North Sudan

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May 11th 2010
Published: May 16th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

There are heaps of photos - scroll down to the end and click next to see them all!

Salam alaykum from a hot, dry and dusty Sudan. There is not much to see in Sudan and the heat and dust is unbearable at times but its gem are its people who really have made our trip. The friendless and generosity of the people seem at odds with a country gripped by civil war.

Anyway, the ferry from Egypt to Wadi Halfa in Sudan only leaves on Mondays and was quite a performance and we had a very exciting 24 hours. There were many checkpoints and a ridiculous amount of forms to fill out but everyone was friendly and helpful and people got us all the necessary forms without us even asking. We then had to go through security where they checked our bags. My Swiss army knife was in my hand luggage. The officer removed it and then asked me to open my main bag where he slipped it in. He said not to tell and asked for a present. Matt gave him 5EP and this seemed to suffice. Our first bribe in Africa!

We jumped on the ferry and saw a few other tourists so we were not alone. There were two overland groups heading to South Africa to watch the football, one group from Norway and another from Portugal. The Portuguese supporters were crazy (in a good way) and are apparently very famous football supporters in Portugal. One other overland group were travelling from London to Dar es Salem to raise money for cancer sufferers. These guys and particularly crazy Carlos from Portugal made our arrival in Sudan very enjoyable. We also met Alex from Belarus who decided to catch a ride with the Portuguese down to South Africa.

We managed to get a space under the lifeboat which was the only shade on the deck. Throughout the day we were offered tea and food, people's generosity was mind blowing. The attention we received was at times overwhelming but the people were so kind and the Sudanese would have to be the friendliest people we have ever met. Before we came we were told the people were friendly and hospitable but it was more than we could have imagined. We were shown photos of people's families, invited to people's homes to stay, shown videos of weddings (and a disturbing video of a baby playing with a cobra, which kept attacking it and finished by wrapping itself around the baby's head, not that the baby seemed to mind or the person videoing this all on his cellphone).

Despite boarding the ferry at 10.30am, the ferry did not leave until 6.30pm. It was stinking hot, well over 40 degrees and the men were working extremely hard. They loaded box after box as more and more trucks delivered goods. There were no forklifts, the ferry was loaded by hand and it took all day. The stock included an old car engine, air conditioning units, fridges, televisions, oil, fruit and everything else imaginable. The deck was covered with boxes, mats for prayer and people.

We passed Abu Simbel during the day. This was very lucky because only five boats are allowed on Lake Nasser. During the evening we had to go through more passport control procedures. This time three more forms and a thermometer placed in our ears to check for any temperature, a normal 34.2 degrees for us.

We eventually arrived the following day at 12pm. Getting off the ferry was an absolute shambles. First of all we had to fill out some more forms while crammed into a small room with everyone trying to get in, then the doors off the ferry were locked but people were pushing and shoving and jumping over the rails. It was really chaotic but we eventually got off the boat with our friends. Because they had vehicles they also had a fixer. He had arranged a bus and accommodation so we jumped along for the ride.

Wadi Halfa itself is hot and dusty. Before Lake Nasser, it used to be a thriving town but now it survives only because of the ferry which arrives once a week. There is absolutely nothing to do there but drink tea in the shade.

Our accommodation was a basic lokanda called Defrontoot. Lokandas are extremely basic mud brick structures, a room with dirt floors, palm leave roof and shared concrete bathrooms with bucket showers (and loads of cockroaches at night). A bed costs 7 SP which is about US$3. At night you can pull the beds outside and sleep under the stars which is nicer than being in a stuffy room.

We headed out for lunch and Carlos took over the restaurant kitchen to prepare a delicious lunch for us and one that would not make us sick. Jamal and Mohammed, the boys at the restaurant were skinning a goat and cutting it up, so that was to be our lunch, followed by fresh watermelon and Shaz (originally from Pakistan) became a chai walla, preparing delicious chai for us.

There are no ATMs that accept foreign cards in Sudan so we had to exchange US dollars. The bank's rate was no good so we exchanged for a better rate on the black market, plenty of guys walk around with wads with cash in their pockets. We managed to exchange some cash at a rate of SP2.65 to the dollar.

The overland trucks were due to arrive on a separate barge the following morning. We decided that we would get a ride with them to the next place that afternoon. It was really nice to be in a group and they were so much fun and really looked after us. The town really came to life at night when all the restaurants set up televisions outside for people to watch.

