December 22nd 2013 Gedaref – Kassala, Sudan
Driven distance on December 22nd 2013: 230km (140 miles)
Driven distance total: 84’410km (52’450 miles)
What a beautiful relaxed driving! Along cattle and camel herds and some nomad tents with 90km/h (55 mph) and cruise control. It didn’t have many people or animals on the straight road to Kassala. Just about 6 police or military check points were slowing us down a bit. The uniformed men were always very friendly and had a smile on their face. Also we put regularly a big smile on our faces and got sometimes waved through for free at the road tolls :-). Officially it also would be necessary to have a special permit to enter this region, which we could get in Khartoum without any problems. But since the capital is really out of the way (coming from Ethiopia) we tried our luck without a permit successfully. We could continue after they registered our passport just before the town! As we know is Sudan not the most popular tourist destination ;-), but Kassala is because its “off the route” location even much less frequented by tourists. So we were the entire time in that town the only tourists by far! Therefor we also received a very friendly Hello yelled into the car :-). It is indeed nice to be respected as a human being and not as a walking dollar bill like sometimes in Ethiopia :-)! In the afternoon we granted us a tea and something delicious for dinner after we strolled around at the busy market. We could also see in town a few members from the tribe of the Rashaida – nomad peoples that have today a bad reputation because of human trading with Eritrean refugees! The men are wearing sometimes a huge sword around their hip and the women are decorated with a unique veil.
December 23rd 2013 Kassala, Sudan
Driven distance on December 23rd 2013: 40km (20 miles)
Driven distance total: 84’450km (52’470 miles)
We also have days where we actually have to do some work before the fun starts :-). First we had to organize local money. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to just walk to an ATM and get cash, since no foreign credit cards are possible to use! If you intend to change money, nobody sends you to a bank, instead they lead you to a black market money changer. The official exchange rate in the Internet is 5.7 Sudanese pounds for one US$. We checked in the hotel where we could find such a moneychanger. The receptionist organized a taxi that brought us to a children clothing shop where we could change 200 dollars without a problem :-). The black market rate was 7.9 Sudanese pounds for a US$!! The second place we needed to go was the immigration. All the foreigners that are entering Sudan have to get registered within maximum 3 days. Surprisingly it went quite easy and quick. The manager of the immigration office even invited us for a tea while we were waiting for the passports! So now was our working part over :-). The unique feature in Kassala are the Taka-mountains, which are immerging from the desert in the background. We cruised around the area to see nicely the specially shaped mountains! After our lunch, which was containing of a bowl of some kind of bean paste, we got invited by three friendly Sudanese man for a tea. We have to mention at this point, that the Sudanese have probably the sweetest tea and coffee. In a small glass of tea you get a regular big spoon of sugar in it! When ordering coffee, one receives a tiny cup and a small can of coffee. The tiny cup is already filled almost to the top with sugar and you ad again and again some coffee to it!
But the generosity wasn’t over yet. We received an invitation for dinner by the friendly gentlemen!
In the afternoon we visited the Khatmiyya mosque, which lies directly at the Taka mountains. Unfortunately was the approx. 125 years old mosque partially destroyed, but it is still a fantastic sight to visit. In the evening we went with our friends Mustafa, Hamid und Achmed to dinner. We went for the beginning to Mustafa’s home where we sat in the cozy backyard and received fruit juice, then tea and finally coffee! For dinner we went into town where we could enjoy really delicious grilled meat. The prepare the meat in a special way around the region of Kassala. They put on top of the sizzling charcoal some stones where the grill the meat on it. They brought us back to the hotel after we spent a nice evening with our friends. Half an hour later they brought us a bag of cookies to the hotel!! The hospitality is really overwhelming!!
December 24th 2013 Kassala – Wad Medani, Sudan
Driven distance on December 24th 2013: 500km (310 miles)
Driven distance total: 84’950km (52’790 miles)
First we went back to the children’s clothing shop to change some more money. We could change without any problems 400 Euros € and received a stack of brand new, continuously numbered Sudanese bills. While we were drinking our free tea were two other men coming in and also received two bundles of money-bills. Well, the question if the owner really sells some cloth here or if he just has a money laundering office remains open :-).
