We arrived at the Ethiopia side of the border at about 4.15pm and were instantly set upon by a fixer who can help you with the process of crossing the border, now we have up until now never used a fixer but just blundered our way through each border crossing. However I had heard that this border could be quite confusing as well as very little if any English spoken. Knowing we were late in the day we accepted the fixers offer of 10 US dollars and within no time we were through to the Sudan side and also breezed through there until we needed our Carnet signed off but the man for the job had already gone home it seems, so someone had to be sent to get him back which took 20 minutes. Even with this hold up we were still finished and driving away by 4.30pm Sudan time so and hour and a quarter to get through was not bad!
We drove for 50 kilometres through a quite barren area with very few people or animals but on very pot holed roads and we knew why they were so pot holed. All the way up from Gonder we had been passing trucks with trailers going in the other direction carrying onions grown on the Nile River in Sudan so they had chopped up the road quite badly on the Sudan side. On iOverlander there was mention of a good wild camp site so we drove off the road at the spot and two hundred metres in off the road we found a great hidden and quiet spot to camp.
The only problem we could see was that it was on black cotton soil which is like a sponge when it rains and becomes nearly impossible to get out of but there was no sign of rain so all was good. We had a Gin and Tonic, then had dinner and read for a while under the stars before turning in. At around 3am we woke to the sound of thunder, lightening and the pitter patter of rain which started getting heavier, so we dragged our bums out of bed packed up and drove the 200 metres back out to the rode and decided just to sleep the last few hours in the car. We slept on and off for a couple of hours and then both woke at 5am and decided to drive off and have breakfast along the road. As we drove the area we were in started getting busier with people which made it very difficult to stop and have breakfast discretely, after all it was still Ramadan and the Muslim faith were not allowed to eat between sunrise and sunset so we didn’t want to disrespect them by eating in front of them. So we made a couple of vegemite rolls and ate them in the car as we drove along being mindful not to be seen eating! The kilometres started ticking away and we ended up driving straight through to Khartoum. As we came closer and closer to Khartoum we started seeing more and more Sudan Army vehicles and personnel but thought it was just a precaution because of the recent overthrowing of the countries President Omar al Bashir. When you cross the border into Sudan not only do you have to have your visa prior to getting there but you are then given three days to register as a Foreign Visitor and we could only do this in Khartoum so the first thing we did was to go to the airport to do this. It was in a building that was not marked and it took us quite a lot of walking around in 45c heat, asking a lot of people how to find it and again we know no Arabic and not many of the Sudanese no any English. Eventually we got the registration done and thought we would pop into the International arrivals lounge to grab a bite to eat and a drink but no it’s Ramadan and no one eats during the day. While we there we changed some US currency for some Sudan pounds and also picked up phone sim cards for our mobile phones. Then we went in search of the Blue Nile Sailing Club, the only option in Khartoum where you can camp but try as we might we just couldn’t get anywhere near it because the army had blockades on every corner and eventually one of the soldiers who knew minimal English told us”no it’s full you can’t go”. Still thinking that it was probably due to a security reasons we ended up booking into the Regency Hotel (it sounds grand, it ain’t!) and enjoyed some lovely air conditioning for the night. Our plan the next day was to get the Land Cruiser serviced at the Toyota dealership and then while we waited go and have a look at the museum. However at 5am on the Monday morning we were woken by a hell of a lot of rapid gunfire from what sounded like assault rifles as well as bigger caliber machine guns. It continued for around one hour and looking out of the window of the third story in the hotel we could see civilian protesters running everywhere being pursued by soldiers from the Rapid Response Group and another group, who we think were the police who wielded big sticks and whips which they used to just lay into anyone they got close enough too. It seemed to us to be a far too excessive use of power on the protesters who clearly had no weapons at all and were not fighting back.
