This is part of the twelfth section of our around the
Complete Trip Overview & Map
Coming from Saudi Arabia
7/2/06 Most of the personal luggage was held on the vehicle deck, but at 7 am it was difficult to walk to the restaurant between sleeping bodies. The crossing was calm, a gentle roll, was also longer than the 13 hours reported and it wasn't till 3 pm that we could see the port of Suakin, an hour's ride south of Port Sudan. We were helped and guided off the boat amid a flurry of people trying to locate their luggage. Immigration was efficient but requested 10,500 dinars ($US 46.00) each to register us with the Alien Registration Office. We paid and requested a receipt, not given, photos were taken of the documents and officers, port security were called and requested the photos be deleted which was agreed, if a receipt was to be issued. Meanwhile the helpful customs officer, the only one admitting to speak English, processed our carnet for the bike and gave us approval to ride to Kassala on the Eritrean border. The photos were deleted but the top immigration officer advised he was too tired to issue the receipt. It was now after dark and we were the only ones left at the port so we set up the tent. We fended off requests for us to leave for the next two hours advising that we had not yet concluded business with the immigration office and by 9.00 pm were left alone to settle in for the night. Well that was what we thought. At 10.30 we were abruptly awoken. The police rudely bustled us out of the tent throwing all the gear into a pickup and drove us out of the port area, stating it was illegal to stay within the port. It seems taking money from tourists without a receipt doesn't rate the same, even under Sharia Law where the penalties for theft are quite consequential. I am not sure how corruption rates.
8/2/06 The morning found us in the middle of a truck parking area, where our tent had been thrown off the back of the pickup. It was now a waiting game and I often wonder the sense of rallying against corruption, just two people, can they make a difference. You do however get a perspective on how a country operates. An English speaking National Security officer arrived, informed us that immigration and police were effectively one and the same, wishing to inform us that it was not security that evicted us last night. So far we have found Africa no different from our last visit 6 yrs ago. Corruption and problem making, rather than problem solving by officials an art form, slowing every enterprise. An old Sudanese man seems to have adopted us, a facilitator for a small fee or tip. Brought us chairs, water and this morning cold drinks. Our food supply ran out but there is a small stall selling herbal coffee and seems to be preparing lunch. We are not sure how long to sit this one out but are watching the port happenings. A few western yachts sailed in this morning, we have a nice view of the old ruins and waterfront, naturally, so the waiting isn't too uncomfortable except not having a shower for two days. By 11 am the immigration officer had not returned so we packed up and left to investigate the yachts entering port. It is a rally of 23, having left Turkey and heading for India. They were busy getting fresh water, their first in two weeks. We checked into a small hotel, after being rejected by two previously, no facilities for women, quite a change from Saudi comforts. The usual we would expect in a small African town. Water drawn from a well for the ladle shower from a bucket and to flush the toilet. No electricity, except from generators and only in the evening. Unpainted or grubby concrete walls and bare concrete floor with a couple of single cot beds with thin mattresses the only furnishings. Being a port town there were many restaurants, mostly outdoors, no cutlery in any, food eaten using a piece of bread or bare hands.
9/2/06 We left by 7 am and then waited as the petrol station didn't start up its generator till 8 am by which time a line of cars and trucks had formed. The road was initially excellent, new, with a lot of trucks and buses, almost no private vehicles. The wind was already blowing strongly but it wasn't till we had ridden into the mountains that the dust storm started. With the road deteriorating to cracked and potholed asphalt, sand blowing along the road, more a fine dust than a heavy sand, and visibility at times below 100 metres, the riding became difficult, not enjoyable and the dust stuck to our perspiring bodies, inside helmets, clothes and boots. A late breakfast stop, to get out of the storm only increased its discomfort as dust settled all over the table of omelette and bread before we could eat it. The locals, living in reed woven matting roofed huts went about their business as if this was a normal occurrence. This persisted for about half of the 500 km's to Kassala. This part of Africa is currently in drought, the only water holes we saw were surrounded by herds of camel, sheep, goats and cattle. Aid agencies are in the area assisting mostly with refugees from Eritrea. The better hotels are full with aid workers and we, after visiting four, ended up in a reasonable hotel, at least it has water, and electricity sporadically. It was necessary to register our stay here with the police, who informed national security, who woke us up late in the evening to check our details. The cold war between Eritrea and its neighbours of Sudan and Ethiopia has recently become more tense. When security learned of our intentions to try and cross into Eritrea nearby they informed us this was currently not possible. This border has not officially been open to foreigners for some time, but occasionally, when relations between the countries warms, foreigners have been allowed through.
