After we left the Egyptian side, the border infrastructure got immediately more and more messy. A big gate in the middle of the desert and heavy military in front of it. Soldiers are stopping us in front of the gate telling us to wait! A guy approaches the gate and puts his hand through the bars, telling me I should pass him the carnets! Since Egypt I cannot trust any person anymore and so I am asking him suspiciously for his name, and when he told me he is Mazar I did not believe him. As a proof he showed me all the other carnets he had and the soldiers gave us a sign that we should pass the documents to him.
The day before I got in contact with Mazar, via Whats App, and I have send him copies of the paperwork in advance since he said, that this will make the procedure way faster. After a few minutes he came back and the gates are opening. He is welcoming us with a handshake and escorts us to the immigration office for our passport stamp. Everyone knows him and he is just shacking hands while he leads us through the border complex. Giving me 50 sudanese pounds, he tells us we should just go to the coffee place after we have finished the procedure and wait for him. We are having a tea and a freshly brewed coffee from one of the ladies and enjoy some chats with the locals. Sudan feels way more like Africa. Peoples skin is all of a sudden completely black. An hour later Mazar picks us up from the coffee place and brings us to the exit of the border! I think that was the most efficient and short bordercrossing since we have left Europe. On the other side we have a short chat with this interesting character, who already brought Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor over this borderpost and is quite famous in the overland scene! Since he is a businessman he also changed our Egyptian pounds into stacks of Sudanese pounds. So many bills and in total they were a little bit more than a 100usd worth.
The sun is going towards the horizon and it is time for us to get out of the border area. I would never ever decide to stay close to a border. It is always the place where the strangest people are hanging around. In front of us a perfect new tar road is going straight through the saharan desert. A new way of freedom after spending more than three weeks in Egypt and being dependend on all those police escorts. The next hour we didn’t even meet a single car and Nora is coming up with the great idea, that we should just camp behind one of the sanddunes! We leave the paved road and follow a small sand track, leaving the sand track we find a place behind a dune where we are quite hidden. The border in the north will be closed soon too, so there should not be too much traffic coming through that area.
It is so special. I was dreaming about this for a really long time. Sleeping in the desert. Surounded by nothingness. Watching the sun colouring the sky blood red before it vanishes behind the horizon and the darkness rolls in. It is a bright moon night and the light gets reflected by the sand making it look almost like a snow landscape. Just the small fire of the burner is bringing some light into this wasteland. No sound and no wind. A moment of totally quietness. I was able to listen to the bloodstream pumping through my ears. Lying in the tent I almost cannot fall asleep because there is no sound around us. Something my body has never experienced before. During the night I woke up once or twice, not because I heard something but because I I heared nothing. Really nothing.
The sun rises up and brings up some thermal winds clashing against the tent. Waking up in the bright landscape, having breakfast and packing up for a day in a new country. Just one thing we really have to do is the alien registration in Wadi Halfa. We have a visa, but it is required to register at the police station. Bureaucracy. It takes a while and it costs 15euros per person, but we get a little bit of the town life. Life is so easy in this part of the world. Some huts are standing around in the middle of the desert. People are having lunch together, tea, hanging around, having a chat. Totally disconnected from all the fuzz. Looking at the scenery I think looking at it from the perspective we western people have, I would describe it as poorness.
Being here in Africa I would say it is more complex. People definitely have less freedom to choose and to create than we have back here in Europe. On the same side nobody is forced to work to be able to live in flat and to participate in society. People here work as much as they have to survive the day. The rest they use for all kind of other things. Time is slower. So it also turns out that getting a sim card takes some time. It is already lunch time when we were finished. In search of a tiny snack we fast realize that there is not a lot of choice anymore. Falafel and beans. Easy but delicious. A tall and strong guy came over to me and asked me if Nora is my wife. He was surprised since Nora was riding a motorcycle and also being so tall. He told me, that in Sudan if a woman is tall they think that she is really healthy. Everywhere we stop, people are coming over looking what we are doing. It seems strange for them seeing us with our large motorcycles and dressed in this highly protective motorcycle gear. Looking around me I feel like on the desert planet of Tatooine. It is getting time to roll on. Unsure how far we will make it. We are equipped with a 25 liter jerry can filled with fuel from Egypt. I am curious when we will find the next opportunity to fill up. 1000km of Saharan desert lies in front of us until we will reach the capitol Karthoum.
