When we started on this trip we felt a little uncomfortable because of the ongoing crisis in Dafur and the fact that we had not succeeded to fix the parking for our Landy in Khartoum. We did not know that this was indeed going to become the hardest trip so far with a multitude of challenges coming quite unexpectedly....in Egypt!! We spent 4 days at the customs in Cairo, where robbed in a taxi, had to fight with fire in our Landy, and crossed Lake Nasser with our car under quite extreme conditions
Sudan, on the other hand side, was easy - the safest country one can imagine. People say Sudan resembles a continent within one country. Well, we certainly did see only a fraction. The people we met, however, for us were the true highlight of the country: absolutely honest, a little shy rather than pushy, and always ready to help you in whatever situation.
Having spent our first night in hotel Baron (Heliopolis) we contacted our agency (Leader Group) in the morning. The first information we received was that we had to pay the full traffic fee to them (3.600 £.E = 460 €), despite the fact that the car was parked under customs control. The question "why" was simply ignored, maybe not even understood. Then we were given a "delegate" that should facilitate the process at the 6th October City branch of the Cairo Customs, where our Landy was parked. The delegate did not speak English but tried to be nice. At 6th October City the customs officer started the process but soon told us that we would not be given our car on that very day because a document from central customs (airport) was needed. There was no chance of getting this, as it takes 1,5 hours from 6th October City to the central office. One major problem was becoming obvious: Ramadan. Office hours start between 9.30 AM and 10.00 AM and end between 12.00 PM and 1.30 PM. We returned to our hotel and checked in once more....At night we had a fabulous dinner in our favorite restaurant in Cairo near the American Embassy (Tabula)
On the next day we tried to be at the central office in time. Very soon the guys found out that Leader Group had "imported" the car instead of arranging a transit. We were allowed to "export" it, using no other boarder post than Soloum, the point we entered Egypt coming from Libya. This was of course impossible, as we wanted to go to Sudan (and did not own visa for Libya). The only solution was to transfer the car under customs custody from 6th October City to the central office and then change all documents. Not necessary to mention that there was no chance to do that on the same day: Ramadan... ! We checked in at our hotel once again and spent the late afternoon at the Egyptian Museum with the magnificent Tut-Ench-Amun exhibition and of course the Mummies.
We transferred the car from 6th October City to the airport office, which took much longer than planned. At the airport office our process was interrupted by the fact that everybody went home for the Ramadan preparations. We went back to our hotel to check in once again....by that time we were quite famous in the Baron Hotel. We spent the afternoon in the Hussein Mosque and at the Khan-al-Khalili bazaar. On the way back the Taxi driver came very close to us in his tiny car. At the end of the trip (when the Taxi had just disappeared) Maren's wallet was missing and never showed up again. We disable the EC and Visa card running the risk to completely cut off our money supply as the 2nd EC card runs on he same account and was disabled as well. On the next morning Sparkasse Melsungen re-activated the 2nd EC card within a few hours (wow!).
It actually took the entire "working" day again and in between it looked like the string of different processes (new documents, new number plates, new car license) would take yet another day. But finally, and as the last out of 4 cars on this day, our Landy passed the customs gates. We spent another night in Cairo this time on the Salma campground. Both of us tired and very happy...
The tar road from Cairo to Luxor follows the river Nile with some passages going through the desert. The villages are absolutely beautiful and the multitude of police posts let us through without problems. On the entire tour we did not see a single tourist car. We spend the night at the Rezeiki camp in the middle of Luxor with a cool beer in the restaurant - it starts looking and feeling like holidays.
We use the morning for an extended visit of the Karnak temple and a short look at the Luxor temple. We have no time for the Valley of Kings as we have to catch our convoy to Assuan.
In Assuan we refill our food stocks in the "supermarket". Our Landy gets fresh oil, oil filter, some grease, and a car wash to remove all the bird shit with which it was entirely covered when it came out of the customs depot.
On our way to our camp (Adams Home) the Landy made a strange noise. We instantly stop at the roadside and see small flames in the engine! After we had extinguished the fire, the engine was dead but could be restarted when 2 locals towed us with their Toyota. We drove back to the city to a small electrician repairshop where we found out that the starter was completely burned - for Hisham and his colleague obviously a routine job. After new carbon contacts had been organized at the other end of the city, the winding of new spools was a one-hour- job.
Hisham starts to repair our completely destroyed starter
Maren and me having a tea in front of Hishams "workshop". Three hours and 18 Euros after we had extinguished the fire in our car, our Landy was back on the road. Back in the camp we found out that the "Kulturbeutel" of Maren had disappeared forever - a little too much maybe for one day.
