May 30, 2010

Sudan

My crossing into Sudan marked my first step into the Muslim world and it’s associated ‘arabocracy’. (The Arab countries have a tendency to drown themselves in needless paperwork all in the name of keeping their borders secure from the feared ‘West’). The Immigration Section went fairly quickly and I managed to get myself through in about half an hour. The Customs Section, however, was a headache. I went from one official to the next who each had separate forms to fill out which requested the same information – mainly information on the motorbike – all of which is contained on the copy of the carne document which they keep anyway?!? Maybe a computer would have helped? Name, Make, Model, Year of Manufacture, Colour, Engine Number, Chassis Number, Number Plate etc. In the end seven separate documents (with receipts) were filled out before I was allowed to pass to the next section i.e. the Security Section. Here all my motorbike and passport documents were translated into Arabic and re-written into the security log book. I must admit that the border officials, however, were reasonably friendly which was a marked difference to the Ethiopians. Eventually, some two hours later, and with a strict warning to register myself ‘as an alien’ in Khartoum (within three days), I was off on my way …

The road continued to get drier and drier as I entered into the Sahara Desert. Scattered grasslands eventually disintegrated into sparse shrub and shadeless thorn trees. And it started to get HOT! By midday the temperature had already reached 40 degrees C. My initial intention was to stay in the town of Gedaref, but as the border crossing had been more efficient than I had expected (I had heard some horror stories), I arrived at Gedaref at about 13h00. Gedaref is a dirty, dusty town on the outskirts of the Sahara and has very little in the form of decent accommodation to account for. So I decided to stock up on water and head out into the Sahara, towards Khartoum, to do the first of my big desert crossings. Bad mistake!

The 420km stretch from Gedaref to join up with the Nile River at Khartoum is rather desolate. If I had thought that Gedaref was hot, I was in for big shock! I always knew that the Sahara would be hot, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever picture it as hot as this! In hindsight, it was a mistake to plan this section in summer (even though it is very early summer here). The temperature quickly increased to 44 degrees C and then remained between 44 & 48 degrees C for the remainder of the afternoon. The hot air felt like a hair dryer blowing onto my face at full power. Unbearable! To top it off the heat given off my 990cc motorbike, and all the protective gear that I was wearing, were adding to the ridiculous temperature. I managed to stop a few times at various watering points to refill my water supplies. I have never felt so helpless and vulnerable before! I worked out that I drank a massive 15 litres of water on this stretch! … and did not urinate once! I didn’t know that was possible? It felt better when I was on the motorbike as in this way there was at least a breeze using my sweat to cool me down. Towards the end of the trip I had to stop a few times as I was starting to feel sick – really sick – the first signs of heat stroke. I managed to make Khartoum at 21h00 that evening (it was 42 degrees C at 21h00!) and headed straight to the Blue Nile Sailing Club campsite. I spent two hours sitting by the water trough filling myself up with ice cold water and rehydration salts which helped to relieve some of the discomfort. Thankfully they also had an air conditioner in the pool room which felt like an absolute God send!

The next day, I was feeling awful again and just sat in the shade; whilst pumping water through my fragile body. There was also a stall across the road from the campsite that sold ice cold fruit juice which tasted so good – just what I needed – I think I became an instant ice-cold mango juice addict!


Khartoum was built where the White and Blue Nile’s meet. It is one of the more modern cities in Africa and has paved roads, high-rise buildings and the majority of services that are needed (although they do have ATM’s here, they cannot be used by any international bank cards!). The people here are extremely friendly, polite and hospitable. The riverside setting is attractive and Khartoum is very safe! BUT, it is hot!

Sudan is not a particularly rich country, but I am surprised how few beggars / homeless people there are here. Even in the large cities like Khartoum, beggars are seldom seen. The underprivileged seem to be well cared for by the general population. The very strict laws against drugs, alcohol and prostitution, that seem to plague the rest of Africa, also help to prevent people getting sucked into the downward spirals that often finds them living in the streets.

