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Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012
Sudan

07/03/2012 First days in Sudan

It took a few more days in Gondar to finish the police report about my stolen things. But finally I was able to leave. Martin has been waiting for a while at the Sudanese border. I arrived there on Friday. And the next day we crossed.
Crossing from Ethiopia to Sudan is quite easy and straight forward. If you have your documents together. Our two Spanish overlander friends had no Carnet for their car. No Carnet - no crossing. Martin and me, we had our Carnet for the bikes. And within an hour we were free on the Sudanese side of the border.
At the border crossing we met three more friendly young overlanders, two South Africans and one English man on their way to Capetown with their bicycles. Only that one of them had to stop cycling in Karthoum because of knee problems. Now he is travelling with the most awesome motorbike I've ever seen (apart from my little Suzuki). It's an orange Egyptian made Jawa motorbike, 350ccm, two stroke. And best of all - it has an orange sidecar. It's a real beauty and the beauty of that beast surely compensates for the fact that it breaks down every now and then. But these three will surely have a cool journey - two bicycles and one old motorbike.

But back to Martin and me and Sudan. What a difference a border can make! On this side of the border the excellent tarmac road coming all the way from Gondar simply continues. But everything else changes. The landscape is totally different. Most of today we travelled through flat terrain. Flat to the horizon. There is hardly anything, only some scattered little Acacia trees. But not many. The landscape is covered with golden yellow dry grass. Dotted with some black rocks. Everything is dry. And hot. Really hot. You can feel the closeness of the Sahara here. And you can see it. The air is filled with dust. Strong northerly winds bring this dust straight from the Sahara. We started seeing this phenomenon in Gondar already. But up here it is getting more and more dominant in the environment. Everything has a yellow shine with it. Like looking through yellow sunglasses. The sun is visible only as a dim disk of light in the afternoon hours. The horizon vanishes in a yellowish haze. At night only the moon and the brightest stars are visible. You can smell the dust. And you can see it accumulating on the surfaces. Like on my little Suzuki over night. Many people walk around with dust masks. And day and night there is this strong wind. During the day it is quite hot. It blows from the right hand side and make us ride our bike leaning at an angle. The combination of hot air, the smell of dust, the strong wind on our skin, the eternally flat landscape tainted into a dusty yellow haze - it creates an awesome environment. I've never seen anything like it.
During the night the wind cools you down. Down to a degree that you need to use your sleeping bag again. All night long you hear the wind howling across the empty landscape.

But it's not just the environment that is different, it's also the people. They seem to be keep more of a distance here in Sudan. No longer do they run towards you, do they waive to you from the roadside or shout greetings towards you. No more 'you you YOU!'. English skills are much less developed so communication is quite hard. Most signs are written in Arabic only. But people are still kind, friendly, hospitable. Just in a more calm way, not so much in your face as in Ethiopia.

Sudan is an islamic country and you feel it straight away. Women hide their faces, men wear Galabiyas. There are no more orthodox churches. But many mosques.
Also we saw hundrets of camels today. Big herds of them, held in cheque by a few people using long sticks. It felt like the border between Ethiopia and Sudan divides two very different worlds.
Riding through Sudan today reminded me of Australia. Riding along the Nullarbour back in August was the last time I've been riding through such a flat and empty landscape along a perfectly straight road. It kind of feels cool. Cool that now, I'm in Sudan. I'm really here. On my bike. All the way from home.

As it is the nature of empty landscapes there are not too many highlights. So we travel quite long distances during the day and will reach Karthoum tomorrow. North of Karthoum Sudan will provide more things to see and do and we will spend much more time there.
Hopefully also in Karthoum I can replace some of the things that got stolen in Gondar. As much as it is a pity loosing my camera but it's also the little things which I really miss. Little things I carried in my backpack for ease of access and which got stolen with it. Like my pens. My head torch. My swiss army knife. Or my spoon. I never realised how important these things are.