The sim cards work and we are connected again. We start our engines and leave the town of Wadi Halfa. Sudan has built a tremendous asphalt road from north to south. Looking left and right, there is just endless desert all the way to the east coast and on the other side 8000km of desert to the west coast. What a continent.
Riding through the desert is a kind of a meditation for me. The rural landscape of this wasteland. Nothing but the sand and the blue sky above us with a bright sun shining on us. Luckily it is winter on the northern hemisphere and the temperatures are decent. The thermostat on the dash board shows 32 degrees Celsius. The country is totally empty. We look at our GPS and it tells us, that the next town is about 300km away. We hope to find petrol there. To be safe, we travel at a speed of 70km/h. Not the fastest pace on a straight and empty road like this, but it helps us avoiding getting stuck somewhere and running from door to door begging for some help to get fuel. Frequently we are passing dried out corps of dead cattle. It seems like they have died on the truck and to avoid contamination the holders were just throwing them on the side of the road, since there is no other solution available. The bodies had lost all the inner organs, completely shrunk, due to the heat that is possible when it is not winter. The skin lied like a carpet, nice and smooth over them. Looking at them it gives an idea how harsh life is at this place. We are just passing through, with 70km/h and open vents, a 3 liter water bladder on our back and some snacks. It is an outstanding experience.
Far away on the horizon, a few red pillions appear on the side of the road. Getting closer, we are realizing that it is a gas station. Throwing out the indicator lights to signal to the two of us that we will give it a go and check the place out we enter the gas station via a sand track. And sand is all we have found there. The gas station is like everything around us bloody dry and empty. The sand has already blasted away some of the paintings and covered most of the fundaments where everything is mounted on. A small glass broken and empty hut is next to the pumps. We use the situation and make some pictures. That a place like this is reality sounds ridiculous when you come from a place like Europe. But those places exist and they are the reality to a lot of people. What a contrast.
After three hours of riding we reach the first town and we find ourselves again at the bank of the Nile river. Since almost 1.500.km we are following the largest river in this world since we have entered Africa!
The town is empty and just a few people are outside on the streets. We look for petrol but again we just find an empty gas station. People who are passing by are pointing south, telling us maybe 50km more. On the way to the gas station we have passed by a lively market and we went back there to buy some fruits. The Nile makes the earth around it so fertile, that there are all fruits we can deserve. A small shop gives us an idea what people eat. It is mostly sugary and tons of cookies. Instant noodles and sodas. Buying a few things and five liters of water we continue our ride. The road lies now on a huge compressed sand bank. And all of a sudden an edge rises in front of us and we see that ten meters of the road just collapsed. A path down the slope on the side is a detour to get to the other side.
The sun falls down to the horizon and we decide to find a bivouac for the night. A tiny track is tacking us over hills and is leading us in to a dried out river bed. Enjoying the sunset we prepare some food and crawl into the tent when the sun has vanished behind the horizon. The night is again completely calm. Suddenly in the middle of the night I wake up because of the loud breath of an animal and some click of what I would identify as hooves of a donkey. I stay awake for 10min but no more sounds. Recovered from the short adrenaline shot I finally fall asleep again.
The city of Dongola is the next one on our roadmap. Hopefully we will find some fuel there. Of course we could use our backup, but I don’t want to rely on it already. We experience a weird contrast entering Dongola. A bridge with three car lanes in each direction. A big town in the middle of the desert. Just the Nile runs next to it, providing the foundation for life. After a few minutes we are lucky. Finding a gas station full with people, long waiting lines, but at least, they have fuel. A heavily armed army jeep is parking in the back. Four soldiers are hanging around the huge machine gun on the back. I think I have never seen such huge bullets. One of the stuff of the gas station is waving towards us, showing us that we should join the special line for scooters and motorcycles. What a nice feeling seeing Nora getting her tank filled up. It’s my turn after her. We pay and take a break in the shade. Calculating with the exchange rate of the currency we are not yet used to just to realize, that we have paied three euros in total right now. Two full tanks, which equals approximately 35-40liters.
