Metema (border crossing), Wadi Mahadi, Khartoum, Old Dongola, Soleb, Karima, Khartoum, Port Sudan and Suakin.
Modern Sudan is situated on the site of the ancient civilisation of Nubia, which predates Pharaonic Egypt. For centuries sovereignty was shuttled back and forth between the Egyptians, indigenous empires such as Kush, and a succession of independent Christian kingdoms. In 1821 the viceroy of Egypt, Mohammed Ali, conquered northern Sudan and opened the south to trade. Within a few decades British interests were also directed towards Sudan, aiming to control the Nile, contain French expansion from the west and draw the south into a British–East African federation. The European intrusion, and in particular the Christian missionary zeal that accompanied it, was resented by many Muslim Sudanese.
The revolution came in 1881, when one Mo- hammed Ahmed proclaimed himself to be the Mahdi, the person who, according to Muslim tradition, would rid the world of evil. Four years later he rid Khartoum of General Gordon, the British-appointed governor, and the Mahdists ruled Sudan until 1898, when they were defeated outside Omdurman by Lord Kitchener and his Anglo-Egyptian army. Sudan then effectively became a British colony. Although nowadays not many Sudanese people actually speak English…unlike other British colonies we travelled.
Sudan achieved independence in 1956, but in a forerunner of things to come, General Ibrahim Abboud, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Sudanese army, summarily dismissed the winners of the first post-independence elections and made himself president. Ever since, flirtations with democracy and multiple military coups have been regular features of the Sudanese political landscape.
In 1983 Nimeiri scrapped the autonomy accord and imposed sharia (Islamic law) over the whole country. Hostilities between north and south recommenced almost immediately. Army commander John Garang deserted to form the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which quickly took control of much of the south. Some believe it to be the start of the fight for independence for South Sudan.
And finally in January 2011 the South Sudanese went to the polls and voted overwhelmingly for independence and in July 2011 Sudan found itself with a new neighbour, an independent South Sudan. Almost before the new flag was raised in Juba, capital of South Sudan, the new neighbours were at each other’s throats over the oil-rich territory of Abyei, which both nations claimed as theirs. In April 2012 they came to the very brink of war over the issue. But the bad news didn’t stop there, and rebellions have broken out in the Nuba Mountains and other parts of South Kordofan as well as in Blue Nile state.
So Sudan is entering new territory and its future has never been so unpredictable. Most Sudanese consider South Sudan’s independence something of a disaster for the future of this now shrunken nation. The loss of the oil revenue since the south obtained independence has sent the Sudanese economy on a sharp downward spiral and the cost of basic daily goods has skyrocketed. We noticed this when changing Euro’s into Sudanese pounds…most the economy is run by the black market exchange.
Border crossing, Khartoum, Old Dongola, Soleb en Karima
March 27th was the day we left Tim-Kim village early in the morning to get to the border crossing before the Ethiopian immigration and customs go on their ‘French’ lunch break. We arrived at 11.30am and soon we both receive our exit stamp at the immigration desk. After came the tricky part with customs… as we gave one hard disk to Nienke and cannot find our GPS. The young man helping Wilfred wanted to see all electronic devices, so we showed him one hard disk and one memory card as the second one…he seemed to accept that. And so the list continued…our satellite messenger and Judith showed it to him and placed it next to her. Then the iPhone, iPad and laptop, all ‘check in the box’. After that he asked for the GPS and Judith picked up the satellite messenger (yes, again) and showed it to him…he just checked the box and did not even notice that she showed him the same item twice. So the last thing was to check everything in the back of our campervan. He climbed in and looked around. He checked our kitchen, but than he noticed all the storage space in our truck and noon was approaching fast… so without checking anything else he just mumbled: ‘Looks good; I am going for lunch now’.
Relieved it when so smooth (we expected we had to pay either a fine or a bribe to customs…) we drove to our next stop; the immigration office on the Sudanese side. Within ten minutes they made a copy of our passports, stamped the entry date in our passports and processed the arrival cards. Just one more stamp and signature for the truck left to collect. We were the only ones at the customs office, but it seemed to take forever...the customs officer needed to type up a document, but was very very very slow in typing… Finally after forty-five minutes (just as long as it took us to collect all other stamps) we were good to go.
En route to Khartoum.
Since we only have a transit visa for 15 days we wanted to drive as far as we could towards Khartoum before it got dark. We stayed overnight at Wadi Mahadi, a rather large town on the shore of the Blue Nile. As we did not exchange money at the border with one of the guys that approached us, we had to find a place. After searching for a while for a private exchange office (where you get better much rates than at the bank), we got help from a friendly Sudanese man we met on the side of the street. He made some calls and we followed him through town to an exchange office. With the money in the pocket, the next task on the list was getting diesel and a new supply of biscuits and soda’s for the next day. It was a long time ago that Wilfred had a huge smile on his face when filling up the tank…a litre diesel cost S£4,50 (not even €0,25 J).
