Thursday 9 to Friday 10 June 2005, Khartoum

The start of our 7 days in Sudan.

Our friendly customs officerWe arrived at the border at 8am and left at 10am. Not bad going. The road to Gederef was not too bad, then we were on tar all the way through. We had planned on 2 days to Khartoum but ended up doing the trip in 1 day. The difference to Ethiopia was immediately apparent. Tractors were used for farming, in Ethiopia the ground we saw was far too rocky in most places for anything but oxen pulling ploughs. Plastic bags littered the countryside along with discarded tyres, truck wrecks, damaged cargo, dried up road kill and even some rusting planes. There was a hot, dry, dusty wind - ALL the time.

 We expected to spend Friday having Grom serviced. Of course Friday is the main religious day of the week for Muslims and Sudan is officially Muslim. The landrover agents were not open on Saturday either.

Huts near Gederef. The town consists of neatly laid out compounds similar to thisA herd of camels resting near the road

The Blue Nile Sailing Club allowed us to camp in their parking lot for a relatively expensive USD11 per night. Not ideal and the ablutions were being revamped, but we managed to sort out a few things. Pieter also repaired some broken windscreens for some pocket money.

I went on a sightseeing tour with the residents of the Acropole Hotel. We had contacted George from the hotel in our attempt to obtain a visa.


The Malik with Grom in the backgroundThe first port of call on the tour was the Blue Nile Sailing Club to see Kitchener's old gunboat, the Malik with which he subdued the Mahdi and recaptured Khartoum. It served as a floating clubhouse until a very high flood lifted it to its current position. It is now used as a storeroom. We also saw the mud fortifications in Omdurman (the twin town across the Nile) used by the Mahdi during the battle. They had no chance though as their weapons were inferior. Apparently the current leader of Sudan is a Mahdi, so they are still ruling the country despite that defeat.

For me the highlight was seeing the whirling dervishes. They are a sufi sect that chant every Friday evening outside the Hamed an-Nil Mosque. The dancing is not spectacular but the atmosphere generated by the chanting is. A circle is formed of any male who cares to join. Some are obviously in some sort of group as they wear green. There are leaders who, just like a sergeant major, encourages the men to chant louder and stronger and get more into the spirit of the chant. There is also the camera police, photos are not allowed apparently.     

Low technology wood saw, still used on palm tree trunks.  Hamed an-Nil Mosque  Part of the circle  A sergeant major

Empty beer glassSaturday 11 June 2005, near Dongola

 We left late as Pieter first went to see if Landrover was open. The road from Khartoum was tarred for most of the journey, but eventually the tar turned to gravel and we made camp. Sudan does not have alcohol, even so Pieter was given one illegal beer at the sailing club. The rest of the journey was dry though.

Sunday 12 June 2005, somewhere on the Nile

Today we went through Dongola and over the Nile by ferry. It was slightly organised chaos to load and unload the ferry, with passengers first, then cars reversed on, then the donkey carts and last minute passengers.

 Water jars in Dongola. Most houses provide water for travellers  Transport in towns. Donkeys or 3 wheel scooter taxiss  2 ladies who wanted their photo taken  The police at the ferry

Our ferry  Loading the ferry - donkey carts come last  On the ferry  Arriving at the other side 

A decorated minaret  A decorated entrance  Street in a small village View of a family compund

The road wound through many villages which are scattered along the river. Each village consisted of several family compounds laid out in an organised manner and a mosque. Many doors were carefully decorated as were the minarets. The houses in the compounds had flat roofs and quite a lot of shelter from the sun. Water was generally available in urns outside compounds. Some provided taps instead. But the water tended to be greenish, OK if you are used to it I guess.

Camping by the NileThe demise of the coneThe road gradually became atrocious. The corrugations were higher and wider apart than any others we have come across. We thought Namaqaland roads in SA were bad and at first decided these roads were on a par. Then the vibrations loosened the cone completely and it gracefully slid down onto the bonnet. Pieter had spent some time in Lalibela fixing the cone to the roof more strongly than ever before, but unfortunately it did not last. We thought about trying to save it, but ditched it at our overnight stop. Worse still the air-conditioning gave out. This in an area where there was very little life except really close to the Nile and the wind was hot well into the night. Everyone in Sudan seems to wear scarves and dresses of various designs, including the men. The dusty, hot, constant wind makes this a very sensible form of dress. The wind also ensures that the dust gets in everywhere. Grom is full of it and there is no way to keep anything clean.

Monday 13 June 2005, somewhere in the desert

We continued very slowly along the defined but terrible road. Off-road provided a much better option but you could end up getting bogged down in the soft sand. Pieter always managed to reverse out though. At least the forward motion kept us somewhat cool. There were the occasional other vehicles on the road, generally overcrowded. Broken down trucks were just left by the drivers. I assume they went to fetch parts and would come back later, in a day or three. Most repairs were done on the spot while passengers and cargo waited in the sun. There were very few trees in this section and except for the edge of the river it was desert with the beauty of a desert. We stopped for the night off the road and away from the various tracks. We knew we were close to Wadi Halfa but still a good few hours drive away at our current speed.

Overloaded bakkie  desert by the Nile  Desert by the Nile  Sunset obscured by the dust

Tuesday 14 to Wednesday 15 June 2005, Wadi Halfa

We arrived around lunch time and immediately set about finding the ticket office, immigration and customs. What a palaver! In the end we allowed a local agent to handle the details for us. They also got the run around and they do this for a living! Pieter decided he would stay with the car and go on the cargo barge on the Thursday. Our agent made sure that there would be no problem with his visa expiring before then. Only the driver was allowed on the cargo barge so I had to go on the passenger ferry on the Wednesday. My ticket was relatively easy to sort out.

