Sudan declared its independence from the UK in 1956, but now a new kind of (semi) colonialism is kicking in, in the form of the Chinese. In return for a stake in the countries rich oil resources, the Chinese have deployed foremen to every corner of Sudan to build the most beautiful tar roads, even to the most remote areas. It’s just as well too, because after losing a week, we were in a rush to meet Ali in Ethiopia, so had to cross Sudan in 5 days. It was even more helpful for the crazy Chinese guys we met who despite speaking only about 5 words of English (and presumably zero Swahili etc) were trying to make it down to Cape Town in 20 days. One of them had previously done the Dakar rally and seemed to drive at 120km/h + at all times but even so… We think (not entirely clear due to language challenges) that they are trying to write some sort of Chinese Lonely Planet for overlanders – having already done China to Europe they were heading down Africa to catch a boat to Buenos Aires and then up South America. I’m hoping my Turkey / Egypt crossing description may feature.
|Getting the car off the barge – having removed various items of furniture and baggage from on top|
Even in a week, Sudan definitely made a big impression on us. I think because most of the news stories about Sudan tend to feature the Islamic fundamentalism of the government fairly heavily I was expecting somewhere that looked like Saudi with everyone very covered up in dark clothes. Pretty much the opposite seems to be true, with the men dressed in shining white galibeyahs and the women in a seemingly never ending variety of brightly coloured dresses. Given the amount of orange dust everywhere (particularly on us) we were amazed at how everybody managed to keep their clothes so clean. We think they must have some kind of super-soap – one of the other overlanders was made to do her laundry again with local soap by some of the women as they said her original effort was ‘not clean’! As well as their laundry prowess, the Sudanese – at least in the north east where we travelled – are clearly pretty tough cookies. The climate seemed to alternate between extremely hot and windy during the day and extremely cold and windy during the night.
|Enjoying the scorching African heat|
The northern part of our drive switched between tracking the Nile southwards alongside palm groves and Nubian houses and some serious desert crossings. The Beast felt pretty at home given than pretty much every vehicle on the road was a Toyota 4×4 – you can feel the oil money and heavy NGO presence.
We visited some of the country’s deserted archeological sites, which do take a nice photo…
…as well as driving off road into the desert to pick out some of the most amazing wild camp sites…
(or so we thought in Meroe, until we were discovered at 8am by a bloke on a camel, who rapidly started trying to sell us some Sudanese knives)
…and getting chance to meet some of the lovely Sudanese people who were constantly keen to feed us. We couldn’t have felt safer or more welcome. The irony is that this was the country I worried about the most when I was at home, but is probably the safest we’ll go to.
After crossing the desert we landed in Khartoum to sample some of the ridiculous ex-pat luxuries flown in for the plethora of NGO and UN workers in town – a very expensive chocolate Santa was our weak moment. Khartoum is strangely fragmented (even more than most African cities) into a local area and then a swankier government /business / expat area, with camel markets on one side of the river and skyscrapers on the other. The Omduran area looks pretty much how you expect if you’ve seen ‘Khartoum’ or read Michael Asher’s book, even though it was only built after the Mahdi’s conquest of the city. We couldn’t see anything left of the ramparts etc amongst the more developed business district although apparently Kitchener’s steamboat is still around somewhere.
We bumped into some of the same overlanders we’d met in Egypt: two English boys on their gap year (definitely don’t think i’d have been this brave/organised at 18), a couple of German boys, Louie – a Dutch guy who does the trip a couple of times a year and Anneke and Flores-Jan, a retired Dutch couple. We headed for the border with Anneke and Flores-Jan, which was two days of hard driving but with the most amazingly changing landscape. Near Khartoum was still desert but you could immediately see when you entered the area more to the south east where they have a bit of rain – Huts with a roof! Crops! Cows! Still camels though, but now mainly being used for goat herding. (Incidentally, we’d heard Sudanese camels are the best in the world. We didn’t think you’d be able to tell but you really can – they’re beautiful compared to the scraggy beasts we’d come across in other countries!).
|The farmer didn’t seem to object|
Our Christmas Eve crossing into Ethiopia plunged us into a tropical area with palm trees and humid mid-day sun, but by mid-afternoon we were high in the mountains in a full on rainstorm.
By tea time we had made it to Gondar where, miraculously, we rocked up at the hostel where we had arranged to meet Ali, with little comms over the previous week, and he was there! Mission complete just in time for Christmas.