Back at the Egyptian border post what we thought was going to be a simple task off just getting our passports stamped by immigration turned into a three hour fiasco. We had to hand our passports in at the entry gate and were told to wait but after an hour we checked and were then taken to a higher ranked immigration officer who told our fixer that all would be ok. So another hour goes by and I check with our fixer Mohamed (useless, inexperienced or both) again and this time it was the Commander of the border post who wanted to see us who then informed me that we would have to pay for the twelve days storage of the Land Cruiser😳. At this stage I was no longer able to contain my rage so you can only imagine what I told him, which was not easy because all the time our conversation was being interpreted by Mohamed. There was more talk between the boss and our fixer and then the boss dismissed us with a simple wave of his hand not even looking in my direction. Outside I asked Mohamed what he had said and he said that I had put my point across very well because the Commander had withdrawn the storage charges!😃 We were then given our passports back and told to proceed but at the exit gate we were stopped again because we didn’t have the necessary paperwork completed, which by the way we were paying Mohamed the fixer to get done. So I then had to go back and find Mohamed and get him to sort things out which took another hour, so three hours in total. We were then let out of Egypt after our car had been held there for twelve long days. No Mans Land in between the Egypt and Sudan borders is about 300 metres wide and was chock full of trucks waiting to get through which apparently can take 24 hours as they filter them through a few trucks at a time. We however were able to go straight to the Sudan gate where we handed in our passports and carnet only to be told that because our car was denied entry to Egypt that to return to Sudan we would need a letter from the Egyptian Customs stating that it had been denied entry. So we were told we would have to wait in No Mans Land while they sorted it out, keeping in mind that it was now about 2pm and also the hottest day we had had so far at 47c. While waiting two hours we had a chat to some of the truckies, or should I say we communicated by sign language. One of them was a bit of a character so I gave him a pair of my spare sunglasses which he was delighted with!
Eventually after two hours sitting out in the 47 degree heat our Sudan fixer Mazar who is an excellent operator got us inside the Sudan border post and then in an hour had us processed through the system and out into Sudan proper. That was one very big day starting by waking at 2.30 am in Aswan and finally getting through the border at 5pm. This last few weeks dealing with the Egyptian and Sudanese bureaucracy has been very challenging to say the least. We were also still faced with the problem of having next to no diesel in our tank and all the fuel stations I went to in town had none. So I again reached out to Mazar and asked him if he could find us a source because otherwise we were stuck in Wadi Halfa indefinitely. Two hours went past and eventually Mazar rang at 8pm and asked me to pick him up from his house and then he took me to the only service station in town that had diesel and was opening for one hour only to fill a few buses but would sell us some diesel as well. It was an eerie experience because the service station was some kilometres out of town, it was already very dark and there was not one light on or a single person around when we pulled in. However within ten minutes around 10 buses and trucks pulled in and then the manager turned up to pump the fuel. We ended up being sold 80 liters which was not a full tank but was better than nothing. Diesel in Sudan is in incredibly short supply and most service stations don’t like selling it to anyone other than regular customers and if they do the customers get quite irate. We were prepared to pay extra for the fuel but the manager still only charged me the normal price of 13 cents a litre! I calculated that with this fuel we would be able to get 3/4’s of the way to Port Sudan.
We were up early the next morning because we wanted to do the 1,500 kilometres in two days so needed to use the whole day however when we got to the front door of the hotel we found it locked with a padlock and no other way out (great if there was a fire😳). Eventually someone woke up and let us out and away we went. To conserve fuel we set the cruise control at 90 kilometres an hour and just kept driving all day until we reached Atbara after 900 kilometres of very easy driving on good roads with very little traffic, most likely because it was Saturday which is a holiday. We had sand being blown across the road for most of the day and it was a very desolate area with not a whole lot to see.