The ferry preparation day. We show up at Salahs office and Sallah appears to be a very nice man. He remembers our booking that we made through Susan, a colleague in Marens team who can speak Arabic, which made a big impression on Salah. We start the process that leads us to the traffic police, then to a small office where we receive the "declaration of no objection" and back to the traffic police where we get rid of the Egyptian number plates. Back in Salahs office we meet Emma and Andreas on their way from Sweden to Capetown in a Toyota 4Runner. They have managed to avoid any offroad passages and did not use their tent or cooking equipment on the entire tour. Now, as the infrastructure definitely ends, they decided to join us until Khartoum. In the afternoon we drive back to Hishams electrical repair shop he fixes the radio/lighter problem and refuses to take any money from us. We decide to spend the night in the Sara hotel with a nice pool overlooking the nile from a hill and stay there for 2 nights.
We start at Salahs office and finish the ferry payment. This needs to be done in a bank where we pay in the amount in cash. At around noon we drive out to the harbor to put our cars on the ship which is so incredibly slow that it leaves one day before the ferry, and arrives one day later than the ferry in Wadi Halfa. The customs declaration runs very smoothley. After one hour the car ist stamped out of the Carnet. Another hour later we can drive the cars onto the ponton which is not much broader than our cars are. We go back to our hotel and spend the rest of the day at the hotel pool.
On the next morning we are together with Emma and Andreas at the harbor at 9.30. Embarking the ferry is an incredible chaos with hundreds of people pushing and trying to be first on board with their loads of goods they carry on the only open gateway to sudan. Many carry 2-4 televisions and huge cartons with kitchen machines or cloth. It takes hours before the ferry leaves Assuan in the late afternoon. Later we try to go up on deck to see Emma and Andreas who had booked a 2nd class ticket without cabin. This turns out to be impossible since hundreds of people are lying on the floor or have stapled their goods to immense obstacles. In the absolute darkness nobody can move on deck. So we spend a comparable relaxing night in our cabin and are happy that we have brought our sleeping bags with us...! In the morning the ferry passes by Abu Simbel which is incredible to see from the seaside. One hour later the ferry reaches Wadi Halfa / Sudan (see map below)
As our car will arrive on the other day we take a group-taxi (Series Landrover) to the "Nile Hotel" where we check in and receive a 4-bed room that we share with Emma and Andreas as it is the last room in the hotel. We soon find out that most of the beds of the hotel stand under the open sky anyway, with many people lying there in the middle of the day. Our "room" is a wooden booth and the hotel toilet is the worst we ever saw (plastic chair with a whole, and a pile of .... below it). The showers are not in much better condition as they have water only every other day and not on days where the ferry arrives, as there are too many people in town. Besides they are used as toilets as well and do not smell very nice. We change some money and receive 287 SDG for 100€ which takes a while because the bank initially refuses to change Euros. Egyptian money is changed by a multitude of guys on the street. We meet 5 guys from New Zealand and a German couple (all on trans-Africa tour on motorbikes) and spend a very nice evening in the restaurant of Wadi Halfa. A french guy shows up and asks us for some french books which we can not supply - he has been travelling since 8 years. All in all Wadi Halfa is a typical place that everyone has to pass when taking the Eastern route across Africa. We really enjoyed it!
Our cars arrive in the early morning but it takes until afternoon to get them off the ship. The reason soon becomes clear: our ship has no ramps on which we can unload the cars. Due to the rain in the South, the level of Lake Nasser had raised, now causing a problem. Many hours later 2 provisional ramps are found and we can start the unloading. Sablilizing one rotten ramp with an empty barrel finally helps. Now the customs process needs to be completed. The "agent" that is supposed to help already approached us on the ferry. We took the one with the turban (wrong one). Finally we are ready to go (no inspection of car and package) and drive out appr. 15 km to find a lovely place in the dunes where we camp.
On the next morning we start heading Dongola. The track is easy to find and not much harder than many other tracks with severe corrugation we took on earlier trips. What makes the difference here, is the shere length of the track: 4 days on corrugation is a pain for people and car. Soon after we arrive in the first village (Akasha) we find ourselves a nice place for camp. After sunset local trappers appear in our camp and sit down for a while. They show us their traps but conversation turns out to be almost impossible.
We continue our way along the river Nile whis is beautiful but hard to drive. In the afternoon we find ourselves a place between two villages right at the river bank. The place is absolutely wonderful and we lite a campfire for dinner. Later at night huge spiders and a scorpion show up, making us feel slightly uncomfortable. We decide to conclude the night in our tents. A lovely day!
We reach the ferry and cross the river Nile to arrive in the city of Dongola. Here we fill up our food stocks on the market and soon find the tar road to Khartoum. A few kilometers behind the police post we find ourselves a campsite near the road in a canyon.
Easy going on the tared highway. We arrive in the middle of the Souk in Omdurman and slowly proceed to the Blue Nile Sailing Club which is our camp in Khartoum. For Emma and Andreas this is the time to get their equipment fixed. The roofrack of the Toyota has not survived the Dongola trip and needs some welding. We are better off. Our tent has lost a few screws which we can replace. We meet Herbert and Christine in their big silver overlander truck, Klaus, and Jörg and Anke whom we met last year in Tunisia! Relaxed afternoon in the camp. We make an appointment for the next day with Omer, who will store our car in Omdurman.
