Wednesday, 22 September 2010

To Khartoum and onwards

Oh we are so behind on the blog!! Sorry to have caused any worry for being out of contact...

We spent about a month or maybe even two planning this trip - mainly in the Camberwell library. Initially we had a lot of worry about heading through Sudan. The press carry a lot of incidents from there. What we found on more research was that the country is made up of 3 different areas & given that it is the largest country in Africa, these areas are spread wide apart. Broadly you can split it into Northern Sudan, Southern Sudan & Western Sudan (Darfur) - map here. What we read of in the press comes from Darfur or Southern Sudan where there has been conflict for a long time. Northern Sudan, which we are cutting right through the middle of, has been said by other travellers to be one of the safest parts of the Cairo to Cape Town route. So it's a bit like travelling through England when there is fighting in Wales and Scotland, but on a much wider scale. In fact most seem to say that the Northern Kenyan border was the only real worry on this journey.

During that planning stage in Camberwell library we had allowed 3 days to travel down south to Khartoum. Lots of the info we were able to find on the internet and in our lonely planet turns out to be out of date as we travel. Mainly, things turn out to be easier than we thought. Only a year ago, with the help of China, they completed a tarmac road all the way to the capital and also have a load of brand new Chinese coaches (with plastic wrapping still on seats!). So in 12 hours in a very comfy coach (with a/c - phew!) we were able to cross the Nubian desert - the eastern most part of the Sahara that runs right across northern Africa (try clicking on 'Sat' on the map on the right & zooming in to see). This was a long and fairly uneventful journey, except for the 'camel's graveyard' which was a stretch of a couple of miles with literally hundreds of dead camels lying by the road. We got out for a couple of stops and were reminded that it was actually roasting outside, as you easily forget when there is air-conditioning.

We arrived just before nightfall, in a city that can take an hour and a half to drive across, with a vague address of our friend of a friend and their number. Very quickly a couple of Sudanese men wanted us to sit down - one in his taxi, the other at his bus ticket stall. We had got used to this kind of behaviour in Egypt and were very wary of it. But we had heard Sudan was different so we went along with it. We experienced what was to be the first time of many - they were genuinely just looking after us - they gave us tea and water (we don't drink the local water so this was a pray-and-hope-for-no-squits!) and one lent us his mobile to call our friend. We are much more helpless on this trip than we've ever been in London - just calling someone is difficult - and it means help is all the more sweet. Our friend came and collected us and we drove across the city, full of unfinished buildings, a posh hotel built by Gadaffi & many small shacks.

After endless tiny hotel rooms, it was an incredible treat to stay with this couple and meet another family who were staying with them. We joined them for church, we heard all about the community of workers there, we saw such unity and perseverance, it was a real joy. We were supposed to get travel permission from one government department and check in with the police somewhere else (and pay them quite a lot for the privilege) - but we had turned up at the end of Ramadan holidays - like Christmas - and only managed the first part of this. In the end neither was checked or remarked upon, even when at the border I said to 3 different police dudes that we hadn't checked in and pointed it out in the passports!

We also slightly reluctantly forced ourselves to explore the city a little bit - in search of a taxi a Sudanese lady stopped to help us and ended up driving us round the city herself! Again the Sudanese hospitality. She had a one and half year old - her nephew - sitting on her lap holding the steering wheel. Occasionally we would veer off the road a little as she forgot that his steering needed supervision. Then she would say sternly 'No, Dudey!' as Cate is so often heard exclaiming to me. Are you serious?! Did we hear right? Yes, this little one was also called 'Dudey'. We explained to her that we also speak to each other thus and the 3 dudies + lady had a good chuckle as she continued to say 'Well done Dudey' and the like. It was a bit worrying driving past the police as they couldn't see her hands holding the lower part of the wheel, but no-one seemed to mind this under-age driver.

We had to tear ourselves away after a couple of days and get on a bus to Gedaref, towards the eastern Ethiopian border. Another posh bus, with a thermometer reading of inside and out - over the course of the journey it dropped from 40 to 27 (and Khartoum had been 40 night and day). Gedaref was a much smaller town, like many it was dark at night with little electric lighting. Nevertheless we felt safe walking around as we have done since the beginning of the trip. We went to a restaurant where we were offered chicken, lamb or beef. After a lot of miming I got him to make me a fried egg sandwich (and no, I didn't have to go as far as miming laying an egg!). At one point a group of young men invited us to sit with them and have tea. We ended up talking for an hour, mainly to one guy who had excellent English and knew more about UK current affairs than us! He was also what I had really wanted to meet - a sincere and devoted Muslim who spoke English well enough that we could really talk. We all shared our faith, he with us & we with him. Cate shared very well as she always does, from the heart and unashamed. It was also sad, as he explained that he would love to travel like us, but it was far beyond what he could afford. Back to our hotel, which was quite a tough one. Cricket count was only 1 though, which I trapped under a glass. Don't worry, I freed him in the morning when we left.

1 comment:

  1. i love that the little kid was called dudey, thats ace!! he he
    guys, always so good to hear your stories, xxx