an incredible few days! I can’t really believe that we’re here but in the
end it was pretty painless. On Saturday 29 May we finally did pull into Wadi
Halfa and the actual paperwork on the boat was quick and easy but then we had to
wait for a guy with a stamp and then it took quite a while to get the cars off
the boat. From there it was off to customs. What a change – we drank tea and
waited while they filled in the forms and did the work! Everyone was
friendly but it was a pretty slow process. After that we went to immigration
where everything was already done for us, we just picked up our passports! The
customs guy, Ahmed, is also the Tourist Officer, and he was great. He led us
through all of this and then, rather belatedly, realised that no currency
declaration had been done. It was off to someone’s house to get a person and stamp, back to the customs office, fill in the forms with no one actually
checking them and then back to the house we started at where we had tea. It was
all a kind of charmingly disorganised process as if they don’t get to do this
very often and are not 100% sure of the process to follow. It was quite nice but
very time consuming. By this time it was around 4pm but we still had to go off to a shop, change money
(black-market) and buy coke, bread and eggs. We got 25 000SD for 100USD. A coke
cost 100SD – about 40US cents. Same for 10 breads. Not too shabby. Next was
off to Ahmed’s house to meet his family and pet crocodiles! He led us all the
way to the start of the railway line which we would follow for almost 400km
through the desert.
Halfa is a true dead, desert, dump of a town. Sandy, windy and nothing there.
Ahmed showed us some photos of the town in the days before the dam and it was a
thriving place - full of tourists, Nile Cruises and really buzzing. What a
tragedy it is, all of that is lost and now it is a nothing place with no
immediate prospects of change. It is a tragedy for the people there too – they
are all very friendly and desperate for visitors but very few pass through here
and even fewer spend any time. Real tragedy all round.
people in the region are Nubians and very proud of that. They pride themselves
on their friendliness and hospitality and it is very true. I would have loved to
have stayed on but we needed to reach Khartoum in 3 days to register. From all
accounts it would be a tricky journey with our friends in the Kombi.
journey took two long, full days. We only made about 10km on the Saturday before
the Kombi got stuck. We got it out and made that our stop for the night. Sunday
we were up at 5am and on the road soon after. We did about 370km driving until
7pm so it was a long day. The road following the railway line has 10 stations
along it, we stopped at most to shake hands with the 4-5 residents and had tea
with a couple too. It’s a weird set-up, there is no access to these stations
except by train or 4WD so I guess that they really exist to keep the line
maintained and free of sand, The train definitely doesn’t stop there though!
The guys who live there really have nothing and I feel terrible when they offer
us water to drink and we refuse. We are rejecting all that they have to offer us
but what do you do? Drink up and risk illness? We took the tea.
next day, yesterday, we drove another approx. 200km in the desert to Atbara and
then another 320km to Khartoum. We were up at 4:30am (!!!) and arrived in
Khartoum at about 10:30pm. Hell. Now the question is, why did it take us so
long? Well, it was a desert track marked only by the occasional concrete marker
and nothing else. At times we were riding over really soft sand and at others
over rocky ground. Our car did great and cruised the whole way without a
problem. We did get stuck once on the Sunday but that was our fault – we went
straight into a hole! The problem was the Kombi. It slowed down our average
speed and also got stuck many times. Sometimes we could tow them out but other
times there was no surface nearby that we could tow from so it had to be pushed,
pulled and manhandled through. We worked like dogs both days but especially
yesterday. Next time someone says that they crossed the Sahara in a Kombi or
some other totally inappropriate vehicle, we will ask them who towed them
through the tough bits!
rush was because we had to get to Khartoum in order to register today (within 3
days of arrival in the country). We couldn’t register in Wadi Halfa when we
arrived – office closed and were encourage to head straight for Khartoum
rather than waiting in Wadi Halfa for a day to register. I’m not sure that it
was really such a good idea but we’re here now and fully registered. It was a
pretty painless process even though it did require a mad dash back to the hotel
to get a stamp on our form but with that done, the registration took 5 minutes.