I was looking for a decent place to wash the dirt out of my hair, body, clothes and hopefully Grom. This turned out to be impossible to find so we all had to stay filthy from our 3 days in the desert. Tuesday night we looked for a place to camp by Lake Nasser and ended up getting bogged down. Parts of the lake are silting up from the annual flood and the edges look solid but can be very soft. We only managed to get out with the help of 3 bus drivers and their metal sand ladders. We ended up inadvertently camping on the local dump without the benefit of even a wash as our water had run out and the local water was very green.

Buying diesel by the gallon  Donkey cart  Tea with Japanese backpackers  On my way

Wednesday 15 to Saturday 18 June 2005, Lake Nasser

Last minute passengers  The passenger ferry

Before the passenger ferry could leave the train from Khartoum had to arrive. Luckily it arrived about noon so it was all systems go. I had chosen 1st class as that meant a cabin with a bed and air-conditioning. I only found out on board that the 2nd class seated passengers also had air-conditioning, not that it would have made any difference to my choice.

The boat was to leave around 5pm. It ended up leaving at around 8 pm as although the train was in, some passengers still had to arrive by bus through the desert. Eventually we started off and once we were away from the shore I finally washed my hair and body in the washroom and climbed into bed. I froze during the night it was so cold. Apparently blankets were given out but I missed the distribution. I also got bitten alive by bedbugs / fleas. In the morning I bought breakfast. Breakfast was similar to dinner, beans, stew, flat bread and soft tomatoes, but I was hungry enough to eat it all. I am sure this caused all my subsequent trouble with diarrhea.

We arrived in Aswan, Egypt about 2pm. But first all the passengers had to have their passports stamped by immigration. This involved much pushing and shoving to enter the small cafeteria one side and exit the other with a stamped passport. I could see that the immigration officers were under a lot of strain even though other officials tried to keep some order inside the cafeteria. Then it was waiting again. There were 5 tourists on board and eventually we were singled out and allowed to leave the ferry. A few other passengers were also leaving, they probably knew someone, as the majority had to stay on board until everyone had been attended to.

The cargo barge

Just a few words in addition to what Ann wrote about the roads in Sudan: as she mentioned there are large tracks of tarred roads, then there are tracks and then there are tyre-marks in the sand. Hundreds of kilometers, without markings, no indications where the tracks lead to and generally, for me, rather frightening. There is no-one to ask for directions, there are no shady spots to stop and rest and the one we eventually found, opposite one of those domestic sites, spewed a woman who insisted she wanted to have two of our melamine plates. Yah well no fine!

Later in Halfa I learned that in the past people had died in the desert where they got lost. Frankly speaking I don't think we could have made the trip without GPS because, even without a map on it,  with Ann's pre-entered way-points we at least had a good idea what direction to choose.

And then came the struggle to get me and Grom on board of ------ what? But first I had to stay the night somewhere and was invited by our assistant, Younis, to stay at his place, where he organised a meal and a bed to sleep. His place was a spacious house surrounded by mud-walls,  comprising two sections: one for the men and one for the women.

In "his" section he had an open area with sand floor, a covered area with screed floor and a walled area he did not use. No furniture other than a coffee table, plastic chairs and beds, no carpets other than the one on which the coffee table was placed. No decorations, nothing. Tea and food were served by his youngest son. I was introduced to two other sons and an 18-year old daughter. The youngest, a little girl of about five, was the only one who kept us company, most of the time. We slept under the open sky and the next morning, after breakfast, a renewed attack on bureaucracy was launched to get me my ticket and get Grom on board. That took until about three o'clock, when I was finally escorted to the ferry(????) A little later I was joined by Wouter and Janneke whom we had met a few days earlier, traveling in a1980 Defender 109 military ambulance, bought in Holland with less than 25.000 km on the teller. I had been looking at the new gang-planks and was wondering if they could hold the three ton of our respective cars. Wouter was invited to go first and his ambulance almost toppled sideways when one of the gang-planks could not take the weight. The other gang-plank was a double one and the top one was now moved over the bent plank as can be seen on the picture. So now I had to cross over on two planks of equal, but obviously inadequate strength. There was no alternative: either go or stay behind. No-ways and so the front wheels rolled over the edge on to the gang-planks. A little further and I felt the rear-wheels get on the planks. And then I had to move fast, because it felt as if the rear of the car was hanging in rubber bands. Looking back after making it safely, the gang-planks were both at least 50cm lower in the middle than they had been before!

Younis  Mr Kameel, the Mr Fixit at Wadi Halfa  Wouter made ot onto the ferry 

The rest of the 38-hour trip with our narrow barge securely tied to a much bigger one, was fairly uneventful. We had a constant stream of hot water running over our barge where the cooling water of the bigger one was pumped out  That water was used for washing, and for making tea and coffee  as well! We arrived in Aswan at 8 am and it took us another day to get the car released into Egypt. Already in Halfa I had noticed an unpleasant noise coming from under the car, a noise that became more and more worrying when traveling to the next town: Idfu. That is where I contacted the Land Rover agent in Cairo, explained what I heard and was told to wait for a flatbed loader to bring us in. 900km of unpleasant circumstances, but that comes later.

There was no space to move  Sunrise on Lake Nasser  Leaving the big barge at Aswan

Averages Rand Dollar Dinar   BACK to Ethiopia NEXT to Egypt
Cost per litre diesel 2.21 0.34 85      
Kilometers per litre 8.8          
Camping per night  71.50 11.00 2750      
Kilometers traveled 1,903          
Days in country 7        


ferry costs 3,506.10 539.40 134,850