Sudan - Desert, Sand, the Nile and the most hospitable and friendly people in Africa

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Africa » Sudan
July 27th 2008
Published: October 19th 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

I've finally got round to publishing my last part of my blog!

I should probably start off by explaining the 13months of sunshine thing in Ethiopia before making a start on the awesome experiences that we've had in Sudan.....

It gets very confusing with dates and times in Ethiopia because it apparently took another 8 years for word to reach them that Jesus Christ was born therefore they have just celebrated the millenium this year (we couldn't understand the celebration banders when we first arrived!). Another confusion factor is that they have 13 months of the year, still 365 days of the year but 12 months of 30 days and a 13th one with 5 days, hence why they premote 13months of sunshine, yet we were there during the rainny season so it didn't really apply! And the final confusing part is that their times are different from ours, when they wake up at 6am in the morning western time that is their 0 o'clock time, then 7am 1 o'clock, 8am is 2 o'clock and so on. This whole time and date thing became a particular problem for example when I was trying to order a birthday cake from the bakers in Gondor for one of the girls on the trip who would be 21 on 24th July. The confusion was excentuated by the fact that they didn't speak any english and my Amharic (the most common language in Ethhiopia) was very basic. So went in to order the cake a couple of days before 24th July, I drew what I wanted on the cake etc and then I indicated I needed it for 24th July but because of the differences in dates and times and because I didn't know what the date was in Ethiopian time it was a real struggle to order and I was slightly panicked that the cake wouldn't be ready on time. It wasn't until the girls gave me the receipt for the cake that I noticed that that days date was 15th November 2000 and therefore I needed the cake for 17th Nov 2000. Sorted or so I hoped. Later that day I took one of the young Ethiopian lads called 'Dude' who had been helping us translate into the bakery to confirm when the cake would be ready and I had successfully managed to get the right date and time. So when I went to pick it up on 24th it was sat in the fridge ready and waiting, excellent!

Right, Sudan....
Well we left Gondor, Ethiopia on 26th July with the aim of crossing the border into Sudan that day but we ended up leaving later than planned as we had to register online with the FCO before going into the country. The scenery was stunning along the way as we wound our way through the lushous mountains and waterfalls, the last we would see in Ethiopia. We also had to drink all of the alcohol that was left on the truck (not much) as Sudan is a dry country and we knew customs would search the truck! So it turned out to be a merry morning drive and many people fell asleep in the afternoon! We didn't manage to make the border that day so we bushcamped off the side of the road 5km form the border town. We just managed to get our tents up before the rain came down.

The next morning we were at the border bright and early! It took awhile to get stamped out of Ethiopia and into Sudan, 3 and half hours infact! When we got to the Sudanese immigration they wanted 123 Sudanese Pounds ($61) from each person so they could register us. We'd already had to fork-out $61 for a visa in Addis Ababa for Sudan and now they wanted the same again! As none of us had any local currency on us and as it was illegal to change money on the black market on the Sudan side we had to wander back over to Ethiopia and find a man in a side street! It was all very dodgy! In the end the truck didn't get searched so we were on our way much quicker than expected. We drove west out of Gallabat, the border town making our way to Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. The first thing we noticed was that at the roadside there were military bases every few kilometers and at each camp were machine guns pitched on tripods pointing right at us, a nice welcome to the country! About 30km from the border we had to stop at a police checkpoint which told us that we had to go back to the border as we'd missed the security office where we all needed to register and give fingerprints! So we made our way back to Gallabat and spent another hour giving fingerprints. Tony (our driver) later told us that the guy at the check point had pulled a gun on him as he'd approached as he didn't think we were going to stop. As we drove further west the machine guns disappeared (must be because of the border) and the vegetation slowly changed from green hills to flat open desert. The weather had changed rapidily as we crossed the border from moist wet conditions to dry heat. Late afternoon we had a sudden downpour of rain, very unusual for Sudan and then it brightened up again. We could see a storm developing in the distanced and it made an excellent light show from the lightning and dark black clouds. Before we knew it the storm hit us, fortunately we had stopped at a police check point and so we jumped out and pulled down the plastic sides of the truck to prevent the rain coming in. The electric storm coinsided with a sand storm - awesome. We watched out of the windows as we tried to drive out of the storm. The winds were so strong, the sand and dust beating against the truck and road signs being bent flat. It was a fantastic display if not a little scary especially when a big electricity pilon got struck by a bolt of lightning and exploded just as we passed it! Everyone, including the boys, screamed, it was so funny afterwards! We had to keep driving and driving. At 8pm we managed to drive out of the storm enough to quickly pitch our tents at the side of the road before the rain came again. We all madly dashed onto the truck and ended up cooking on there in the end - baked beans and pasta! The storm eventually cooled down during the night although there were times when we thought the tents would blow away with us in them!

