Camels on the road into Sudan (2012-07)

Travelling Sudan, pt. 1: Into the devil’s den


We enter Sudan from Ethiopia. During our last days there the weather had grown increasingly cold and rainy. Now the further North we go the more the sun and the heat come out. At the border we have to go see a few important people before we are allowed to move on. Along the way the usual touts offer their services: to get us through the process faster or to change money. They are a bit disappointed when I only change a few leftover Birr. But in the end they’re happy for the business.

We got our 14 day transit visa in Kampala. It allows us to cross the country for Lake Nasser and Egypt, without straying East to Port Sudan or West towards Darfur. Having been nervous about Sudan all along I do not dare to think about not abiding with the regulations of our visa.

The minivan taxi that finally agrees to take us from Metema to Gedaref seems from another world. Saudi Arabia, for example. It’s white and shiny with a plush interior. And real, REAL air condition. Before we leave a large container with ice water is placed between the passengers. Free water for all. No more Sub-Sahara. The large camel herds we pass are another sure sign of the desert.

In Gedaref we need to find a cab to the bus station. A fellow passenger from the minivan invites us to share his – for free.

As the night breaks the bus stops for tea. A woman has set up shop at the side of the road. She skillfully mixes tea, herbs and water, and serves it with plenty of sugar.

Around midnight we finally make it to Khartoum. The Khartoum Youth Hostel is the only place in town that I was able to research online and that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Being a foreigner in Sudan is expensive. As usual we arrive without a booking. Luckily there is a guy sleeping right by the reception area. He lets us in.

My (male) travel companion makes the mistake of answering the concierge’s question correctly. This will be the only time during our journey through Sudan.

‘Are you married?’

We’re not.

So a bed for me is quickly found on the top floor in an empty dorm. My travel companion is more of a problem. Standing in the empty 8 bed dorm I offer: ‘He could stay here.’

‘But he said you were not married.’

I laugh nervously. ‘He must have been confused. Of course we’re married.’

Luckily he doesn’t wonder about the lack of a wedding ring on my finger. Or ask for proof in our passports. I guess people here don’t expect foreigners to joke about marriage.

The next day we spend another 100 USD each and a few stressful hours at the Alien Registration. After putting down 125 USD (as a German) and 200 USD (as an American) respectively for our visas. In the afternoon we are painfully reminded that Sudan has fallen out with much of the World when we discover that Visa cards do not work in the county and that Western Union transfers are not as easy as they have been for me during most of my journey.

Downtown Khartoum is full of highrises glistening in the sun. There are banks at every corner. But none of them accept Western credit cards.

In the end we spend our last Sudanese Pounds on wiring money to my sister who then has to find a Western Union in Berlin to wire it to us. Sometimes you can’t make it on your own.

The day after that I go hunt for photography permits, which cost – much to my surprise – nothing.

In part 2 read all about how my perception of Sudan  changes as I wander the streets of Khartoum on my own.

Do you have anything to add? Thoughts? Opinions? Let me know!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.