Chad across bandit country, to Sudan.

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
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26
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Trip End Aug 08, 2005


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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Hello Everyone,

Well, we made it to Sudan, but had a hell of a time getting here. Back in Ndjamena, Chad, life was getting tedious. Our camp site was good to start and even put on an impressive traditional dance show, but ran out of water after our second day there so we then had to pump water from the well for our bucket showers. The daily temperatures were in the mid 40's (Yes Celsius) and our only refuge for the day (an air conditioned patisserie) closed at 1pm.

We spent our days sorting out our Sudan visas, which was proving very complicated. Just 20 days before our arrival, Khartoum had issued instructions to the embassy that no visas should be issued for overland travel to Sudan from Chad, due to rebel activity on the border. The embassy could only issue visas for air travel for which we needed a valid flight ticket. Our only other options involved crossing civil-war torn CAR and DRC, or a long drive south through Angola (amongst others) to do East Africa from the South up, so we decided to chance Sudan and bribe our way across the border. After some negotiation and planning, we bought flights from Ethiopian airlines, a not so simple task in itself as there was a change in Addis Ababa and the second leg needed to be confirmed in Addis before they would give us the flight tickets. After waiting 2 days for confirmation, we presented them to the Sudan embassy who issued visas with "For air travel only" written on them quite clearly in both English and Arabic. The plan was to try and bribe the border officials if they refused to let us in. The visit back to Ethiopian airlines to get our tickets refunded also turned into a faff as they were reluctant to refund the tickets. Obviously we had checked that they would before buying them and we had a valid reason as we showed them John's second American passport which has an Israeli stamp in it, 2 reasons we know of why they wont issue visas. In the end they agreed and after a stressful week of daily visits to the embassy and the airline, we were ready set off on the long, hard journey ahead of some 3000km of dirt tracks and desert.

On Friday 11th of April we left the bullet ridden streets of Ndjamena and set off on the long road east. Travelling from sunrise to sunset in high temperatures on rough roads with only 1 or 2 stops a day was tough. After a peaceful first night bush camp in the desert, sleeping on top of the truck, watching the stars, we were awakened from our sleepy state during the journey the next morning when an army jeep (complete with numerous rocket launchers) sped past us, followed over the next hour by a further 15 vehicles carrying mounted guns, troops or a mixture of both, all headed in our direction. We were beginning to wonder just what exactly we were about to drive in to. We had heard that the Chad border may be completely closed by now due to rebels from Sudan retreating into Chad, but whatever was going on it looked like we had front row tickets!!!

Chad itself really is a brutal land of flat, rocky, barren plains and the occasional bare tree with gold or bronze coloured bark which glows in the sun. Other scenic features included abandoned gun mounts, scrap tanks or discarded cannon shells, which Paul was tempted to take as a souvenir but decided that it wouldn't have looked to good at a border search. The people of Chad were generally unfriendly and the villages we passed through were often hostile with kids throwing stones or officials wanting bribes. We did meet some nice people and picked up a few hitchhikers, one armed with a machine gun gave chase to a sword-wielding bandit who attempted to attack the truck as we slowed to let some cattle cross. His AK 47 aimed out of the cab window was all a bit surreal for us.

We spent our third night on the Chad side of the border and nervously crossed the bizarre pink and purple coloured earth of no-mans land expecting to pay big bribes to get into the country. Then out of nowhere came green trees, picturesque small villages set at the bottom of rocky hills and loads of locals smiling and waving as we entered El Genena, Sudan. Everybody was instantly friendly, the formalities took a heck of a long time with form after form to fill and various offices to visit, but the friendly officials wanted to chat and practise their English. Surprisingly, bribes were not required nor asked for and the truck was not searched, we were completely taken aback and headed off the next day after a celebratory meal at the excellent local patisserie type place, probably the best in Africa.

The Darfur region that we were crossing was meant to be an area rife with bandits and all the other trucks that we passed had armed guards on board. Alternatively, we had hitchhikers, 2 old men, 2 women and 2 children who were thrown about the truck with us over some unbelievably rough roads through gorgeous and dramatic countryside which is full of amazing birdlife. We crossed dry riverbeds, passed mountains and forests where the locals sheltered from the sun as they sat and waited for a ride on already overflowing trucks piled high with goods. At one point in the middle of nowhere the road became so bad that even the local trucks had stopped, 10 of them lined up with their passengers (some armed) sitting at the side of the road. As we were travelling in daylight hours only and were trying to get to the small town of Zallinger that night (and not bush-camp in rebel held country) Paul took great pleasure in driving completely around the road to cheers from the locals. As the sun began to set we made it safely to Zallinger, a nice town of red brick walls with elaborate metal doors enclosing immaculate courtyards of round, thatched huts and friendly, smiling people who asked for and expected nothing.

