municipal Campground in Bulawayo that barely had any hot water for a shower, so we were quick to leave the next morning and do another 440km day to get to Harare.

I envisioned Harare or even Zimbabwe as a whole to be a dark, scary place and to the contrary, we have found the people to be incredibly nice, polite and friendly to us.  Everyone smiles, greets us and always courteous when approached for directions.  We set off the day after we arrived in Harare to see if we could get our Ethiopian visa.  We all decided to walk from the backpackers we were staying at as we were told that it wasn’t too far.  Most of the embassies are all situated in close proximity to each other and thought that it would be easier without the bikes.  We got to the Ethiopian Embassy only to find it closed as it was a National holiday in Ethiopia and learnt from the security guard that it would be open tomorrow (Friday, May 6th).  Info on the internet had indicated that Ethiopia will only issue a visa, if our Embassy issued an invitation letter, so we headed to the Canadian Embassy.  This is now the second Canadian Embassy we visited on our trip so far.  We visited the Canadian Embassy in Buenos Aires to tried to get some document notarized but were told to come back later that afternoon.  We never went back though and managed without the notarized documents.  The lady that was assisting us said that they have received strict instructions from Ottawa and are not allowed to issue such later for Canadian travelers.  We pleaded with her and she relented and said that she would contact Ottawa and also copy the Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to see if how she could assist us and for us to return the next day.  Without this invitation letter, we could possibly be refused entry into Ethiopia, which means our trip ends in Kenya or we fly over to Sudan.  Our plans change all the time and we trying to keep an eye on the situation of Syria as well.  I think we are on Plan C at the moment and may have to resort to a Plan D to get ourselves and the bikes to Europe.

We were still hopeful as we left and as we passed through the security gate to leave the property, a gentleman came up to us and introduced himself as the First Secretary to the Ambassador (can’t remember his name).  He had heard about these 4 crazy Canadians trying to get an invitation letter and had seen our passports and also owned a bike, so wanted to come and meet us.  We chatted a bit and said that he would have one of his staff call the Ethiopian Embassy tomorrow to let them know that we will be coming and gave us directions to a few other embassies we wanted to visit viz the Kenyan Embassy and the Sudanese Embassy. 

We received an email from the Canadian Embassy this afternoon letting us know that they had contacted Ottawa and the official response was that the  Canadian Government does not approve of any travel within Ethiopia or Sudan and thus won’t issue the letter of invitation for us.  We are going to the Ethiopian Embassy tomorrow anyway and try our luck.  Wish us luck.  On a side note though, we did go to both the Kenyan and Sudanese Embassies and everyone that we spoke to were extremely helpful and gave us the information that we were seeking and asked for us to send them pictures once we are in their respective countries.
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