Now we continue the trip. One takes Google Maps and in addition a street map. Then we looked up the shortest way between Kassala and Khartoum and started driving. There was a completely straight road towards the west until the capital Khartoum. We figured out unfortunately that this plan wasn’t that easy to execute. As the day before, nobody wanted to know anything about another way then the one we took to get to Kassala. We tried our luck anyways and were nicely “asked” by a police roadblock to turn around and take the big road :-). So we had to take the same road (200km / 120 miles) back to Gedaref and went from there towards Khartoum. The driving on the big main roads is safe in general, besides the big long distance buses that are furiously crossing us with crazy speeds of over 100km/h (62 mph).
The last time that we drove that far in one day was 5 month ago! After 500km (310 miles) we definitely had enough and stayed at Christmas Eve in Wad Medani.
Close to our hotel we enjoyed the sunset atmosphere at the Blue Nile.
December 25th 2013 Wad Medani – Khartoum, Sudan
Driven distance on December 25th 2013: 210km (130 miles)
Driven distance total: 85’160km (52’920 miles)
We continued our journey along the Blue Nile. The villages and towns along the road are looking all a bit the same. The houses are built of beige bricks and are therefor matching the color of the surroundings! The only color you can see are the painted doors or windows or the mosques. First thing after we arrived in Khartoum was a pizza that we granted us :-). We finally found the “German Guest House” after quite some search. There are mainly personnel from the UN or pilots going in and out. We can use the toilet and shower of a room but are sleeping in the car on the street :-). We never would have done this in other cities in Africa, but since Khartoum is regarded as the safest city in the whole continent we dared to do this!
December 26th 2013 – January 1st 2014 Khartoum, Sudan
Driven distance on December 26th 2013 – January 1st 2014: 150km (90 miles)
Driven distance total: 85’310km (53’010 miles)
8 nights in the capital; what the heck did the two of us do that long :-) ?? Well, first of all we were so far behind with writing reports for the web page, that ourselves almost forgot what we actually experienced the days before ;-). And since we write everything in German and English it really was a lot of work!! In addition we already organized the Egypt visa, just in case. The consulate consisted of 2 two windows with steel bars and a door which had an additional steel gate as well. In front of it (everything on the outside of the building) was just chaos! In front of each window were at least 20 impatient persons who tried to push some papers through the window! A woman from the consulate at one of the windows opened our passports in the middle where the Iran visa is and thought that we are from Iran!! Incredible :-)! Then we tried our luck at the less busy door and could give our passports, the application forms and little money to some Egyptian guy. We left the sight without any receipt and were able to pick them up again with a huge stamp in Arabic the same day!
We did of course some sightseeing besides the “work”. The National Museum contains numerous well-preserved relicts from mediaeval times or even before! The statues and script plates and so on had a strong Egyptian influence.
There was also a Christian exhibition to our surprise mainly with huge ancient unique paintings.
Another sight of the city is the confluence of the Blue and the White Nile. It sounds quite exciting but in reality it isn’t that sensational ;-).
Quite more interesting and fascinating than the Nile is the weekly Sufi-Islam gathering with dancing and chanting. The first believers flocked in around 5PM and started with the dancing! Sufis are a special assembly of the Islam that are getting in trance with these dances and are trying with this to get closer to god.
A local man, Shazali, asked us during the ceremony if he could invite is for a tea at the end! We agreed, took him in our car and drove back to his home. Shazali wanted to invite us to dinner at his place after we already had some tea, water and cookies. After some rigid resistance ;-) we thought we could convince him that we wanted to go back to the hotel because we were quite tired. Well, Shazali brought some food in a bag for take-away! We didn’t feel right to take it with us so we stayed a bit longer and ate some food!
We also paid a short visit to the market, where after 5 minutes a bearded Sudanese man grabbed us and showed us around. Besides the regular stalls (veggies etc.) were also many shops with countless old items and antiquities from everywhere!
Of course we wanted to get a glimpse over the city from higher up, since Khartoum is quite a big city! The best option to do this was one of the most expensive hotels in town. An advantage when you are from Switzerland is, that you can go for a drink in a luxury hotel of a Capital and still pay less then back home in the family restaurant :-)!
Now, something completely else; The Landrover needed an oil change and some greasing! Two local men, Ashraf und Mohammed, chatted with us and invited us at the end for dinner the next day :-). The dinner was served in a famous fish-restaurant. The place wasn’t well known for nothing, the food was really delicious. We ate way too much and all in all it was an interesting and really nice evening!
