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Published: January 15th 2011
I arrived in Khartoum a bit of a mess, still feeling the effects of a stomach bug I picked up in Karima, and as I got off the bus I'm onfronted by the joys of a bus, frantic, hectic city bus station. It's a shock after 2 weeks staying in small towns along the Nile, and I'm not sure what to do at first. Confused, I follow the first taxi driver who can speak English. He then tries to charge me 50SPD (about 10GBP) for the 2km taxi ride to the campsite. After a long discussion he goes no lower than 20SDP, the equivalent of 2 nighst accommodation. So, in thriftyness, I pick up my bag and start the walk instead. I arrive 45 minutes later, a sweating mess with a dodgy knee and a bad first impression of the city.
Over the following fews days, this slowly changes, and I start to see the cities better side. In all honesty, it's a dirty, hot, congested, wreak of a city. As in the rest of the north, the one word I'd use to describe it would be dusty. In the souk, shopkeepers spend all day sweeping their tiled floors, until
they glisten in the sunlight, but the dust isn't cleaned up, or thrown into the bin, it's just pushed out of the door, and back into the street from where it came. If they're lucky, people then trample the dust straight into neighbouring shops, but other shopkeepers then repeat the process, and the thick brown dirt will end up back into the very shop from which it came. And so continues an endless cycle of dust moving from one tile to the next, that I honestly can't see ending any time soon. In places the dust is so thick that it's become as hard as concrete. I saw bicycle tyres half-buried in the dust, but they might as well have been laid in concrete they were that secure. .
But as the dust settles, and through the haze, you can start to see the cities charms. At first my joys are Western toilets, and pizza - the two things I longed for most in the north. But over the fews days I whiled away in the city, I started to enjoy the friendliness of the locals, the endless souk of Omderman, the Arabic Market in Khartoum (a very good
place to find socks), tea ladies sat in the shade under over-hanging trees, catching local buses to the surprise of other passengers, and, most surprisingly, finding a love of 'foul' again.
The finest part of the city has to be the 'Family Park' at Al Mogran, over looking the convergence of the Blue and White Niles. We head there to get the best veiws of the Nile, but unwittingly walk into a Sudanese funfair. First we head to the attractively painted, but clearly rusty, ferris wheel. There is no-one else around so we form a queue and wait to be called forward. Unbeknown to us, you need to buy a ticket first, but as is the way, it takes us queueing for 15 minutes before the engineer turns to us and asks for our tickets. Did he not think that vital information could have been shared earlier? We eventually find the ticket office, buy our tickets, and return, and are finally allowed to board the ferris wheel. As the guidebook suggested, the view from the top is great, the Niles converging to one side, and the 5 skyscrapers of Khartoum to the other, but practically speaking, it resembles tin cans stapled to a bicycle wheel, more than something you'd entrust your life with. Still, we survived, which is all that counts.
For our next dice with death, we head over to the roller coaster, and hand our futures into the hands of two young men who don't really seem to know what's going on, and might even be Charlatans pretending to work there for all we know. It's only small, but the rusting roller coaster creates a thunderous noise as the cars bounce and rattle down each drop and into each corner, presumably as every single nut, bolt, and rivet is rattling loose. But the noise just adds to the attraction, and we soon find ourselves in the queue. There's a lackadaisical attention to safety, no minimum height, and not even a safety belt or bar to hold onto. But thankfully, after all the climbs, drops, corners, and screams, there's no death either, and we wander off wide-eyed at our survival. We even queue up for a second time, and surviving that think about having a third go, only to value our lives too much, and instead decided to head back to the campsite, smiling like teenagers heading home from the fair.
I spend the next fews days around the campsite, chatting to other travellers, enjoying the breeze, pasta, satellite TV, and Nile sunsets, before deciding that it's time to see Sudan again. I reluctantly pack up the tent, say goodbye to pizza and Western toilets, and head to Kassala, the last stop before Ethiopia...
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