15. This Is Africa (TIA)
“So, you can either go back to Saudi to get an approval for your car, or wait here in the harbor for 4 nights and we will arrange approval”. It’s Wednesday 17:00. This morning 08:30 we arrived – after a 12 hour ferry- in the harbor of Suakin, Sudan. The status end of day: we are allowed into the country, but our car is not. According to the Customs officials, we need an additional approval to import our car. Three men help us out that day, debating with customs, running around, talking to unidentified other persons, etcetera. We’re not sure if they are fixers or harbor officials, but it’s nice that they help us out. Or at least, try to. Because at 17:00 our car is still behind the fence. We’re tired and get upset now; we don’t want to go back to Saudi nor want to stay in the harbor. Finally, at 17:55 a Customs official invites us in his office, makes an exception for us and gives us the papers and stamps we need. We still don’t understand what was wrong but hey- TIA (This Is Africa). We thank the Customs official a thousand times and with huge smiles on our face we drive into Sudan- literally screaming of joy.
Other than in the previous countries, we now have a time schedule/ planning in Sudan. Max’ sisters are visiting from the Netherlands, so we have a few days to drive to Khartoum to meet them there. The drive towards Khartoum gives us a chance to get a first glance of Sudan. One thing that (again, as in most other countries) we notice is the kindness of the people. At a first encounter, many of the Sudani look at us as if we are aliens. But when we smile, we receive large, big white smiles in return. “Sank you Sank you” they yell, or “Helloooo, welcome”. Furthermore, we see a desert landscape with small villages with mud houses, self made tents, lot’s of garbage alongside the road and donkeys carrying food or wood. It’s a complete different world after a few months Middle East. What is also different, is the shortage of diesel in Sudan. Already for quite a while there is a shortage of gasoline and diesel, which results in endless long lines before the gas stations. Some people even wait overnight. It’s a huge problem, and the black market seems to offer a quick escape. Alongside the road, small shops (secretly) sell diesel. But this – obviously- comes with a high price.
Khartoum feels like a big village- not like the huge capitals we’ve seen so far. Only a few high buildings, many buzzling streets with little markets and the Nile meandering through like a calm, steady flow, taking care of the city (the water of the Nile is used everywhere; from drinking water in shared big cans at restaurants to the many small tabs alongside the road where people wash their feet). The vibe in Khartoum is busy but relaxt; there are many people on the street, we have many small chats, but we can also just sit down, watch our surroundings and enjoy a drink. In daytime we see women with headscarfs, in the evening we see young girls with European- style clothings. It’s an interesting mix in this Islamic country.
At Sunday night we pick up Max’ sisters – Marlou and Meggie- from Khartoum airport. It’s super nice to hug family (in law) again! We’ve planned 10 days traveling together, where Max’s sisters will have their own car and a driver- a group of 5. But, TIA: when we meet the driver he does not speak any word English. So last minute an English speaking guide is arranged and we leave Khartoum- 2 cars, 6 people. Our guide- Mohamed- has set up an 8 day program: heading North from Khartoum, crossing the Nile a few times and then back South. From day 1 we step into Sudan history, where we learn about the original Sudani- the Nubians-, the Egyptian invasion and Christianity in Sudan. We visit the oldest city in the world- Kerma, where they show the start of civilization in a very interesting museum. Small pieces of jewelry and kitchen ‘tools’ are shown, some 8000 year old (!). We visit sights where foreign universities and/or historical institutes excavate churches from Christian sights. We see archeologists at work, brining history to life with recovering stunning wall paintings, many of them well kept. We visit pyramids and tombs and watch the early morning sunrise on a beautiful Egyptian temple in Soleb. One of the most special aspects about the sights is that they are far from touristic- there are no fences, you can freely walk around (literally stepping on dunes that cover pyramids still to be excavated) and there are hardly any other tourists.
The Sudani we meet are kind, curious and welcoming. They do not have much -we can clearly see poverty at some (most) places- but they seem to be able to take care of each other and themselves on a (very) basic level and keep a good spirit. We drink many tea’s at the typical Sudani tea spots; small places where women serve tea and coffee for 10 eurocent from behind their little ‘desk’ and we stroll around market places. It’s a full program (especially after 5 months without having any program) and in the beginning we surely have to adjust with camping with 6 people (in stead of 5 months being just with 2), but it’s definitely rewarding. Unfortunately on the last day on the road, Marlou brakes her ankle while playing soccer with some kids- so the last 24 hour of our time together in Sudan is mainly spent in the hospital and hotel. Luckily they can still catch their planned flight and surgery can be done in Holland. Nevertheless we all look back on a very special Sudani 10 days.
Our last days in Khartoum we enjoy city life with a few hours of sailing on the Nile, we visit a local Friday prayer (Whirling Deverish) and have dinner with some fellow overlanders. We also try three times to visit the National Museum but it’s closed because of no electricity- TIA. We close our Sudan adventure with a visit to a huge farm near the border with Ethiopia. We were introduced to the owner of the farm in our Khartoum hotel, where he got us excited with his stories. It’s quite a ride to get there, we get lost several times, drive trough very small villages where we are thrown back in time, people stare at us and ask for water and we make wrong turns in the middle of agriculture fields (where Max steps out of the car to check the road, gives an enormous scream, jumps in the air, runs to the car and only can say: SNAKE, SNAKE, a big brown SNAKE). Right before dark we arrive at the farm, are welcomed by the owner and enjoy a shower and a good sleep. The next day we get a full tour on the farm- it’s harvesting season and we see how soja beans, water melons and cotton are harvested. The farm has 2500 people working on the fields, making sure the products are harvested in time, so the land can be prepared for seeding again before raining season starts. For harvesting cotton, the farm hires many of the workers in Ethiopia: they are picked up at the boarder, sometimes bring their whole family, their sheeps and donkeys and sleep in self made huts on the land. They work for a whole month, sometimes 20 hour a day (!), to be able to make some money to bring back home (unfortunately Ethiopia has a high rate of unemployment).
The next morning we drive towards Ethiopia. Again we get lost a few times and we get instructions from locals: keep on the left side of the mountain, which is actually quite a broad range (“How do we get to Ethiopia?” “Sopia? Ahhhh Sopia! Yes yes Sopia nice, you go left from the mountain!), but after 5 hours we see the border. Our Ethiopian adventure is about to start.
Nb: at the moment of writing we are at a camp site at Lake Tana in the East of Ethiopia (Sopia). As aspected, the Corona virus has found Africa including Ethiopia as well. It’s quite an exciting time, because borders are closing; i.e. Kenya (our next country) has now closed its borders for a month. It’s been an interesting (and not always fun) first Ethiopian 4 days because of this news, where we’ve discussed different scenarios. For now, we decided to stay here – we’ve met a nice Dutch couple and plan to travel together for a while- of course we will be careful with hygiene and take notice of important changes. For our readers; take care wherever you are, we hope you all are and remain healthy.