We could have called this blog “328 reasons to visit Sudan”, we actually seriously thought about it. But we decided to call it different, after a quote of one of the many beautiful people we met in this amazing country.
People in Sudan feel the need the real story about their country is told, since the media pictures Sudan as a bunch of terrorists. President Trump’s decision to ban all people from Sudan doesn’t help either… So, this is our story, our vision of 3 weeks travelling through Sudan.
We are aliens!
“How do you find Sudan”? a policeman asks us when he stops us for a regular security check. “We love it so far” we respond. “So we are no terrorists?” He says with a big smile on his face. “Far from!” The people in Sudan are the friendliest and most hospitable people we have met all over Africa.
After crossing the border from Ethiopia, we drive two full days to reach the capital Khartoum. One of the quirks of Sudan is that all foreigners have to register as Alien. Quite cool, we’ve always wanted to feel how it is to be an Alien and now we know!
Sudan means our reunion with the mighty Nile, the river we have been following since Rwanda, and had to miss in Kenya and Ethiopia. But here in Sudan the river looks different: it is quite beautiful to see the aorta of Africa running through the Sahara desert with bright green Date palm trees on its banks. If it wasn’t for the river, there wouldn’t be any life here.
From suspicion to genuine hospitality
Khartoum is actually quite a nice city, and our first encounter with warm Sudanese hospitality: hospitality we haven’t experience anywhere else in Africa so far! We are actually a little bit suspicious of all the generosity, all the hartwarming offers, but it is genuine. It is the Sudanse culture to be welcoming and warm to guests, and treat everyone like family.
We are offered ice-cream on the street by a female student, a waiter buys us drinks from his own salary, people offer us to bring us anywhere we need with their own car, when we want to pay for our coffee we are told “the man in the corner has paid for you already”. These are only a few examples, of real gestures without the need of anything in return.
We just love food!
Today we visit a Souk, apparently one of the biggest in Africa. Visiting a market is always fun, especially the first visit in a new country. When we sit down to have some food, we realise how amazing it is to experience the cuisine of so many different cultures during our trip. Every time we enter a new country, we look forward to be surprised by new flavours and to stock up ToeToe with local delicacies.
Here in Sudan we enjoy foul (a mash of beans, served with different spices) for breakfast, falafel for lunch, grilled chicken and spiced goat for dinner and Sudanese sweets (like Baklava) and fresh dates as snacks and dessert. It gives us the sugar-rush we need to re-energise after a long and hot day.
But the highlight for us is the coffee, prepared with ginger or cloves. And, believe it or not (only for Dutchies btw) served with real oliebollen! Quite a surprise here in the desert…
After our visit to the market we head towards the central cemetary in Khartoum, where on Friday nights Sufi muslims gather to sing and dance to create a spritual pathway to be closer to their God. Watching this spectacle we see some of the men dressed with horns on their heads. The energy levels rise and the atmosphere becomes more tense, the amazingly dressed men reach their ultimate trance whilst spinning around like helicopters in the setting sun. A true insight in their spiritually complicated culture.
Who’s got ToeToe’s headscarf?
The next morning we wake up to an unpleasant surprise: someone stole the cover of our rooftoptent. Not a very big deal, but quite inconvenient since it is impossible to find a replacement here. So we have no other choice than to find good quality fabric and a talented tailor to have one replicated. It takes us to many markets, before we eventually find the perfect match of people working together: ToeToe has got a new headscarf!
We leave Khartoum with “pain” in our hearts: we loved it here! It is so different to what we expected, in the most positive way. From now on it will be history that fills our travel programm.
Indiana Jones & the Temple of Sudan
Sudan is one of those hidden gems, a place where you can feel like an explorer of the early days, a real Indiana Jones. The country is covered in ancient temples, monuments and even pyramids, but hardly anyone ever comes here! This means we can explore these little gems completely on our own, without seeing other tourists.
The first stop is the Mussawarat temple, where we meet a German archeologist who is preserving 2,500 year old sculptures they have found here. The Lion Temple on the same complex is beautifully carved out with Egyptian style hieroglyphs. Amazing to find this in the middle of the desert. We camp on a dry riverbed and have breakfast In front of another temple.
Whilst we are enjoying our homemade French toast (wentelteefjes), we see two men collecting water from an ancient water well. They use two donkeys to lift out buckets of water from the 60 meter deep pit. If we try to visualise how they managed to do this 2,500 years ago, we get lost. How did they know where to dig to find water 60 meters under the ground that long ago? The question remains unanswered.
Walking like an Egyptian… in Sudan!
Today we drive only 100km further north to find the Pyramids of Meroe. This place is just jawdropping. A collection of over 100 pyramids are scattered around the sandunes, and most of them are in a very good condition. And the best part: we can camp right next to them. We watch the sun go down over the pyramids, whilst we enjoy a drink on top of one of the rocky hills. A truly magical moment!