On the way to the first major town of Nyala we passed some truck stops offering local food and excellent strong ginger coffee or tea. Sian's sunglasses were stolen off the table under our noses by the deft hand of a small child, but nonetheless, we still love this country. Over the next few days, we followed the railway line east through a maze of sand tracks heading off into the bush in different directions where a suspicious army guard with a big gun (who couldn't understand the concept of tourists in Sudan) harshly questioned us then suddenly became friendly and let us carry on. One morning, with Will navigating, we finally turned North onto a good road hoping to be on track for Khartoum. Alas, the road only took us to an oil drilling rig in the middle of the desert then abruptly stopped. Although really interesting to see it wasted the whole day, during which we advanced a total of 27km nearer Khartoum. Then as we all reached breaking point we drove into a small town called Babanussa where we were instantly offered tea and coffee and received such a friendly welcome that the day's disappointments were forgotten... almost.

During the bumpy journey across the Sahel landscape following the criss-crossing patterns of tracks in the sand, our daylight hours were spent attempting to read, teaching Aran English and ignoring the heat by visualising cold beer, ice cream or any of the things at home that you out there all take for granted! Our nights were spent setting up the tents or recently just our beds on top of the truck, preparing dinner from either our reserves on board or from anything fresh that we can pick up from the local markets (this usually turns into that day's entertainment for us and the locals) and then settling down with a nice campfire and a hot drink before falling asleep under the stars.

On our 7th day, with diesel and water reserves running low and the bumpy sandy tracks seemingly never-ending, it was a relief to reach En-Nahud, exactly half way to Khartoum. The street food was good, the diesel cheap (12p per litre), the Shisha water pipes excellent and the friendliness of the people never failing to surprise us. Still, it was nice when Sian spotted a suspected mirage on the horizon, that did actually turn out to be immaculate tarmac leading us quickly to El Obeid, a big town full of old 60's and 70's British cars, cold drinks and good (Indian style?) food. We shared the dinner of a group of guys at a petrol station, then shared our breakfast the next morning with three shepherds in the desert who milked their goats for our coffees.

On the 21st of April, after 11 days on the road, we reached Khartoum. It is a thoroughly impressive and modern-ish city full of intriguing shops, fast food stalls, family parks (substitute for bars and clubs), impressive buildings and the point where the Blue Nile and White Nile (actually milky brown) converge to form the real Nile. We spent 4 hours driving around the city looking for a campsite but the Blue Nile sailing club put us up next to Lord Kitchener's old barge, which has remained here since it last sailed up the Nile. We spent a few days wandering round the ever-so-friendly town, where the people just want to make you welcome and chat over a tea or coffee, we visited the excellent museum full of ancient artefacts and reconstructed temples dating from 800 BC and we were even offered jobs teaching English at the local institute.

From Khartoum, we travelled North to Meroe, Musawarat and Naqa, sites of an ancient royal city, pyramids, tombs and temples. The pyramids are slightly smaller and less well known than the Egyptian ones, but have survived quite well considering. The carvings, hieroglyphics and pictures are excellent in places, but the restoration work is a bit dubious, as was John's midnight explorations of the sites. There is something quite magical about the whole area, especially when watching the sunrise or sunset over these ancient monuments or just wandering through the dunes and rocky volcanic outcrops. It was especially good as there were no other tourists! Then there are some things not so magical like 1. Patiently trying to explain to a local salesman that you don't want or have no use for a tiny, crumbling sandstone replica of a pyramid or a 5ft long sword. 2. After a long day in the sun having to dig the truck out of the sand, then change a flat tyre because someone wanted to drive into the dunes. 3. Driving through sandstorms on a (John) shortcut to another site. All in all Sudan is an impressive place, the Nile valley is very picturesque and full of the friendliest people.

We leave for Ethiopia in a few days once some formalities have been completed and we are looking forward to hitting the cool temperatures ahead.

Anyway, that's all for now, hope all is well with everyone back home. We have added photos to the last few entries at last.

K & S.
P.S We have just heard that the rebels have taken some of the towns we drove through last week...
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