HELLO + WELCOME as we make our way through Australia, Africa and Europe, driving our 1989 Toyota LandCruiser.
It’s Gareth here. And I have a few questions for you.
Have you ever been to the Republic of the Sudan?
Do you even know where it is situated on the map?
Did you know Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt?
Did you know alcohol is illegal there?
Why would you know any of that? Sudan is a DO NOT TRAVEL country, according to the Australian Government, after all.
Today I’m writing about our travels to a country I never through I would visit.
Kirst and I read the warnings carefully to determine if it was safe to visit Sudan. If we were to achieve our goal of crossing Africa then Sudan was the ‘safest’ option over the Congo and Chad. I knew it was going to be ridiculously hot. Technically, dangerous. And I had read that it was not really a country for tourists. But I was excited about the fact that you could camp pretty much anywhere in Sudan. For free and in the wild without any of the other African annoyances you get elsewhere.
We entered Sudan from Ethiopia and were not prepared for what was to come. We were expected heat and extremely dry environment. Instead we found floods.
The rains had been heavy and parts of the country were flooded. People were trapped in their homes or by the road side.
We wild camped every night in Sudan when we were outside of the capital city. And we found our first camp by a set of boulders and a small rocky hill in the middle of the sandy desert.
Our plan was to head north through to Khartoum, register as ‘aliens’ at the airport, see the Meroe pyramids and Jebel Barkal and then pretty much roll on through the stinking hot desert to Wadi Halfa. Wadi Halfa was where we would catch a local ferry to Egypt.
We arrived in Khartoum after driving through desert, sandy Bedouin villages and witnessing one of the most horrific crashes we have seen.
Two large buses had collided head on, and it was carnage. Obviously we didn’t take any photos but there was certain death involved by the looks of things. What really surprised us was the orderly way the crash scene had been set up. Police had erected barricades and were filtering the traffic through to the right. Ushering ambulances in and out with patients, moving gawkers along and all this with a dignified appreciation to what had just happened. Very different to what we had observed in southern Africa.
:: Welcome to Sudan
:: Our first Sudanese desert camp
:: Aaah that rock was so warm.
We knew we were close to Khartoum as the traffic increased. Our first large city in a while. We were both surprised to see traffic lights and orderly drivers who were sticking to some kind of road rules. There were multi-story buildings, Toyota dealerships and large factories. It looked almost like a western city until we reached the inner streets of Khartoum. Recent rains had flooded the streets and the traffic was a lot worse… but still moving. Stagnant water covered road ways, filled holes and crept into shop fronts.
We heard on Trip Advisor there was a nice, clean, welcoming hostel right in the middle of town. That was where we headed but were taken by surprise to see what it actually was. We thought we had the wrong place. The Khartoum Youth Hostel was the biggest cess pit of filth we had seen in all of Africa. Rubbish lined walkways, the kitchen had ice cream containers of rancid fat lying around, the toilets were covered in poo and mud and the old boy security guard/ night watchman was asleep so we let ourselves in. I told Kirst we were at the wrong place and we should check again if this was the right place. She knew it was.
Urrggh. In 50 degree heat that was not the news I wanted! One good thing was that it was a great place to park the rig for the night and in the end that was all we were after. We stayed two nights and suggested a guy clean the bathroom.
:: That is a pillow that must have been put into service in the 50s.
:: I’m not doing the dishes tonight. In fact I am never going to do them again. Ever!
We registered as aliens the next day at the airport but had to wait while the workers had their ‘breakfast’ at noon. When Kirst decided things were taking too long and she might hustle things along she was met with a man yelling ‘BREAKFASSST, BREAKFASSSST’. She returned saying a word beginning with F, and ‘They take their meals seriously here’. Haahah… yeah we were still in Africa. Interesting to note that the only rude people we met in Sudan happened to be officials.
Our next planned stop was the Meroe Pyramids. We left Khartoum early that day and it turned out well that we did. Lots of the roads north out of the place were still flooded and the traffic was bad. We drove around after the airport and found a nice place to eat. No alcohol of course but good food.
One great thing I will always remember about Sudan is the guy who stopped next to us in the busy afternoon Khartoum traffic. He was driving a shiny white Toyota Prado. I could feel someone staring at me so turned to my right. It was a big burly guy, mid fifties who had the biggest whitest teeth and smile that was made to be seen. This man, a total stranger, just wanted to say ‘Hi!’ He noticed the AUSTRALIA written on the side of our rig. His electric window was coming down and I started manually winding down the old Troopy window. I yelled across ‘Salam!’ (Hello). “Hello how are you” He said. Immediately our faces both lit up with big smiles. This guy could have made the saddest person in the world smile I reckon just by looking at his face. It was so full of hope, love and enthusiasm.
He began talking in a flurry or words while navigating throughout the busy afternoon traffic beside us – “Welcome to Sudan. You are from Australia. Sudan and Australia are like brothers. I hope you enjoy your time here. Sudan is a very beautiful country… you are most welcome” And that was it. The horns started blaring and traffic started moving a little faster. He took off. We were both overjoyed by the enthusiasm and kindness this stranger had just shown us. The traffic was bad but it didn’t matter to us. We could have sat there for another hour and it would have been ok.
Two blocks had passed and we saw him again. His window came down again and we were both waving enthusiastically across two lanes smiling. He waved back with that grin and turned the next corner… ‘Aaah that’s so nice’ we said to each other. To that man with the big toothy smile and kind face – thank you. You taught me a lot of things that day just by your smile.
