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Friday, 16 November 2012

Sudan


Day 1 – 2/11/12
The ferry docked in Wadi Halfa at ~ 12:00. From the distance the town is as dismal as the blogs suggest. The efficient Sudan bureaucracy was quickly aboard and the tourists were issued with their travel passes.
Magdi (0121730885) was there to greet us and after a bit of push and shove our little group was on the quay side. Magdi ushered us to the customs building some 300 m away, no small effort in the heat. We quickly passed through customs and then had to lower our standards and take a Land Rover taxi to town.
Avril had ordered the best place in town. AND, to our surprise we were given a room with evaporative cooling, fridge and en-suite bathroom, but no windows. The rooms were dirty and grimy and Avril inspected 5 before selecting our room and then got the local staff to carry out a superficial clean. The lack of cleanliness continues to amaze us; there was dirt and falling plaster on the beds and floor, the residue of the previous guest in the bathroom, the balcony was littered with discarded plastic bottles etc. But, we were pleased to have some cooling.
We then gathered with Magdi to discuss the forward program. Magdi called Mahmoud in Aswan and was informed that the barge would leave Aswan 18:00 that day. In the mean -time, Ray had asked Samir to also call Mahmoud from Cairo and he was told that the barge would leave the next day, Saturday. The lies continued even after we had left Egypt!  Magdi said that he does not believe or trust the Egyptians.
Magdi had also arranged for the official who issues the Photo Permits to come to the hotel and we got this small piece of bureaucracy out of the way. The cyclists and walker were keen to start the next day and register with the police in the morning. Arrangements were made to do this.
We ate at a local restaurant; deep fried Nile Perch and beans (foul and fasoulia also on offer).

Canjan Hotel. N 210 47’ 41.6’’ E 310 20’ 52.9’’


Day 2 – 3/11/12
We were up early to wave off Hannah, Diarmaid and Chris. But, Magdi came around and informed the cyclists and walker that, as it was the weekend they could not register with the police (this must be done within 3 days of arriving). Once again, erroneous information! So they decided to stay an extra day.
Ray wandered with the others to the local market to get some fruit & veg; Avril just relaxed.
We wrote the blog, Avril did some clothes washing and we chatted to the group and passed the time.
Ray managed to contact Mahmoud (who for once answered his phone) and was told the barge would arrive in the afternoon the next day. More lies??? Time will tell.
Chicken for dinner.

Day 3 – 4/11/12
Again, we were up early to wave off Hannah, Diarmaid and Chris. This time they managed to register and depart. Magdi came around with the Registration stamped in our passports. Another administrative task completed.
Given the time delay, we were concerned about the state of the accommodation module batteries. It was super hot and the fridge was probably working overtime. As a precaution, we had put a number of frozen water bottles in the fridge. But, with the assurance that the barge would arrive 16:00 on Saturday and the risk of theft, we decided not to put the solar panels out. We now feared that all our fridge contents will be mush.
Our other concern was that we have flights back to Australia from Addis Ababa on the 14th November. With all the delays, time was running short.
Chicken for lunch.
Later in the day Magdi phoned us to say he has spoken to the barge captain and the barge has only just arrived near Abu Simble. No chance it would arrive that day. The barge must have left on Saturday, not Friday as promised. To Magdi.
We all decided to go for a tuktuk ride but as we left the building a local man with a top range Landcruiser jumped up and offered to take us for a ride. We all piled into his car and were given a tour of the village. On the way we ran into Mizat, the other local fixer. He told us that our barge only left on Saturday and would arrive tomorrow morning. He also said the Egyptians just lie!
Over our chicken dinner Anna’s brother texted that Brian’s EPERB device was showing that the barge had stopped on the Egypt/Sudan border. So, tomorrow it was! We were all left to wonder at the blatant and useless lying of the Egyptian officials.

Day 4 – 5/11/12
After a restless nights sleep, our little group met for breakfast and then went to the town to get a tuktuk to the port. Magdi reported that the barge was yet again running late and would not dock at 08:00 as planned.
We arrived at the port at ~ 10:00 and were super excited to see the barge arriving, with our vehicles. After docking, Ray rushed aboard to start the engine and hopefully salvage some of the fridge stuff. There were boxes packed all around and almost over the car. We only noticed later that the workers loading the barge had used the bonnet of the vehicle as a platform for loading and put a bad dint in it. All 3 bikes had minor items stolen. We managed to offload the vehicle with a minimum of fuss. The steel ramps that Nile Valley Navigation Company promised would be loaded in Aswan were not there (surprise, hey) and we broke the packing pallets they had placed down as a ramp in the process of unloading.
We were soon off the dock and completed the customs process and paperwork very quickly. Unfortunately the official who accepted money had gone to the bank and so we needed to wait for him. The port authorities allowed us to leave and pack the vehicles whilst Magdi waited to pay the necessary fees and get receipts for us. We were impressed with the efficiency and common sense of the Sudanese officials.
We were finally on the road at 13:45. It was an extremely hot day, mid 40s and we met Chris, the walker, around 50 km out of Wadi Halfa, in the middle of a very barren landscape – harsh desert. With the heat, wind, lack of shade and desert environment, it was a punishing time for the walkers and cyclists. We were very worried about Chris. Later we bumped into Diarmaid and Hannah who were also struggling – we gave them some snacks and lots of encouragement!
After a time the road joined the Nile. We drove alongside the thin strip of vegetation and a considerable amount of housing.
Our group; Brian & Anna and the bikers, Rob, Rob & Rick camped beside the eastern Deffufa (ancient mud building) near the village of Kerna. Whilst the mound of bricks may be > 3,500 years old, from a tourist perspective, it was not that impressive.

