Feb 032012

Onwards! The “hotel” arranged a transfer to Juba airport, and check-in was pretty primitive – but completely painless. There was a paper list they were checking names off of, bag tags and boarding passes were handwritten (and I still have yet to receive United credit for this segment) but all in all – it worked. We went through what passed for security, but the x-ray machine was off, there was no real check, and we were soon sitting in some very torn-up lounge chairs in the departure room.

Juba Airport is really just two rooms – one for arrivals, and one for departures. It was packed with everyone for the three departing flights, and despite the fact ours had been changed from a 737 to an ERJ, the room was quite empty. The list of names only had like 20 names on it, so Inshallah it would be an empty flight…and it was!

EgyptAir Flight 860
Juba, South Sudan to Cairo, Egypt
Depart 14:45, Arrive 18:00, Flight Time 4:15
ERJ-170, Registration SU-GDH, Manufactured 2009

The flight was absolutely empty, and less than 1/4 of the seats were taken, so everyone who wanted could have their own row. This was by far my longest flight on an ERJ, and it was as good as can be expected. The crew were quite lazy, surly, and did the bare minimum (even serving drinks in previously-used glasses) but all in all, with the number of empty seats, I won’t complain at all. Plus, the meal was at least edible!

Flight arrived on time, bus to the terminal, where the handler from the tour company we’d booked with was waiting.  I decided to book a tour for this trip, because we had one full day in the city and wanted to really maximize the amount we could see.  Included were round-trip airport transfers, and the handling of the visa on arrival, no need to haggle with drivers….was well worth it.  I would highly recommend Memphis Tours to anyone looking for a similar situation.

Drive to the hotel – the Le Meridien Pyramids was pretty quick, under 45 minutes this late, and soon we were being hassled by the front desk clerk who wanted a bit of baksheesh in order to deliver SPG benefits.  UG!  Welcome to Egypt!  Eventually everything worked out, we got some dinner, a very very slightly upgraded room where the AC barely worked, and it was off to bed in order to maximize the next day!

Jan 262012

As I mentioned earlier, we were faced with a last-minute dilemma: We needed to get from Addis to Cairo, but the only direct flight left at like 3am…and we both absolutely detest redeyes…especially ones that are 1 hour long. No thanks! We had planned to transit for a day in Yemen, but they weren’t so keen on issuing visas at the time…pulling ours at the last minute. For some reason, a spark went off, and I looked into the possibility of connecting via the newest country: South Sudan. Shockingly, the times were perfect, middle of the day, fares were pretty reasonable…and it all ticketed! The only concern was that visa requirements for South Sudan were very unclear. I figured we could wing it at the gate and get away with it…and that’s what happened!

Ethiopian Flight 490
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Juba, South Sudan
Depart 11:05, Arrive 13:05, Duration 2 hours
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700, Registration ET-ALM, Manufactured 2004
Seat: 2L

There was a bit of confusion when we got to the airport. Ethiopian’s website now listed this flight at noon, as did a few flight tracking apps, but the check-in agent, the airport monitors, and all other “official” sources still listed it on time at 11:05. Guess what happened 😉 So, we checked in at the international terminal in Addis…only to be sent to the Domestic terminal. Seems that certain flights – with little rhyme or reason – still depart from this terminal. Computers were slow, eventually they checked us in (the walk between terminal is 5 minutes or so max) and immigration was a breeze, and we were in the lounge. Free water and diet coke made us happy while we waited. This whole time – NOBODY knew when the flight would really leave. The lounge was outside security, so we took turns clearing security to check at the gate.

As predicted, the plane had come from Rome, and we ended up boarding around 11:45.

On the taxi, we went past the airplane graveyard/etc in Addis which had a few interesting relics:

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Jan 082012

…but then again, I’m not right in the head. I was probably dropped as a child, or something similar, but something clearly isn’t quite right up there.

You might remember the last two years where I spent New Years Eve…yes, Iraq and then Iran/Afghanistan. I was taught in High School that things always seem to happen in threes…some sort of natural law thing. I had a good friend working in Djibouti, and that got my head to spinning…what’s perhaps the only place worse than Iraq and Afghanistan in the mind of most? Could I…I mean, Somalia is only about 20km from the capital of Djibouti!

Of course, when planning, that wouldn’t be enough. That would just be two new countries. I had to add more…and they couldn’t be boring. So, the final trip came out looking like a place of 8 years that normal people don’t spend new years:

1. Djibouti
2. Somalia
3. Ethiopia
4. Rwanda
5. Burundi
6. Kenya
7. Egypt
8. Yemen

Now, I admit normally a couple of these are a little tame. But Egypt’s been more than a little exciting lately, and Kenya is all a-twitter about Al Shabaab reprisals. So that made things a little more exciting. Things got more exciting when Yemen pulled my transit visa…boo hiss! Must find another way from Addis to Cairo. A normal person would have booked the direct flight even though it was at 3am. Nope, that wouldn’t do.

So Yemen was replaced with the world’s newest country: South Sudan!

Sit back, buckle up (well, unless you’re on the one of my flights that didn’t have seat belts, and prepare for a very very wild ride!