We had to register with the police/immigration within three days of arrival. Sudan is full of bureaucracy! We had no idea what to do but a very kind man took us through the process. First we had to fill in a form, provide a photocopy of our passport and a passport photo, then we had to go to another counter where the forms were checked, then another office where the form was stamped. At the next office we paid US$40 per person and received more stamps, then back into the main building for a sticker, although we had to wait a while the officer had a cup of tea and tried to sell his cellphone. Then it was back to the first office we had come from where the sticker was then signed and back again to pay the officer for the sticker! It took about an hour but everyone was very super friendly.

The trucks were due to arrive the day after us, however the story changed as the day went on, first they were due that afternoon, the story then became that night, then the following morning etc. The overlanders could never get a straight answer as to what the problem was or what time the trucks would be arriving. They had all spent a lot of money paying people to make sure the trucks were sent (the authorities do not let you stay with the truck) and they were being mucked around. The locals said that this was typical and they said some not so nice things about the Egyptians. Nobody would choose to stay in Wadi Halfa for more than one night but we decided that we wanted to hang around and wait for their trucks to arrive.

In the end, after two nights in Wadi Halfa, the trucks were now not due until the evening of the third day. We decided that we really did have to keep moving and we caught a minivan to Dongola that day, which was just under 500km away. Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to our new friends but we had had a great couple of days.

Luckily for us the road is now completely sealed, this was completed last year and now a dead straight road connects the north to Khartoum. We stopped at small communities along the way such as the village town of Abri. Once again everyone was extremely friendly and we managed to have a laugh despite the language barrier. The minivan broke down twice on the way but after some small repairs and a push start we were on our way.

Dongola is described as a lovely oasis in the guidebook and true there are more trees and shops that Wadi Halfa but it is no doubt a dusty hot town. The hotel that we wanted to stay at was full and we refused to stay at the next one which was crawling with cockroaches. In the end we met someone while we were having a drink and he took us to the Olla hotel which was clean, air conditioned with a shower (50 SP). It was still really basic but no cockroaches. Before we could check in we had to register with the police. This was a waste of time as they could not read our passports anyway but they gave us a very unofficial piece of paper to give to the hotel.

We then headed out for tea with our new friend (the one who showed us to our hotel), he was doing his PHD in English literature and he brought us tea and chatted to us before we went for dinner. There was not much selection, just street food which was nothing to write home about but at least it did not make us sick (food here is another challenge!).

The following day we headed to Karima. It is really hard to find transport on Fridays but we got in a rickshaw and he took us to the boksi station. There was nothing heading out but he called ahead and drove us across town where a minivan was waiting for us on the main road. We had arranged to stay with Ahmed Mousa who runs a homestay there. We got caught out in the heat without water, everyone was at prayer so everything was shut and we really suffered!

Later in the day we headed to the holy mountain of Jebel Barkal which dominates this stretch of the Nile. The Egyptians and Kushites believe that the mountain was the home of the god Amun. At the foot of the mountain is the ruined site of the Temple of Amun which was constructed as early as the 15th century BC and later added to. The temple is very ruined and much of the structure is covered in sand but the ground plan is clear. At the immediate base of the pinnacle is the Temple of Mut dedicated to the Egyptian sky goddess, the bride of Amun. The sanctuary of the temple is actually carved into the mountain and the walls are covered in hieroglyphics and relief carvings.

On the western side of the mountain is a small royal cemetery of pyramids. They are the most intact in Sudan and are steep sided and faced with local sandstone. People welcomed us along the way as we walked and were happy to practice their English. We then walked back to get a drink watching the kids play football. We were swamped with kids wanting to have their photo taken. They are so sweet.

Our next stop was Atbara, three hours from Karima. Atbara sits where the Nile receives its last tributary. A common theme, Atbara is a hot and extremely dusty town, with markets lining the sandy streets. There is plenty of rubbish lying around, much like India.

People here are friendly and when we stopped to ask for directions we ended up with a guide! No-one speaks English which is making it very challenging and even with a book, people struggle to understand our Arabic. We ended up in a cake shop where we received a plate of baklava and some other samples for 3 SP. The shop owner was really nice and we soon drew a crowd. The cakes were too much for us so we shared them out among the men who had gathered to see who we were.

Our next stop is Khartoum.

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 30


17th May 2010

This is amazing guys, you're in Sudan!!! Such an interesting story, I can't wait to hear more. Have fun!

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