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Crossing the Sudan frontier- Gallabat to Khartoum

My first impressions of Sudan were actually pretty scary. All border crossings can be a bit sketchy, but when you cross over into a country where a line drawn in the sand is the difference between language, money, religion, government (rat bastards), end of tourism, possibly anti-Americanism, extreme weather change, extreme food change, and lack of information, anybodies cage gets a bit rattled.

The walk from the bus stop in Metema, Ethiopia is like one big shooting gallery as both sides of the street are lined with shops and guys with nothing better to do that jabber on about anything and everything. Throw in being an Asian and a thousand Cheeeennnaaa calls later, it was actually almost refreshing getting into the rattling cage.

After the Ethiopian stamp out in Immigration it was across a little bridge and then over to the Sudanese Immigration for my stamp in. A picture and stamp later and I was officially in Sudan. Changing money was a bit of a challenge even though I had wittled away my Ethiopian funds to almost nil. I am still very aggressive when it comes to not getting ripped off so I had a scuffle with a couple of touts that just wouldn’t back off. Finally I got a shop keeper to change what I had and then I was pretty much ready to move on to Gedaref, the nearest town with accommodations.

My first taste of bureacracy came when I tried to get a ticket for the bus. The ticket man sent me to an office which I thought was for the bus company, but it turned out it was for registering foreigners. I was soon to find out that in every town, the first thing you had to do was register, even before you could get checked into a hotel. After that it was a sticker shock bus ride to Gedaref.

Gedaref is the first main town on the main road that goes to Port Sudan in the East and Khartoum in the center. Since it was a long day, I had no choice to bed down in Gedaref. Now, I will lead off with what most people seem to experience in Sudan. The bus that I was on got stuck in the mud just as we entered town. The main drop off point and where the hotels are located are in the central market area or souq. Since the bus was done for the day, a few of us hopped into one of the little Bokshi (small Toyoto truck) and headed for the Souq. I actually had no clue where I was going but a local businessman who was on the bus took me under his wing. He got me on the truck, ended up paying for my ride, and then escorted me to a hotel that he said was good. From there he just left without asking for anything. Sudanese hospitality (much different than the rat bastard government.)

When I went to reception the guy took one look at me and said that there was no room. I had heard of this before that often times the hotels don’t want to deal with foreigners so its a bit of a crap shoot. No problem, the guy spoke decent English and he told me there was a hotel next door. Next door same thing. Crap. It was getting dark and the streets were crowded. I had been on the road since 5am, it was hot humid and I was tired. The guy told me of another hotel across the Souq. I headed off not knowing where I was going but in need to lie down and rest. One thing that became very apparent was that this was not going to be easy. All the signs were in Arabic. Not one recognizable thing except for the red, white, and swoosh of the Coke logo. Even Coke was in Arabic, but you could tell what it was. Hotels could have been all over, but how was I to know. I walked for another half an hour finding nothing and nobody that spoke English. The only guys that wanted to help were taxi guys who were willing to drive me around without understanding what I was looking for. Finally I gave up and went back to the first hotel because I had met a younger guy sitting out on the front steps who said that he would let me stay in his room as he had an extra bed if I could not find a room. When I got back he was gone. Not knowing what to do I decided to go back to the reception to make the guy help me as he spoke English and had to know that I was screwed. When I got back and told him there was nothing to be found he broke down and said that I could have a room if I stayed in one of the VIP rooms. Hell, I didn’t care if it was the laundry room, I needed to drop my bag and rest. The room ended up costing $15US and was really kind of shitty, but it had a nice cold shower and a place for my mosquito net. After getting chilled out, I went out, got some food (falafels) and then headed back to the room. I ran into the young guy who offered to help me out and told him that I was set up. He was a professional soccer player from Nigeria who was playing for the Sudanese team. He hated Sudan with a passion, but loved soccer. We talked a bit about Sudan and his thoughts on stuff including girls ‘you can only play with your eyes.’ That night I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it cooled down quite a bit at night even to the point that I woke up covered in my sleep sack.

The next morning early, I was off to the bus station to catch a ride to Khartoum. Originally I had planned on going the other direction to Kassala to check out the town which had a good market where Bedouins from the desert came to trade. The only catch was that it was Friday and I would miss the Whirling Dervishes in Khartoum because they only celebrate on Friday. I reasoned that I could do the Friday thing in Khartoum, catch a bus back to Kassala and possibly head around to Port Sudan and then North to the border. If I went to Kassala, I would not be able to make a friday night in Khartoum and would get stuck rushing North, so off to Khartoum I went.