In the guesthouse we stayed we soon felt like being at home. We were welcomed very friendly by the German manager Norbert and his friend Günther as well as by the everyday guests like the Nigerian ambassador :-). Norbert even took us with him to go shopping for the New Years Eve turkey. The bird was not really coming from the freezer but rather from the living market. Yeah well, one can loose his appetite here. At the poultry marked were not only turkeys and chickens being sold, but also pigeons and even turtles. Norbert chose a living turkey and afterwards the bird goes directly at the spot to the “butcher”. This butcher beheads the animal, puts him upside down into a bucket to drain the blood, sticks it in a pan with boiling water and finally stripes the feathers from the turkey. All of this of course in a highly hygienic surroundings :-). Norbert bought some time ago also 2 big turtles, Günther und Faisal, at this market that are now being used as lawnmowers in the lodge :-).
All in all we felt comfortable in Khartoum and it was nice for once to be in a big city without having doubts about criminality.
January 2nd 2014 Khartoum – Naqa, Sudan
Driven distance on January 2nd 2014: 200km (120 miles)
Driven distance total: 85’510km (53’130 miles)
Close to lunchtime we finally took off after a major grocery shopping in one of the well-equipped shops in Khartoum. The road passes mainly along the Nile, but always in a distance that you can’t see the river anyways. The road is quite busy since it is the main connecting road to Port Sudan. One can also see this from the countless old worn tires lying on each side of the road! We guess that those tire incidents are happening mainly in summertime when temperatures reach 40-45°C (110°F)! We had to leave the main road to reach our first sight we wanted to visit. We had to go about 30km (20 miles) across the desert with some parts that were quite soft sand. Those parts were of course just a playground for our “Sandy-Landy” :-)! We strolled around the ancient temple ruins after we arrived at the Naqa sight. The up to 2000 years old temples are partially in still quite good conditions. The past habitants of this region were strongly influenced by the Egyptian culture. You can see this from the drawings of Egyptian Kings and Gods and from the scripts that are engraved into the walls. Also very interesting was the nearby fountain where the locals collect there water with help from donkeys from a depth of 80m (260 feet). It wasn’t that hard to find an overnight sleeping place in the empty desert. We installed our camp besides a bush and the only living creatures that we saw were some camels :-).
January 3rd 2014 Naqa – Meroë, Sudan
Driven distance on January 3rd 2014: 130km (80 miles)
Driven distance total: 85’640km (53’210 miles)
How nice it is that we don’t get waken up at 5AM by the sounds of the Muezzin :-)?! To get up in the middle of the desert with sunshine is indeed a good start in the day. There were also the Musawwarat Ruins near here. Musawwarat is one of the significant find spots of the Meroitic Empire whose kings ruled over the middle Nile valley between ca. 300 BC until 350 AD. We had a guest when we took our lunch at the ruins; the ticket seller. Since we got invited a few times by the Sudanese, we figured that we could invite him. According to his noisy eating habits was the rather (for him) unusual cheese – ham – mayonnaise sandwich very tasty :-).
After not too long we arrived at the main touristy sight of the country, the Meroë Pyramids. First we visited some smaller pyramids on the other side of the road not far apart from the main group of pyramids. Then it happened! We had to pull out of the sand a family that was stuck on the other side of the road! We really enjoyed this since it the car was Toyota Landcruiser! What a nice picture, a Landrover is helping a Landcruiser out of the misery :-)!
Now back to the famous Meroë Pyramids. As a thousand years ago, we strolled around the pyramids on camels. Quite mystical :-).
The pyramids served the Kings, Queens and high officials of the “historical empire of the Kusch“ as tombs from about 300 BC until 300 AD.
Much better than the nearby luxury resort was our 5-Star Landrover-Lodge located! We installed our camp just a few hundred meters (yards) away from the pyramids and enjoyed the great view to the structures :-)!
January 4th 2014 Meroë – Atbara, Sudan
Driven distance on January 4th 2014: 130km (80 miles)
Driven distance total: 85’770km (53’290 miles)
A visitor was already waiting for us when we crawled out of the car in the morning. A young man who wanted to sell souvenirs was sitting underneath a tree. He was not pushy at all and when we nicely declined his offer he walked away. Shortly after was a group of men on their donkeys arriving that also wanted to sell souvenirs. We also had to explain to them that we intended to eat breakfast first and then visit them to do some souvenir shopping. Also they took off. Well well, we don’t really wanna brag ;-), but the breakfast with such a view to the pyramids was really matchless. Just the cold desert breeze was a bit irritating. We visited once again leisurely the pyramids. As we promised before we did go to the souvenir sellers and bought a couple of things. We stopped quickly on our way to Atbara to get some delicious food. The one thing that is a bit a thing to get used to is that half an animal is hanging on the hook of the kitchen :-).
