We had arrived at the Ethiopian-Sudanese border very early – before 11am – and were also lucky with the speed of the proceedings: Even though the Ethiopian customs officer actually made us unpack several bags (a first! I know, we were lucky up to now), and the Sudanese Customs official tried to coax 30 Sudanese Pounds as customs fees out of Jan (unsuccessfully), we were done with all papers and stuff by 12:45. Even better: we had brought the overcast sky with us from Ethiopia. We had already realized the change in climate on coming closer to Sudan, and were sweating once we reached the border. Every cloud that kept the sun from us was now a welcome sight – what a huge difference to the last two weeks in Ethiopia, where we had wished for a little sunshine in between rains!
We filled up our bikes at a gas station right after the border, and hit the road, eager to get some mileage done before the clouds evaporized in the heat. The road was a bit pot-holey in stretches, but mostly good. And more importantly for our speed: there were nearly no people and animals around. We actually managed to ride at 90-100km/h for long stretches, and only had to overtake the occasional truck or bus. As we had only eaten a few bananas and dry cookies the whole day, we were on the lookout for some road-side-eatery like we knew them from all over East Africa, but here comes the downside of roads void of people: The amount of food stalls on the roadside also decreases significantly. So we just had a stop in the middle of nowhere, ate our last bananas and cookies and went on. In this pace, we reached Gedaref, our original goal for the day, before 2pm. As we had heard the town is as crappy as expensive, we decided to push on and see how far we get.
To our own disbelief, we got as far as Wad Medani, a town at the bank of the Blue Nile, a mere 180km before Khartoum. This meant we made nearly 600km that day, plus a 2-hour border crossing. Definitely our personal record. To be true, we had gotten a bit nervous at times, when we could not find a spot to buy water or fill up our tanks for long stretches of empty road, but all turned out well. Every single Sudanese person we met (after that dodgy customs officer) was extraordinarily nice and helpful. We had been told so much by other travellers, but still was nice to experience the truth of this.
We rolled into Wad Medani shortly after 6pm. As we are a bit further North now, we still had an hour until sunset, so after checking in and taking a well deserved cold shower, we had time to walk along the Blue Nile promenade for a bit. We were attracted by the crowd enjoying the mild evening, but turned ourselves into a major attraction. In general, there are not that many non-Sudanese tourists in Sudan, and even less in Wad Medani, which is more of a local holiday destination. Most people just smiled and greeted (or stared), but after some had decided to actually approach us and talk to us – in very bad and broken English, mostly – a lot of others came along and took turns in taking pictures with us. It felt a bit like the equator crossing in Uganda, just with a lot of young and old guys instead of a bunch of schoolgirls. To our luck, an American-Sudanese called Hafiz was also part of the crowd enjoying the sunset on the Nile that evening. A typical East-African-International career, he had been living in the States for a few years and is now working as a Marketing Manager in Dubai. He translated some of the Arabic arond us, and also gave us some very helpful tips for the road. When we finally made it back to our hotel (not without some other random dudes taking us picture-hostage before), we were starved. We had our very first Sudanese meal in the tiny roadside place before our hotel, sweet tea with mint and falafel with egg, and nearly fell asleep in our plastic chairs. Work was not yet done, as we still had to park our bikes in the garage-come-kitchen (we kid you not), but afterwards we fell straight down on our air mattresses (which we had put over the two beds and the super-soft mattresses that were on those).
The next morning, we had to throw three people out of their beds to get our bikes out of the locked kitchen-garage, because we had forgotten to tell the hotel staff we wanted to leave early. We somehow had thought everybody else in Sudan would also try to get up super-early to avoid the day’s heat, but that is not so – life on the street only picked up shortly before 8am, when we were already on the road for more than an hour. With only 180km to go that day, we were not stressed though. Traffic was good up until 40km before Khartoum, and our only hassle were the chatty police officers at the frequent road stops, and another mad police officer who was creating a huge traffic jam, very slowly escorting a bus on the only road leading into Khartoum. When stopping for some food (no breakfast at the hotel, so were starved at 9:30), we had to make do with some dry packaged cake, but had another experience of true Sudanese hospitality when an eldery man invited us to our tea, and then just vanished before we could say thanks.