As we came into Atbara we spotted a service station but it had no vehicles so thought it would have no diesel but stopped in to check anyway. We would only need about thirty litres to allow us enough to get to Port Sudan and were lucky because yes they had diesel. Once at the hotel we were staying at I took the two full jerry cans that we had been keeping for an emergency down off the roof and poured the contents into the cars tank because we couldn’t ship with them still full. The hotel didn’t have a restaurant so we went down the street and found a restaurant that was busy(always a good sign) and ordered two chicken shawarmas and two fresh mango juices that turned out to be watermelon juice! While there we got talking to a fourteen year old girl who lives in Port Sudan but was up on school holidays visiting her grandparents. She was a lovely girl who spoke very good english and delighted in talking to us in this language. The next morning we were again up at 5am and set off without breakfast but only got to the outskirts of town when we spotted a street side chai house so stopped and had the most delicious chai and donuts for breakfast!
Again we set the cruise control at 90kph and by 2pm we were entering Port Sudan on a road that runs up beside the Red Sea.
We checked into the Baasher Palace Hotel which was about a three star hotel with clean rooms and great aircon but a shower which had terrible pressure so much so that you had to run around under the shower to get wet. Next we called Alaa Osman the General Manager of the Darka Group who we had been communicating by email with and would ship our car to Europe for us. We organised to see him in the morning but he also insisted on sending a driver over with 2,000 sudanese pounds to help get us through because you can’t get money out at ATM’s in Sudan and can only exchange US dollars for the local currency. Not bad considering at this stage he had not even met us but that’s the sort of trusting man he is. One of the first things we had to do was find the Police Station so that we could register ourselves as Aliens which needed to be done within 48 hours of entering Sudan.
That night we had dinner in the restaurant but it was not great nor was breakfast the next morning so we made a mental note of trying a couple of other cafes on the street. We met with Alaa the next morning and had an instant good feel about him, he is a very tall man but had a very gentle nature.
When he was eight years old he is father died followed by his mother when he was twelve, he was then taken in by his Aunt for a year and then his Uncle for a year but then was sent to boarding school. Then the boarding school closed down and he was out on the street all on his own but a friends father took him in and treated him like a son until he left school. Alaa then went to Slovenia and studied to be a Marine Engineer and while there met his future wife. He then moved back to Sudan and worked on ships for a few years before he started missing his family too much, quit his job and started his own business. These days his company The Darka Group has offices in Port Sudan, Khartoum, Mombasa, Cairo and quite possibly others that i can’t remember. His company has grown steadily over the years and now is a very successful business and his son is taking more control as Alaa slows down a bit. Anyway he set about straight away organising the paperwork and sorting out a place to get the car cleaned in readiness to ship it.
That night we walked down the very busy street with food places both sides and ended up picking a place making Fulafel and salad wraps which were delicious. The next morning Pauline stayed back at the hotel that incidentally Alaa had secured for us at the locals rate, while I was taken to the car wash place and waited in the baking sun while the lads there did a great job of cleaning it. Alaa had managed to get all the paperwork done and then suggested that we go out to dinner with him that night. He took us down to the waterfront were we sat in an open air cafe and dined on BBQ lamb and deep fried potatoes which was delicious. Then the next day around 11am we were called down to Alaa’s office and with his driver drove out to the wharfs were we then had to let the driver take our car into the shipping area as we were not allowed entry. Talk about trusting, here we were leaving our car in the hands of a grinning African not really knowing just where he was taking it or whether we would ever see it again!
Then we were taken out to the Port Sudan International Airport to fly to Khartoum and with any luck get another flight from there to Rome. We had a five hour lay over in Khartoum so Alaa had organised one of his workers to pick us up and take us to a very nice restaurant before returning us to the airport. Once again a very kind gesture from a very kind man. As we lifted off from Khartoum airport we felt the weight lift off our shoulders as we came to the realisation that we were finally leaving the troubles of Sudan behind. We had a short lay over at Cairo airport then before boarding our flight to Rome, Italy dreaming of pizza, pasta and wine!
Thank you Africa it has been a year that we will always look back on with great memories and our love for Africa has grown so much more.