January 5th 2014 Atbara – Karima, Sudan
Driven distance on January 5th 2014: 320km (200 miles)
Driven distance total: 86’090km (53’490 miles)
Driving driving driving, across the desert on a good road with almost no traffic! Most of the time was a strong wind blowing. The sand was all over in the air and sometimes we had to turn on the lights for safety reasons!
January 6th 2014 Karima – Dongola, Sudan
Driven distance on January 6th 2014: 270km (170 miles)
Driven distance total: 86’360km (53’660 miles)
For once there were 3 of us on the road. We met Verena from Germany in the hotel and she is travelling with public transport across Africa! First we visited the ruins of the temple of Amun, which are situated at the bottom of the holy mountain Jebel Barkal. To be honest there wasn’t much left besides stones and some lonesome columns. Quite more impressive was a small temple that was directly cut into the rock. There were some well-preserved rock engravings with Egyptian roots. Then we continued to the royal cemetery that contains of about a dozen mainly in good shape pyramids. Since this place is nowhere fenced and since we were absolutely the only tourists we parked the Landrover in the center of the pyramid-area and took some bragging pictures :-). The next spot was about 20km (12 miles) away and we had to ask a few times for directions. Luckily we found directly the “guard” of the sight with the key to open the place. The old man wanted first to climb on the car in the back to get to the place, but we let him sit in the front :-). Also here it was quite a surprise what we got to see. From the outside you only saw a long half-round-shaped “pipe” made of mud with a door. After opening the door we had to go about 10m (30 feet) under ground where there was a tomb located. On the walls we could find several well-preserved paintings. Finally we continued to the pyramids of Nuri, which look a bit shabby. They are slowly falling apart due to the weather but still have their character ;-). We said good-bye to Verena who travelled South and also we continued our journey towards Dongola. Everywhere was just sand; we were now driving in the Nubian Desert. Just here and there we could see some camels or donkeys strolling around. There are some small areas where there seems to be some ground water and some sparse vegetation. Sometimes we could see some huts and cattle herds. As closer we got to Dongola and the Nile, as greener the landscape gets. We are still surprised that there even is vegetation in these sandy grounds.
January 7th 2014 Dongola, Sudan
Driven distance on January 7th 2014: 0km (0 miles)
Driven distance total: 86’360km (53’660 miles)
Relaxing day in the friendly town of Dongola :-).
January 8th 2014 Dongola – Kerma, Sudan
Driven distance on January 8th 2014: 100km (60 miles)
Driven distance total: 86’460km (53’720 miles)
After a short drive we arrived in the small town of Kerma and visited there the ruins of an ancient Egyptian palace. This building is estimated to be 3500 years old and is believed to be the oldest man-made structure in sub-Saharan Africa. We could walk up the 20m (60 feet) tall ruin and had a great view over the reconstructed foundations on the nearby settlement. With a lot of fantasy we could imagine how the town looked like a long time ago ;-). To spend the night we drove a few km out of town away from the Nile where we put up our camp on a hill!
January 9th 2014 Kerma – Sesebi, Sudan
Driven distance on January 9th 2014: 100km (60 miles)
Driven distance total: 86’560km (53’780 miles)
Since we had more than enough time to reach Wadi Halfa (our last place in Sudan before taking the ferry to Egypt), we figured that we could make a trip to the western side of the Nile. With a small ferry we went across the huge Nile to the other side of the river. A nearby ruin town is the more then 3’300 years old Sesebi. There isn’t actually much more left than 3 nicely decorated columns and some small walls. But it is the life in general and the villages that are quite interesting. One can see ancient ruins in the middle of the villages along the Nile. In general is the Nile a special thing for us, a green stripe in the brown desert landscape. It is intensely green along the huge river and there are agriculture fields and it is packed of date-palm-trees! The fields, which are spreading hundreds of meters (yards) away from the river, are kept alive by smart water distribution channels. Besides is just sand and stone desert as far as the eye can see.
Our sleeping place was nestled between rocks, since we needed some shelter from the current constant relatively cold desert wind.