The next day it was time to leave the city. On the way out of town we were struck with some bad traffic. I thought there was a smash at first but it turned out the road was just covered in water and some people didnt want to cross it. So they stopped in the middle of the road. We followed an old Hilux that was full of local dudes sitting in the tray and then everyone tailed in behind us. There is definitely a sentiment of ‘It’s OK if the whities say’ everywhere in Africa.
The Meroe Pyramids are smaller in size compared to the pyramids of Egypt but with out the crowds. In fact there was not one other person there. The road out to the pyramids was just a kilometre or so off the tar road but it had been washed away. We navigated our way in the direction of the pyramids hoping to avoid the wet patches of sticky sand. Unfortunately the rain hadn’t compacted the sand – it was like a river was sitting below it. It was lunch time so we rustled up a dry tuna roll each and headed on in to see some pyramids.
Abdul the camel jockey met us at the gate. We were hesitant to take a camel ride but when he told us the price and we realised we were the only ones in the area we both agreed that it was worth while. He met us around the back of one of the pyramids with his deaf and mute brother/ friend…not sue. Kirst was reading up on the history of the Meroe Pyramids in our Bradt Guide Book and Abdul noticed it. He slowly sidled over and asked if he could have a look. He seemed excited for some reason.
He looked at the front cover (which is a picture of two camel jockeys at the Meroe Pyramids) and said…”That is me”. Abdul had the enthusiasm of of child in a chocolate factory. He said again “That is me”. I smiled and thought yeah I bet he tells this to everyone but he soon confirmed with the ticket man at the gate that it actually was him. He was so excited and proud. He held onto that book, pressed it to his heart and asked to have his photo taken with it.
Kirst offered to rip off the front cover for him.
The pyramids were great and the camel ride was something to remember too but like lots of attractions in Africa, and for that matter the world, there are some stupid efin fools who try to stamp their mark in the history books. These pyramids were built 720 – 300 years before Christ. That’s 2300 – nearly 2700 years old.
There was graffiti on the sides of some of the close structures and rubbish filled some of the areas. I just can’t believe the scale of plastic waste pollution we have seen on this trip. I think all other countries should take a leaf out of Rwanda’s book and ban plastic bags. Next thing should be plastic bottles of water.
:: A very proud man
:: Hahahah he wanted that book in every picture we took. He kept asking Kirst to hold it up. Nice work for our supporters BRADT GUIDE BOOKS!
:: Abdul the camel jockey took this pic. He made a better camel guide than photographer 🙂
It was now time to go and find camp but not before Kirst helped support the local guys by purchasing a few of their junky bangles for sale. I don’t mind this way of giving because we don’t give to beggars and we don’t buy stuff off kids. So hopefully it goes to the guys who actually make a bit of coin from it.
Two children then came after us who had appeared from 10-kms away – we saw them on the side of the road earlier on – attempting to sell us their weaved plates. Given our personal decisions to not support child labour we knew we couldn’t buy any of it. It’s a long-term decision we take wherever we travel and we stand by it. But Kirst found it very difficult this time. It was 50 degrees and they wanted just a dollar for something incredible. She attempted to give them a little lesson in the sand. Some water. Some wafers. But it was very hard. A few tears might have been shed as we drove away. For them, it was probably just another day.
We left Meroe that afternoon. We had planned to camp the night there but the floods meant a change of plans.
One hundred easy kilometres west we were again stopped by water gushing across the road. This time though it looked a lot worse and we thought we might be parking up where we stopped. Dozens of cars, buses and trucks had stopped either side. People were too scared to cross.
We jumped out and were greeted by the men with big smiles and “Oostralya”. One man who could speak a little english told us that we would be fine. “Strong car. No problem” The sun was now dipping in the sky. We were both hungry and tired but this sparked us both up again. Kirst said immediately that we should walk it. So we did. A hundred metres or so across and it was knee deep with a whooshing current. Two hundred metres and it was over the knees with a fast whooshing current. Difficult to push our legs through. The drop off the side was probably a metre and a half, and the bottom was mostly sand with a bit of rubble. I was worried it was too fast so we both said we would can it.
Back again by the side of where our rig. The men smiled, and one that spoke English said “See no problem”. I thought “It wouldn’t be for him if we got swept off the f!!!ing road”. A copper turned up in a dual cab hilux and sidled up to the edge of the brown flowing water. He stopped and Kirst and I walked over to talk to him. He said he was going and it’s no problem with a strong car like ours. He went for it. He made it across with a few cheers and with renewed confidence we started the rig up and moved after him. In the middle I could feel the sideways pressure against the Troopy but we were holding strong. It was nerve wracking for both of us but once we could see the massive smiles on the mens faces on the other side we knew we were home. Sweet! I started to breathe again and Kirst grabbed my arm thankfully. The Troopy had water splashed onto its roof.
We met a bloke later that week in Wadi Halfa who recognised our rig, and us, and showed us a pic he had taken mid torrent. We shook hands, swapped pictures and then shared a tea.
It was a long, long day and we were both buggered. The first patch we could find that was suitable after the water crossing we parked up, cooked some dinner and went to bed. Not a soul in sight.
Getting into Sudan was easy enough. Read our next post about making our way out of the country.
As always thanks for being here guys. We love having you along with us in spirit.