5 JULY TO 13 JULY

GONDAR TO GEDEREF TO KHARTOUM TO GONDOLA/KERMA TO WADI HALFA

5 JULY : GONDAR TO GEDEREF
Did the normal Ethiopian mountain climb out of Gondar wandering how long it would take before we reached a level and straight piece of Africa again, if ever. At the summit the road leveled out and we were traveling along merrily along the plateau with the magnificent views of the valleys below. Ethiopia is so lush and green it was hard to believe that we would be in desert in a few hours time. We stopped for coffee on the side of the road and were serenaded by millions of frogs bathing in the abundant pools of water that lie all over the place. Cattle roaming verywhere and large groups trekking towards Sudan. They would reach the border post and be loaded onto trucks in their thousands before being transported like sardines across the desert. Sadly many of them die on the back of the truck and are simply thrown overboard, the result being hundreds of decaying carcasses on the side of the road all the way up to Khartoum.

Eventually we started descending down into Sudan. It must have taken a good hour before we bottomed out, having dropped probably in the region of 2km. We were now at desert altitude and the vegetation started fading away. With this came the heat! By the time we reached the border post it was probably around 37 degrees.

It took about 3 hrs to get through the border post. Cumbersome & endless paperwork with desktop fan blowing carbon paper out every time the page was turned. Copies of car papers, id photos, backhanders, being nice to officials, illegally swapping money to pay dues & levies, etc. The scary part is that you do not know what is going on and what they are saying. Just when you think you are done then another horrible looking official arrives and starts his own personal charade. We should all be receiving Oscars for putting on the most smiling faces and friendly attitudes during this entire episode. To make it worse, the drivers of the vehicles i.e. Mark, Willy & Paul were separated from our passengers at all times and there was no way of knowing what the left hand and right hand was doing.

We headed north from the border post towards Gederef looking forward to a good whisky in the evening…..only to be reminded that alcohol is strictly forbidden in Sudan, and if we were caught they would chop our hands off or something like that. You are also not aloud to remove your shirt in public.

The currency is Sudan Pounds : 1USD = 2,88 Sudan Pound. Fuel is cheap at around R2-80 per litre.

Gederef turned out to be a dump so we continued north in search of a good spot for a bush camp. This was no easy task, it was 45 degrees outside and the flat sandy desert stretched to the horizon. Eventually we found “koppie structure” set back about a half a km from the national road. Engaged 4 X 4 and found the most unbelievable camping site concealed behind the rock structure. The “koppie” comprised a whole lot of big round boulders similar to those at Clifton beach (wishfull thinking!) and was perfectly configurated with a ready made braai area, kitchen, central lounge area and we set up our tents and cars in a laager shape around this magnificent find. Photographs of this camp are on the blog and need to be viewed.

The toilet facility was also the best,…..pick your own rocky outcrop on the leeward side, remove all clothing, and enjoy the view of the desert.

Needles to say we enjoyed a magnificent braai and a couple of good whiskies. The only casualty was Rene who got attacked by a man-eating locust.

6 JULY : GEDEREF TO KHARTOUM
Sudan is one big desert……that is the only way to describe it. The strange things 1s that the mighty White and Blue Nile rivers continue to snake their way northwards having originated from lake Victoria and lake Tana. They seemed to follow us wherever we traveled. All the people live within 500m along the banks and they survive by leading water from the river into their own vege patches and small agricultural units.

The temp is 45 degrees during the day. Most people are indoors from about 11óclock. The houses have no windows…..makes sense to be inside where the temp is a mere 35 degrees! The wind is like a furnace so it does not help to cool anything. Everybody wears the traditional pure white arab “dress”. It’s a miracle how they keep them clean in this dusty and earthy, messy, harsh disgusting climate.

Mosques everywhere and people going down on their knees all over the place at certain times of the day to pray to Allah.

There is a strong Christian community and everyone lives and respects each others’ideals. Mosques and churches next door to each other.

The houses are all made of mud blocks with flat roofs. Roof “slabs” constructed of poles, reed mats and mud on top. Rain is not an issue! Some houses have vaulted roofs created by use of a temporary timber shutter which is then removed and the reinforced mud supports itself.

Still seeing donkeys everywhere and cattle wherever there is some agriculture to create feed. The best way to describe the place to imagine what Jersulaem looked like in the time of Jesus…..that’s it to a tee, nothing has changed.

90% Of trucks are the old British Bedford such as we had in the army. Credit must go to Leyland who produced these indestructible trucks many years ago and little did they know they would still be the main form of transport in these modern times. These have become shrines to their owners and have been painfully decorated and re-modeled almost to see who can make theirs look the most “kitsch”. The inside of the cabs resemble a cross between a persian carpet/haberdashery shop/bling exposition and Peter Pans flying carpet. The roofs have been remodeled so that there is a covered balcony on each side of the cab and only the windscreen remains in place. There is nothing apart from a low door on each side. The coup de grace is the size of the feather that is affixed to the front point of the bonnet. It is unknown where they get these feathers from and some of them look like massive flying feather dusters coming down the road. We are sure that you could make a killing selling ostrich feathers to these guys!

