Crossing the Border
The distance between the Ethiopian and Sudanese side of the border crossing at Gallabat is around 40 metres, but there is a marked difference between the two countries. The Sudanese are very relaxed. The formalities on departure from Ethiopia were relatively straightforward. Some 40km before the border is an unmarked customs post, where you have to surrender the customs document with all the details of the carnet (the Ethiopians do not stamp the carnet; instead they provide you with a 5 page document detailing the information). At the border, immigration is in a small mud hut, and an exit stamp is readily provided, and there is another customs post where we were asked if we had anything to declare.
At the Sudanese customs post, our carnet was stamped, and we had to declare our laptop, at a total cost of $1. Immigration was a further 100m into the country, and here the immigration official explained that our visa (costing $61) was not a full visa, but only permission to travel, and we had to pay a further 4,000 dinar ($16) each to register. Since we did not have any currency (local Dinar was required), we went back to the customs post to see if we could find someone to change dollars. Interestingly, we had not encountered any money changers in Sudan - whereas we had been hustled by these at every other border.
After some haggling in the market we met the local Gadaref Minister for Education, who was extremely helpful, and someone was summoned to change money. The smallest note he would accept was a $50 note, but he gave us a good rate. Once immigration was complete, we set off to Gadaref on a good gravel road, though there was the occasional donga (dry river bed) crossing the road. Our first impression of Sudan was the heat (our water consumption increased massively) and landscape - it was very flat compared with Ethiopia.
Gadaref is a small confusing town. We thought we had to register here with the police, to acquire a travel permit for onward travel. Without GPS co-ordinates we would never have found the police station (N14 02 006 E 035 23 049). Once found, we discovered it was actually an immigration centre, and there was apparently no need to register anyway. The station contained a large compound, and after an hour of negotiation, we persuaded them to let us camp within the compound overnight.
The following morning, leaving Gadaref, we heard a horrendous squealing sound coming from one of the front wheels. Fearing the worst, Adrian removed the front wheel. Interestingly, an old boy kept the children from pestering us. Once the wheel was off, a couple of men from the garage wandered over and they helped move the offending stone, which was in between the brake disc and guard. We were soon on our way.
On exiting Gadaref, we turned west on to the main Port Sudan/Khartoum highway, where we were stopped at a toll booth. We were charged 600 dinar, and given a receipt. This was the only time we were expected to pay - at all the other toll points we were waved through. It is 411 km to Khartoum, yet it took us about 6 hours. The road is very busy, though it is tarred. There are some extremely deep potholes which it is very difficult to spot until you are committed. The road is full of large trucks and coaches of all manner of roadworthiness and capability (indeed some of the worst offenders are the brand new super coaches that appear from behind and overtake at speeds above 160KPH, regardless of what is coming!).
Orientation around Khartoum is initially confusing. The best map we found was in "Africa on a Shoestring" from the Lonely Planet. From our experience we had found that the airport was usually a good source of information and changing money. In this instance, there was no tourist information, no maps or city plans of any kind, and no foreign exchange except one inside the terminal (which was closed). So we were charged 100 dinar for parking in order to obtain no information whatsoever. It was also Friday, which is their holy day. This meant that the roads were not busy, and we were able to drive around a virtually deserted city, which was useful and very pleasant.
From the airport, we headed to the Hilton Hotel, another usually reliable information source. They too could not change money as they had just cashed up and had no maps or information. We went to another hotel, the Holiday Villa, and were able to change money at last. Opposite this hotel was the Blue Nile Sailing Club (which still retains General Kitchener's sailing barge as an office) and other websites suggested that camping here and at the German/Sudanese Club were good options. The sailing club charges $11 to camp, yet the facilities were in an appalling state. The toilets were a health hazard, there was no hot water, and you have to camp in the dusty car park. The German/Sudanese Club no longer permits camping, but you can have an aircon room at $66!!
National Camping Ground
There was a campsite on the edge of town (the National Camping Ground, approximately 10km south of Khartoum centre - GPS N 15 31 476 E 032 34 177) which had basic facilities, but appeared clean and safe and only charged $1 per person. Finding shade was not easy, and the site was the temporary home for Ethiopian refugees waiting for permission for onward travel plus various Sudanese athletes, who used the camp for training. They allowed us to park under the trees on their grassy beds, which was essential for shade. This was a source of merriment for the spectators - an inevitable part of camping at this site. They seemed intrigued by our roof tent.
Not that intrigued, for a week later, whilst using our Oztent, one of the young boys, Mohammed, threw a stone at the tent. Adrian was furious and gave him a talking to, and then marched off in the direction of the office, to complain. Actually there was no one there, so he could not, but the next morning, a Sudanese man came over and mentioned the incident. He called Mohammed over and gave him a talking to in front of us. An alternative campsite mentioned in some websites is no longer active, sadly due to the death of the owner.
