Map and information on Sudan, Click here
Entered the Sudan 2nd June 2001.
Exchange Rate: 1USD = 257 Sudan Dinars (SD)
Fuel: 1 Litre = SD100 (Regular)
Camping: US$6 and poor facilities.
Hotels: – From SD600 for what the locals use, but you will probably be directed to a tourist hotel at US$20+
Road conditions: – Sealed roads good, unsealed roads poor, but the unsealed section to Ethiopia is being upgraded.
Speed limits: – Don’t know.
Border crossings: One to Ethiopia (Gallabat), one to Egypt (Wadi Halfa), one to Chad (Adre). There may be a crossing to Libya, but I can’t confirm it. It is not possible to enter from C.A.R., Eritrea, Kenya or Uganda.
Food & Drink: – 2L Water SD100-200, Beer (no alcohol), 295ml Pepsi SD50-75, Main Meal (fish and bread) SD250.
Note: Most photos can be clicked on to see a bigger image.
Due to a number of factors, I decided to treat Sudan as purely a transit stretch to get to Egypt. The main deciding factor was the heat. There is a roughly 900km stretch of sand to cover between Atbara and Wadi Halfa, going the Western route which follows the Nile. It is longer than the Eastern route, but the Eastern route isn’t considered practical for a variety of reasons. With +50°C heat between 11am and 4pm, I decided it was just too dangerous. Dehydration being the major problem.
Riding sand requires considerable effort on the part of the rider. It is always trying to tear the handlebars out of your hands, and redirect the front wheel in every direction but where you want to go. I remember riding some years ago at Cape Flattery north of Cooktown in Northern Australia. This place is famous for pure ultra-fine white silica sand. The Japanese take shiploads of it away to process into furnace bricks amongst other things. This has to be the most difficult sand of all to ride. I had a Husqvarna WR360 at the time, one of the most powerful and lightweight offroad bikes at the time. All my riding friends had big, relatively heavy four-strokes like Honda XR600’s, Kawasaki KLR600’s etc. Two-strokes are much better than four-strokes in the sand, probably because of the power to weight ratio. I was having a much easier time of it than the others, and I was able to blitz along at about 80km/h, whereas they were battling along in second gear, just not quite able to get up on top of it. I was thinking to myself just how easy this was until completely without warning, the sand grabbed the front wheel, threw it into full lock and I went over the handlebars. I had the bike laying right on top of me with the back wheel still spinning and wearing a hole in my new Sinisalo nylon riding trousers. I have had a healthy respect for sand since then. Although the sand is much harder here in Sudan, the bike is much heavier, and with my 50 odd Kg of luggage on the back, it would require continual effort to hold it up.
The afternoon and night before I was to tackle the 800km stretch from Gonder in Ethiopia to Khartoum, it poured rain. I had heard about the notorious mud on this section, and I was somewhat concerned. I was confident I would get through, but how long would it take? I had set a goal for myself to reach Khartoum in a day, and that was starting to look somewhat dubious. I told some locals that I planned to get to Khartoum in one day, but they said I would probably only make the border. That was only 230km away, so it must be a bad road I thought. It turned out to be quite easy. There were very slippery places, but they were easy to pick. I was grateful though for the new back tyre I had just fitted after carrying it all the way from Dar es Salaam.
The border crossing on the Ethiopian side was a simple 10 minute affair, unlike all the rigmarole I had to go through to get into the country. I had read that they expect you to spend a minimum of US$30 a day in Ethiopia, and when you enter, they give you a foreign exchange form that has to be filled out by an authorised exchange whenever you change money. I didn’t spend anything like that amount, and I was concerned that they might look at this form, calculate the number of days I spent there, and charge me the shortfall. I had planned my argument well, but they never asked for the form, or even the customs form where they noted all the bike details (Carnets are not valid there), as well as the serial number of my computer.
Getting through the Sudanese border post was another story. These guys take the cake for the most difficult border crossing so far, and the most expensive land border crossings. They charge 1500 dinar for ‘visa registration’ plus 275 dinar for paper work. It isn’t much money, but you have to change cash at the border where you never get a good rate, and I only had US$100 notes. I have never needed local currency at a border crossing before. The immigration guy looked at me surprised and asked, ‘what, you don’t have Dinar?’ You cannot get Sudanese money outside of Sudan. It is worthless. As I was to find out in a few days time, they easily take the cake for the most difficult and by far the most expensive exit too.
The road from Gallabat at the Ethiopian border to Gedaref is unsealed. The first 20km or so was sticky black mud. It was really treacherous. Trucks had left deep furrows from their dual wheels, and spikes of plasticine-like mud that oozed up between the wheels. It required being very precise and smooth to navigate without getting all out of shape. I was thinking that if this keeps up, it will take me all day just to get to Gedaref. Fortunately, the road dried and became reasonably fast, but still full of dried wheel ruts and washouts. It was actually a good challenging off-road ride. From Gedaref to Khartoum is a very good sealed road. The only hassle were all the military checks. As I was leaving Gedaref, a soldier whistled me to stop. I pretended I didn’t hear or see anything and kept going (it was a good move I later found out). Further along though, I was stopped 5 times before reaching Khartoum. After the second one, I was really getting annoyed. I let him know I was annoyed by the unecessary stops, and it actually got results. He waved me on! It didn’t work at the next stop though. This guy proceeded to lecture me on the importance of going to the alien registration board in Khartoum within three days, which I also ignored, because if all went to plan I would be out of Sudan in three days.