We then applied for travel permits. We had to take them to a police station for
a stamp but got so lost trying to find it that we went back to the registration
office and got a taxi to take us there. They told us to come back tomorrow –
hopefully to get the stamped forms which we will then have to take back to the
registration office. No wonder we couldn’t find this police station ourselves
– the main entrance hall is an old container!
all of this paper chasing fades into insignificance next to the blow we got at
the Ethiopian embassy. All four of us arrived to do visa applications only to be
told that the border is closed and no visas are being issued for land entry into
Ethiopia. We were totally floored, in all my disaster scenario imaginings, this
never crossed my mind. We had been hearing all about good relationships,
wide-open borders and new friendships. We are still in the dwang but thanks to
Scott’s persistence we have an 11am appointment with the First Secretary
tomorrow. I am not sure what it will mean but we are hoping and praying for some
good news here. If not, I have absolutely no idea what we will do. Short of
returning to Egypt, there is trying to find a boat from Port Sudan to
Djibouti. Shit, I really thought that getting into Sudan would be the trick, not
getting into Ethiopia. We have already paid one boat fee – our budget did not
expect to have to pay two. After this, the disasters piled up. The visa
application, if we can ever make it, requires a letter of introduction from your
embassy. Guess what – no South African Embassy in Sudan. We have been told to
go to the Kenyan Embassy tomorrow – I am not sure why but we hope that perhaps
they represent the South African interests in Sudan.
at least we found a hotel – clean bed, aircon and TV for 46 000 Sudanese
pounds or 4600SD per night. Under 20USD. The currency here kills me. People say
that something costs 1000 meaning 1000 Sudanese pounds which no longer exist,
they then expect from you a 100SD payment! This is really very confusing and
leaves great room for being ripped off. We seem to be getting by OK now except
that I feel that the hotel last night was way, way over priced. We stayed in the
Meridian and paid 132USD. I would have been happy to pay that for a
Western-style business class hotel but that was not what we got. It was nice
once but is now old and tacky. In our first room the toilet didn’t flush so we
had to swap rooms. The second had no toiletries supplied, not even soap and only
one bath towel. The carpets were stained and dirty and it all looked very
shabby. Where we are now is far, far better value for money. That’s good
because we may have to spend a while here. It all depends on what happens at the
Ethiopian embassy tomorrow. I know that worrying doesn’t help but what else
can I do? At least I got to call home which was great because in our last email
a week ago, Scott said that we should be in Khartoum in 3 days! He also tried to
call but his folks had left the fax machine on which was very disappointing for
after all of this, my main learning experience has been one of dirt. I last
showered and washed my hair on Tuesday 25 May. One week without a shower is
absolutely awful. We did try to wipe ourselves clean with a wet, soapy facecloth
but it just isn’t the same. I am so glad that I could put my hair in a
ponytail and just pretend that it wasn’t there. Our arms and faces are really
brown now. On the boat we didn’t tan at all – just too hot to be in the sun
but I guess we did get some sun even though I was wearing a hat all the time.
The problem was the journey South. Every time that we got out of the car to dig
out the Kombi we got more sun and suntan lotion didn’t help – it was sweated
off in no time at all.
that’s it. So far my expectations have been totally overturned and Libya and
Sudan are turning out to be my favourite places. Considering that we may
never get further South than here, that’s maybe a good thing. I really
don’t know what we are going to do, I was so sure that getting as far as this
would be the hardest part. Oh well, tomorrow we will know about entry into
Ethiopia at least.
that we have got ourselves clean, next step is the car. The desert was extremely
windy and everything is covered in a fine layer of dust. The problem is that our
hotel is in town so there is no real space to work on it. My vote is that we
head out of town for a day and make up a picnic, find a quiet spot and wash the
car and sort out the car, boxes and ourselves at the same time. Looks like we
will have plenty of time to do that while we sort out our future plans.
still here and the bad news is that the Ethiopian visas look like a real no-go.
We got to speak to the first secretary who said that they were working under a
clear directive from Addis Ababa – No land entry.
are doing mad rush arounds but achieving very little each day, getting lots of
‘come back tomorrow’.
went to a shipping agent today with no luck. Next we rely on Rick to get us a
Messina shipping contact. We sent of some emails about that yesterday. The
embassy at least assured us that even though normal procedure requires a return
ticket, they will issue the visa based on a 1-way ticket. We have our ticket but
it is an open airticket so I hope that that is OK with them. We plan the following
– get visa, drive to Gallabat and check on the possibilities of crossing. If
no go, go back to Gedaref, from there to Port Sudan and try to find a boat. Then
we’ll bus ourselves back to Khartoum and fly to Addis Ababa. Then we’ll have
to get a Djibouti visa, take a train to Djibouti and collect the car. Wow, what
embassy said that nothing is moving over the border. I didn’t believe this so
we asked the shipping guy about it. He said that trade has re-started between
the countries so he is pretty sure that trucks cover the route and cross the
border. I am sure of that too.
