Sudan


10 March 2010 - Wadi Halfa - added by Roxy

We crossed the border into The Sudan with refreshing ease and were dead chuffed to see an endless stretch of tar ahead of us. So we jumped into Songololo, put the accelerator down, and drove off with as much speed as we could muster up. Thankfully, that's not all that much! It became apparent far too quickly that the road we were on was built by our Chinese brothers and sisters, and that means it's a layer of tar put straight onto the dunes! We flew about as if we on a fun fair ride, and although it was actually fun at first (mainly because we were still exhilarated by the tar), it too soon became rather painful!

We ended up spending our first night in the country on the side of the road in the desert. We were ridiculously happy to find that we weren't surrounded by people at all that evening, a huge change from anywhere that we had visited in Ethiopia. The only person who showed the slightest interest in us was a guy on a camel, who rode past, waved and left. It was wonderful! We felt a freedom that only travellers who have been in Ethiopia could possibly understand!

The next morning we headed off into Khartoum. Upon reaching the city I was pleasantly surprised; the place is modern, clean and organised. It was a million times more jacked up than I had imagined! Unfortunately, our campsite wasn't though. The Blue Nile Sailing Club is where we stayed, and it doesn't offer much (especially in the way of bathrooms – one requires a damn good shower after having a shower in their bathrooms!), but it is central, the staff are great and the Internet is out of this world! Soon after arriving we were accosted by a friendly local man named Kamal, who offered us a ride on his boat on the Nile, for free. Sadly, by this time we were hugely suspicious of such promises so I declined. The guy was persistent though and I finally agreed, which is how I found myself cruising on the beautiful Blue Nile at sunset, with Steve water skiing behind us!! What a feeling!



Over the next 3 days we found ourselves spending a great deal of time on the Nile. Our new friend Kamal organised that Steve and I crew in a sailing regatta, we joined a boat party for another sunset cruise and also snuck in final water ski with another group of people! All for free! Certainly not what we envisaged when we thought of what Sudan would hold in store for us!

Our only complaint about the place though, is the creative and confusing bureaucracy that we had to weave our way through. For example, upon arrival in the country all foreigners are required to register with the aliens office (yes, that is what it is called) to let them know that you are in the country. You have to pay US$50 each for the honour, on top of the US$100 you've already forked out for the visa (which is only transit, for a maximum stay of 2 weeks). We were told the reason we were required to register is so that the government can see who has come into the country, which begs the question, what are the border officials actually doing? Surely if they are doing their jobs correctly, they have a record of who is in the country?! Anyway, at US$150 per person for a 2 week transit visa, for us it was the most expensive country in Africa to visit!

The actual process of registering as an alien is ridiculous too; navigating through it has become an art form that requires patience and determination. The first issue is finding the place. It has moved offices recently and few locals have any idea what you are talking about when you ask for directions. When you find your way to the correct place, of course it only has a tiny sign on the door with an obscure reference to its function; the only indication that you are probably in the right place would be if you stumbled across a confused and angry mob of “aliens”, a sure-fire sign you've arrived in the right place, as they too are struggling with the artful bureaucracy! When you finally get there you may be unlucky and be informed that the office has actually closed for the day. The 8 people standing behind the counter staring at you are generally all very eager to confirm that the office is indeed closed, it feels a bit like you are watching a choir whilst they all sing the same sentence on repeat in different key. Beautiful! Trying to point out that you are only 5 minutes late because you have spent the last 4 hours trying to locate 'this place with no sign' has little effect. The lady we were talking to by this time simply ignored us. Her eyes glazed over, her jaw slackened and she went into a semi-vegetative state and point blank refused to speak with us! It turns out we wouldn't have been able to register then anyway as they require proof you are staying where you say you are – you require a stamped and signed letter from your hotel proving you are a guest there. Thankfully we managed to keep our cool and registered as aliens at a later stage, but what a palaver!

By this point though, we realised that we had spent so much time trying to register as aliens that we were at risk of overrunning our visa. This is because there is only 1 ferry a week to Egypt, which leaves every Wednesday. Having arrived on Tuesday and taken so long to register (with the obligatory rest day on Friday) it was only on Saturday that we managed to succeed in registering as aliens. We couldn't make it to the next ferry in time, so would only be able to make it to the ferry that left a day after our visas expired. What to do? Of course we asked if we could extend our visas, to which the answer was, 'Yes, of course, but only in Khartoum 2 days before your visa ends.' We then mentioned that we were planning to drive the 1200km north to Egypt as fast as we could, but weren't 100% sure if we would exit the country in time. So we asked again, 'could we extend our visas?', hoping that the answer would be different. The reply was the same. We were being told that if we didn't cross the border in time we would have to turn around and go back to Khartoum to renew the visas! It sounds like a joke, but it isn't; we have heard of people having to do just this! We attempted in earnest to explain our predicament to the people once more, but sadly the choir kicked off again, louder this time, and we simply stood there dumb-founded!