We check our Landy for possible damages, refix some screw nuts (cardan shaft). In the evening Omer our contact person for car parking picks us up at the camp. He drives us to his home in Omdurman where we meet his family. They invite us for Iftar, the first meal moslems take after sunset during Ramadan. The meal is delicious and the family is very nice - we learn a lot about the Sudan. At night Omer drives us back to the Blue Nile SC showing us the different parts of Khartoum. We feel much better regarding the car parking in Khartoum!
Cruising through Khartoum. It is incredibly hot: since many days we have not seen the temperatures drop below 33°C, even at night. Soon after sunrise temperatures increase reaching the maximum around noon with 42-45°C in the shadow. In the afternoon Herbert and I try to refill our Camping Gaz bottles. Somebody told us that the SHELL filling station would be the right place. Having found SHELL some 30 min later, they tell us that they cannot refill our bottles. One of the staff leads us to another place. Since this place is closed he describes us the way to yet another place. On the way we find a shop with gaz bottles. They cannot refill our bottles since we have a different format. They know, however, another shop in Omdurman that can probably help us. As the way is too difficult to describe (20 minutes driving) a young man comes with us (2 hours!). This shop can finally refill our bottles... crazy but a somehow typical example of Sudan and Sudanese helpfulness. Herbert and I are happy.
We take the highway heading north (Shendi, Atbara) and reach Meroe in the afternoon.
It is incredibly hot again and we are absolutely alone in this impressive field of pyramids where Nubian kings where burried between 400 BC and 350 AD.
In the afternoon we just circle around the big dunes to find a nice place for the night.
Back to Khartoum after a good breakfast in the desert. On the way back to town we see huge bus convoys heading north. It is the day before the end of Ramadan and many inhabitants of Khartoum are going to see their relatives in the countryside.
Departure day. We spend the day organizing our luggage. In the afternoon Omer picks us up and we have another dinner with his family. Our Landy fits right through Omers gate and we drive it in his backyard. Later he drives us to the airport where our LH flight leaves at 1.35 AM. We are the only tourists on board - the flight is completely booked by UN, aid organizations, and some businessmen from Addis Abeba. We fall asleep almost instantly.
Nile City: Corniche
Enjoying a walk on the Corniche (that's not us...)
Red Dates on Khan-al-Khali bazaar in Cairo
Iftar Preparations in Cairo
Cairo: Hussein Mosque
Following the Nile down to Luxor
Giant columns in the temple of Karnak in Luxor are about 40m high.
Bats in the temple of Karnak (Luxor/Egypt)
Ramadan: Reading the Koran
Passing by Abu Simbel on the ferry to Wadi Halfa early in the morning. The temple of Ramses II built in 1279 BC was rellocated when Lake Nasser was accumulated in 1964.
Our Camp in Wadi Halfa
Shaving in the Desert
Taxis in Wadi Halfa - a paradise for fans of Series Landrovers
Boy in Abri (Sudan)
Road to Dongola
Man in Dongola
Dongola: Cookies in boiling oil
Kids in Abri
Office centre in Khartoum, built by Libyans - they call it "Gaddhafi's egg"
Camp at the Meroe Pyramids
Sudan is magnificent. Most people - including us - have only limited information regarding this huge country. The best way to learn more is to talk to the people and we are glad that we had the chance to make the acquaintance of Omer an his family who talked to us very naturally about the beauties, specialities and also problems of living in Sudan. For travellers who are crossing Africa the possibility to camp anywhere in the desert is cool. Even in populated areas camping is not a problem as people leave you alone, unless you have a problem. Sudan certainly is one of the safest countries we have ever been to.
The infrastructure is still a big problem. Many parts of the country - especially the southern, but also western parts are still difficult to access due to missing roads. This leads to a limited exchange between the different parts of the Sudanese population with the South being almost isolated. Under these conditions the development of Sudan as a whole nation is difficult. Currently many Chinese projects are ongoing. Streets, dams and railway tracks are built. The positive effect of this engagement, however, comes at a price. Sudan supplies some 6 to 8% of the Chinese oil consumption.
The real problems of this huge country remain unseen by travellers like us. The troubled South and the Dafur region are inaccessable for tourists. Only traces in Khartoum indicate the massive humanitarian tragedy of this country. The city is full of brand new expensive Toyota Landcruisers that drive up and down the streets. The UN spends a fortune for its fleet. On the airport we meet oodles of teenagers. It takes a while for us to realize that they belong to the uncountable number of NGOs that are here in Khartoum. Some have called them "crusaders of altruism". We have not seen them in the refugee camps where people live under indescribable conditions in the outskirts of Sudan's capitol.