The following day I felt much better and set about registering myself at the Aliens Registration Office in Khartoum. The Sudanese think that anyone from outside of their country must have come from another planet and have thus enforced a rule that all non-Sudanese have to register themselves as ‘aliens’ on arrival in Khartoum – and within three days of entering a border post. Now, if only they had computers at the border posts they would be able to know who was in their country! To be honest, I think it shows arabocracy at its best and is just another money making incentive for the government officials. First I had to find the Alien Registration Office – none of the taxi drivers or policemen had any idea what I was talking about. I eventually got the address on the internet and set off with my GPS to find the place. After about two hours I eventually found the place – the signs to the office were in Sudanese (Arabic) and not in any of the official alien languages. To top it off none of the officials understood the particular brand of alien that I speak and I thus had no idea what I was meant to do to register. Luckily one of my fellow aliens understood Sudanese and I was sent back to the campsite to get an official letter from the Blue Nile Sailing Club to state that I was a guest at their campsite. With letter in hand, I returned to register, paid a whopping £S105 ($US 50), filled out my forms, gave them my photo and after a few hours of queuing I was a fully fledged and legal alien! (My form said that my address was: 1 Moon Rock Place, Mars (only a few light years from Perth) – no-one seemed to care – no-one could speak/read my brand of alien anyway - they had my money which is all that really mattered to them).

Later that day, I hooked up with Riaan (South African), Stephanie (Belgian) and Joel (Canadian) who are travelling together from South Africa to Sudan (and back again). It was great hearing their stories – they came up from Uganda to Sudan through the very dodgy southern Sudan region. Riaan and Stephanie are artists from Calvinia. Joel has been living in South Africa for a few years now and is completing his PhD in archaeology at Wits University (the university I went to). Joel has been rather sick since Livingstone (Zambia) and had apparently lost a lot of weight – he was off to see a doctor in Khartoum to see if he can identify the problem. The next day we went to town and had a huge ice-cream before doing some shopping in a huge (air-conditioned) shopping mall. I am not a big fan of shopping but I would do anything to get out of that heat! Riaan, Stephanie and Joel are all such great friendly people! I hope they make it back south safely.

The next day I decided to head off. There were two choices – firstly the loop road to see the Meroe Pyramids which was about a 300km detour - or secondly, the direct route to Abri Dom, straight across the desert to meet up again with the Nile River that had looped itself around. Because of my scary desert experience a few days before, I decided to take the shorter280km trip directly across the desert therefore minimizing my exposure to the desert elements. Besides, I would have more opportunities to see the much bigger Egyptian pyramids further up north. Also, I only had a two week visa for Sudan so I had to get going.

I set off early that morning. To be honest the 280km stretch across the desert was great and I had nothing to worry about. The heat only really starts to pick up at about mid-morning in these parts and by this time I had already managed to cross the majority of this stretch. The roads in Sudan are of excellent quality, some of the best I have seen in Africa! The only problem is that every now and again there are sand piles formed as sand blows onto the road, which are not fun riding over at 120km/h.

This part of the Sahara is known as the Nubian Desert and is renowned for its orange coloured desert sand. The rocky outcrops and occasional dunes make the scenery very picturesque. It was great meeting up with the Nile River again. The desolate desert suddenly erupts into an abundance of colour, as the fertile banks are harvested for their life supporting crops. After a long desert crossing with no water around, it is also quite a relief to have a huge river flowing next to you that has an emergency abundance of the necessary H2O.



Most of the Sudanese (and Egyptian) landmass consists of deserts, with the lifeblood of the Nile River being a green band flowing through them, drawing to it human settlements. Charismatic rivers flow through many countries but few govern the ebb and flow of a country’s fortunes quite as much as the Nile River has done for Sudan and Egypt. From at least 4000BC small settlements have clung together in loose affiliations along the Nile.



I stopped north of Abri Dom to have look at a bridge that was in construction across the Nile. There were some children swimming in the water close to the bridge, so I decided to join them. It felt so refreshing to be in the cold Nile water! I have been surprised at how fast the Nile River flows – from its sources at Lake Victoria and Lake Tana, both streams are fast flowing and even at this point the Nile is very strong with some strong side currents. It is also a huge river, a lot bigger and wider than I thought it would be. From Abri Dom the road winds its way along the banks of the Nile. The swim had been so refreshing that I decided to stop every now and again for a dip in the lovely cold water. It was great riding along with wet clothes on, keeping my body cool in the intense desert heat.

At the villages along the way are small shady stalls that have been set up by the locals which house amphora’s (big jars) of cold water. The locals keep the amphorae full of water, which is done out of kindness to the travelers – they are not paid to do so! These stands are found along the roadsides throughout Sudan. It doesn’t take long after you have stopped at a village for a young local to run across to you carrying a cup of cold water – and they want nothing in return. This is Nubian kindness and hospitality at its best!

