SudanWritten by admin on November 9th, 2008
Tuesday 28 October
We woke in our two bunk cabin shortly after sunrise and went up on to the deck to watch as we passed the Temple of Abu Simbel, which was raised stone by stone from the bed of the vast Lake Nasser, which flooded the entire area on which it stood when the Aswan Dam was constructed. Shortly after we crossed the border into Sudan.
At about 12.00, after 17 hours on the ferry, which passed quite quickly, we arrived at Wadi Halfa. We were met by Mazar Mahir (a fairly well-known ‘fixer’) on the ferry and he talked us through the entry procedure for Sudan. This all went pretty smoothly and our group of 11 were quickly ushered through customs. Outside was a line of Land Rovers, many elaborately decorated, but which made Bob look very young. After a short debate it was decided that all 11 of us and our luggage could be bundled into one and we were bounced off to what was described as one of the better hotels in town, which was romantically named the Deffintoad!
Basically there are no better hotels in Wadi Halfa - the rooms looked like a cell with very uncomfortable single beds in and nothing else. The toilets were also pretty rank and holding your breath well advised before entering. However, this was not unexpected, there was a light and roof fan that worked and for about £4.50 per room you can’t really complain.
Wednesday 29 October
With stiff backs we woke and at around 11:00 we heard the news that the barge was in, which was actually a little earlier than expected! We hurried to the port and were pleased to see Bob still sat on top of the barge, although the captain joked a bit that he had been worried, as Bob was rolling backward and forward, because his hand brake doesn’t work too well.
Again we had to wait, as the cars could not be driven off the barge until enough of the cargo had been unloaded that it sat high enough in the water to be level with the quay. Onions, sinks, fridges, onions… off they all came again in no real rush, and as alongside onions were loaded back onto another ship. Four hours later it was time to drive off, but, as we had already begun to realise during our wait, the deck was still well below the quay. We were all particularly concerned about the height difference where Bob was to be driven off, due to his position on the barge, but the large bundles of sacks were stacked on the deck to try to bridge the gap, we put the diff lock on and Bob powered off the ferry with the locals cheering.
After some more formalities and paperwork largely dealt with by the ‘fixer’ (each stage of which always takes “5 minutes” in Egypt) we were on the road again and very ready to head into the desert to camp. The group had decided to stick together as no one was going to get far that evening, so we nipped to the market to buy firewood and vegetables. After some negotiation in what Arabic Marc could remember from when he was 7 and a little joking we had potatoes, onions and tomatoes to feed 11 for £4 and were off. We found a lovely spot in the desert hidden behind a dune and set up camp for the night. We had baked potatoes and onions in the fire and all that was really missing was some wine, as we sat under an amzing blanket of stars.
Thursday 30 October
We said our goodbyes early and headed off in the direction of Dongola, a little unsure how far we would get, due to the roads. We had been told that the road was good and tar most of the way. However, this quickly turned out not to be the case, as we were regularly diverted off for incomplete sections. In fact, as we followed the Nile route through the villages we spent barely any time on hard surfaced roads, finding only sandy, bumpy tracks, which were slow going. The contrasting lush green and dry desert scenery and little villages we passed through, as we navigated along the course of the Nile, more than made up for this. The locals smiled and waved as we drove through villages, leaving a cloud of dust behind us.
En route we picked up a local man who wanted to go to Dongola, which we later regretted. As the road was not yet built there were a lot of detours and many different tracks through the villages to choose from. Our hitch hiker kept trying to direct us, but we soon started to realise he didn’t know the way. In one village though he insisted in tuts and grunts that we take a track, which on this occasion resulted in Bob getting completely stuck in the sand. The talcum-powder fine dust came billowing up through the floor into the cab and totally covered us in a thick cloud, so that we couldn’t see. When it settled we hopped out and set about our recovery with spade and sand ladders, eagerly assisted by some excited local children. Arse wipe, as we shall now refer to him, just watched and tutted!
We had little success, as we were firmly wedged on the central ridge in the road and the wheels and sand ladders couldn’t get enough purchase in the fine dust. It was time to step up a gear and we decided to break out the winching gear to the even greater approval of the kids. The plan was to winch from a palm tree, but just in time a lorry came along the adjacent track, so we clipped on to the back and were easily pulled out.
Felicity tried to offer the kids some money for their help, having just left Egypt, where it would be expected, but they flatly refused, as is usual here in Sudan. Arse wipe, however, did try to take it.
Anyway, we decided to ditch AW ASAP and when we were quite lost trying to find Kerma, where a friendly local had suggested we could leave him, he finally got out. Relieved we got back on track and pressed on, but unfortunately it was getting dark and we were not in a suitable place to bush camp. Eventually we had to concede that the road was too crap and we pulled off towards a line of lights to try to find a hospitable villager, as we had felt very safe and welcome in Sudan so far. We quickly found a small group of men and through actions and poor Arabic they welcomed us to camp at an open area directly in front of their home.
