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.



Lush green lands

19th August 2014 by Helen

After leaving Addis Ababa a couple of days ago we immediately noticed a change in landscape – northern Ethiopia is much more open farmland and today we continued to enjoy the sights and sounds as we made our way north towards the border with Sudan, arriving early evening at Metema for our last night in Ethiopia.  We had covered the remaining 497 km to reach the border but unfortunately we arrived at 7.30 and the border crossing had closed at 6.00, so with the help of a local man at the border we found our way back to another hotel just before town.

2014 08 19 - 2 - driving north through Ethiopia - final day (23)

Blue Nile Gorge

18th August 2014 by Helen

This morning started with being woken by the sound of prayers long before the first rays of daylight and followed by an unscheduled delay while we investigated some more mechanical problems: the clutch not engaging properly, which has been happening since we left Nairobi, and a new noise (road speed linked clacking) that started yesterday, which may or may not be linked. Paul spent some time on the forums checking for information as well as talking to the mechanic at our accommodation from last night.

After some abortive attempts at getting cash out of the ATMs in Addis Ababa we found one that worked and left town a little after midday, far later than we wanted if we are to make our appointment with the shipper in Port Sudan in seven days’ time! It actually took us about an hour to get out of Addis – lots of new road works meant that our SatNav lady didn’t know where she was most of the time so we went back to the old method of following our noses and headed north. We found a seriously steep and winding road that got us out of town and on our way.

As soon as we left Addis we notice how much cleaner the countryside is. It’s more open – the dense jungle trees have given way to open fields and although there are still lots of people the houses look larger, better built and less cramped together as they line the roadside. As well as crop farming the main industry here appears to be cattle and goat herding. We also noticed how many people were carrying umbrellas as well as their sticks (staffs). We soon found out why as we passed through several rainstorms.

We had been warned by other travellers that the children thrown stones at passing cars and try to poke sticks through the wheels of cyclists. We only had one incident when a young man raised his arm to throw a small rock at our windscreen. Paul’s instinct was to brake and go to leap out of the car, at which point the young man dropped his stone and legged it.

Once again, children, boys in particular but also a few girls, call out OiOiOi or YooYooYoo or MoneyMoneyMoneyMoneyMoneyMoneyMoney at us as we pass, waving their hands to wave us down or holding out their hands as if to receive whatever is coming their way. Even a young child of around two being carried on his mother’s back had learned to hold out is hand for something.

A part of our journey on Monday took us across the absolutely beautiful Blue Nile Gorge as we dropped down through the tight winding curves of the road, from around three thousand metres to river level, before crossing the new bridge at the bottom and making our way slowly back up the other side. Words such as lush and verdant come to mind as I think of how to describe the vegetation covering the sides of the gorge.

2014 08 18 - 2 - Blue Nile Gorge crossing in Ethiopia (17)

Despite the late start we managed to cover around 450km on Monday and reached the small town of Bure along the way to our next border crossing at Metema. It was a couple of kilometres off the main road, which didn’t bode well for luxury accommodation, but at 9.30 pm we really needed to stop for the night so we gave it a go. We found a couple of decent looking places opposite each other – only one had rooms available. At 70 Birr for the two of us for the night we found we got what we paid for. £2.10 had bought us a double bed, rickety wooden bedside table, tiny dining table and two old metal legged, melamine covered seated chairs that would have looked more at home in my old school’s art room, and an en-suite bathroom that defies description: as Paul says, a picture cannot quite accurately convey the smell!