After a good nights sleep in the parking lot of the run down Imperial Hotel (only the name still sounds ‘royal’...) we had some coffee in the gardens and continued our drive to Khartoum. Early afternoon we arrived at the International Guesthouse (formerly known as the German Guesthouse). Since our main purpose for staying in Khartoum is to get our visa for Saudi-Arabia, we made a phone call to a fixer recommend by another Dutch couple who used him a couple of months ago. At the beginning of the evening he stopped by at the guesthouse to collect all our papers. He asked Judith what Wilfred’s profession is and mentioned that he already knew hers: ’wife’. So…it begins…Judith’s profession is wife and she needs to wear an abaca and is not allowed to drive during our transit of 1700kms through the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia. Naturally, she is really looking forward to this…
The next day we handed in our laundry for a proper washing in a machine. Something that had not happened since we left Nairobi almost seven weeks ago. When it was returned all our t-shirts and polo shirts were even ironed. We will look really smart in our very clean and ironed cloths ! We were also pleased that the guesthouse offered to arrange our ‘alien’ registration and travel & photo permit as we heard from other overlanders that this can sometimes take up to four hours to arrange. All foreigners/aliens need to register in Khartoum within three days of arrival. Omar went to the airport with our passports and returned them with some additional stamps and a nice sticker that stated that we were registered.
In the afternoon we visited the National Museum of Sudan. This museum, said to be the best in the country, has some really nice exhibits. The ground floor covers the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Kerma, Kush and Meroe. It has some stunning royal statues and perfectly preserved 3500-year-old artefacts from Kerma. We were reminded of our holiday to Egypt and saw how much of the history of Sudan is linked to Egypt and its rulers. After we leave Khartoum we will visit these areas and are looking forward to see the old temples and forts.
Upstairs was an exhibition with plenty of medieval Christian frescos that were removed from the ruined churches of Old Dongola. Last but not least we walked around the grounds of the museum where they had rebuild some of the temples ‘Abu Simbel–style’. These temples were rescued from the rising waters of Lake Nasser and moved to the museum in Khartoum.
We also drove to the bridge from where you can see the Blue and White Nile ‘merge’ together. People say that you can actually see the different colours of each Nile flowing side by side before blending further downstream – although neither are blue or white! The first time we passed the crossing, we hardly noticed any difference in colour, however the next morning - on our way out of Khartoum- it was obvious that the White Nile was brownish and the Blue Nile greenish in the colour. In Sudan there are some restrictions to what you are allowed to take pictures of, and bridges are not allowed. We heard many stories of tourist taking pictures at this point that have been arrested, so we refrained from taking any photos.
Before leaving Khartoum the next morning, we stopped at the Khalifa’s House Museum and Mahdi’s Tomb next door and tried to get to the Omdurman Souq. But the roads was so crowded with tuktuks, people and cars we just drove to our next destination…
Old Dongola, Soleb and Karima.
Our aim for the day was Old Dongola, an abandoned city that has both a Christian as well as an Islamic history. We passed through the desert on a very nice tarmac road and shortly before five, we arrived at the site. We looked for the ticket office, but had almost seen the whole place before we found something that could pass for a ticket office…however we found no one there and continued our visit. After seeing the ruins of the churches, palace and cemetery, we went back to a place next to the abandoned city and parked the car on an elevation overlooking the Nile. Apart from the thousand of sand flies, it was the perfect camping spot…luckily, the flies disappeared after sunset allowing us to enjoy the evening and fresh air.
When morning came, so did the flies… L After a quick coffee, we left for Soleb, about 250km further North. On the way (read: with a detour of approx. 150km, as the ferry did not seem to be operational), we also visited Western Deffufa (ruins of several, likely religious, buildings of which they had rebuild their ground plans and Tombus (where the head of the only/last black Pharaoh would lie amongst large builders next to the road…we only found a small building that was locked L). As planned, we arrived around sunset at the area of Soleb and first visited the recently found (~5-7 years ago) pyramid ruins of Sedeinga and the Temple of Tiyi. Again we were joined by a growing number of flies… By the time we got to the Temple of Soleb, their numbers were far from funny and they even showed up on our pictures as blurry stains…not wanting to wait in the car till they were gone, we decided to drive back south till it was dark before finding a spot to camp. As a result, we ended us about 40km south of Soleb in the midst of several hills. The area where we stayed the night was covered with man-made heaps of stones as if people had been looking for something. Although the place was perfect for a camp, we did not sleep much. From the moment we stopped till the next day there was a (very) strong wind… On the road, this was not so bad, but trying to sleep when the tent is hit by the wind and the car is rocked like a rocking chair was far from ideal.
After an early breakfast, we drove back towards the city of Dongona and bought ourselves proper ‘Arabic’ scarfs (against wind, sun and -hopefully- the flies) and some bread for lunch at the bakery we had found the other day. Afterwards, we continued another 200km through the desert towards Karima; a town with several historic sites from the Pharaoh periods. We first visited the temple of Amun and Mut and the - almost in tact - pyramids of Jebel Barkal next to it and succeedingly went to the pyramids of Nuri to see the largest pyramids of Sudan. The latter were a bit disappointing as they were not in such a good state (although indeed larger in size).
With some hours left before diner (which we planned in the luxury lodge next to the Jebel Barkal site), we already went to the lodge to escape the heat and relax a bit. With the quotes for the ferry to Saudi-Arabia in the pocket and a good idea which agent to go with, we really wanted to know if our KSA visa got approved…unfortunately - but likely due to the weekend - we were not able to get in contact with our fixer.