Open air office

20th August 2014 by Helen

In daylight this morning, the border area looked as muddy as it had felt last night. We found out later that there has been an exceptional wet season which accounts for an excess of mud.

Our first experience of Sudan started as one of pending dismay but we were wrong – it was delight. We thought we had made a mistake and got caught by one of the fixers that can often be found at borders. Young men who escort you from office to office supposedly to help you through the maze of procedures when in reality the customs staff are usually helpful and point you in the right direction. The fixers obviously expect a tip and they supplement their tips by claiming the customs people need bribes to speed things up (usually they don’t). After immigration the man who separated us from our passports and carnet outside the customs office was older than most and we thought we’d been caught by a long term experienced hand. Resigned to paying the fees we enjoyed the hot sweet traditional Sudanese ginger coffee he ordered for us. How wrong we could have been. It turned out the man was the top Customs Officer himself, sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and running his department from a plastic chair next to the tea stall. He signed off our Carnet, no fee, free coffee.

From there we headed off towards Khartoum. Sadly we noticed a lot of litter again by the roadside again and often there were strong stale garbage smells wafting in through the car windows. We were stopped at a number of roadside checks. Most were friendly but all were at least polite. Sometimes we were asked for our papers, sometimes we were just waved on. The roads were good by the standard of England in the 1970s, which meant OK with a few potholes along the way. Stopping at what might have passed for a roadside services building we found the ‘menu’ was ‘come and look at what’s in the hot cabinet’. None of what was probably the dregs of the day looked terribly appetising – it was already afternoon by the time we stopped – but turned out tasty enough once clamped between two halves of a hot dog bun.

Sudan we found vast, flat, dry, sandy, desert, with little as far as the eye could see other than the occasional single storey dwelling, a few stunted trees and the occasional ornate mosque.

We made good time and were delighted to be able to get in to Khartoum at the end of the day, albeit a little after dark. We were not due to arrive in Khartoum until tomorrow but we decided to push on and get there tonight. Just as well we did, as it turned out everywhere closes on a Friday and we would have had to wait until after the weekend to get our papers stamped!  We were delighted when the hotel happily took control of our passports and went off and got the necessary visa registrations done and permits to both drive north of Khartoum and take photographs in Sudan without any further involvement from us. A little expensive and out of the range of the average budget traveller, the Acropole is nonetheless to be recommended for their awareness of travellers’ needs and service – the little extras that can make a difference – and also for helping us sort out our flights from Port Sudan back to Khartoum and then on to London.

We took advantage of the hotel’s included free tour of Khartoum’s main historic tourist destinations on Friday, seeing the museums and historic architecture, crossing the bridge that crosses the junction of the Blue Nile and White Nile, before ending up watching the whirling dervishes at dusk.

 

 

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