That night I decided I was going to camp somewhere along the Nile River rather than spend the night at another dodgy lokanda (guesthouse). I found a great camping spot near a pump station, and in his very broken English, the local pump attendant said that I could sleep the night in the new pump house store room that was still empty and had a great view overlooking the river. I spent the rest of the afternoon swimming with his three young sons in the river and teaching them how to skip stones across the water. That evening the pump attendant invited me to share dinner with him and his sons (I have no idea where the mom was?). I am totally humbled by the opportunity to have had dinner with this family - they have so little yet they give of themselves so freely. The pump attendant wanted nothing in return and seemed annoyed when I offered him some money. He also brought me a bed down to the pump house as he said that because I was a guest I should not sleep on my mattress on the floor! What a great day! I am humbled by these friendly people. The next morning I had tea with the pump attendant and his sons before heading on further up the Nile. I have never met such kind and caring people!

I continued my journey up the Nile and stopped every so often for a refreshing swim. This is the way desert riding should be! That morning I stopped in Dongola to get my motorbike boots fixed again. The intense heat seems to have melted the glue between the leather and the rubber part of the soles, so I had to get them re-glued! I managed to find a shoe repair guy in town who knew of just the glue to fix it – apparently this happens quite often here to western made shoes ha ha.


Along the Nile are a number of temples, built in the 14th Century, which I stopped to view. Unfortunately they are all on the opposite bank so I couldn’t view them up close. The temples were very difficult to find – none of them were sign-posted in English and very few locals that I asked even new that they existed. The old temples don’t seem to play any role in modern Sudanese life. What this means, however, is that very few people visit the temples which makes them great sites to visit as a tourist – they are not like the Egyptian sites that are packed with hundreds of tourists and tour-guides hassling you.

Early that afternoon I stopped at a water-stand and took some photos of the surrounds. A young guy at the stand asked me if I would take a photo of him and his brothers and sisters. I said I would. He ran inside and hauled out his brothers and sisters and I took the photo. He then asked me to take the camera inside his house to surprise his mom with the photo. I followed him inside and met his mom. She loved the photo and asked me for a copy. Unfortunately I do not carry around a printer, and she does not have an address or email or anything (the mud hut they stayed in was in the middle of nowhere). I felt quite bad because she desperately wanted a copy – I don’t think she had ever seen all of her kids in a photo. She did however invite me to tea and asked me if I wanted food – she even offered me accommodation for the night. I unfortunately had to decline as I needed to push on.

Later that afternoon I stopped for fuel at a busy little town north of Delgo. They have recently discovered gold in the area and there are a number of local fortune seekers walking around with metal detectors trying to find their early retirement plan in the desert sand. I got chatting to a young student whose English was pretty good. He was studying to be an electronics engineer in Khartoum and was fixing metal detectors as part of his vacation work program. I went with him and some friends down to the river for another refreshing swim. Before I left, I was again offered water, food and accommodation for the evening, but much to their disappointment, I again decided to head on …

That evening I found an amazing camping spot. The spot was on a cliff overlooking the Nile. There was a path down to the water with a great rock pool, which was fed by a constant stream of ice cold Nile water. There was also a fishing boat rowing up and down the river and some beautiful eagles floating above the water. The sunset that evening was amazing and the night opened up into a spectacular display of coloured skies and desert stars. I was waiting for a big star to appear but I don’t think God could find another two wise men in the area ha ha … maybe next time. I had a great evening on my own (oh sorry, with my motorbike – Big Ken) under the desert stars ... truly an experience I will never forget!

I am amazed by the beauty of the Sahara desert. The colours and windswept sights that are created make for some fantastic scenery. Although the desert has a harsh and very brutal side to it, it also manages to draw you in by its mesmerizing beauty. The colours displayed at sunrise and sunsets are spectacular and there is nothing that can compare to a night out under a desert sky! This desert has a beauty that I have never before experienced and something that is really fascinating me.