They tried to invite us in to a courtyard area inside where there were some beds to sleep on, but we insisted we were happy in the tent. We were then offered a shower, unsurprisingly, as we looked like sand monsters. We were then offered tea and soon a gathering of local men of various ages had formed by the vehicle where we had put our chairs. Tea was brought in the finest china teapot with two cups and Marc sat on his chair, with them sat on the floor in front of him, as if waiting for some great wisdom, which never really came, as Felicity cooked tinned spaghetti for tea.
The evening turned out to be a very good one and the Sudanese hospitality very warm and friendly.
Friday 31 October
The finest tea pot was brought out again for us in the morning and again several villagers gathered near us to watch us like we were a show. Unfortunately, the tea did not pour out of the pot easily initially, so one of the locals decided spitting and blowing down the spout would do the trick. To be fair it did work and did add a little extra flavour to our tea! After travelling through the previous countries money was always expected and so after spending a little time with the lady of the family we offered her a small amount of money for their hospitality. This was flatly refused, and as with all Sudanese people we met they see you as their guests and are very welcoming. This was a pleasant change from the constant chant of ‘baksheesh’ in Egypt. We spent a little longer playing with her children and gave them some balloons and colouring pencils we had as a gesture.
We headed back to the road, which was now thankfully tar to Karima. We drove past the pyramids there and then headed away from the Nile, through the desert, to Khartoum. So far in the places we had travelled through in Sudan there had been little sign of conflict, or crisis, but we were soon reminded by the numerous UN vehicles in Khartoum. We stayed the night at the Blue Nile sailing club, a nice place right on the river for a couple of nights.
Sunday 2 November
Saturday was a catch up day, including a much needed wash for us, our clothes and Bob. We popped into see our ‘fixer’ at Wadi Halfa’s brother, who again was lovely and gave us food and drink as his guest, refusing to take any money.
Today we had a long drive of around 500 kms to the border. We passed through several police check points on the way, which were always a little confusing as at each checkpoint there would usually be one official waving you on and smiling and the other frantically trying to stop you. This generally resulted in the one who was trying to stop us getting told off by the others and us soon being allowed to continue. We drove through Wad Medini where Marc’s granddad and mum used to live when she was about 3. Today was probably the hottest day we have had so far and that on top of the engine heat that blows under your seat made for some very sweaty pants!
We had been warned that as you get closer to the Ethiopian border ‘shiftas’ (bandits) can be a problem and as we got nearer and the light started to fade we saw more and more military hiding in small groups in the bushes. There were also more obvious armed points with jeeps carrying guns mounted on them that seemed to get bigger and bigger a bit like the ones you would expect to see the baddies in the A-team chasing around in!
The scenery gradually started to change as well as we approached Ethiopia making the drive more interesting and the desert that we had been so used to being in since Tunisia began to give way to rocky outcrops, hills and trees.
The villages also became more typical east-African mud, wood and thatch huts. We stopped to take a photo as we passed one large waterhole with a huge herd of camels resting at its far side watched by a small group of herdsmen. One of them with thick black dreads leapt up and started sprinting so quickly around the water he could have given Usain Bolt a run for his money and actually made us briefly shit ourselves that he was going to attack us. About 5 meters from the vehicle he ground to a halt, stood bolt upright and grinned broadly for a photo. He and one other less athletic runner then approached and looked with wonder at everything on and in the vehicle. ‘Linford’ gestured for a little water and when we gave him a half-full bottle he couldn’t believe it was all for him. Maybe not surprising that this was so prized, as south Sudan is painfully dry and hot and we quite regularly passed dead livestock at the edge of the road.
It was getting late and dark as we approached the border town of Gallabat on the Sudan side and fairly quickly crossed the bridge to Metema on the Ethiopian side. This was a strange border post, as there was nothing really to stop you driving through, or indicate where the appropriate immigration and customs buildings were. Thousands of people were milling around and freely crossing back and forth, in what was essentially a bit of a no-man’s land where any type of ‘dodgy deal’ (trade) was allowed.
In the dark on the Ethiopian side a woman shouted immigration to us and pointed vaguely where we should go. We parked on an open patch and looked at her in confusion as we could not see any buildings. After more pointing from her we walked along a lightly trodden path, through a gap in a corrugated fence and found a small mosquito filled hut, otherwise known as the immigration office. By this time the customs guy had decided that he would stop working, so we would have to do customs the next morning. We needed somewhere safe to camp and had been told we could do so behind customs. After a little discussion with a few guys it was decided that actually right outside the customs office was the best place for us. We were quickly met by the “hotel” owner who immediately offered us a welcome beer after the alcohol drought in Sudan and gave us a bit of background on Ethiopian life.
Four border guards, carrying automatic weapons, also appeared by our car as we set up camp for the night. One of the guys who was sat on a chair beside Felicity had his gun resting pointing in her direction and another opposite enjoyed flicking his safety catch on and off repeatedly. This was interesting, if not a little unnerving company, as we cooked and sat down to eat our spaghetti!
We offered them some crackers and a couple of boiled sweets to keep on their good side and once we felt they were suitably buttered up asked if they wouldn’t mind posing for a photo with our hippo, Hilda.