We reached the Youth Hostel in Khartoum around 11am, and were very relieved that they A. Had free beds for us and B. Had safe parking for our bikes (no kitchen-garage this time). We dived into the shower and then made for town. Mistake. The heat in Sudan had treated us nicely the day before, when the sky was overcast and the airstream had cooled us as well. Completely different story if you walk (!) through the capital at midday (!!). We could not – as it is required for tourists – register with the police or get our photo-permit from the Tourism Ministry, as it was Saturday (= Sunday in the Muslim world), and had thought we might explore the centre a bit while hunting down a SIM card. Exploring was equally limited by shops being closed and Anne’s inability to cope with the heat. A visit to the (air-conditioned) mall brought us a SIM Card and some supplies from the supermarket, but after just 10 minutes outside again, Anne felt her brain had become wax, and that also describes perfectly her contribution to the rest of the journey home.* At the Youth Hostel, it took a while until the staff got the AirCon working. Ample time to lie on the bed, feel weak, stupid and drowsy, and pray for the human body to work its adjustment-to-different-climate-condition-wonders fast. There was nothing more to do for Anne, so Jan ventured bravely outside to buy water and food. Definitely the stronger of us when it comes to dealing with the heat. We spent the evening abusing the free WiFi of the Youth Hostel – not sure whether it is the hostel’s or a private one but it did not require a password – and working a bit on our blog. The next day was bureaucratic-nightmare-day: we were trying to get our police registration as foreign tourists. This was the only time so far we met with crooks who try to get some money out of us. Unfortunately, they seemed to be like the only people who speak English. A friendly guy finally helped us out, but in the end we had spent half a day and 90 Sudanese Pounds on driving around town for nothing – because it turned out registration was a lot easier and faster at the Airport (in walking distance to our youth hostel). After all this hassle, we thought we were in for a treat and drove – this time with our own bike – to the National Museum, which is said to host an amazing collection of old Nubian/Pharaonic exhibits. Only it was closed, because of the rain. Believe it or not, we had had a major downpour during the night, that continued as a drizzle in the morning. Several streets in Khartoum were flooded, to a level that some streets were only passable for 4WDs, or cars that had their exhaust and air intake above water level. Together with the Sudanese, we had already waded through some very murky waters, barefoot or with flipflops (sometimes the flipflops got stuck so barefoot was the better, though slightly disgusting, solution). Jan had gotten his feet quite wet when riding the bike, as at some point we got stuck in traffic and he HAD to put them down, right into calve-high water. Anne was never happier to be riding pillion.
Anyway, we had made it through all that, to find out that the museum guys hadn’t. After the crappy start we felt we needed a pick-me-up, and were therefore really sad that the museum was closed. But the pick-me-up arrived a little later, in form of Mohammed, a friend of a friend of a friend – also motorbiker – who picked us up and took us for dinner. We had way too much food, laughed a lot, talked about countries we should, would like to or had lived in, and in general had a good time.
And we decided to stay another day, and have another (last) shot at exploring a bit of Khartoum. This time we actually managed to find an open museum, though half of the exhibition was still under renovation, it seemed. Still was nice, and once again people were so happy to see us – the two museum guards even played a bit for us on the huge wooden war drum in the lobby (and made Jan try it too). We went to the Blue Nile Sailing club afterwards for a cool drinks and a nice view of the Nile (a very run-down place, unfortunately), and then… Jan’s battery was flat again. We were very lucky that a guy who worked there borrowed us his phone (as ours was also dead), and that Mohammed was working just around the corner. He picked us up and drove us to a place in North Khartoum, were we were able to buy a new (Chinese) battery that fits the odd measures of the Dakar. Unfortunately it’s only a 9 Amp, not a 12 Amp like the bike originally has, but it got the bike started when we tested it – and we just hope it will take us back to Germany, or at least Europe, without any further troubles! All in all, and thanks only to Mohammed, this second battery-fail had only cost us 2,5 hours, 180 Pound for the battery (roughly 25 Euro), and some nerves. We celebreated the event by spending our money on excellent food and ice-cream in a nearby spot Mohammed had recommended to us. Ended up meeting a guy from Jordan that was also a friend of Mohammed, and chatted a bit about our route plans (and where to get the best ice-cream in Amman, though we most probably won’t make it there this time).
*This is a true marriage-test. If Jan still loves me after spending August with me in Sudan and Egypt, we can build a house, plant a tree and buy a washing machine together.