07/03/2012 Karthoum

Faster than expected we made it to Sudan's capital, Karthoum. Due to our short two weeks visa we need to hurry through Sudan at a faster pace than we would otherwise have done. To extend the visa is difficult as hell and expensive. We already spent two days in Karthoum just to register our presence in the country and to collect the necessary photo and travel permits. Sudan is by now the country requiring us to do the most paperwork. But hey, it's worth it, it's cool to be here.
Karthoum is quite a modern city, much more than expected. There are some beautiful high rise buildings along the rivers Nile. The city is cut in three by these rivers. There is the Blue Nile coming from Ethiopia, the White Nile coming from Uganda. Both combining here in Karthoum to the Nile River, a huge mass of water heading through the dry and barren landscape towards Egypt. Travelling through a desert like landscape for the last few days in the intense heat of the African sun I was very surprised to see such a huge river. And as for most cities the river forms the base of the beauty for Karthoum.
We stay at the National Camping Residence, some 7km from the CBD. And quite close to a western style shopping mall. With free Wifi Internet. And to my big surprise a shop in there had one Canon SLR camera for sale.
After mine 'disappeared' in Gondar I was obviously upset. For me a camera is a pretty important thing to have on a journey. More than any souvenir, photos are memories. And back home I found myself very often going through some old pics of previous holidays and started dreaming again. Photos of people, places, fortunes and misfortunes. For this journey, my biggest one ever, photos will need to do the same in the future. Not being able to take any or just taking crap ones with my broken old point and shoot camera was a big worry. So here was the chance. But should I really fork out a lot of money for a new SLR right here in Karthoum? It's pretty much western price levels for electronics.
I thought a lot about it and said yep, let's do it. And now I'm loving it. Took heaps of photos on the first day and am heaps happy with it. And will now guard it with all I have, no thief may ever lay hands on my stuff again!!!

Due to our short visa we will leave Karthoum tomorrow and keep heading north. There are many ancient sites, old as the famous monuments across the border in Egypt but creating much less publicity.
From what we have seen so far, Internet is a rare commodity here. So I hope we will find some and will be able to let you guys know what's happening with us in Sudan.


07/03/2012 Sudan pics

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Other than Ethiopia Sudan is mostly flat and dry.

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Stopping for dinner along the road near Gedaref.

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Similar to the start of my journey through Australia the Sudanese landscape is empty and cut in half by one straight tarmac road.

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Sudan's capital Karthoum is a busy and well developed city. It was here where surprisingly I was able to buy a new awesome camera to keep our HUBB audience happy with photos.

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City scene - cemetary and mausoleum.

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Our bikes next to camels on the Karthoum camel market.

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AU$700 and it's yours.

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Donkeys still provide cheap transport for many. But they are not as numerous as in Ethiopia.

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Karthoum city

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Karthoum city  
14/03/2012

Sudan is a big big country. And we have to rush through on our two weeks visa. Worse still, the exit from Sudan for us is only possible on Wednesdays. That is the day when the only ferry per week is sailing from Wadi Halfa towards Aswan in Egypt. So we either have to rush through in 12 days and take the ferry next Wednesday. Or we get to Wadi Halfa on the day of our visa expiry and have to wait for five days for the next ferry. Being half illegally in the most bureaucratic country of our journey. See how we go...