At the bus station I was in line buying a ticket when someone started chanting “Cheennnaaa”. I usually just ignore it but it got louder and closer. When I turned around to give the guy a few English verbs, it turned out to be a Mexican-American History teacher, Sergio. He had just come from Gedaref via Kassala and was on his way to Khartoum. It was a pleasant surprise so I grabbed my bag and we headed off to his bus which was just leaving. I ended up getting the far back center seat. Now one thing to be noted is that what Sudan lacks in everything else, they have kick ass buses. We are talking state of the art Airline type buses with airconditioning, cushey seats, stewards serving lunch and drinks, and actual music and movies. Even in a crappy spot, it was a great ride. Expensive as hell compared to the rest of Africa buses, but I guess you get what you pay for.

Back to Rat bastard Sudanese Government, they have implemented road blocks every hundred or so kilometers. Usually for local transport it is a check of paperwork. When a foreigner is on board, they require the foreigner to get off the bus and to go to the office to get registered. Luckily, both times I did a bus ride there was somebody else that had to get off as well because I would feel really bad making the whole bus wait every time we got stopped.

We arrived in Khartoum and quickly got helped on to a mini-bus that would take us into town. Now, Khartoum was the beginning of the heat zone. The ride from the border was not too bad expecially since we had airconditioning, but you could also see that it was more of temperate climate because the landscape was fairly green with a bit of lushness thrown in. In Khartoum it was flat desert sand with buildings growing everywhere. It was exactly like a scene out of Black Hawk Down (Somalia). As soon as you took a breath, it sucked the life out of you as you exhaled. Your head starts spinning and you just feel wore out. By the time we got to the center of town and started to look for a hotel, Sergio was whining like a little girl. It took about an hour to find the hotel because Sergio sucked at map reading (I wasn’t all that much better in this one instance). We finally found the Lokanda that Chris had recommended, dropped off our bags and headed out for something to drink. It was a friday which is the Arab world’s Sunday. Everything was pretty much shut down, but we finally ended up finding a nice little cafe to get some juice and Schwarmas.

That evening we split up as Sergio needed to get registered at the Aliens Registeration so that he could leave the next day. I however wanted to relax and catch my wind. We made plans to meet up at the Hamed El-Nil Mosque to watch the Halgt Zikr Whirling Dervishes.

For my part, I headed off about a half an hour before sunset which is when the even starts. The place is across the Nile in a town called Omdurmann. I had basic instructions, but relaying them to a bunch of guys who just found it funny was a bit frustrating. My route finally took me to Omdurmann by mini-bus. They dropped me off at a corner and said to catch another mini-bus without telling me which way to go or where to ask for. I finally decided to spend the extra money and get a Rickshaw (motorized cart). The guy spoke no English but seemed more than happy to drive me all over hell and back. We stopped a few times and asked for help and got answers, but they kept taking me to different random mosques. I got really pissed off when I was telling the people the name of the mosque, and then trying to get them to understand that it was a mosque. How in the hell does a population with 70% Moslems not know what a freaking Mosque is. I did all my best mimes and ten different tones of “Mosque” without any acknowledgement. Boy was I pissed as I thought they were just being beligerent. Later I was to learn that in Arabic, a Mosque is not a Mosque, they have another word for it. Who would have known, my bad. Anyways, after an hour of driving around in circles, we ended up back where I got picked up in the first place. I mean two feet from where I first stepped into the Rickshaw. It was totally frustrating but hilarious. I paid the guy what I thought was fair but which he apparently did not, but there was no way I was going to pay to get dropped off two feet from where I started. With no other thoughts on how to get to the place, I just started stopping people and asking if they spoke English. It took a while but finally one guy stopped over and asked if I needed help. I explained that I was wanting to go to the Hamed El-Nil Mosque. He said no problem as he lived right next door to the place. I hit the bullseye. We hopped into another Rickshaw and fifteen minutes he was escorting me to the front row of the event. I ran into Sergio on the way and he said he had been there an hour and a half and was just chilling out in the tea area. I went and took my few photos, watched them do their dance and chanting and was out of there. There were about a dozen or so foreigners watching the event so apparently some tourists or at least NGO or UN people are in Khartoum.

We ended up taking a mini-bus back, got to the hotel with no problem and I went to sleep on the roof surrounded by 30 Muslim men.



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4 responses to “Crossing the Sudan frontier- Gallabat to Khartoum”

  1. Mulualem Deme says:

    I want to live in sudan I have BSc degree in computer science from Arbaminch University which is in Southern part of Ethiopia.I have no maney to get visa or any thing that I can travel though. so what shall I do pleace tell me.I Want to live in sudan.Give me suggestion.

  2. Scott Koudellas says:

    Hi im trying ti travel from Egypt to South Africa in 2010 by any means possible other than to fly.

    I was just wondering how i get from Khartoum to Gallabat and how much this would cost?

  3. MULUALEM DEME says:

    Ethiopia is the best and nice country has 13 months sunshine I don’t leave from ETHIOPIA

  4. Mulualem Deme says:

    There are so many natural gifted areas in Ethiopia come and visite!Our hospitality is not forgoten!

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