do have one other slight issue – the Ethiopian Embassy requires a letter of
recommendation from your embassy in Sudan. This is OK for the Swiss but a real
problem for us. There is no South African Embassy here in Sudan and no-one
representing our interests. It puts us in a spot but there is absolutely nothing
we can do about it.
business ends at 2pm, making it a very short day. To give you an idea of the
success rate, this is what we did today:
8:05am we called the shipping company but there was no reply. Phone call to
Interior Ministry to find out if there is any South African representation in
Sudan. Re-call the shipping agent. The boss is not in but will be in at 10pm.
Try to get address but no luck. Get operator to help us. Get address, now to get
directions! We can’t even make our own calls, it is all done downstairs by an
operator. Next, pay for the calls and head off to the registration office. We
need to apply for a new travel permit now including Port Sudan. We should have
put it in the first application but it’s too late now – big mistake.
Photocopier at Registration Office broken so walk to another one to get
passports copied. Fill in 3 copies of application form. Hand over forms,
application and money – get the forms back with a stamp. Now we have to go to
the police for another stamp before returning here for the actual permit but we
were told yesterday to be at the police at 11am to collect the first permit so
will hand these in at the same time. It is now only around 9:30am so we decide
to head off to get the photography permit. Fill in form and get permit – free.
However, we have to fill in another travel permit form, get it stamped
and photocopied. The original is for us and the copy for the police. Rather not
hand it over unless asked because we have 2 travel permit applications but only
one of these forms. Now off to find the shipping agent. Have to ask directions 3
times. Eventually we get there but hear that they only do Red Sea shipping and
know nothing about Djibouti or even Kenya. Strike out. Next we’re off to find
the Ethiopian Air offices. Have to ask directions twice but we get there in the
end. The open tickets cost USD232 per person so we decide to go for it. It takes
us about an hour, maybe more, to get this done. We eventually get the tickets
but have to return Saturday to get the others’ currency declaration form. Now
off to the police to hand in second travel permit. Wait 40 minutes. Get the
first back with the required stamps and told to go back Saturday for the second
(hopefully). Now we have to take the first ones back to immigration but they are
closed for the day, Ethiopian embassy also closed. Tomorrow is Friday so nothing
is open. Guess what, start again Saturday!
we still need to finalise both travel permits and get the visa. All we have
achieved so far is to get the photography permit and the air ticket. Later today
we’ll check email and hopefully have something from Rick.
is the Muslim day of rest and it truly is. We even struggled to find lunch –
all the restaurants are closed. We found a roadside stall and bought fresh fruit
and bread. The fruit here is great. At least we are finding nice fruit and it
should only get better from here. The mango and guava juices are wonderful!
was a cleaning day. Scott cleaned the inside of the car while I washed clothes
and cleaned out our sleep and daily food boxes. Things are looking a lot less
sandy now! The clothes were filthy; after washing just a few items, the bucket
is all sandy. We also washed all the towels and cloths and sterilised all the
dishes in Miltons. Next we have to wash the pots and kettle, plus still 3 or 4
articles of clothing. Our line is quite short so all the washing has to get done
in stages. After this we went for a drive and checked out where the Blue and
White Nile meet to form the Nile. No great shakes – 2 rivers join! We saw some
good markets – good looking fruit and vegetables and also a regular market for
buying clothes, pots and pans etc. Here we had a great experience. Khartoum is
full of tea ladies – women who sit on the side of the road and make tea for a
living. They can scrape no more than a meagre survival out of this. We met one
woman like this in the market who spoke English – Fatillah. She invited us for
tea and we accepted. It was good tea – strong, 1 tablespoon of sugar and some
fresh mint. When we were done we tried to pay her but she refused to accept
anything saying that she had invited us which made us guests. Wow! When you
consider our relative levels of wealth it was a gesture of extraordinary
generosity. She said that we can pay next time so we will make a point of going
is visa application day. We are nervous as hell about this working out and us
getting visas with open tickets and no letter from our embassy. Tomorrow will
tell I guess. We got no news from Rick yesterday re shipping and today all is
closed. See again tomorrow.
