I’m in Sudan! And here in Khartoum the somewhat sprawling capital of the largest country in Africa I find myself anxious to leave. Not because there’s nothing to do here, but because I’ve only got about five days to legally be in this country. And I’ve yet to register with the police. Sudan is perhaps the first truly Arabic and Islamic country I’ve visited. There is no liquor or alcohol here. Last night I enjoyed a cold non-alcoholic beer with Trygve the owner of the guest house I’m staying. It wasn’t bad. At least half of it wasn’t. But the food at Bougainvilla Guest House was phenomenal. I’d been carrying, if you can believe this, a special unique chunk of Norwegian chocolate that was given to me months ago by the cute Norwegian women I’d befriended in Lusaka, Zambia. The shape barely resembled what it looked like when I received it because it had melted and reshaped many times on my journey. But sitting on the room overlooking the lights of Khartoum with the Norwegian owners had to be the best possible time to indulge. This truly was the best chocolate that could be found, and only found, in Norway.
Eating Norwegian chocolate in Khartoum, Sudan.
The two guys traveling filming BBC documentaries staying here spent the whole day registering with the police. There was no way I could afford to burn a whole day doing Sudanese bureaucratic bullshit, so Birthe offered to use her influence with friends to see if she couldn’t handle the registration while I handled my other errands — for a nominal fee, of course. I agreed. After she inspected the progress of my burned leg the next morning I set out to take care of business.
A day wandering Sudan by Taxi.
Even though there are strict regulations and US and UN imposed sanctions/embargoes on US products exported to Sudan, you can still find Coca-Cola – and in English, no less.
Instead of trying to wade my way through traffic and badly marked streets, I hired a taxi for most of the day. First was a stop at Western Union to secure the funds I’d need to continue my weeklong escapades in Sudan. Then to the hotel by brother Jon had stayed in nearly eight months before when he was here on assignment with ABC News. Turns out he’d left $300 cash in dollars in the secure safe in his room. The hotel manager advised Jon that he couldn’t send the money via transfer or Western Union OUT of Sudan. So since I “happened to be in Khartoum,” Jon contacted the manager and I was able to stop by and retrieve the cash. Then to FedEx. According to Suzanne at CAA ,who’d sent my revised Carnet de Passage authenticated for passage in to Egypt, the package would be waiting for me at a specific FedEx office. Turns out this was a non-consumer focused office for FedEx so after that goose chase we were directed to the proper location where I was able to retrieve my package with the new carnet. Next, I wanted to revisit the Blue Nile Sailing Club – the infamous haunt where overlanders doing the Cairo to Cape Town circuit typically stay while in Sudan. I’d dropped by on my way into town, but there was nobody there save a clueless guard. No armed with an Arabic speaking taxi driver I could get to the bottom of this situation. My goal was to see if there were any overlanders who I could convoy with along the Nile River up to Lake Nassar and Wadi Halfa.
Gone are the lovely Donkey’s of Ethiopia, welcome the hybrids of Sudan.
The same guard provided little more information than before and just told us that sometimes people camp and there are 4×4’s visiting. But he hasn’t seen any in weeks. Meanwhile I was baking inside of the cab and getting cooked like a Dutch oven, we stopped for cold drinks then I shopped for supplies for my journey into the desert. Then to the office of Moez Mahir (ph: +249 91297257 or +249 122390571) who runs a small but well-focused travel service in Khartoum. Tucked down a small corridor in a windowless office the pleasant Sudan man shows me pictures of some of Sudan’s highlights, including scuba diving in the Red Sea, ancient ruins and pyramids and desolate dunes out in the Nubian Desert.
I met with him because oddly enough his brother runs the booking and facilitates clearing customs and immigration from Sudan into Egypt. I am anxious to book a cabin on the ferry that leaves only once a week from Wadi Halfa for Aswan, Egypt. I want to make sure there’s room for my motorcycle. Hoping he knows other overlanders that are leaving Khartoum for Wadi Halfa, I’d emailed him while still in Ethiopia. But no luck. He hasn’t heard of anyone going North; but he’s expecting several who will be making the journey South. In that way, I’m rather unique on this trip. The ratio to overlanders going South to those going North is very high. This is because there are many Europeans looking to make the Cairo to Cape Town (or even London to Cape Town) trip every year. Most of them in Range Rovers, Land Cruisers or an assortment of heavy duty 4×4 rigs. Then there are a handful of motorcyclists that do it, too. Me? I’m just passing through on my way from California to I don’t know where. But I’m going North and I’m out of luck in finding companions to cross the desolate desert. Everyone else I’ve talked to has done it in a group. Many were able to offload gear onto vehicles which makes navigating the deep sand a tad easier.
Bring up picture of the sand on his computer screen Moez poises the question, “What about the train?” I’d heard about it and exchanged emails with a couple motorcyclists that had done it — one of them going North. He did it in 2000 and it took him 58 hours under questionable conditions.
Moez Mahir on a day I actually rode through the city to find his place.
“Well the Nile route sounds more pleasant to me,” I explained. “Do you think it’s possible or recommended to do it alone?” He hemmed and hawed and suggested that I do it with some one. Back to point zero. Later that evening having dinner with Birthe and Trygve, my hosts offered the same advice. “Can you follow some one up there,” the posed while going on about the beauty of the desert and the Nile. Then there’ s the train. According to Moez the ferry will not leave until the train arrives because the primary reason the train goes to Wadi Halfa is to bring people planning on crossing Lake Nassar.
I was lost. And I couldn’t make a decision. My bike overheated a number of times in Ethiopia. What if something drastic happened to my engine out there – in the desert. Sure. I’ve got a SAT phone, but if I don’t make the Ferry on Wednesday, I’ll overextend my stay in Sudan and likely get shunned, or worse, by immigration in Wadi Halfa.
So I’m thinking. The train leaves in two days and the ferry leaves in five. I’m told the ride from Khartoum could take as few as two days (though I doubt this) and as long as four or five. Gareth and Helen spent a week riding south but stayed with a local Nubian family and met other travelers along the way and stayed with them.
I decided that instead of embarking on the complete journey the following day, that I’d ride out into the desert as a test run. If all went well, then I’d continue on to Wadi Halfa. As a back up, I asked Moez to reserve me a seat and cargo space in the event I have to take the train. It was the best of both worlds. I get out in the desert and before going to far and deep, I have the option to catch the train in a couple days.