We walk around the pyramids the next morning at sunrise, whereafter we move on towards another historic town, Karima, to find another set of pyramids, remains of temples and a holy mountain.
We should have known better
Halfway through our drive to Karima we notice the gauche of our diesel level crouches towards the red, eventually to touch “empty”… We run out of diesel. Not great, especially since we are in the middle of the desert… There is only 1 solution: we have to drain some diesel from the tank of Helga & Rinus, who we are travelling with since we crossed into Sudan. Krijn can tell you: sucking a hose to create a diesel flow is something you only want to do once in your life! The rest of the day the delicious Sudanese dishes are blended with the flavours of fuel… We continue our way and set up camp amongst the sand dunes, and again overlooking pyramids.
When we stare at the stars at night, out of nowhere we see a huge “ball of fire” cutting the night sky in halve, only to disappear in between the pyramids. We still don’t know what this fireball was, most likely a large object from outer space, but this is the moment it dawns on us: Sudan really is a magical and mysterious place!
With the magical memories in the back of our minds, we plan to drive another 200km to Dongola, where we have been invited by a Sudanese family to spent a few nights at their family home. We first have a swim in the Nile and visit some beautifully painted tombs, and continue our journey through the Sudanese desert.
Getting ready for unparalleled hospitality
An amazing desert track takes us through green oases, deep sand, over sand dunes and across endless yellow plains. We eventually cross the Nile and are greeted by our hosts for the coming days, and it is these coming days that complete our love for Sudan…
Never before have we been looked after with so much love and care: we stay for two nights, and are shown pure and honest Sudanese hospitality. One of our hosts is called Kamal: “I want to show you the real Sudan. Not the Sudan you know from the television, not what the media tries to tell you. I want to show you how we live, what we eat, what we do from day to day. Not polished or better than it is, I will show you “Sudan without any make-up”.
And he was right. It really opened our eyes about what most people see as a dangerous country. We visit three families, have 5 lovely meals, walk across the farms with Dutch cows (“because they produce more milk”), are shown the irrigation methods, learn a lot about the Islam, have deep discussions about the differences and similarities of our cultures, tell them about legal gay marriage in the Netherlands and the equal rights of women, and much, much more…
The second night our host family invites 30 of their friends, to have dinner with us. We meet a gynaecologist who invites us to meet him at the hospital tomorrow for a tour. When we meet him the next day, we are shown every single corner of the hospital and learn about a government campaign against genital mutilation. A very important campaign, since this extremely brutal and dangerous practice is still a day-to-day reality for many girls and of a very big concern in Africa. When we are invited to join an operation, we politely decline. Sudanse hospitality really doesn’t has any limits!
Not done with Sudan yet
From Dongola it is only another 400km to the Egyptian border, but we feel we are not done with Sudan yet. So after visiting another few amazing temples (Soleb & Kherma), crossing the Nile twice on a tiny little ferry and crossing a stony mountain range off-road, we top up our diesel tanks, fill our water jerrycans and stock up on food, to head into the desert for another 3 days.
We follow an old railway track which leads past abandoned station buildings. For over 200km we make our way through the tough but beautiful environment. We take our mattress out of our tent and sleep under the stars (it is absolutely dead-quiet), take photos of sensational sunsets and cook nasi goreng with homemade peanut sauce. Yes, “haute cuisine” in the middle of the desert!
When arrive at station no. 6 (which we have chosen to be our destination of this desert trip), we are surprised to see other people. The moment they notice us we are directly invited to join them for lunch. This station turns out to be a mining camp, a camp of gold miners! Now we really feel like having entered the world of Indiana Jones. When we are invited to see the gold mine, we can only say yes.
Like in the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia, these people work in the burning sun, in the midst of the harsh and brutal condition of the never forgiving desert.
Only a few days earlier they discovered a new vein of gold, and the first attempts to dig out the gold are being made. To demonstrate the presence of gold to us, they crush the quartz stone, pan it in some water and…. Yes, there it is, pure gold!! Only small nuggets and dust at this time, but it proofs there is much, much more of the precious metal under our feet! Just one of those unique experiences that make this trip so memorable…
And this closes the chapter of the second last African country of our Journey. Tomorrow we will endeavour to cross into Egypt (a process known to take at least 6 hours), and continue our journey further north.
But, without hesitation, Sudan has been the country that has surprised us most. We love the people, love the desert, love the culture and love the food. However, if you would like to visit Sudan yourself, we can’t give you a fixed itinerary, that is not how this country works. Sudan needs to overcome you, you have to be open to be surprised. Let all your suspicion go. Sudan is amazing.