Waking up the next morning you wouldn't have known there had been a storm the night before apart from the fact that the camping area had turned into a squeelshy mud pool and the inside of the truck got covered in mud. We had another 200km to get to Khartoum and by lunchtime we had arrived at the Blue Nile Sailing Club in Khartoum. This was going to be our base for three nights. Fortunately they had undercover areas where we could pitch our tents, the 40 degree heat was starting to get to us. Whilst we were in Khartoum we saw many things. We first had to get a photo permit from the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism which had certain conditons attached to it. We weren't allowed to take photos of defaming images (eg. beggars), military, government buildings and bridges. We spent the rest of the time sight seeing and talking to the local people. They were so excited to speak to you and find out where you were from and why were we here. We got no hassle at all from beggars or pressured into buying things, it was wonderful. So many people went out of their ways to accommodate you and help you. For example, one day we'd been to the National Museum and waited ages for a taxi and nothing came so some guy offered to take us to where we wanted to go in his car for free, he was very genuine and interested in what we were doing here.

Whilst in Khartoum some of us went to the Souq (a massive market that sells everything) in Omdurman on the northwest side of the Nile. Another day we went to see the confluence of the two Niles to form the Main Nile from the White Nile Bridge. We were told that we'd be able to see the difference in colour of the water but as far as I could see it was brown water merging into more brown water! We were very limitted to what we could do that day as it was a Muslim holiday and nothing was open. In the evening of 30th July we all went out for a group meal to a traditional restaurant as two guys on the truck, Chris and Jack, were leaving us the next day. They had to leave early as the trip was suppose to end in Cairo on 6th August but due to delays with visas and waiting for the ferry in northern Sudan we were going to be nearly two weeks later. They couldn't move their flights so they planned to fly from Khartoum to Cairo and then spend a few days in Egypt before returning home.

31st July we headed northeast out of Khartoum. It was going to take five days of driving through the Nubian desert to get to Wadi Halfa in the north of Sudan where we would take a ferry across Lake Nasser into Egypt. Allong the way we'd planned to stop off at some of the ancient kindom sites which sit in the desert crumbling away. On the first day we visited the Albajiawia Pyramids (royal cemetary) and Royal city of Meroe (592BC until AD 350). They were magnificient as they appeared from the sand swept hills and Chrissy and I rode camels to get to the pyramids. Many of the pyramids were falling down but there were still hieroglyphics and paints on the walls inside. The atmosphere was amazing, I felt like I was back in ancient times as we were the only tourists there (they only get a few a week) and we were in the middle of nowhere in the heat of the desert. That evening we found one of the best bushcamp locations ever. We drove off the tarmaced road in search of the Nile but ended up finding a sort of Oasis where the temperature suddenly dipped and the eucalpytus trees made it feel so much cooler. Within seconds of pitching up, heards of sheep, goats and cattle came marching by hearded by locals on donkeys. They were intrigued by our presence and all evening a steady trickle of locals hearded their cattle past us. We also so an awesome sunset that evening and we had a decent nights sleep as it was so much cooler.

The next morning we one of the locals bought us fresh bread and sat with us over breakfast drinking tea. We drove north following the Nile to Atbara, a city where the Niles recieves its last tributary, the Atbara River. We had to cross the Nile by ferry but it took an hour and half to find the ferry and when we did we weren't so sure that we be able to get the truck onto the rickerty thing! If that was the case we'd have to drive 500km back to Khartoum and go another way! We waited for an hour to attempt getting the truck onto the ferry. With Tony's careful manouvering the truck got on easily surrounded by donkey carts and people, the contrast in cultures was extremely noticeable. We survived the ferry crossing and continued our journey west through the desert away from the Nile (we would eventually be reunited with it). That evening we approached the city of Karima, another area of ancient ruins which we planned to visit. At a fuel station Tony got talking to a couple of Sudanese people who took us to there village and let us camp in their garden. They took us down to the Nile where we watched another amazing sunset over the palm trees and then joined us for dinner. We found out that they had spent sometime leaving in the US and UK and so there english was very good, they were so helpful and hospitable. Again, that night was a cool one and I even woke up with goose-pimples! Not for long though!

