Travel Report from Sudan (04 January 2004)

Our last update ended with us waiting to leave Egypt for Sudan via the Pontoon across Lake Nasser. We spent a few days in Aswan watching the Feluccas float up and down the Nile whilst the group we had organized to travel on the pontoon with us slowly assembled. This consisted of us, Peter (VW Bus, Germany), Ralph & Susan (Landrover, Germany), Josh & Rupert (Landrover, UK), Michael (Landrover, UK), Janet and Rodney (Toyota, UK), Allan (Toyota, Australia). We were told that there was no freight for our pontoon, which would have reduced the total cost of our fare to Wadi Halfa in Sudan. Upon arriving at the harbour at 9:00 on the designated morning, large quantities of freight were being loaded onto the pontoon, although this was denied by the harbour master. By 15:00 the crew managed to finish packing away the freight that did not exist onto our pontoon, and we set sail for the three-day cruise to Wadi Halfa.

As soon as we had arranged our vehicles on the barge, every vehicle produced a canopy to protect us from the sun, which made the whole thing resemble a bazaar of our own making. All Landrover owning men on board promptly pulled their vehicles apart adding to the effect. Days were spent at the front of our pontoon in the allotted ‘entertainment area’. Our crew docked every night in complete darkness by slowly drifting up to a selected island, clambering on shore and throwing a rope around a large rock.

Evenings were spent in the same entertainment area with a small fire on board, the occasional barbeque and plenty of beers, everyone trying to get their fair share before we arrived in Sudan. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing Abu Simbel from our pontoon.

Once we arrived in Wadi Halfa, we were sheparded through the customs process by Mr Camal. Mr Camal appointed Rodney as his assistant. The process took one evening and the rest of the following day, by which time Rodney’s temper was stretched to breaking point, particularly when he spotted Mr Camal’s shoes outside the local mosque after Mr Camal had told Rodney to wait in the car for him whilst he completed more paper work in yet another office. Whilst waiting for Rodney we were joined by a Swiss couple, Andy and Silvia, who were travelling the same route by motorcycle. Our convoy now consisted of 13 people and 9 vehicles.

We set off the following evening, into the Sudanese desert for Khartoum. We chose to go along the Nile which was a distance of approx.800 km and which took us 6 days. The road condition varied between extreme corrugations, dips, soft sand and rocky stretches. On the second day we awoke to a mild dust storm which stayed with us for the duration of that drive. Every day saw at least once vehicle casualty, and the daily goal was to try and get as far as possible before sunset. This was never much more than 100km after a day of driving. By day two Peter’s rear axel was bent to such an extent we were not sure if he would reach Khartoum. We distributed the weight of the contents of his vehicle amongst our vehicles and continued.

The Sudanese desert is a mystical place. The sand in some places is as black as coal, other times white. Throughout it are the most spectacular and eerie rock formations scattered over mountains and dunes. Some look like man-size black shards of crystal emerging from the ground, others are hundreds of black round boulders scattered over the desert. Breaking up this starkness was the appearance of the Nile every now and again, and the occasional village. All the villages are very pretty, lined with palm trees and have shady streets with water pots underneath the trees which everyone can stop and drink from. The houses are mud brick houses, all with brightly painted gates and patterns on the walls. In all villages where we stopped we were surrounded by the village inhabitants within minutes who came out to look at the cars and observe what we were doing. When driving through villages, children ran out from the houses to wave at us. The women in particular, were very interested in meeting with and talking to the women in our group. They were especially proud of their houses and families which they wanted to show us. Only in one village did we have an incident where the children threatened us with stones and threw fruit at the cars.

We stopped in Argo for vehicle repairs. Apart from Peter’s axel, Ralph had one broken leaf spring, a damaged axel and had lost his 4x4 capability, Michael had problems with his brakes. This stop gave Peter and Ralph their first taste of the way car repair work is done in Africa. All welding was done in a little shack off the main street, and Ralph’s leaf spring was shortened and beaten into shape over a small fire by the blacksmith in the main square of the village. For the two of them, especially bearing in mind that one is a German mechanic, this was a culture shock to say the least! The rest of us set up camp in a palm grove close to the centre of town where we were surrounded by children and women, who came to visit us, and look at where we slept. Once the repairs were completed, we crossed the Nile by ferry and continued on toward Khartoum, via Dongola.

After 4 days on the road we were all desperate to get to Dongola for a hot shower. This hope faded as soon as we reached the place and we decided to push on the following morning. We first had to register our arrival with the police, which involved us producing our passports and visa’s, giving our mothers names, and our occupations. To the question of occupation, Allan, an Australian sheep farmer in his 70’s, answered ‘hobo’. We all certainly looked it. The following morning we left for Khartoum believing we had one day’s driving ahead of us. This thought was dispelled two hours into the drive. There was no road (more like a rough track in the desert) and it was the worst we had experienced yet; it was so dusty at times we couldn’t see a thing. Allan had two flat tyres within a day, Ralph and Susan got stuck twice, Peter once, and Rodney damaged his car by towing one of them out.

By the time we reached Khartoum, every vehicle was covered inside and out with a thick layer of dust. Worse was the heat: winter time and 44 degrees! We spent Christmas together at the Blue Nile Campsite which afforded a view of where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet up. Christmas dinner consisted of what we were able to purchase on the local market in the way of fresh veggies and meat. Groceries in Sudan are as expensive in Europe! Peter caught some fish in the river, and Allan had brought Christmas cake with him from Australia. What few beers we had smuggled into the country were shared amongst us, and some very kind strangers passed by and gave us a bottle of Italian wine! The only other sign of Christmas was the Christian church opposite the campsite which started filling up at midnight on the 24th with the small Christian community of Khartoum. We went along to watch the service and listen to the singing. The Sudanese are so tall, that even Christian at 1.82m was dwarfed by the teenagers, some of whom had tribal scars across their foreheads. We were made to feel welcome and accepted as part of the audience without question.

On the 25th, Christian and I and Rodney and Janet left the convoy and headed toward Ethiopia. All Landrovers in the convoy had to remain in Khartoum for further repairs and are still there at the time of writing! The stretch from Khartoum to the Ethiopian

Border was approx. 400km and took us two and a half days. As soon as we left Khartoum the Arabic influence was replaced by Africa as I know it. Little mud huts in the hillside, baobab trees, men and children herding their cattle and sheep. The heat was almost unbearable and the road made the trip slow going. We stopped in the tiny village of Gedaref the following day after which the road deteriorated to such an extent we couldn’t travel much faster than 40km per hour.

At the border into Ethiopia, the paper work for departing Sudan took half an hour! A French girl had just arrived in Sudan and her belongings were being searched. Her box of tampons was taken away from her, opened up and the contents examined and pulled apart. We exchanged money, and crossed into Ethiopia, where we completed the customs process in 20 mins in a little hut with a large poster on the wall saying ‘ Save Water, Drink Beer’. A message for sore eyes after so many hot, dusty and alcohol free days on the road in Sudan. As soon as we left the hut, we headed for the first village and Rodney and Christian spotted the first beer shop. They emerged with a crate of Dashen Beer, we drove a further way up the road, found a quiet spot to camp in the bush, and finished the crate within 2 hours! The Ethiopian update and pics will follow with our next mail!

As always there will be more pictures than only the attached ones on our webpage:

We hope you are all well and wish you a happy 2004,

Julianne and Christian!