Will and Justin
On our first night at the National Camping Ground, quite late, a Land Rover drew up, containing Will and Justin, two lads driving from London to Cape Town in aid of charity - a clinic in Tanzania which was being run by a friend of theirs (See Links Page) for their website. They had driven south from Egypt and having blown a shock en-route were intending to have a look at their half-shafts the following day. They had met a German at Wadi Halfa, who informed them that the 'mine of information' for onward travel north into Egypt (Midhat - a Sudanese guy, mentioned on several web sites as being very helpful to travellers) was now in Khartoum. We spent a couple of days with the lads, before they headed on south to Ethiopia.
The next day Justin, Adrian and Catherine went to meet Midhat. He took us to get our travel passes and photo permits. Then, leaving Justin at the British Council to read newspapers, we went to the Libyan Embassy to enquire about a visa. We were told we needed a letter from the British Embassy, so went there only to find it closed - we were told to come back early Sunday morning.
We were to have contact with Midhat over the next few weeks, indeed we enjoyed a couple of meals out with him on various occasions. It is true he is a mine of information and has been invaluable in sorting out visas, local suppliers for spare parts for Daph, entrance fees and GPS coords for up-country visits. He is a really helpful chap and wants to see travellers succeed in their endeavours and enjoy the hospitality of Sudan - and for our part, we cannot thank you enough Midhat.
Midhat can be contacted on +249 (0)12253484 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Khartoum has become a cross roads for us. Our original intent was to get into Egypt and despite a number of entry options, none of these obviate the requirement to temporarily import Daph into Egypt. Our Carnet excludes entry into Egypt, thus we would have to pay 3 times its value to temporarily import Daph, which we would get back in Egyptian pounds on leaving the country (when the money cannot be realised). In addition there are numerous administrative hassles and charges (eg $300 diesel tax!), which we would rather avoid (although hanging around Khartoum is changing our minds on this?).
Our second option has been to try to enter Libya, involving a desert crossing of 1300km from Dongola to Al Aweinwat. The route is now surveyed and coaches of Sudanese travellers use this route, although it remains a risky piece of desert to cross. The difficulty is obtaining Libyan visas. We submitted a letter from the UK Embassy ($61) with our Libyan visa application, and it will be 2 weeks before an answer is obtained (hence our wait in Khartoum!). We were unable to get past the door guard at the Libyan Embassy (even with Midhat's diplomacy and translation), thus are not too sure what is occurring. We also tried to get a letter of introduction from a couple of tourist companies in Tripoli that we contacted by email and phone. Both were unable to secure our entry requirements, one claiming that applications can only come from your country of residence, and the other that groups of 5 or more were required to secure a visa! We shall see.
(Afternote:Having waited a total of 3 weeks in Khartoum, waiting for a green light from Tripoli, sadly one was not forthcoming. In hindsight, we were being optimistic, for Libyan visas are not easily obtained. After 2 weeks, we should have given up, for these was no response from the Capital, indicating a refusal. Having attempted to solicit an explanation from the embassy staff, we found them either rude, inhospitable and devisive. This is a great shame, for those western travellers who enter from the north (Egypt or Tunisia) report the country to be exciting and fresh. But our hopes were falsely raised as we were leaving, for Adrian got talking to one staff member (the political officer) who appeared to be sympathetic to our plight. It appears he tried speaking to the Ambassador and Tripoli, but a week later we were no better off. We now had a few days on our Sudanese visa in which to cross to Chad).
Crossing Sudan, into Chad, northern Niger and taking the Hoggar route north through Algeria into Tunisia is a real attraction, but we would prefer a second vehicle to travel with for security. The route is manageable, despite reports of further conflict currently in southern Sudan. Equally the risk of robbery in N Niger and S Algeria remains a risk.
Crossing from Port Sudan into Saudi, via Jeddah, on a 3 day transit visa is possible provided onward visas are held. Jordanian visas can be purchased on the border, but we understand Syrian visas can be hard to get. We believe both can be obtained in Khartoum. This route is far longer, having to drive around Turkey and them through E Europe or take another ferry to Italy from Greece. Equally regionally it could destabilise if Bush had his way, although Will and Justin travelled down this route and enjoyed the sites to themselves and most tourists have stayed away. Finally we could travel by ferry to Europe from Port Sudan, but that rather defeats the object of travelling 'through Africa'. At the time of writing, we heard that there fighting has broken out between Eritrea and Sudan that has made travel difficult on the road between the capital and Port Sudan, near Kassala, though we have heard that the road is open, and buses are running.
Back at the campsite, Will had a problem with their rear half shaft, as a result of their broken shock. Then Adrian started working on Daph's rear wheel hub. The net result was that Will had a half shaft stuck in his axle and Adrian had repaired his leak, but had sheared a bolt within the hub! As time was getting on, we decided to sort it all out the following day at a local garage, using a local garage recommended to Will in Wadi Halfa.