At this point we look into the further route and decide to take a break in this town. There is enough work to do anyways, since we haven’t worked on any vlogs for almost a week. We leave the gas station for good towards one of the hotels that appears on google maps. Arriving there, one of the heavy armed jeeps is standing at the gate. The soldiers tell us that we can enter. The hotel looks really fancy but when we ride up to the entrance we realize that all the windows of the ground floor were smashed and broken flower pots lying around everywhere. Not the most inevitable condition. Asking one of the people who are coming out of the abandoned looking hotel tells us really shy that that happened because of the “revolution”. We stay there for two minutes discussing in german, what we should do and decide to look for another place to stay. On the way through the city of Dongola we stop at a small shop were they sell fruits. While we are stopping there, doing some groceries, a few people come by talking to us and looking at our motorcycles. On of them is showing us that people will shoot us if we go in the direction he is pointing at and people advise us to look for a hotel and to stay for a night. We are deciding to stay, but not in the city center. Riding into the outskirts, asking people we find a small but really nice hotel with a yard and basic rooms. Most important, we can park the motorcycles inside the lobby. Sitting on the stairs in front of the entrance, waiting for the receptionist, I can hear somebody talking in Dutch. Looking around I see a Sudanese guy approaching us talking Dutch in a way that is really hard for me to understand. Coming closer and closer I am able to see how happy he is to see Dutch plates in this place and he is introcducing himself as Moe, a Sudanese guy, living in the Netherlands, on vacation in the town of his family, here in Dongola. What a coincidence. Even that I as an Austrian must admit, that I see dutchies everywhere.
Moe explains us that we should stay in the hotel this night since the military has announced a curfew after sunset. The next day everything seems to be good. We decide to leave the city, riding further south. It also feels way safer to be out there in the desert where there is nobody. But first we meet with Moe and walk through the markets of Dongola. He knows a lot of people since so many are somehow relatives. It is a beautiful sunny morning and walking with him we get a better connection to local life and experience a unique two hours glimpse of the Sudanese way of life. For me personally the place where the Arabic world and Africa is mixing. Dark skin wrapped in white clothes, gold, herbs and tea. Fresh fried falafels and tons of fruits. Fascinating how the Nile is transforming this inhospitable area into a fertile place, creating life. What started to be the beginning of a rich economy is visible by the roads. Wide bridges are crossing the Nile, leading us back onto the main highway. Sudan is rich in oil, but since their government was supporting terrorism and Osama bin Laden was living in Karthum, the capital of the country for many years, the western world introduced sanctions to the strong Islamic organized government and cut it off from the international market. After the long conflict, known as the Dafur war, Sudan got splitted into the Arabic Sudan and into the non-Arabic part officially called South Sudan, becoming the youngest country of our planet in 2011 Sudan also lost huge areas with 2/3rds of its total oil reserves. The life in the desert seems quiet. Some military convois race with high speed up north, heavily armed. Despite this the roads are still empty and the view is endless over the desert. In the middle of nowhere Sudan treasures the last ruins of the Nubian dynasty. Ruins where even reliefs of Xerxes of the Persian empire can be found. The temples and pyramids are highly suffering from desertification and the sandstone they are made of is slowly getting blown away.
This day is probably our last day in the desert of the Sahara! One last night of bush camping. For me personally it is amazing to sleep outside in a tent. It is so different compared of the nights in the cities of this world. The temperature differences and further the darkness is just so unbelievable. Watching the sky with its endless stars and counting satellites passing by.
We leave our campsite and visit the famous pyramids of Monroe. At least, Nora does. We hit the road and traffic is getting more and more dense as we come closer to Sudans capital. We stay at the Blue Nile Sailing club, a famous overland place where we can camp and have a nice and quiet view over the Nile. We spent Christmas eve at this place and arrange our Ethiopian visa there as well.
We take three nights to recharge our selves and to finish some computer work. Opposite of the Sailing club we find a really nice place which serves foul, a bean dish and they even serve fresh owlets and falafel. A feast so far. We didn’t have a lot of choice for a long time and that food wash delicious and nutritious. We sit together with a Sudanese man who tells us stories about his military academy time in the UK, his three wives and his participation in the Darfur war. It is a different world. We just heard from clashes in the city center. Later that year the military will ousted. Omar al-Bashir will in a military coup d'état. The protests and its clashes will lead to the suspension of Sudan from the African Union, the Union which all African countries are members of.
It is time for us to go south and to reach the border to Ethiopia. The end of the Arabic part of this journey entering the second most populated country of Africa. Sudan was short but intense and full of amazing nights out in the desert!