Avril driving; 338 km; 104.5; N 190 36’ 08.6’’ E 0300 26’ 36.1’’. A high standard tar road until we headed to the Deffufa. The corners were not cambered all that well, so we needed to slow for turns.










Day 5 – 6/11/12
The night noises were appropriate for the rural setting; donkeys, occasional cow, dogs and roosters to greet the morning. We were up for sunrise and visited the Deffufa. Having seen the eastern one, we decided that it was not exciting enough to see the western.
We drove through to Dongola and bought some veg and bread. We then drove to Jebel Barkal (the Holy Mountain – actually more of a hill than a mountain), and lunched by the pyramids there. We went to see the Temple, but there was an entrance fee and the guide book said it was ruined, so we did not bother.
We then drove on to Arbata where we joined the main road to Khartoum. After the freedom of the desert roads, it was tiring to have a large number of trucks on this road.
We turned off the main road at the Meroe pyramids, where we camped the night.
Apart from the thin border along the Nile, the drive was through some uninteresting desert – very flat.
We noticed that the driving standard was much higher than a lot of other places we have been to on our journey. There were no mad, needless manoeuvres to gain an extra mm and at check points one line formed rather than people forming 10 lanes and aggressively bumping, hooting etc to push in, truck drivers allowed space for overtaking etc.
Sudanese have a reputation for hospitality and friendliness. Along the way we got lots of waves and greetings. It was very nice to note that the women here seem more emancipated. They are quite happy to greet you and chat a bit. Their scarves are not pulled tight, but rather draped lightly and they often show their hair.

Avril driving; 621 km; 10 hrs; N 160 55’ 57.2’’ E 0330 44’ 54.5’’. Again, we were on good standard tar the whole day.







Day 6 – 7/11/12
We had a quiet, desert camp near the Meroe pyramids. Some of the local kids set up an impromptu souvenir store for us, near the camp But it is a bit hard for us to buy along the way as we do not have the space. The Sudaneses respect one’s personal space and a local chap came and chased the kids away. After a leisurely start to the day, we visited the pyramids. It is a fairly large site and we basically had the whole area to ourselves. Unfortunately the pyramids here are not intact. An Italian bloke dynamited the top off all the pyramids looking for treasure in ~ 1834.
After the pyramids we went on to the two temple complexes at Musawwarat Es sufra and Naqa. The sites are probably more interesting to a keen archaeologist rather than a casual tourist. There was not all that much of them and after the grandeur of Egyptian temples, they are small and without a lot of detail.
Driving from one temple complex to the other, we managed to get bogged in the only bit of sand around. Brian towed us out, one of the many advantages of travelling with others. The drive itself was quite interesting across the desert and scrub. In contrast to other parts of Africa, there was not a lot of people or livestock around.
The day took a bit longer than expected and we did not arrive at the Blue Nile Yacht Club until after dark. We went to the local “Steers” restaurant for dinner.
We were very unimpressed with the facilities at the Blue Nile Yacht Club – a traditional overlander camp. They were very dirty and there was no water in the girls’ shower for the whole time we were there.

Ray driving; 301 km; 9 hrs; N 150 36’ 41.7’’ E 0320 32’ 03.5’’






Day 7 – 8/11/12
We spent the day doing a few chores and hanging out at the (only) a/c shopping centre, the temperature remained in the high 30’s to low 40’s. Ice Cream was a key factor in Avril’s decision to shop there.
Avril had a “chat” to the camp site manager about the ablutions and he variously said: “not all Sudanese are nice” (our experience was that he was the only exception to the accepted norm that in fact all Sudanese are very nice); pointing to the mess in the club camp area “Africa is dirty, you should get used to it” and with the lack of water “Africa does not have water”. We were still expected to pay full price!
We also tool a taxi to the junction of the Blue and White Nile



Day 8 – 9/11/12
We set off very early with the aim of getting to a camp ground on Lake Tana in Ethiopia. However, the traffic gods were against us. The commercial traffic was heavy, the road conditions not great (though the road is paved the whole way, at times we felt like we were riding a mechanical bull) and police and other stops meant we did not make the time we wanted to.
The toll booths are an interesting experience; there is a chap standing outside and he has a witch’s hat which he places in front of each car as they (finally) get to the booth. It seemed to us that a critical KPI was his ability to have a long conversation with each car. He would then take any money due and pass it to the man in the booth. The man in the booth would then hand- write a receipt and stamp it. He would hand it back to the chap outside the booth who would the pass it to the driver.
As we made our way south, the desert gave way to Sahel type country and then a massive cereal cropping area with huge paddocks. There were a couple of small mountain ranges, kopjes, to break the endless flat plains. We also noticed that the houses changed from the typical flat desert house to a traditional circular structure with a conical grass roof.
We made sure we filled up our tanks (gasolina here) as it was supposed to be a lot cheaper than Ethiopia.
As seems to be our habit, we arrived at the post at prayer time. But, it seemed to us that prayer time = the time we get there i.e. it bares little or no resemblance to the time on a watch. Anyway, we waited for an hour for the man with the stamp to come back. Whilst waiting, we changed a rear tyre that had developed a leak. Tyres again!

The formalities on both sides of the border were quick and efficient – when the person was there.
It remained very hot all the time.

Sudan Summary
We like Sudan. The folks are as welcoming as their reputation – always lots of waves and smiles. We did not find the bureaucracy too hard and the Sudanese try to make it easy e.g. with the forms being done on the ferry, allowing us to leave the port area even though we had not completed all the customs formalities. It was a delight to drive with people who are not aggressive, who do not push in and show consideration for other drivers.
The roads are mostly good to OK. “Wild Camping” is easy and no hassle.
The biggest downer was that it was hot the whole time we were there.
The Bradt guide was useful = 8/10. Again, the Riese Knowhow maps were very disappointing. 

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