A 13-day struggle to get out of Sudan has ended for long-time Cochrane resident Tim Sanborn.
He's now safe and sound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and hopes to catch a flight home tomorrow.
"We should be reunited on Sunday night and put this chapter to bed. For a while, I think I'm gonna take a little time and reprioritize things and see what comes next. But yeah, this has been a bit of an adventure."
He spent two sleepless days on his feet in Port Sudan with about 5,000 other people attempting to flee the country. The whole struggle to leave started on Apr. 15 when a military power struggle broke out right by his hotel room at the Khartoum International Airport.
In an early morning interview, Sanborn gave Cochrane Now an account of the final days of his evacuation.
When they departed the Port Sudan harbour, Sanborn wasn't sure if he was going to be one of 2,000 typically loaded on a ferry to Saudi Arabia. Instead, he believes he was one of a hand-picked group of 55 people taken to HMS Al-Jubail (Corvette Avante 2200). There, he and the other evacuees from many different countries were treated like VIPs.
He suspects it was a media-driven event to illustrate the extent of the rescue efforts being made by the Saudis
"They had a big banquet table set up. The captain came down and welcomed us to Saudi Arabia. They handed out chocolate, water, and fruit and did a little ship safety slideshow, all this kind of stuff. We were kind of blown away, and we still didn't know what was going on."
They were served a meal immediately and were given some time to themselves to decompress a bit. Another meal followed before they were given sleeping bags to catch some winks on the steel floor in what he describes as sort of a hanger at the stern of the ship.
"It was the first time I sat down let alone slept for about two days, so the steel floor was no big issue. We knew we were home free, we knew we were safe."
After the 20-hour trip, an even larger reception was held at the port in Saudi Arabia.
"There was what looked to be a general from the Saudi army. TV cameras were doing live feeds. They handed us a little Saudi flag and roses and chocolates and welcomed us to Saudi Arabia. We shook a million hands and I did about three interviews on the boat. There was constantly a camera on us the whole time."
He calls the entire experience surreal but doesn't lose sight of how Saudi Arabi is stepping up to help.
"You know, this is quite a big global stage for the Saudis, and rightfully so. They're pulling a lot of people out of that country right now. I'm very thankful. Instead of being on a boat with 2,000 other people standing there with a life jacket on coming across, we had it good."
Sanborn says that even though wading through the massive crowds and confusion at Port Sudan was frustrating, he says he felt safe and knew the worse was over.
Getting out of Khartoum was the most dangerous part. He eventually left the city in a bus that's windows were completely covered in carpets and drapes. He says it was difficult but managed a few peeks.
"We went through a bunch of police checks that I thought were nothing, but I sat with a guy who spoke Arabic on the bus. Apparently, there were some pretty tense moments at some of these checkpoints. I didn't know what was going on. I felt safe, but apparently, it was a little bit tense."
It was an 800k bus trip and once they got to the crossroads at Atbara and headed to Port Sudan, his stress started to ease for the first time since the fighting broke out in Khartoum.
"There are still these bands of bandits out there, stopping buses and robbing people, but I think that's a pretty rare occurrence. When he arrived at the port, other than all the evacuees, it was operating normally."
Sanborn remains concerned about the thousands of other people trying to flee Sudan. He doesn't want them to be forgotten.
"You know, it was 12 or 13 days, or whatever it was, for me, but it's not over for a lot of people. I think the government is starting to get moving, so hopefully they can help them."
He says the biggest challenge is getting to a safe location so help can be provided.
"It's not easy to leave that dangerous area. The airlifts the Canadians suggested for me were only an hour's drive from my hotel but through totally contested areas. I couldn't get anybody to drive. me there, let alone go on my own, so this is the problem."