Questions Answered

 

OK, I’ve amassed quite a good amount of unanswered questions in the last six months that I’ll try to take care of here, or at least take care of some of the more interesting ones, grouped by subject when possible. Honestly, this post is a good study on human thinking when read as a whole. Take a look, there are some good one’s, bad one’s, one’s that make you think and one’s that make you just say “huh” …and every single one was actually asked. Figured I had to take care of them at some point, so why not now, right?: Continue reading

Advertisements

Travels through Sudan VI – Dune

…continued from: Travels through Sudan V – Into the Desert

Northern Sudan.

     The sun is slowly sinking, the temperature getting almost bearable after a day of unrelenting heat. I can almost take a full breath again without having to worry about burning my tongue on the desert air. Every minute and every inch the sun sinks, the temperature goes down a degree to match. It was an exhilarating first day of driving down the Nile from Wadi Halfa and I think we’re already at day four without a shower. We start looking for a spot to camp, ha, “looking” really not being the right word, but more like choosing an area out of a million perfect campsite areas. We just head left for a few minutes, figuring the further we get from the Nile the better we’ll be. Around a mountain we run into a sand flat that must be five, maybe ten, miles across, head to the middle, and park on the flat. Surrounded by black mountains, tipped here and there with dunes carried by the winds like reversed waterfalls of caramel moving up the cracks of the black rock, this place is truly amazing. Continue reading

Travels through Sudan II – The Beginning

 …continued from: Sudan I – The Uncomparable Insanity of Life 

Cairo, Egypt.

     The beginning. Wait a minute. That says “Cairo” …”Egypt” up there, I thought this was a story about Sudan you’re thinking right now, “Why does that not say Sudan?”. Well, don’t leave yet, this is a story about Sudan, but lets face it, travelling to a country like Sudan entails just a little bit of pre-departure planning. I basically put it off until we hit Cairo, at which point we were starting our drive down the Nile. So the beginning is actually before the start of the story, the starting preparation point before the beginning of the journey. …but just a few points about the beginning before the actual start.

     Sudanese Embassy, Cairo. All passports in, all paperwork filled out, all photos submitted, all lines crossed, all interviews completed. Ahhh. A couple of days and we should be good to go. We have six days in Cairo and were promised everything back in three. No worries. …five days later, the embassy asks for another $225.00 USD from the American. Me. Crap. “What’s that for?”, I ask. School tax, the large Nubian behind the counter exclaims. “School tax, how come only Americans have to pay school tax?”. Because Americans are the only one’s who bomb schools in Sudan, Nubia exclaims with a smirk, ok, with a full on smile and chuckle. Damn, that brings my visa fee to over $300.00 USD …by far the most I have ever paid for a visa …by far. OK, no way around this one. I hand over another two-twenty-five. Gulp. Crap. OK. We’ll pick up the visas tomorrow.

     Tomorrow comes, no visas. We need to get going, stay on schedule. The ferry to Sudan, from Aswan to Wadi Halfa, leaves but once a week, and we do want to see some of Egypt. We’re not the only one’s having problems though, as evidenced by a few travellers arguing at the embassy. We end up leaving Ian in Cairo, the passports should be back tomorrow. We head out. Ian can take the train down to Luxor and meet us in a few days. …a few days later in Luxor, Ian is still waiting for the passports. No worries, we have a few days in Luxor. After three days waiting Ian finally has passports in hand, a full two weeks after submitting them. “Why such a delay?”, Ian asked Nubia. They actually sent all the passports down to Khartoum. Whaaaa? Ok, we have everything in check. As an American, I have to say that I really got my money’s worth, with two full-page stamps and a nice little colorful hologram stamp surrounded by eight ink stamps placed like a kindergartener went crazy at stamp-time. Ahhh, so cute. …I wonder how much food that could have bought a starving child in the country.

     Everything good, another week and a half and we head to the ferry for Wadi Halfa. …not before meeting one of those arguing travellers though, from the embassy in Cairo, in Aswan. Apparently, the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo told her she had to come down to the Sudanese Embassy in Aswan. She took a flight from Cairo to Aswan two weeks ago. The Sudanese Embassy in Aswan told her she had to get a visa in Cairo. She took a flight back up to Cairo. The Sudanese Embassy in Cairo finally took her passport but told her to pick it up in Aswan. She took a flight back to Aswan. The Sudanese Embassy in Aswan was still waiting for her passport to get back from Khartoum …that suuucksss. Suffice it to say she didn’t make the ferry, and I have no idea if she ever made it to Sudan or not. I can only thank god I had backup and other people to help, with well-known businesses with contacts, otherwise, I’m not sure iff I would have ever got into the country. OK, almost there, headed to the ferry.