So far we have spent six days in Sudan. And since we got North of Karthoum Sudan becomes a great playground for adventurers and motorbike riders. It is all desert up here, dry and flat. The main road is perfect tarmac. Beside it there are desert tracks, awesome to ride along. There is a couple of ancient archeological sites here. Naqa, Musawwarat, Meroe. These sites are old, as old as the Pharaonic times 25 centuries ago. There are temples. There are pyramids. On the Meroe site heaps of pyramids. To get to these sites you need to go through the desert, sometimes for as much as 40km. The desert is flat and mostly hard surface. So technically you could go straight through it. But the paths are easier to follow and to ride along. Navigation is the only problem. Because these paths fork off, split up and combine again, sometimes go many km a different way. Martin and me, we enjoyed having our own private roads. Sometimes taking us apart so far we couldn't see each other. And then bringing us together again. It heaps fun. Some areas are sandy. But not too sandy as to spoil your fun. Most areas are smooth hard surface. At one time Martin and me, we lost each other along these tracks. Fortunately enough we both had GPS with the coordinates of our temples typed in. We ended up taking very different routes but meeting at the temple again. A big thumps up for the GPS here, without GPS it would have been incredibly hard to find these old temples in the desert.
Once there, we were the only ones. And that's what makes the Sudanese ancient monuments so special. No one trying to sell you things. No busloads full of tourists. Nothing. Just a Police post. One guy selling your ticket. No one else. You are free to explore these sites completely by yourself. Climb in and out and on top of things. It's really cool. Last night we camped right next to one such ruined temple. It's been almost full moon. The desert, flat and empty, at night is totally silent. No sound at all. And in the moon light you could see the landscape in faded colour all the way to the horizon. The air is now clear and hot. The dusty atmosphere from our first few days has magically cleaned itself. So now there are stars, the Northern sky. Very different from what we see in Australia. Very clearly we can identify the Polar Star now.
Today we kept going and visited the Meroe site along the way. The famous site in Meroe is an ancient cemetary. In Egyptian style every tomb had it's own big pyramid on it, some as tall as 30m. Not as big as in Egypt. But in much higher numbers. Figures say that there are more than 100 pyramids on that site. Many of them weathered away to a pile of rocks though. But there are still some 30 or so clearly identifiable. They are built of black square rocks. Which contrasts just beautifully with the orange sand dunes of the surrounding desert. And apart from us no other tourist there. Martin, who is not too much into ruins stayed outside. So I had the whole thing for myself. It felt like being a kid again, exploring the world. Everything looked strange and new. It's a magical place. There are big pyramids and small ones. Some well intact, some crumbled to dust, some restored. All of them facing exactly east with their entrance, all of them exactly parallel to each other. And all in a lonely orange desert under the scorching sun shining down from a blue sky. A perfect play of colours.
As much as I love the environment I strangely find it hard to connect to Sudan's people. Many travellers said that Sudan would be the friendliest country on our journey. But people here seem to rather stay away from us. Of course they are friendly and very respectful. But also keep a certain distance. And conversations are mostly empty small talk.
Also many travellers said they strongly disliked Ethiopia because of it's people. But I loved it there because of them. I found Ethiopia's people much more open. There were no boundaries and they would just come and greet you and talk to you, regardless if it's convenient or not. With naivity but with friendly intent. Some tried to rip you off. But most were genuinely friendly. And in conversations all of us learned something and had a good time. That's probably what the difference is - in Ethipoa it is easy to spend a lot of time with locals. In Sudan that did not work yet. And after a few minutes conversations simply dry off. I made some good friends while in Ethiopia. Not sure if I can do the same in Sudan. But I keep trying.
Tonight we are no longer camping in the desert. We found a great spot on the East bank of the river Nile near Ed Damer. It's all green here. The tent where I am sitting now, sweating and typing this report, is pitched under palm trees. You can hear frogs and crickets and the occasional boat. You can hear the mosquitos in their hopeless attempts to find a way into the tent. And we made it just in time to see the sun set over the river and a huge orange full moon rise over the desert. Riding your own motorcycle to the banks of the river Nile - a priceless experience.
It's a cool thing for Martin and me because it's very similar to how our friendship started many many years ago. Back then, when I was still living in Germany we were both into cycling. Using an internet forum for touring cyclists, not disimilar to the HUBB we arranged a bicycle tour along the river Rhine in Germany. It was a great tour, camping every night next to the river. Being free. Just like here. Now. Eight years later on the river Nile in Sudan. In all the years in between both of us kept travelling. Sometimes together. Often separately. But we stayed in contact. Even after me moving to Australia seven years ago. If you are into adventure it is not easy to find the perfect travel partner. I'm glad that Martin and me, we are a good team.

I'm also heaps happy with my new camera. Good to be able to take photos again. So let's see if this internet connection can deal with uploading them.


14/03/2012

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You just have to love them - small desert track

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The old temple site of Naqa

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These old Bedford trucks serve as buses along the unpaved routes.

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Some desert tracks are quite corrugated.

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Two bikes in the desert

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Playing with my new camera - a long exposure moonlight photo of Musawwarat Temple

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Martin's 20 year old Africa Twin having just as much fun in the desert as my little Suzuki.

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Gravel road. Literally.

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Shendi is quite a big and busy town on the river Nile.

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These ancient Landcruisers are the backbone of short distance public transport or for really bad tracks. I like their unique colourful design.

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Pyramids in the desert - the Southern part of Meroe

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There are many more pyramids in the Northern part of Meroe. I was the only visitor during the two hours I spent on site. Not a single other person around.

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Some pyramids are in better shape than others. The one on the right hand side deteriorated into a big pile of rubble during the centuries.

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This is a great novelty for us in Sudan. Cool drinking water in good quality is available virtually every few km along the road for free from these earthenware pots. There is always a cup next to them which can be used for drinking or to scoop up water for our water bottles.

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Sunset over the river Nile near Ed Damer.


14/03/2012

Another awesome day in Sudan just passed. It's 8:30pm now and it's really hot. Typing this I'm not inside my tent now. But outside. Sitting under a clear sky right next to my little Suzuki.
We are still on our rush through Sudan. On Wednesday we need to get onto the ferry to Aswan in Egypt. It's easy to get on for us. But, according to other overlanders, it's a nightmare to get the bikes on board as well. We have been very lucky in these things so far. So hopefully on Wednesday everything goes well too.
During the last few days we have been riding some amazing desert routes. Things have changed in Sudan. And there are a lot of brand new tarmac roads and bridges now. Much different from what the map or the guidebook or the GPS says. And it's a stunning scenery here. Most of our routes crossed flat deserts. Flat and orange. Or flat and yellow. Or flat and brown. Always flat to the horizon. Divided into two equally flat areas by a black straight line of bitumen. This picture goes on for hours. Without any houses, any people in between. And it's hot, so hot. Even though we avoid the mid day heat, usually having an extended lunch or some coffee, it's still hot. When you ride along these lonely roads with some 80km/h it feels like someone is holding a huge hairdryer against you. The air rushing past you with 80km/h feels hot on your skin. The wind will not cool you down. It just dries you out. Sometimes the wind will blow little clouds of sand onto the road. Sand clouds which seem to dance across the tarmac like little transparent yellow ghosts. And which magically change their ghostly pattern when you rush through them on your bike. We drink water in insane quantities here. Water which is available in big earthenware pots everywhere. We know it comes from the Nile river. People promise us it's filtered. But there is clearly stuff floating around in there. People drink it. So we drink it too. It's cool and tasteless. No problems so far.