Aside from that, we really enjoyed Khartoum. The people on the ground were incredible. Taxi drivers were welcoming, shop owners gave us free fruit and wherever we went people said hello and pointed us in the right direction. No one expected or demanded anything from us. They are the friendliest and nicest people that I have ever met, and I do not say that lightly! If only the government could take a leaf out of their populace's book!

One highlight was meeting up with Cam Stevens who Steve went to university with. Cam and his posse are driving from London to Cape Town. Theoretically they should have been way past us, but had also hit a huge Sudanese bureaucratic hurdle. They had spent 4 weeks at 5 different Sudanese embassies trying to get a visa for Sudan. They were told a million different stories but were never able to secure a visa. After hearing we had got ours in Addis in a day they actually flew from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia for the weekend, got their visas, and flew back, now able to continue! It was nice to catch up with Cam and his mates and swap stories from the road.



After leaving Khartoum, on much improved smoother roads, we headed for Wadi Halfa where we planned to catch the ferry to Egypt. We had a couple boring days of long driving in the desert, days in which playing I-Spy wouldn't entertain because all we could see was sand, road and sky. In the middle of this nothingness there were some fabulous surprises though. We visited some tombs that are being excavated at the moment by German archaeologists. To find them you head into the desert and drive until you find a few people digging in the middle of nowhere! The tombs are absolutely incredible!



We also found ourselves visiting a few lesser known pyramids. On our first evening the desert the camped (completely alone) right in front of a group a pyramids. Watching the sun set behind the pyramids whilst cooking a potjie is special indeed. We tried the re-live that beautiful experience the following night and set up camp in front of another group of pyramids, only to be repeatedly chased further and further away from the pyramids by the cops, who were rightly telling us that we could not set up camp 5m away from a World Heritage Site!



The following day we hit Wadi Halfa where we met up with Mazar The Cowboy, the guy who was going to help us to get our truck into Egypt. His motto, we were soon to learn is, 'if in doubt, make it up!' We were informed that the passenger ferry and the barge would be in port in 3-4 days. Sadly the truck would have to go on the barge while we would have to go on the ferry. Whilst waiting for the ferry we were told that we could camp in the desert outside the town. That is how we ended up spending 5 days (nothing is ever on time in The Sudan) in the excruciating heat of the desert. At first we tried to camp on the shore of Lake Nasser, the idea being that we could go for a swim to cool down from time to time. We were a bit worried about the crocs, but our fear was diverted when saw the state of the water on the edges of the lake. The emerald green, jelly-like froth on the water's edge caused us to high tail it in to the dunes, far, far away. We spent the next few days sweating in the unbearable heat in the windy desert. The images in my mind of us during that time resemble the typical ones you see of people suffering in Africa; we had hopeless, haunted eyes and were covered in dirt with a coat of flies that we were too apathetic to bother with! It wasn't fun, but we were lucky. The German couple that was sentenced to stay in the desert the week after us reported that they had to endure a 4 day sandstorm whilst trying to live in their tent!

Finally the call arrived from Mazar The Cowboy saying that the ferry and barge were in the port. We very quickly went down there only to notice that the barge was nowhere to be seen. Mazar had allegedly seen the Flying Dutchman Barge with his own eyes, but everyone else in the port said that it was still in Egypt. Our visas had expired by this time so we had to hand over our keys to Mazar so he could put it on to the phantom barge when it finally arrived; which suited him rather well because he used it to run errands while we waited for 2 weeks in Egypt for it to arrive! How frustrating, but what could we do? We only found this out when the Germans arrived in Aswan a week after us, and told us they'd seen our truck being driven all over Wadi Halfa! When we finally got it back there was half the fuel we'd left it with!

Having heard horror stories about the passenger ferry we had decided to cough up for first class tickets so had our own cabin, with a bunk bed, no window and right next to the bog! How luxurious! The floor had recently been painted red but sadly the paint hadn't dried so we trod a red path wherever we went – perhaps it was their way of keeping eye on us? We finally departed and soon the waves from the lake and the fumes from the new paint knocked us out, so we managed to get some shut eye. After a whopping 18 hours we arrived in Egypt, and boy were we happy to see civilisation again!



Comments:

1 .
Well done Rox! You are both going to have wonderful stories to tell! Keep trekking! Enjoy Turkey - watch out for the Dolmases - they are same shape etc as our black taxis! love Mum n Dad
germaine lorimer - 20 Apr 2010, 10:20
2 .
Hey Steve - You've got something coming out of your head!
Doug L - 21 Apr 2010, 7:55
3 .
it's my earmuffs!
Steve - 25 Apr 2010, 10:02
4 .
Funny stuff
David - 3 Oct 2010, 18:38

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