a terrible day. We were refused permission to travel to Port Sudan. It seemed to
be at the whim of the policeman concerned and not by a fixed rule but either
way, we are stuffed. We also went to the Ethiopian Embassy to find it closed so
no news on that front, also no news from Rick.
only marginal glimmer is that we finally have the travel permit for Gallabat so
IF we can swing the visa we can go to the border and see if we can beg and plead
our way through. Shit, this is getting worse by the minute and we are starting
to resign ourselves to returning to Egypt.
only good news is that we have 3 new e-mails to read. We saw them in our inbox
this morning while we were looking for news from Rick (nothing) but didn’t
have time to read them since we wanted to get to the Ethiopian Embassy.
problem is time. One week here already and no closer to a solution. Felix and
Alfons only have a 3 week visa and if we want to return to Egypt we must make it
by 16 June when our Egyptian visa expires. I had visions of being in Ethiopia
already. My swearing vocabulary just doesn’t cover how terribly frustrating
and depressing this all is. The worst is the feeling of utter helplessness, or
maybe the worst is the feeling of precious holiday time running out. Hell I
don’t know, it’s all bad – even coming back to the hotel at 2pm each day
to brood about the day’s disasters.
other two have a clear option that we luck – sell or dump the car. It is a
25year old VW Kombi so this is feasible for them. We will lose so much money
that it just doesn’t bear thinking about. Also there is Sudan customs. They
would demand their share too.
to sink into a depression….
one thing happened today and it was a very, very good thing – we got our
Ethiopian visas – no questions asked! Also, it is a standard visa, there are
no restrictions on the port of entry. So now, with that visa and our travel
permits we head off to the border to see what we can do. Holding all fingers,
thumbs and toes.
went off to the Hilton to celebrate and I had a Khartoum cooler – mango juice,
guava juice and ice-cream. Yummy!
other thing happened – we ran into more tourists. Wow, this city is getting
overrun! They are a Canadian couple doing the whole thing by public transport.
The car business is a headache and can be an insurmountable problem at times as
we may still yet discover but public transport is not easy either. Seven hard
days from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum for example. They have been on the road for 4
months now so are pretty hardened but still find it pretty tough going. The
worst part seems to be trying to find any private space. Sure, the vehicle
isolates you from your surroundings but at times that is just what you need.
are also planning to go to Ethiopia. In fact, we met them at the Ethiopian
Embassy where they hit the same brick wall as what we did. We helped them to
Ethiopian Airlines who refused to sell them a one-way ticket, the scum. They
found a travel agent who would do it and are doing the same as us except that
the day they get their visa they will go and cancel the ticket. We’re still
holding on to ours just in case.
that’s pretty much it. Emails sent, clothes washed, car checked out and now
only packing left to do. We have piles of stuff to take down to the car. We’ll
head for Gedaref tomorrow, only 430km away and then for Gallabat the day after.
The 150km to Gallabat are supposed to be really bad road so we’ll leave a full
day for it. After that – who knows. I hope it won’t entail turning back.
made it this far! We have not lied about our plans at all and at all the police
stops have said that Ethiopia is our final destination. So far no problems. One
checkpoint even told us that some other tourists came through a couple of hours
before us, also en-route to Gallabat and Ethiopia.
love the openness and friendliness of the people but hate the bureaucracy.
Travelling here is hard. We were stopped at three roadblocks (waved through
countless more) but at two actually had to get out of the car, go to an office
and have all of our data written into a book. Not only have our travel permits
been scrutinised, they even write on them when we pass through a checkpoint. We
assume this is so that we can’t lie at the next checkpoint about our time on
the road. It’s all a little much.
are in the most expensive hotel in town – 74000SD per night as opposed to
46000SD as in Khartoum. We even had to change 100USD on the black market to pay
for it. The other two hotels claimed to be full but they only got ‘full’
when they saw me. Anyway, we met a nice guy who was very helpful but very
concerned about the stuff on the roof getting stolen. This hotel has a locked
yard so maybe that alone makes it worth the money. Dinner at 12000SD per couple
was a bargain.
tomorrow is D-Day. Jeez, this ‘holiday’ has been full of make or break days.
I just hope that this one goes well too. Apart from the iffy border crossing,
the 150km road to Gallabat is marked as impassable in bad weather. Guess what?
It has just started to rain!