     One, un-named, person starts venting on the way to the ferry …”thank god we’re out of Egypt, I’m ready to see animals, I wanna see the real Africa, enough of all this sand, I wanna see the tribes, the wildebeest, the real Africa” …ummm, dude, do you know where we’re going? This ain’t lions on the prairie type Africa, this is still Islam and lots of sand Africa. Ummm, we haven’t crossed the desert yet. He was a big drinker …uhhh, you do know that alcohol is illegal in Sudan, don’t you? Good times. This guy had no idea where he was going and no concept of how big the Sahara actually is. …and usually at this point I would just laugh, but honestly, he had NO idea where he was headed, and it wasn’t even funny. Well, maybe a little bit. This is gonna be fun.

     The end of the beginning and the begining of the start of the trip, which is, inevitably, …the ferry ride from Aswan to Wadi Halfa. Everything is in place. The un-named guy ain’t happy, everyone has their passports and visas, Anna just broke her foot kicking the truck tire, it’s seven in the morning, the ferry is scheduled to leave at about nine, african time.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Sudan III – African Time

Travels through Sudan I – The Uncomparable Insanity of Life

Sudan.

     Hmmm. Sudan. How to describe Sudan? How to open a story about this country. Honestly, I don’t know where to begin and really couldn’t even touch upon the country’s history or current events even if I tried. Sudan is big, dry, muslim, christian, arab, black, rich in oil, extremely corrupt and to a point, insane. The biggest country in Africa. Sudan is truly survival of fittest, and all too often its women and children who aren’t that. It’s different from a lot of Africa, or southern or west Africa I should say. The people here are not only fighting each other for survival but they are fighting nature itself to survive. The Sahara controls much of the north, with most people there crowding around the Nile. The president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity. No one really knows how many have died in the western region of Darfur, at last count in 2007 it was estimated at 400,000, some say it’s up to a million now. The south has just seceded by vote. A few of the headlines at the time of this article:

Approximate Route shown in Red

…Sudan has deployed troops at the Libyan border to prevent arms smuggling to rebels in Darfur and closed the Libyan consulate in the troubled region
…Kadugli, Sudan (AFP) – A heavily armed Sudanese military convoy entered the flashpoint border district of Abyei, sparking clashes that left up to 14 people dead
…eight people killed in armed attacks in south Sudan
…Sudan clashes kill 20 near border
…UN News Sudan: UN Agency Suspends Food Aid in Parts of Southern Sudan After Attacks
…Juba, Sudan – At least 105 people have died in violence between government forces and rebel militias in Southern Sudan this week, an official said Sunday

…etc, etc. Of course I’m just picking out the bad here also, but man, my heart goes out to these people. It seems the decades long civil wars are still waging and, in my opinion, the succession of the south will only give reason for the continuation of it.

     There is another side though. The people. They are interesting, resilient, tough and most are spectacular. Everyone has a story. Travelling through Sudan is like a lesson in humanity and the different forms it has developed into in one of the toughest countries of the world. Meeting a group of nomads four days from the nearest road, strolling through the desert with a few camels and everything they own on those camels. Sitting down around the fire at night, talking with a few members of the Janjaweed – PS: definitely not recommended as a “safe” type of pastime here. Simply asking them “Why?”. “What can you possibly think is good reasoning to rape women, kill whole villages, enslave children?”. They try to explain. I will give them that. I know a lot of people who would try, or think they would try, to take that opportunity to disarm, arrest or even kill these guys. My question is always: “How?”. Throw and a cup at them and hope they are out of bullets. We were in their territory, in the middle of God knows where, days driving from any type of help. They were heavily armed, AK’s, RPG’s, truck mounted 50. …we had butter knives, cups, plates, tea, coffee and bread.