The following day I headed on to Wadi Halfa. The desert from Abri to Wadi Halfa was some of the most beautiful desert that I have experienced. The desert remains fairly sandy but is scattered with large peach coloured dunes which are glazed with a black rocky cover. It reminded me of peach ice-cream covered with chocolate sprinkles. Along the way the wind started to pick up and it was not too long before a sand storm had started to develop. Riding the motorbike through a sandstorm is challenging to say the least! The windblown sand stings your skin while the wind throws the motorbike all over the road. I managed to get to Wadi Halfa safely though and was relieved to get out of the wind.


Wadi Halfa was founded by a handful of Nubian families from the original Halfa (now buried under Lake Nasser) who resisted the governments forced relocation. The ferry to Egypt now docks here and leaves Wadi Halfa every Wednesday to Luxor. This means that I have a four day wait, in Wadi Halfa, for the ferry to arrive.

I booked into a place called Deffintood which is a very rough lokanda (room with a number of beds in it). I was surprised to find that it had electricity and a fan, but no other services were user friendly (showers, toilets etc). I made quite good friends with the local flies and bedbugs that seem to infest this place. To my surprise the owner insisted I park my motorbike in the small reception area at the front of the lokanda! He said that the motorbike may attract other guests ha ha. So I have pimped Big Ken out to the reception area in hope that by flashing his gearbox to unsuspecting customers he may attract them into this bug infested lair :-)

As very few tourists visit Sudan, the Sudanese have very little in the form of decent accommodation. Facilities are generally poor throughout the country, with the exception of a few hotels in Khartoum. This makes comfortable travel in Sudan virtually non-existent. Travel here is rough and ready and if this is not your style, then Sudan is not for you. A tent is about as close to “first class accommodation” as you will get whilst traveling here.

The following day (28/5) I decided to head out into the desert to take some more photos as there had been a sand storm the day before and I hadn’t managed to get any photos of this section of desert. It was great riding my bike on the dusty desert tracks. At one stage I saw a great look-out point just off the track and thought it would be easy enough to get to on my motorbike. Big mistake. As soon as I ventured off the track the motorbike sunk deep into the desert sand. Nothing I did seemed to help. I even tried digging the motorbike out but because the sand was so soft it just sunk deeper under its own weight. At this stage I was about 15km into the desert from Wadi Halfa and had no water with me. So I started to worry. Luckily, I was not too far from the Wadi Halfa – Dongola road so I managed to walk to the road. About twenty minutes later a taxi passed and I managed to flag it down. There were three men in the taxi and they walked with me back to the motorbike and within about ten minutes we had managed to lift the motorbike out of the sand and back onto the desert track. What a relief! I had visions of loosing Big Ken to the sandy desert. I continued to venture off into the desert but this time I was very careful not to leave the ‘tried and tested’ desert tracks. I managed to take some good pictures before heading back into Wadi Halfa.


There is a restaurant in Wadi Halfa that sells the most amazing mango juice!! (Have I told you that I have become a mango juice addict?) The mango is liquidized into a thin pulp and then frozen into an icy liquid that tastes absolutely amazing. I have never tasted anything as refreshing as this! A great thirst quencher for the hot sun and at only £S 1 (US 40c) for 500ml, it is an absolute God send.

The next day I bumped into Andraes Habek and family. Andraes is a great young (German) bloke that I had met in Nairobi (at Jungle Junction). He is 13 years old and has been travelling around the world with his parents (Hans and Carola) and his cute 2 year old brother Thomas. At only 13 years of age, Andraes has been fortunate enough to see most of the world in his travels with his parents – 5 out of his 13 years have been spent travelling the world by boat, car, bus, train and even walking. Hans (Andraes’ dad) has written a book (in German) about their shoestring travels around the world. Carola is a teacher and keeps Andraes up to speed with his schooling – in fact he manages to do very well at school and achieves well above average for his school year. It was interesting chatting to young Andraes. Being well travelled, he has a maturity well beyond his age and his worldly view on things makes the young man very interesting to chat to. He is also a dedicated KTM fan after I took him for a ride on Big Ken. That afternoon I climbed the mountain behind Wadi Halfa, with Andraes, and managed to take some good photos of Wadi Halfa, Lake Nasser and the surrounding desert.



The following day (2/6), the ferry was set to leave for Aswan (Egypt). The ferry is currently the only way of entering Egypt from Sudan – there are no land crossings between the two countries. Apparently a road is currently being built between Egypt and Sudan and it should be ready in the next five years.