Between Gallabat and Gedaref, I caught and passed an English couple in a Landrover I had met in Lalibella. They had left Gonder the day before me, and arrived in Khartoum the day after. They had an interesting story I thought I would relate. After enjoying a dry road from Gonder, they arrived in Matram, on the Ethiopian side of the border at 4pm. The border is supposed to be open until 6pm, but the customs guy was missing. They couldn’t pass through. The immigration guy was very embarrassed about the missing customs man, so he bought them beer, fed them, and gave them his hut to sleep in for the night, all at no charge. That evening, a storm struck, with plenty of rain and lightning. After some time, there was a deafening explosion in hut only 20m away. People ran from everywhere, including soldiers getting their rifles ready because they thought they were under attack by the Sudanese. It turned out to be a lightning bolt. Not long before, the three occupants of the hut went to a friends hut, and the sole victim was a very dead, charcoaled goat.
Late the next day, they made Gedaref. The same soldier that tried to stop me stopped them. He told them about this bike that went speeding by, but they pleaded ignorance. He insisted that they get their travel permits there rather than at Khartoum. He took them to a tourist hotel, and took their passports. They had to pay US$40 to stay the night. Finally, after three days, they made Khartoum.
Khartoum is just another dusty, semi-modern city with no reason to ever be there other than to get on the train for Wadi Halfa. I arrived Saturday evening. The train for Wadi Halfa leaves every Monday at about 8am. I had all Sunday to get tickets organised for me and the bike on the train and the ferry from Wadi Halfa to Aswan, Egypt. It took all morning to get train tickets for me and the bike (SD4400 for me and SD7300 for the bike). I was told I couldn’t get ferry tickets in Khartoum (despite the fact that I was at the ferry booking office), and I had to go to Wadi Halfa, where I was assured there would be no problem. Big mistake!
The view from the train window. A mild sand storm in progress, with the sun struggling to peer through.
One of the 10 numbered train stops on the section of line that doesn’t follow the Nile. Absolutely nothing grows here. It is total desert. Part of the ferry ticket office in Wadi Halfa has it’s roof and external walls made from particle board (or chip board). Obviously it never rains, otherwise the office would dissolve.
The train ride was a trip from hell. I had a first class ticket, which is something of a joke. They are crowded, not air conditioned, and everything is broken. Temperatures were hanging around 50°C (120°F) most of the day and night. I brought along 9 litres of water for the supposedly 1 day trip, which turned into 36 hours, thanks to problems with the engine. By the end of the trip, I had 1 litre left. I used 8 litres being passive. Imagine how much I would have used on the bike! The tracks need serious attention. The train couldn’t do more than about 40km/h at best because the tracks were so uneven. All my water was so hot, it was almost undrinkable, but fortunately the restaurant car let me put a bottle in the ice cooler.
We heard on the train that the ferry was fully booked, and some people in Wadi Halfa had been waiting for 3 weeks to get on. Wadi Halfa is known as the anal sphincter of the earth, or at least words of the same meaning. The prospect of waiting here for even a week was enough to engender panic. I met a French Canadian on the train, and together we fought tooth and nail from 8am until about 5pm to get on the ferry. It was a very stressful day. We never knew what was going on. We spoke to the owner, and he said he couldn’t guarantee anything. At different times, we were told we would be going, and at other times, we wouldn’t. We made it with the help of a local who went to work for us for at least 5 hours, then helped us through customs, and even onto the ferry. For all his work he wanted absolutely nothing. We offered him money, but he refused. The Sudanese are legendary for their hospitality, and had it have been cooler, I would have really liked to have done the desert on the bike. I have spoken to lots of people who have done it, and said it was just the most amazing experiences to be treated so hospitably by the people along the way, who live very meager existences, yet offer so much. The ferry ticket costs SD4400 plus a compulsory SD650 for one meal and two teas. Immigration take another SD4500 to let you out. The bike cost SD10600 to put on the ferry. Just trying to find out how much money we needed was an exercise in frustration. Three times I had to change money to pay for something else I didn’t expect. Because you can’t change money outside the country, I only wanted to change as close to the amount I needed as possible. They say the land border will reopen within the next year. I certainly hope so.
So many people didn’t make it onto the ferry. Men were yelling and jostling all day. One woman totally lost her composure and burst into tears and babbled several times. It all seems so hopelessly mismanaged to me. They know when people board the train whether they intend to board the ferry. Had I have known there would be a situation like this, I would have gone to Port Sudan, ferried across to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, then up through Jordan. Saudi’s are giving transit permits quite freely these days apparently.
Once on the ferry, the trip was quite good. We finally got underway at about 6pm. Along the way we passed the famous Abu Simbel ruins, but we were too far away. It wasn’t so hot on the Nile, and in fact was quite cool at night. It was a full moon, and I think I had the best position on the boat on top of a life-preserver box, and probably the best bed with my self-inflating mattress, whereas everyone else was sleeping on the deck, or on the benches downstairs. I slept well to make up for the poor sleep I got in Wadi Halfa.
We arrived at Aswan at 1:30pm but the Egyptian barbarians wouldn’t let any of us off until everyone on board had been processed for immigration. That made it close to 5:30pm before we actually got off the ship. I have been looking forward to Egypt. Apart from the historical interest, this represents the last leg of Africa.