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Published: December 8th 2010
Sudan. The name alone seems to strike fear into people. Civil war. Darfur. Sharia Law. It's seem like an odd country to be excited about visiting, but I've been looking forward to it for months. Every first hand account I've read has been full of nothing but praise for travelling through the country, and the people - Nubians, Fur, Arab and more - are said to be the most hospitable people in Africa. Furthermore, there wouldn't be a tour bus in sight. I couldn't wait. While most other travellers seem to be drive through as quickly as possible, as keen to get to Ethiopia in the shortest time. I wanted to do the opposite, spending as much time winding along the Nile through Nubia as possible. After all, how often do you get to be in Sudan? And how soon would I be back? I might as well try to make the most of it now, and I wanted it to last as long as it could.
The first town south of Wadi Halfa is Abri, and with Steele and Amber (the two Australians from the ferry), jumped into the first minibus we found that was heading there, keen to escape the crowds of 4X4s on the ferry, and hoping they wouldn't overshadow my time here.
In that first journey, the change from Egypt was vast. As if a line had been drawn in the sand, the Middle East really had ended and been replaced by Africa. Galabiyyas were still the order of the day, but all else had changed. Arab skin replaced by the black of Nubia. Aircon buses repalced by masses crammed into minibuses. And the music. The music was unmistakably African. That was when it hit me. The music of the continent - as varied as it is - was the thing that first pulled me here. Nothing seems to sum Africa up as well. And everytime I hear those distinct tunes, my heart gets the same pull. The rhythm. The drums. The joy. The laughter. More than the game parks, acacia trees or the endless blue sky, it's the music that has a hold on me. And here we were.
We arrived at Abri as the sun set, and what sounded like a charming village in the guidebook seemed to be more like a ghost town, with every shop closed, and not a soul in sight. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting. After checking into the dingiest hotel I've ever stayed in (but the only choice in town), and with nothing else to do, we headed to the Nile. When we got there, it's banks were strewn with rubbish, and the decaying hulls of ageing boats. In essence, a quintessentially African scene maybe, but a world away from teh romance of the felluca filled river near Aswan. All that was left to do was skim a few stones as if at Lime Regis, and as the light faded we headed back to the town for dinner, hoping things had picked up a little.
It was an inauspicous start to say the least, but as soon as we found a cafe that wasn't closed, we got otu first taste of the reknowned Sudanese hospitality. No sooner had we sat down, and two men joined us, bought us tea, gave us some Arabic tips, and then jumped back in their car and disappeared in a cloud of dust. Shortly after, another man, Magzoob, also sat with us, and again offered to buy us tea. Neither him, nor the men before him, would take no for an answer. And both were more than happy to spend a while chatting about Sudan, ourselves, and anything else their English skills would allow.
It was during these conversation that I started to figure out the attractions of Sudan. In an almost complete reversal from Egypt two days ago, it seems the country is less about big attractions and photo-moments, and more about enjoying the slow pace of life, watching the untamed Nile drift slowly by, and enjoying the charms and generosity of its people.
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