We decided to spoil ourselves and find a reasonable hotel in Khartoum…bingo!..we found the Burj Al Fateh, a five star establishment that had a summer special discount of 30% making it suitable to our budget. We were now booked in the lap of luxury for 3 nights at a cost of approx R550 each per night, a welcome respite from the desert and the roads we had travelled to date. Only one draw back……..STRICTLY NO ALCOHOL!

7 & 8 JULY : KHARTOUM
With the independence of South from North Sudan happening during our stay in Khartoum, the hotel was abuzz with dignitaries, reporters and other heads of state who were arriving to be at the official ceremony.

On the first evening we managed to get a 5 minute audience with Thabo Mbeki and he really enjoyed meeting some fellow Transkeians from the Idutywa/Ngcobo region. Our photo with him is posted on the blog. Jacob Zuma also stayed over but we were unable to get close to him.

The independence is a massive thing and the entire nation is glued to their television sets watch proceedings. CNN also had a continued coverage which made interesting viewing from our hotel rooms.

The hotel facilities were unbelievable and we visited the indoor pool in the basement and also enjoyed a Jacuzzi session with the Egyptian Conuslar to Sudan. First hand news of what is happening in Egypt now that Mubarak is gone made interesting listening.

The Independence seemed to go off without a hitch and because we were so far North we were nowhere near any trouble spots. All the fighting and violence being in the South, mainly Darfur province.

Khartoum itself is totally Arabic much like Dar Es Salaam and Addis Ababa but with the difference that all signage, notice boards, road signs, product labels, etc., are only written in the Arabic scrawl. Coke & Pepsi can only be recognized by the colour of the branding and the shape of the bottle.

The Arabic writing is very interesting to watch. They write backwards in a number of totally funny squiggles, dots, commas, etc., and it seems the whole sentence can be represented by one long continuous squiggly snake.

The city itself is not interesting and there is no way you can go for a casual sightseeing walk around town or try and find a local restaurant. Its simply too dirty, too messy, too filthy, too rude and you feel like ET on the wrong planet.

The only item of interest being that the Blue & White Niles merge in the town and as always the river remains the only item of interest in this barren land.

9 JULY : KHARTOUM TO GONDOLA/KERMA
We were happy to be on the road again after 3 days in the city and headed off north into the desert. Our destination would be Gondola for over nighting and then on to Wadi Halfa.

Through a business connection in RSA, just before we left, Willy had met a Sudanese fellow who was now working in Germany for a solar panel company. He had given Willy the contact details of his brother who worked for the minister of finance in Gondola, and e’voila, we were escorted to his house to be entertained!

A modest home that sported a monstrosity in the corner of a the lounge, a home made all in one machine comprising a computer, a monitor, a web cam, a satellite decoder, a dvd player, a 3g modem, a playstation type of thing, a fan, and a radio, all held together with wire and masking tape. It stood tall, almost touched the ceiling and most importantly it had its own website! They referred to it as Dr Internet because everything they did in their lives was only after consulting the Doctor.

We were introduced to his wife Miriam, a pretty girl from Marakesh in Morrocco. On the bed lay an infant in nappies. This was his second wife and wait for it………they had met on the internet…..chatted for number of years and then he went and fetched her without her ever having been to Sudan or Gondola before! This child was now in addition the six children he already had with his first wife and she confirmed she was ready to produce another three so that he could be the proud father of ten children.

Talk about romance, love and caring for each other!

We moved on and reached a small town on the banks of the Nile at Kerma. We were lucky to find rooms with air con at the musem in the town. The next day we visited some ancient ruins of a temple and a walled city that date back to who knows when? These are common along the way north and after taking photos, etc., we decided to wait to see some proper stuff at the valley of the kings in Egypt.

10 JULY : KERMA TO WADI HALFA
Willy received a message from our “fixer” to get to Wadi Halfa as fast as possible because an unscheduled ferry was waiting for us. If we could get on to this ferry we would reach Egypt 3 days ahead of schedule. This would mean a definite trip the Red Sea…and a diving experience of a lifetime.

We arrived at Wadi Halfa only to find that our cars were booked on and no passengers were allowed. After doing some amazing 4 x 4 manouvres we got our vehicles onto the ferry by driving them off the jetty onto the deck somewhere below. The locals hade built ramps and bridges using wooden pallets and rolled up tarpaulins. Lipstick and Icevan had to do this in reverse while Bulldogs was allowed to do it nose first. It was with mixed feelings that we watched our beloved vehicles sail into the sunset precariously perched on top of a narrow clapped out old ferry. Lets hope there were going to be no waves along the way! The captain had the keys and we would be re-united in three days time at Aswan.

11,12 & 13 JULY : WADI HALFA
There is nothing to say about Wadi Halfa. It’s a hell-hole in the desert on the banks of lake Aswan, and don’t think the word “lake”sounds pretty! Its more like a cesspit. Luckily our hotel has air con so we are sitting it out till Wednesday to catch the ferry.

We have our car fridges and food in our rooms and are braaing every night in order to use up our meat. The fridges wont be working during the trip on the ferry which will take 18 hrs.

That’s all from the Bulldog now: “woof woof who let the dogs out”

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