January 10th 2014 Sesebi – Abri, Sudan
Driven distance on January 10th 2014: 170km (110 miles)
Driven distance total: 86’730km (53’890 miles)
We went back to the same ferry place as the day before, since we didn’t know for sure if there was another ferry further north on the Nile. The Nubian people inhabit the area north of Khartoum. Here and there we could see the typically painted houses decorated with different patterns on the walls. We first got a tea and a chat with the locals after we arrived at the place to take the ferry. About an hour later we could get on the ferry. After a few minutes we arrived at the other end of the Nile. After we continued the journey, we heard a to us well known ;-) noise from the Landrover, it needed once again a new U-joint. L. Nowhere near was a repair shop, so we looked for a descent overnight place and Stefan started to disassemble the drive shaft and the U-joint at the “open-air-desert-shop” :-). The shaft was besides some cursing ;-) quite quickly taken off. Unfortunately was one thing that didn’t really fit and we had to postpone the repair to the next day!
January 11th 2014 Abri – Wadi Halfa, Sudan
Driven distance on January 11th 2014: 170km (110 miles)
Driven distance total: 86’900km (54’000 miles)
The U-joint was mounted correctly to the drive shaft after the breakfast. It got quite annoying to fit the shaft back on to the car, since the wind increased and joined the repair, so that the sand was sometimes getting into ears and eyes L. Now the car is running quieter, but instead with a new sound from the drive shaft. Well, somehow it will work ;-).
And we continued through the empty stony desert. After we arrived in Wadi Halfa we met our agent Mazar, which helps us to get the car into Egypt. It is indeed absurd that we have to take ship across the Lake Nasser to reach Egypt, even though the two countries have a 1000km (600 miles) long land border!!
January 12th – 13th 2014 Wadi Halfa, Sudan
Driven distance on January 12th – 13th 2014: 40km (20 miles)
Driven distance total: 86’940km (54’020 miles)
The agent Mazar was very friendly and we were able to stay at his house where we spent the remaining waiting time! We also met the couple Emma and Mike from England, that are, as it is supposed to be for English people, on the road as well with a Landrover :-). They were also on the way to Aswan, Egypt.
January 14th – 15th 2014 Wadi Halfa, Sudan – Aswan, Egypt
Driven distance on January 14th – 15th 2014: 0km (0 miles)
Driven distance total: 86’940km (54’020 miles)
Chaos, waiting, unknowingness and hoping; with those words we can describe the first part of our journey to Egypt!
Mazar, our agent, had obviously everything quite well under control. Where he wasn’t that good was to inform us what actually is happening here and there...
We met Mazar around 11AM in town, where there were also several tourists around. There were 41 tourists arriving the day before on the ship coming from Egypt!! A mix of self-drivers, group tourists and individual tourists. On our ferry were besides us (and 500 local passengers) only the British couple and a confused young Japanese guy with a backpack on board :-).
Just chaos was going on at the customs house! Hundreds of packages and boxes were lying around and dozens of confusing looking people were wandering around. Thanks to Mazar, we didn’t have to run around for the cars paperwork ourselves. Finally we parked the Landrovers from us and the British couple inside the customs area, paperwork was finished, the keys were at Mazar and we walked onto the ferry. The unhappy Landrover has to wait now one week by himself in Sudan until Mazar will drive him onto the car ferry. The car keys will be given to the captain and in Egypt they will be given to our agent there and we can pick up our car.
Now back to our ferry. Mr. friendly Mazar was not able to communicate to us until we were actually on the ferry if we’d receive one of the few 1. Class cabins or not! It ended like this, that we received a cabin and the British couple had to sleep, as most other travellers, on the open deck! Apparently because we contacted Mazar first, quite some time ago. The „1st Class “ cabins here would make it barely into 3rd class back in Switzerland ;-) but we were very happy that we got one!! Finally at 5PM we started the 20 hours trip! We were able to spot from the ship the illuminated, impressive Abu Simbel temples on the Egyptian side at 9PM. The ship arrived after a quiet night around 11AM.
It took another 4 hours until we were officially in Egypt, even though the passport stamping was already happening on the ship. 2 ½ hours of it we had to wait on the ship itself. Kamal, our agent in Egypt, picked us up and explained the further procedure about the car and so on.. He also organized our ride to get in town where we could stay in a relatively decent hotel.