SUDAN - IN TO THE SANDY ABYSS

Prior to the start of our Cape to Cairo expedition, we spoke to many people about our intentions.  Outside of a few individuals (primarily those who recently saw Hotel Rwanda), everyone seemed most concerned that we would be visiting Sudan.  Naturally, people hear about the civil war that has been taking place since the 1950's and they become concerned.  However, during our trip we have heard nothing but good things about Sudan and its people.  In fact, after 2 weeks in Ethiopia everyone was looking forward to saying goodbye to the constant harassing and staring, and moving into the promised peace and quiet of the Sudan.

Unfortunately, before entering the Sudan, we first had to go through all the associated formalities - in particular, the border crossing.  On reaching the border, we learned exactly how expensive it can be to enter Sudan as a tourist.  Here's a rundown

Letter of Reference from Canadian Embassy = $42 / person
Visa for Sudan = $61 / person
Processing Fee = $42 / person

So between the four of us it cost nearly $600 to simply enter the country.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that you must pay the processing fee at the border in Sudanese dinar.  Unfortunately, the money-changers that work the area around the border know about this challenge and as such are less than agreeable - especially when you aren't sure what the going exchange rate is (it's approx. 230SD to US$ 1 by the way).

Except for the changing of money, and the many formalities at the border, everything ran smoothly and we headed out into the heat of the Sudanese desert towards our bushcamp.

It is hot in Sudan. Very hot.  Uncomfortably hot.

To be frank, we were not prepared for the heat since we had just spent the last 2 weeks in the highlands of Ethiopia where the weather is very comfortable.

We arrived (sweaty and dusty) after the rough road from Gallabat towards Gederef.  We camped just before Gederef in the desert.  Shortly after arriving we were greeted by our first local nomad passing through on his trusty camel.  Despite the language barrier he was happy to pose for pictures in return for two bottles of fresh water (which he communicated by pointing and waving his sword).  It was a fair trade and we were able to get some decent pictures.

After a hot evening, but a pleasant sleep, we were back on the road to Khartoum.  In Gederef the road becomes paved and we all were happy to be off the rough roads.  On the flip side, since the road is one of the only paved roads (and the artery between Khartoum and Port Sudan) it is very busy and slow going.  Not to mention that your progress is frequently interrupted by police roadblocks where you are forced to re-register your passport.

Arriving in Khartoum we made camp at the highly recommended Blue Nile Sailing Club, where we could have showers and re-hydrate with some cold drinks.  As you might expect, the Sailing Club is located on the shores of the Blue Nile just upstream from where it intersects with the White Nile to become the Greater Nile.  The Sailing Club is also home to a gunship famous for being a few days late to rescue General Gordon from the famous Khartoum Siege in the 1890s.  Had the ship been a few days earlier, it may have been able to help save Gordon from his execution at the hands of the Mahdi.

We spent a quiet evening camping on the grounds of the club, enjoying a fantastic meal of hotdogs and fries (a la Wimpie) made over the campfire, and watching a DVD.

The next morning was a working morning and Mike, Matt and Cathy tagged along with Wimpie for his trip to the train station to by the tickets for the ferry for the rest of the African Routes group.  Shannon stayed behind to guard our belongings and keep the local Blue Nile Sailing Club cat company.

The morning turned out to be a little bit of a bust for us as we were not able to book our tickets for the Khartoum to Wadi Halfa train a week in advance.  That meant we run the risk of not getting the sought after sleeper cabin for the 36 hour train ride to Wadi Halfa and the 18 hour ferry to Aswan.  Wimpie was able to sort out his tickets after a short stop off at the bank and the market.

The rest of the afternoon was significantly more productive as we found a shwarma place and a western style shopping mall (with 2-ply toilet paper).  After a short shopping stop Mike and Cathy went to the hospital for Mike to get his next (fifth) rabies vaccination and Matt stayed behind to help Wimpie fix the clutch on the African Routes truck before we all met back at the Sailing Club for more cold drinks and relaxation by the river.

Our last evening with the African Routes group was spent wandering Khartoum where we enjoyed an excellent fast food shwarma and fruit juice meal (Matt and Mike's fourth shwarma of the day!) before venturing into the market for some clothes shopping.

We said goodbye to African Routes early the next morning before checking in to the Sahara Hotel for one night before flying to Dubia (via Addis Ababa) for the rugby.

We have enjoyed our first visit to Sudan very much.  The people have lived up to their billing.  They are very friendly and, although it is difficult to find people who speak English, they are always willing to help.  It is quite amazing how much different it is from western perceptions (including our own).  Khartoum is probably the safest city we've visited in Africa and it is accompanied by some of the nicest outgoing people.

For example: in Ethiopia every single person we came across had their hand out for some money.  In Sudan, it is virtually impossible to "pay" a person for their assistance and begging is almost non-existent.  Everything in Sudan is offered as a courtesy - from the translators in the market, to the ladies who offered Mike and Cathy directions to the hospital, to the pharmacist who called ahead to arrange Mike's vaccination, to the staff at the Blue Nile Sailing Club.  It has been a true pleasure.