10/2/06 We had made an appointment with security this morning at 9 am hoping they would change their minds but the chief had already prepared a note stating that the region was currently dangerous and he could not give permission to cross the border. Our Eritrean visa would now expire before we had a chance to visit. We could return to the port to look for a boat or travel overland through Ethiopia and Djibouti. With the unknown of the port and boats between the two counties we opted to head towards Khartoum and go overland. The rest of the day was spent getting dust out of our belongings, washing and looking around town. The backdrop of mountains had cleared from their haze by afternoon and people were out in the evening.
11/2/06 600 km to Khartoum, asphalt road but bouncy and a bit patchy making it a long day with increasing traffic the last 200 km's. Flat and mostly good agricultural soils, the area is heavily cultivated, even irrigated alongside the Blue Nile. The different tribes of the area building different dwellings. The reed mat houses replaced by thatch roofed round mud structures replaced by square flat roofed mud brick homes closer to Khartoum. The women's dress also changing with different tribes. Some are brightly dressed, reds or orange, in a sarong type robe. Others more conservatively in black, just the eyes showing, but with embroidery along the veiled edges. We were in Khartoum by 5 pm, choosing to stay at the Blue Nile Sailing Club, camped on the grass, overlooking the river, the place to ourselves, such is the lack of tourism at the moment, we haven't seen another white face in the country yet.
12/2/06 Last time we visited Aftrica we thought it was an unnecessarily expensive place, value for money, considering the poverty and high unemployment rate, but never came to grips as to why. It is the same this time. More expensive than Asia and the quality not as good. Few goods seem to be made here, imported products are at the hands of corrupt officials at ports and inefficient transport within the country. Most establishments are overstaffed but no-one seems to be working. The western values of tidyiness and cleanliness don't rate highly here. The plastic rubbish at the boat club has just been blowing around, not collected, and the toilets remain uncleaned from the dirty state when we arrived. It looks like Africa will always remain a mystery to me regarding improvement. Pretty much rested, internet, new battery for my watch (cheap and efficient), looked at the new city, and watched the busy city operate.
13/2/06 The White Nile starts in Uganda at Lake Victoria and the Blue Nile starts at Lake Tana in Ethiopia and they both merge at Khartoum. Long a Muslim stronghold the British forces under Kitchener overtook Khartoum in the late 19th century. Kitchener's old gunboat, Melik, rests, part buried, without fanfare, a faded symbol of the British and the Christian era, at the campground where we are staying. The country, now divided between Muslim north and Christian south, recently signed a new constitution allowing for two legal systems, Sharia law in the Muslim area and Christian law for its followers. Alcohol is banned in the Muslim area, whippings for those found drunk. A difficult way to manage such an enormous country. We visited the historic town of Omdurman where, like the new city, the most prolific shops are selling mobile phones, intermingled with street sellers of all the basic goods. Sat and watched colourfully dressed older women with their deep tribal facial scars buying the families supplies while underemployed men appeared to be just sitting like us watching for an opportunity that would benefit why they were there. Women here have a higher public presence than in the Middle East, from where we have just come. They can be seen walking alone, working in business and selling goods at stalls. Whilst allowed to drive cars they are not yet permitted to drive buses nor motorcycles.
14/2/06 The Sudanese people seem to be a bit reserved towards us at first. That could be because of the recent controversy over the publishing of insulting cartoons of Mohammad in a Danish newspaper. Demonstrations were held in the city in protest last week. It does not take long however for them to make us feel welcomed. On the second meeting we are greeted like old friends, at our breakfast restaurant or with staff at the campground. Crime in the city is very low, despite its poverty, we feel totally relaxed and don't mind leaving the motorcycle in the street. This is most likely due to the strict Sharia law, and its penalties. The beggars, quite a few, are not insistant towards us, and receive considerable generosity from the locals. Our riverside location with cool nights and hot days allows for outside relaxation preparing for the dusty ride to Ethiopia.
15/2/06 This country has a lot of respiratory problems with its people and with a temperature inversion this morning, and the city wide practice of burning most rubbish, including plastics, we were awoken by a strong acrid smell wafting through the tent. By 7 am we were on the road heading back to Gadaref, 400 km, where we are staying the night. The cool calm morning soon became a windy, dusty, hot day before we reached Gedaref early afternoon. A different town, busy and bustling, a little more used to a gradual flow of tourists heading southwards. A couple of students, studying English, adopted us for an evening stroll, welcoming us with a cup of tea, informing us of local customs, more liberal than to the north, particularly between the sexes, and we could see also women were openly flirting with men in the streets. Our hotel had no place to park the bike so it was left in the street with its cover, disk lock and alarm, audible from the hotel room.
16/2/06 Sudan has been a bit of a cultural shock coming
from the Middle East but our short stay here has been enjoyable. Left the
hotel early for the border at Gallabat. They are working to improve the
dirt road, now 30 km asphalt, but it still took four hours for the 155 km.
The border was straight forward, customs collecting the bike permit issued
on arival, security recording details and no money was asked for.
Move with us to Ethiopia
Story and photos copyright ©
Peter and Kay Forwood,