These skirmishes continued for most of the day and the hotel strongly advised us to stay inside the hotel and suggested that we would more than likely have to stay a few days until everything settled down. It was quite a scary day with utter chaos going on outside but we felt safe inside the hotel. The hotel manager on second night told us that there was a good chance that things could escalate over the next few days so we decided that we should try to get out of the city early on Tuesday morning but again at around 5.15am there was sustained automatic gunfire not too far from the hotel which we captured on video 👈 see here, from our room by holding the phone up above the window sill but keeping low ourselves knowing that if caught we would have been in a lot of trouble. For the next two hours all went quiet again so we took the opportunity to go out and see if we could get out thinking that neither the army or the protestors had a beef with us. So we drove very slowly down towards the bridge to get over onto the north side and this was where a very big contingent of the army was stationed so all the streets were quiet and all the soldiers were giving us a smile and a wave. How easy is this then we thought, that is until we left the bridge and came across the protesters who had put up blockades made of rocks, bricks, pavers, trees, lamp posts, signs and just about anything they could get their hands on really. We managed to get past a few but then we were completely blocked so thought we should turn off the main road and try some of the back streets which went well for a while but then again we were prevented from continuing. The protesters were also very friendly and even tried to help us find a way through but after three hours and only having made it five kilometres from the hotel we realised that it was fruitless. By this stage we were a bit lost and ended up crossing back over the river on a different bridge but were blocked from going any further by the army so had to back track again and eventually made it back to the hotel. Our biggest fear in all this was not the army or the protesters who both were super friendly but the fear of being involved in a crossfire situation but all was good. At one stage we came around the corner of a road to run into an army blockade and they were very nervous as they anxiously looked up at the awning on the side of the Land Cruiser which closely resembles a mounted gun barrel! We also on our return stumbled on a service station that had diesel, most don’t and so we took the opportunity to fill our tank. Here is a video of part of our failed attempt to get out of Khartoum.
The hotel staff were very happy to see us back and upgraded us to a better room but often in Africa an upgraded room is not always better and this was the case here! The internet whether by wifi or mobile signal had been getting shutdown off and on but that night we got the MacBook Pro out and opened up Google maps and put it on Satellite view with the plan of finding a way through some of the quieter back streets. Well blow me down there on the map was a green belt of farming only about 200 metres wide running all along the Nile River which had small tracks running through it even through the CBD area of Khartoum. All we had to do was get over the bridge and get down into this farming area and navigate through this until we got out of Khartoum. Wednesday was also the last day of Ramadan so we though it might be a bit quieter but no, we were woken again at 5am by the longest and most intense gunfire we had heard or seen so decided to wait and see what would happen. By this stage all access to the internet by wifi or mobile was down completely so we weren’t able to find out what was happening but again it went very quiet for a couple of hours so we made our move. Again as we drove through the streets the army waved, smiled and sung out “how are you, I’m fine” but it is amazing to see how young most of them were and we wondered just how well trained they were. Getting over the bridge was easy but this time we could here quite a bit of gunfire from not too far away so we were feeling slightly anxious. We then turned to the left and navigated our way through some blockades and eventually came out into the farming area along the Nile River and started following tracks along. After about ten kilometres we came to a section where we had to come back up to the main road but were successful in getting through more blockades until we had cleared the city outskirts. From there it was smooth sailing, only coming across blockades in the bigger towns and cities which were easy to navigate around. Right up to the border of Sudan and Egypt there was evidence of blockades in all towns so this action was nation wide and our hearts go out to the Sudanese people who are by far the most friendly of any Africans we have come across and just want to have a free and fair election, not the rigged one that the Army is offering. The last information we had heard before the internet was turned off was that there had been at least 60 deaths and many more injuries sustained by the unarmed civilian protesters.
Not wanting to miss out on all that Sudan had to offer but also mindful of the fact that events could escalate we picked a handful of places we wanted to visit on our journey north. Sudan is a country made up of a huge, arid and extremely hot desert with a very narrow strip of green fertile farming land running alongside the Nile River and the main road through Sudan runs along this river. All of the main attractions are also along the Nile River so it’s easy to see them all as you drive North. Our first stop was at the Temple of Amun dating from the 1st century AD. It was a 30 kilometre deviation off the main road and obviously not visited by many because we had difficulty following the track and a few times needed to go cross country to find it again. When we arrived it was blisteringly hot and we wandered around the fenced perimeter for 10 minutes trying to find a way in when a young man of about 18 resplendent with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder appeared. He didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Arabic so through sign language we got by. It was very worthwhile as it is in quite good condition for its age and one could only imagine how grand it would have been back in its heyday.
As we were to make our way back out to the main road we noticed a brand new tar road and wondered if indeed it went back out to the main road and if in fact it replaced the little track we had come in on. It certainly was and was obviously so new that they still hadn’t even put up a sign at the turn off from the main road!
We then continued on to the Meroe Pyramids and by the time we reached them at 1.00pm it was 43c but went straight up to have a look around. Part of the Kingdom of Kush which was ruled by the Nubian Kings, known as the Black Pharaohs between 592BC and AD 350. Many or most of the pyramids have their tops missing due to an Italian archaeologist who in search of treasure took the easy option of blowing the tops off, what was he thinking?