     We started the trip in Aswan, Egypt. Took the ferry to Wadi Halfa at the end of Lake Nassar in Sudan. Drove days down the Nile making a few twists and turns through the desert, bouncing off the Nile for a few days, and then back to follow the Nile into Khartoum, nine days of desert driving. I gotta tell you, without the Nile this part of the country would be dead and devoid of life. The Nile is the lifeline of Northern Sudan and without it, virtually no one would be there. At Khartoum we took a left and made a beeline to Ethiopia. Two weeks from beginning to end, and this just in a small area of the country. In that time we saw the worst that humanity has to offer, the best that humanity has to offer, as well as some of the most spectacular sights and landscapes you could ever wish to see.

     As a whole, it’s a spectacular country, full of history. It’s definitely not an easy country to travel through, and I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone. With all that spectacular also comes the child soldiers on the corner, the guns, the starvation, the heat and the discomfort. In the end though, when you get spit out the other side, all that combines to make such an experience that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. One of those countries that you have to experience to really understand I guess, and having experienced it, I can say I understand so very little. Almost uncomparable, even when I look back to places like Nigeria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Burkina Faso and the like. Sudan is definitely an uncomparable insanity of life and situation. No one is responsible, everyone is responsible. The reasons for the way it is has been lost in decades of civil war and who was initially responsible or who started what has been lost in the importance of living life that day, for that day, and making it through that day to see another.

     So this is the first in a set of articles of my experiences travelling through Sudan, one of the “nastiest” countries on earth. A country in a situation that shouldn’t exist in the world today, yet it does, maybe because of the political thinking of the world today, maybe because most countries know that to get involved will only bring sorrow and regret to thier own. TIA, this is Africa, and to get involved is futile, because what is is what is, and thats how it is and how it has been for centuries. TIA. Actually just the “mid-section” of a longer trip in which we drove the length of the Blue Nile from the Mediterranean to Lake Tana in Ethiopia, around two months in total, which was actually just the “mid-section” of the total trip, Istanbul to Dakar, which took six months total.

     I figured I would get most of the gloom and doom out-of-the-way here. It is what it is, and no matter how this article sounds, it’s a great country with mostly great people. The Sahara at it’s finest. I did it, and would do it again, but not without a good reason. This one was rough. Really rough, and we only went through the “safe” and “easy” areas of the country. It’s all relative. In two weeks we saw three “tourists”. This is one where you leave the cell phone at home, forget the laptop, don’t even think of the iPad. You’ll need all that space for water …and baby wipes if you want to take a shower. Forget about hotels, there are none from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum and be prepared to be woken in the middle of the night by heavily armed local militia. It’s all part of the journey, and this one is all about the journey, where the destination is all too often just getting out alive.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Sudan II – The Beginning

The Great Cornholio

Somewhere along the Niger River, one and a half days cruise, by pinasse, from Mopti, headed towards Timbuktu, Mali.

…sorry, had to do it.
…of Beavis and Butthead fame for those who don’t know. See here.    

     I mean, just imagine, sailing for a day and a half through some of the least inhabited parts of the
world known to man (in my mind at least), through the desert with nary a soul in sight. Barely seeing a sign of life. No electricity, no cars, no TV’s. Hardly a smidgen, yes a smidgen, of anything to remind you of the western world. Hell, to remind you of the Industrial Revolution for that matter. Then you stop at a village on the side of the river, in the middle of nowhere, and there’s this kid running around, with her shirt over her head
and arms in the air, yelling things in a high pitch voice like she just ate a copious amount of M&M’s…

Harmattan Sun

Waza National Park, Cameroon.

     Sunrise over Waza National Park, in the Far North Province of Cameroon, as seen during the yearly Harmattan where dust from the Sahara is blown across the land and into the air, blocking out the sun and creating an almost fog-like landscape. It’s eery at times, and creates a mysterious looking landscape at others.

     As far as Waza is concerned, it’s a different world up there. The town of Waza sits right outside of the National Park. Stunningly beautiful and unquestionably poor, it’s an amazing corner of the world. Part desert, part grassland. Hills intertwine throughout where you can get above it all and see for miles around. This is a tough one to get too, but well worth the effort, especially considering how genuine and non-touristy it truly is. This was taken during a safari ride, looking for lion, elephant, giraffe and baboon. We did see some animals, but the greatest view that morning was definitely the landscape.