Travels through Sudan VIII – Nomads

…continued from: Travels through Sudan VII – The Temple of Soleb

     NomadDay 7 …no shower. Ouch. It’s not so bad, its a dry heat. Yeah, right, a dry, searing, heat in a part of the world that hasn’t seen a drop of rain in almost eighteen months, resulting in a dry searing heat albeit with some cloud cover caused by the foot of bull-dust stirred up every time you take a step or drive an inch. If your into the dust/dirt ball grunge kind of look though, it’s kind of cool. You need some shade, just do a little dance. No problem, a cloud of dust to block out the sun like a canvas unbrella. Continue reading

Travels through Sudan VII – The Temple of Soleb

…continued from: Travels through Sudan VI – Dune

     The next morning we wake to an uncomfortable chill in the air and the rising sun. It’s amazing how cold it feels at night relative to the heat of the day, with the temperature difference last night dropping 70° F: 120° during the day to 50° during the night. Looks like we had some foxes in the camp last night, which is becoming a common occurrence during the last month. As the sun rises so does the heat, and within an hour of waking the temperature has climbed at least 20° or 30°. A quick breakfast, pack up, and we’re off for another day of sand and sun.

     We skirt the dune of the night before, I wave goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Scorpion, the kids are probably off to school by now. This will be day five without a shower or bath. It’s not so bad, it’s a dry heat. Ha.

Continue reading

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 V – Into the Desert

…continued from: Travels through Sudan IV – To Wadi Halfa

Northern Sudan.

     …and so we went. Out of Wadi Halfa into the Sahara. Illegally actually, but not really, but kind of, seeing as we were given permission to enter the country by the customs officials, but with one stipulation – that we weren’t allowed to enter the country until we came back to Wadi Halfa the next morning to get “officially” processed, at which point it would be official, but no more real, but I guess less illegal, all the while knowing that these guys just wanted to finish their day, go home, and smoke a hookah. Understandable. That’s what I would do. Continue reading

Travels through Sudan IV – To Wadi Halfa

…continued from: Sudan III – African Time

     Still sitting in the Port of Aswan, Egypt …I know, part IV and not even out of Egypt yet, I’ll move this along. 5:00 PM now, we got here at 7:30 AM, scheduled to leave at 9:00 AM, just waiting on the Libyans now it seems. Looks like everything is wrapping up down below, the barges are just about full, the ferry is packed to the brim with people and supplies. Moving down the aisles of the lower decks means climbing over the rails, around the people and through all the boxes, cans, barrels and everything else needed to start the Wal-Mart, Wadi Halfa. Captain Ahab is growing restless. The Libyans bus pulls up …without the Libyans, it’s just a bus full of supplies. Another bus pulls up – this must be them – there’s no one in this one either, it’s full of boxes. The people must be just behind, or hiding amid the boxes, not really sure at this point. No wonder they’re eight hours late, they are carrying so much stuff that they can’t actually fit in their own bus… C’mon, you gotta be kidding me ↓ (x2 remember). Continue reading

Travels through Sudan III – African Time

…continued from: Sudan II – The Beginning

Lake Nasser, Africa.

     …we hit the port in Aswan at around 7:30 AM, after a short bus ride from our hotel. Oscar Del Toro, our six wheeled friend, mate and confidant, was loaded on the vehicle ferry yesterday. This is a milestone, so to speak, in our trip which started in Istanbul. The ferry from Aswan, Egypt to Wadi Halfa, Sudan. We’ve been told what to expect on the other side but everyone is still anxious. This trip is almost legendary, being one of the only, legal, ways into Sudan from Egypt. From the comfort, and annoyance, of tourist-trap like settings with air conditioning, plentiful food and all, or most, of the comforts of home to one of the harshest areas of the world where food is scarce, air conditioning doesn’t exist and tourists don’t often go. One short, 24 hour, ferry ride and everything changes, like night and day. 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