George Pagoulatos: An Appreciation
There must be millions of hotels all over the world but there is only one that I, and many others who have stayed there, will agree stands head and shoulders above even the best and most expensive establishments. This hotel, nondescript outside and inside, doesn’t give you any sense of being anything but an ordinary two/three star place. If you didn’t know anything more about it, you would most likely decide to look for another hotel in Khartoum. I first stayed there in 1984, in the 40C heat, and the room was cool, not because of air conditioning, but rather because of the antiquated water-cooling system on the wall. But décor and physical appearance don’t reveal the essence of the place.
When I decided 20 years ago to run a bicycle expedition from Cairo to Cape Town there were many, many ‘African experts’ who claimed that due to the challenges, particularly in getting permits to problematic areas of some of the countries, it was simply not possible. What these ‘experts’ didn’t know was that I had a few secret weapons up my sleeve.
One of them was the aforementioned Acropole Hotel in the Sudan, owned and run by three Greek brothers and their families, the youngest of the brothers being George Pagoulatos. When you first met George, tall handsome and friendly, you had a sense that you were welcomed and that you would be taken care of. And he and the rest of the hotel’s establishment never disappointed.
Sudan in the 1980’s, and to a large extent even today, was a very challenging place, where even making an international call was an encounter that could take days of extensive planning. In Acropole Hotel, however, you simply went to George or one of his brothers and told them when and where you wanted to make a call and it would happen. If you had a problem in Sudan, if you desired advice, if you just wanted a reassuring voice, you just needed to tell the hotel’s management and your difficulties would be solved.
Over the years the Acropole became the place to stay and/or socialize for thousands of visiting scientists, archeologists, aid workers, journalists, writers, spies, shady characters of all colours and creeds and many others like myself.
While planning the Tour d’Afrique in 2002, I wrote to George and asked him if he could help with getting the various permits and visas that would allow our group to cycle from Egypt through the Sudan and on into Ethiopia. In short order, an email came back, simply asking for the details of when it would take place and how many people there would be. Since that time we have run many editions of the Tour d’Afrique involving hundreds of cyclists. Most of them had no idea why things would run so smoothly in the Sudan. How sudden and unexpected problems were quickly solved because of the wonderful behind the scenes support of George, his brothers and their families.
So, it was with great sorrow that I recently read a short Twitter post that announced that George had passed away. Whether he realized it or not, he and his whole extended family had an impact on thousands of people and enriched their lives in a way that is hard to imagine a small, simple hotel could possibly achieve. In a difficult place, George Pagoulatos was an individual with the straightforward objective of making people comfortable, enabling them to do what they wanted to do and taking no credit for it. If there are people on the planet who encapsulate the best humanity has to offer, George is one of them. May he rest in peace.