For the first time in my life I have a certificate that says I am allowed to travel. Everything up to now must have been illegal or fraudulent. I have travelled under all sorts of labels in my time, some genuine, some creatively spurious but this is the first time I have worn the label “missionary”. I am not too sure what to make of that I have to confess. But if that is what is necessary for me to get into South Sudan then so be it. I am as tall as any of the Dinkas I have met so far but perhaps if you are that tall there is no official recognition of such – I see they have shaved 14cm off me. For the duration of this trip I will be 170cm tall. But the really neat thing about this certificate is the fact it is issued by the Government of Southern Sudan, the world’s newest country. Now that is a real privilege and not to be understated.
We roll at 7.38 after a 6.10 pickup from the apartment and a quick run by taxi to Wilson Airport. AIMAIR weighed by fish-scales all our baggage and did a masterful job of getting our “CG in the envelope” as I heard one of them quip. Which means we can fly. Can’t have these small aircraft tail heavy or otherwise out of balance. Sitting on the threshold now with the stink of avtur fuel and waiting to wind up.
We climb quickly, aiming for 12,000’ through patchy morning cloud I hope will clear. The breaks mean we have a smooth climb into clear air but we are soon climbing over more cumulus. It’s the beginning of the wet season after all. Everyone is happy to see the rain but there seems to be precious little of it. But everyone keeps repeating how happy they are. We are in a Caravan and we bore on up to Lokichoggio, a couple of hours flying at a height where the air is air conditioned cool. We quickly run out of agricultural land and find ourselves over spectacular ridges and mountains as we skirt up the west side of the Rift Valley. All that eventually gives way to desert country not unlike that of Yunta and surrounds and even from this height I feel right at home. Loki comes into view as we bounce around over a couple of ridges through the first hint of our destination is the perfectly laid out highway, fully sealed which sweeps through the bush from the south. I can only imagine it has been built to support aid operations to the north.
The engine coughs down to a stop and we step out at Loki, a welcome break. And some oven hot air. That is very welcome too. The airport here is a motely collection of buildings but no one seems to mind. We buy some soft-drink and nuts, share some bananas and mandarins and as we do so are told our next flight is ready. This time we are flying in a smaller Cessna 206 and the crew transfer our gear from one plane to another. I have walked in and out of this shed a few times without hindrance but now, because the flight has been called I am not allowed to leave until a burley Kenyan has patted me down, and made me empty all my pockets. At the end of the process he smiles and wishes me well on my way to Sudan. It’s about the toughest immigration border check I have endured in a very long time.