We made our way to Nuri, a site just outside Karima, where there were some more pyramids much more dilapidated than the first we visited. There was no one there to take payment so we just wandered around taking in these magnificient feats of enginearing. Its hard to image how they carted all the rock here and then lifted it up without any mechanical instruments. Across the Nile we visited another site called Jebel Barkal which could be seen for miles as it was based at a protruding rock in the flat desert landscape. There were very few pyramids but also the ruins of a temple (Temple of Amun) and another temple (Temple of Mut) built into a cave which we were able to go in. There were some amazing colourful hieroglyphics and engravings of some of the ancient Gods.

We pulled over early that evening to bushcamp as the heat of the desert had really got to Tony and he was feeling a bit exhausted. We signalled to a family at the side of the road whether we could pitch our tents by their house. They were so welcoming even though they couldn't speak a word of english. I think they were overwhelmed by having 17 white people staying with them, I don't think they get foreigners passing every day! They signalled for me to come with them whilst they milked their cows and for me to take photos of them. I wish there was someway I could get the photos printed for them but they live in the middle of nowhere with no address! Note to self; bring polaroid camera next time.

It was tough going through the desert as the wind is just so hot and dry too. I was getting through 6 litres of water aday just by sitting on the truck! Even though we drove hundreds and hundreds of kilometers through the desert, it never got boring, it was just a unique landscape of sand with the occassional rock or plant managing to survive. We were lucky that unitl now the road had been sealed all the way.

The next day (3rd August) we drove all day on an unsealed road; we were following the Nile again. Every little village we passed through we stopped for cold drinks, it was such a relief to have something cold as our water was just getting so warm. We bushcamped again that night, I was so looking forward to a shower!

On 4th August we made it to the town of Wadi Halfa by Lake Nasser, our departure point on 6th Aug to go to Egypt. We had left enough days to get here as were concerned about the quality of roads and whether we might get stuck in sand - we managed not to get stuck once! Wadi Halfa is a really small town and there is very little to do, infact the only thing to do was sit in the local cafes drinking hibicus tea and cold drinks! We spent two nights here whilst we waited for the ferry to arrive. It only comes once a week on a wednesday. The first night we bushcamped again just outside the town and then the second night we stayed in a dindgy hotel as the truck had to go on a separte barge a day earlier than the passenger ferry. The rooms were like prison cells and they retained the heat during the night so everyone ended up taking their beds out into the street at midnight where there was a cool breeze. The locals were already there as they sleep there every night. On the night of 5th August, the little town turned into the place to be, everyone had turned up for the ferry the next day and the local bars and cafes were full to the brim. It was great to see the evening develop from a cafe. We also met some Belgain guys who we had met earlier in Ethiopia and some South African bikers who were doing a 40day challenge from Cape Town to Cairo. They were on target but I couldn't believe they could do it as it had taken us 4 months! We would all be getting the ferry together tomorrow.

On 6th we headed down to the port at 11am. It wasn't until 2.30pm that we managed to get on the ferry. Some of our group had got cabins as it was an overnight trip. I had wanted one but no one was willing to share so instead seven of us were going to have to sleep on the deck! We were one of the first on the boat so we managed to get a nice shady spot under the life raft. The ferry wasn't due to leave until 5.30pm so we had some waiting around. The boat got gradually fuller and fuller and eventually the whole deck was taken over. When the ferry eventually set sail at 6.30pm we were kicked out from under the lifeboats and had to find another spot! It wasn't a particularly pleasent experience as there were a lot of learing letchy Egyptian men who kept trying to get sneaky photos of us girls on their camera phones. Christina and I began to realise that we were going to be the only women sleeping on this deck tonight and I didn't feel comfortable with that! Harriet and Andy kindly offered for me to stay on the floor of their cabin.

We were woken early the next morning by immigration to fill in some forms for when we arrived in Egypt. We arrived in the port of Aswan, Egypt at 12pm but we weren't allowed to leave the boat until 3pm, over 24hours on the ferry!

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