That morning I met up with Alf and Anders, two guys from Norway, who have been travelling up from South Africa in their Land Rover and are heading back to Norway. The vehicles unfortunately could not travel with us on the ferry and had to travel on a separate barge. The barge was meant to leave before the ferry which was great because that meant that we could manage the loading of the vehicles ourselves. We spent the whole morning going through the Sudan (exit) Immigration and Customs and if it had not been for our assistant Mazar Mahir, it would have taken much longer. He seemed to know all the customs officials and we managed to skip all the queues – but, it still took us the whole morning to get through. I cannot get over all this arabocracy!! By 3pm we still had not managed to put our vehicles on the barge as they were still unloading goods off the barge. Eventually, much to my displeasure, I had to leave my motorbike for Mazar Mahir to load onto the barge while I boarded the ferry. I was really annoyed as I had wanted to manage the loading to ensure it was not damaged in any way.

The ferry left at 5pm. Alf, Anders and I managed to get a place on the top deck underneath the lifeboats which gave us some shelter from the sun. Andraes soon joined us, and we made ourselves comfortable for a night of sleeping under the stars.

Lake Nasser is absolutely massive. The original dam was built by the British at the beginning of the 20th Century; however, it was insufficient to keep the Nile in check during its annual spate. The Egyptian government was joined by several nations in building a new dam in the 1960’s. It was opened in 1971 and came to be seen as a symbol of Egypt’s independence. As the full environmental impact of the dam began to be understood, however, it became the source of much international controversy, not least on account of the ancient sites and the Nubian communities that were swallowed up by the creation of Lake Nasser.

That evening I was privileged to witness a gathering of Muslim men on the deck of the ferry all praying to Mecca in the east. I have been quite impressed by the devotion shown by these people to their religion. I am also very surprised by the gentle, kind and friendly nature shown by these people – very different to the impression that I have been given by the western press!

Sudan is the largest country in Africa and is one of the least visited countries on earth due to its various ongoing conflicts which are predominantly in the southern and western (Dafur) regions. However, the northeast Nubian region is one of the safest places in the world and with some of the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth (and with a natural generosity that far belies their poverty), it make for one of the most enjoyable countries I have ever visited.

Jaag maar aan.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bok you have had me glued to every word!! Im so proud of you for taking on this venture, and sharing it all with us!! wish you could pop past the uk on your way :-) You can come stay in my 5 star accomodation, and i will even happily feed you and give you beer :-)
much love
Tam

Anonymous said...

We have enjoyed every one of your contributions but have to say that this particular one is just so interesting. Just shows you how the Western press can influence one's perceptions about a country! After reading about all the killings and the ongoing war raging in the Dafur region, the Sudan was the one country I feared about your safety, yet must to our astonishment, it seems to have been the friendliest and by far. You really have had some incredible experiences hey!
G, we really enjoy your blog...well done, it really is so great.
John & Tina

the rider said...

What an interesting read, thanks to John and Tina for sending me the link - I will follow your adventures with great interest. How I wish I had done something like this, keep up the good work and the great pictures.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Gogs! Inspiring. When we doing North America on a Harley?? Nick D

Donna said...

We've loved keeping in touch with your adventure, Bok. Glen and I have had more than a few chuckles at your "idle banter" and stories. When you come and visit us in the USA be warned that our summer temperatures are between 40 and 50deg C too. RIDICULOUS, and I am amazed that we have gotten used to it!!! You are right... it is like a hairdryer blowing in your face. Hard to breathe. We are spoiled that we can sit in our air-conditioning when we need to catch our breath.
Your photographs have been BEAUTIFUL, by the way - I bet there are many of them that you will have hung up on your walls one day... You seem to have seen the best (and some of the worst) of what Africa has to offer. :)

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This comment has been removed by the author.
Don Packett said...

Too awesome Goggles!

Hugs and kisses,
The Chameleon

Anonymous said...

Hey Bok, keep telling these great stories. Who would have known there was such a great author in that Engineer. Enjoying the read. When you back in Perth?
Gareth and Michelle

Anonymous said...

Nice one Bok, frikken insane! Full-head-metal-shell

Anonymous said...

What a great read Bok...Africa is such a great place with so many great stories and people...Miss that!

Dion (Brisbane)

James said...

Sensational blog mate. Educational, Enthralling and Entertaining... So good to share the trip with you vicariously. Jim

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