We met some really friendly people yesterday evening. While Martin was waiting for me on the road a little yellow car stopped next to him and the guys inside invited us for tea at their home. It turned out to be a lovely evening. There was one lady who spent much time in Canada and spoke perfect English. The whole family seemed to be very well off and well travelled. We chatted well into the dark hours, the invite for tea extended to an invite for home cooked dinner and even an invite to camp in the backyard of their uncle (who was currently overseas). Two of our new friends would join us that night, just moving two of the uncle's beds into the backyard and sleep there in the open.

Today felt like the hottest of all days. So hot that Martin's GPS blacked out. Our water bottles, filled up with cool water from the earthenware pots very quickly contain hot water. Too hot to drink. How do people live here? It's not even summer yet, not even close to. There is hardly any shade. Parking the bikes for a few minutes means the seat will become too hot to sit on, the handlebar levers too hot to use and the helmet too hot to wear. But today we found the perfect hiding from the heat. At a little sidearm of the Nile, near the 3rd cataract we noticed a group of local kids swimming. So into the water we went. I guess I spent two hours in there. It's been just the perfect temperature, cold enough to keep you cool, warm enough to spend hours in there without being cold.
Along the way we visited some more historic sites. I don't want to bore you with lots of historical details. But there are many pyramids, royal tombs, temples and ancient ruined cities around to keep you busy. Most of fhem are decayed to a degree that it is hard to imagine the former glory of the place. Many are neglected. All are lonely places in the desert. Today we walked through the rubble of the old city of Jebel Sesibi. It's a big area of ruins on top of a hill overlooking the Nile. Great view from up there. What I found fascinating there was that we walked over so many bits and pieces of broken pottery. It's just lying on the ground. Big pieces and small pieces, some with colour, others without. Some still with some art work carved in. Just there on the ground. No one around, no one cares. We could have easily collected whole bags full of ancient pottery, pottery that is many times as old as the independend country of Australia.
Since yesterday we have been following the Nile on the Western side. Going North from Dongola it's all gravel road. Or compressed sand. Sometimes also loose sand. And again heaps fun to ride. I'm still surprised where you can go with motorbikes. And how much we have already learned riding them. Only a year ago I would not have thought it's possible. A big part of the path today was flooded by some irrigation gone wrong. So we had to detour around it. Through deep undisturbed desert sand. Crossing two steep walled irrigation channels, one filled with water. Gaining momentum through the deep sand, flying up the steep southern sidewall, down into the flowing water with a splash, using the same momentum to keep going up the northern embankment while mud is flying in a big arc from the spinning back wheel and rolling back down into the unspoiled desert sand. No problem on a motorbike.
Have you ever heard of Blackflies? There are millions of them here! They are tiny little bastards. They are harmless and do not bite. But in the mornings and in the evenings there is whole clouds of them, keen to explore your body with their tiny itching feet, crawling into your ears and your eyes and your nose and your mouth. During the little time it takes to open your water bottle and put it to your mouth you will already find a couple of them floating in your water fighting against a drowing death. But as soon as the sun goes down they magically disappear.
We are now only some 250km from Wadi Halfa. Where our short Sudan adventure comes to an end. People say it is the most aweful border crossing in Africa. We shall see.


14/03/2012

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Riding through the desert is an awesome experience. When you're watching this picture from your comfy chair in your office, just imagine how hot is here. There is a constant hot wind from your right hand side blowing little flat sand devils onto the black tarmac. I guess you can also imagine the smell of the sweat running down your skin and mixing with the thick layer of sunscreen. But riding your motorbike through this endless landscape - man, you feel free, SO free. Probably even more than at the comfy chair in your office.
,
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My little Suzuki and the royal tombs at Jebel Barkal

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We spent many hours riding through the Nubian Desert between Karima and Dongola.

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One night we were invited to camp in the backyard of some newly found Sudanese friends. They themselves joined us by just moving two beds outside and sleeping in the open.

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Riding through a typical Nubian village in Northern Sudan

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From the hilltop ruins of Jebel Sesibi you have a great view into the Nile valley and the little villages with the big mosques along the river banks.

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Nubian architecture involves small open houses within big yards surrounded by walls.


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(c) 2012    marco hoffmann