It was also sad to see all the graffiti carved into the sandstone blocks, mostly names and dates. I have never understood this, I mean who gives a shit Bob if you have visited back in 1970. It is hard to really emphasis just how hot it really is here, it is an incredibly dry heat and we have been drinking a huge amount of water and yet still we are getting dehydrated. We had spent a good couple of hours looking over the pyramids and had failed to take any water with us so we were both very hot and dehydrated when we finished at 3pm. We drove around behind a hill 200 metres from the pyramids and camped the night which was quite uncomfortable with a minimum that night of only 33 celcius.
After dinner of 2 minute noodles and tuna (all we could be bothered cooking) Pauline complained of feeling quite ill and ended up throwing up her noodles, we could only put it down to heat exhaustion because after that she was fine. We make a point of not going out into the Australian deserts in summer and yet here we were blundering through the Sudan desert in the middle of the hottest period, what were we thinking! Marcus was up at 4.45am the next morning and took the camera up over the sand dunes to the pyramids to take some early morning photos however the light was not great but at that time of the morning it was really quiet and eerie.
Back at camp and we had just put the kettle on for a cup of tea and a man turned up on his camel and asked if we wanted a ride. It was still only 6am but Pauline had never ridden a camel so for 100 Sudanese pound ($3.16) she went off for a short ride and we got some great photos. Marcus ended up taking a liking to the camel riders whip and ended up negotiating to buy it from him!
After breakfast of some scrumptious mangoes and battling some strong winds that had come out of no where blowing sand into every part of the Land Cruiser we set off to see how far we would get. Still concerned that the Sudan Army may close the borders again we needed to make some kilometres up. We drove for a few hours before stopping in a town to have a coffee which here is made like a Turkish coffee and very nice indeed.
Then next door we bought some fresh bread rolls straight out of the oven and across the road a couple of caps that the men wear here!
Shopping spree complete we were back on the road and decided to drive towards the border until near dusk so that we could make the most of the aircon in the Land Cruiser which works very well we might say! Just before dusk we pulled off the road in an area that is just rock and more rock, where no one lives but it was a good place to camp. Again it was so hot we opted to have 2 minute noodles and tuna because the thought of cooking anything more substantial didn’t do it for us. Pauline made up a fruit salad of mangos, oranges and apples for breakfast the next morning and we hit the sack quite early for what was a restless sweaty sleep!
Up at 5.10am the next morning and we had our breakfast of fruit salad and toasted bread with marmalade before setting off for the border. Along the way we stopped for a coffee at a roadside stop and as we entered the tent Pauline realised that there were no women inside so we asked if it was ok for her to come in and it was. The coffee here was made with a spoonful of cardamon in it which was very nice for a change. We set off again and had the lunch that Pauline had made at breakfast time, in the car as we drove along just so that we wouldn’t have to get out into the heat of the day. We still didn’t have any mobile data and were wondering if it was just that we had been sold a sim that only works in Khartoum because that was the case we had come across when in Addis Ababa. We couldn’t even call in to a MTN carrier store to find out because at the end of Ramadan there is a three day holiday where virtually every business closes. We arrived in Wadi Halfa the Sudan town nearest the Egyptian border at 1pm but again being a holiday the border would not be open until the next day so found the recommended hotel on iOverlander but it too was closed! The crossing of the border between Sudan and Egypt is the one border crossing where you are plain mad if you don’t use a fixer so I rang the fixer we had arranged to use to see if he could recommend a hotel and he booked us into one just around the corner. It had two single beds, a cold shower, a flushing toilet that wouldn’t flush and most importantly an evaporative cooler all for the sum of 300 Sudanese pounds or $9.50.
We spent the afternoon in the room staying cool while writing the blog and reading our books. Most businesses in Sudan close between 2pm and 5pm so just before 5pm we went out to find some diesel which is really hard to find in Sudan but we were told that there was no diesel in Wadi Halfa which meant that we would not have enough to carry on. A man came up to me and offered to sell some to me on the black market but this often means dirty adulterated fuel and not worth the risk. So I decided to call Mazur the Fixer again and he said to definitely not use the black market diesel but that he would find some for me. He rang back and told me to go to a service station who had told me that they had none and to wait there. We did this and eventually we think the owner turned up and asked how much I wanted, I told him 70 litres would get me to Aswan in Egypt and he sold me this amount for $11.43 Australian! We then went back into town and found a cafe selling a dish which included Fava beans, onions, parsley, garlic and lime juice all mixed together and served with the flat breads they make here, cost 89 cents for the two of us and it was delicious dinner!