The Chaotic Last Day In Africa
We reached the capital city of this huge country after a long, grueling ride through hours of heavy rain and even heavier traffic. The mission for the following days in the city: crate the bikes, put them on a plane and fly them to Istanbul. The plan was always to ride the whole way to Europe overland, but as we didn't have the required paperwork to bring the bikes into Sudan and Egypt, this was our best option of getting them out of the continent. After 4 days of searching for packing companies to make our crates, we finally found one that didn't charge us an arm and a leg for a few pieces of wood and a couple of hours of labor. Wood is apparently a very expensive resource in Ethiopia. Even though it's one of the most vegetated countries we've seen in Africa. Weird.
We spent the two following days stripping the bikes down and fitted them in the crates. Morten and Christian removed their front wheels and forks and fitted their bikes on an extended euro pallet. I, on the other hand, wanted to save as much money as possible, so I basically disassembled the whole bike over two full days and fitted it on one standard euro pallet - less than one cubic meter in volume. I was really proud.
The next day was go-time! We had to move the crated bikes from the warehouse to the airport, get them cleared through customs and get all our paperwork approved. Tensions were high - we had taken the risk of booking our flights out of Ethiopia on the same day as our bikes were scheduled to fly out. It was vital that everything went smoothly and according to schedule, without any complications in the shipping procedures.
The first problem arose as we exited the hostel early in the morning to find a taxi to take us to the warehouse. What was usually one of the busiest streets of the city was now deserted of all cars, buses and taxis, only to be filled with huge parades of people. We had forgotten an important detail of the day. Today was Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. With a population of 100+ million and 34% of which being Islamic, this was no minor celebration in this big city. After a whole month of fasting, work must’ve been the least of their concerns! We asked around if anyone knew where the taxis where. Some laughed at us, others said 'good luck'. Finally, we found a guy who was willing to drive us. After prolonged negotiations we agreed on an eye watery price and headed off towards the warehouse, down the closed off streets, zig-zagging through the oncoming crowds of people. We had lost valuable time and needed the rest of the tasks on the 'do to list' to pass problem free. The guys at the warehouse better be ready, I thought to myself.
Thankfully, they were. Even the boss of the company had shown up, still in his pajamas, to see that his very first Norwegian customers got the best possible service from his workers. Thanks to their efficiency we arrived at the cargo terminal of Addis Ababa International Airport according to schedule. The terminal area was almost deserted because of the holiday, meaning no queues or long waits. Just the lucky break we needed.
The next problem occurred when we handed the customs officer the temporary import papers for the motorbikes. He put the papers on his desk and said 'You are missing the stamps.' Then we realized that the guy who made us those papers when we entered Ethiopia two weeks earlier never stamped them, basically rendering them useless. Our warning lights should have gone off when he asked for our help to fill them out as he was new on the job. He could barely read, let alone write. So now we were in the possession of illegally imported motorbikes that were in the risk of being impounded just hours ahead of our flight. What an interesting predicament! We asked him if he, in the spirit of Eid al-Fitr, could approve them anyway. 'Impossible' he said. 'But maybe my manager can, he'll be here in 10 minutes.'
The manager arrived 40 minutes later. He reviewed the papers and said 'You are missing the stamps.' Back to square one... We explained how it wasn't our fault, but that of the new guy at Omorate Border Post. 'Let me call my boss' he said. But the boss didn't answer. Nor did the next boss he tried calling. We can only guess they were out having a proper feast after their month-long fast. We kept on persisting that he must approve the papers. Small droplets of sweat started running down his forehead as we all listened to the never-ending beeping sounds on the other line on the phone. We pushed him to make a decision himself. Eventually he decided to see past the missing stamps and approve them. Score. He just needed to do an inspection to check that the numbers matched those on the bikes, of course. Standard procedure, nothing to worry about.
Did we say ‘not to worry’? Sorry, what we meant to say was ‘freak the fuck out!’ Do you really think the numbers matched? Hah! Of course, they didn't. Mortens VIN number was missing two numbers, my license plate number was missing a letter, and both Christians VIN and license plate were missing several numbers. This new guy at Omorate Border Post really messed this one up! He should get an award. We were impressed by his exceptionally terrible job, actually. We kicked ourselves for not thinking I'd be clever to double check his work. Too late now! We dialed our boyish Norwegian charm up to 110% and begged the manager to approve our papers. Eventually, he caved and gave us the stamps. Mashallah! We were ecstatic. We proceeded without any further issues and finished just in time to go to catch our own flight.
As we were running through crowds of people on our taxi hunt that early morning, we were cursing the heavens for our idiotic planning. What we didn't realize is that we actually should have been thanking ourselves. Would it not have been for Eid al-Fitr, someone higher up the rankings would have made the decision on our import paper request. They may not have been as easily persuaded as our sweating manager. If our Africa adventure hadn't been adventurous enough already, this day certainly took care of that! We saw it as a worthy send-off after 8 months in this (sometimes slightly) dysfunctioning, but brilliantly fascinating continent. This day also showed us yet again how people here are so willing to help you out of a tricky situation when they legally shouldn't. In Africa, there’s always a way.