From Khartoum to the Ethiopian border, my final days in Sudan

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When I had my first flat tire, after 5,500 km

From Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, I still had around 550km to go towards the border of Ethiopia. I decided to take a little D-Tour to stay away from the busy main road. I was just tired of main roads. During the three days from Atbara to Khartoum I faced death several times. Bus and truck drivers wouldn’t stop behind me when some other vehicle was coming towards me. While passing, they just pushed me off the road and I sometimes was close to fall of my bicycle. I started to literally do a hand sign every time a truck was approaching me from behind, showing them to “get the fuck over”. It worked most of the time and I was just really happy to finally reach Khartoum. So, the road I took towards Al Quadrif was on the other side of the Nile and I found it to be very peaceful and with barely any traffic. 

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After unusual heavy rains a lot of town were flooded
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That is how a usual village looks like
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For kilometres there was nothing, and suddenly a house shows up again… Imagine living here, seriously in the nowhere

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Best way to spend your 3h lunch break, I was lucky this time

The environment started to change quickly. The closer I got to the border, the greener it became. I planned to split the 550km into 5 days, staying in “Hotels” in the bigger cities of Wad Madani and Al Quadrif, and the rest of the days I would sleep somewhere along the road. As you can see in the pictures I found some beautiful camping spots, all by myself, covered by trees. Even though some locals noticed me, I have never felt unsafe in any way while wild camping in Sudan. During my 23 days in Sudan, I only spent 50 dollars on accommodation, so I most of the time slept in my tent. The hotels I had were filthy and really just good for the night to stock up on water and food. In Sudan I paid around 4 to 5 dollars on average for a room per night. When I sleep in a hotel I would always take my bike inside the room. Sometimes, I can barely move within my own room but at least I know the bike is safe. There are for sure more expensive rooms I could take, but what’s the point, I’d rather use that money for other activities than for sleep, and the funny things happen when you get out of your comfort zone. Waking up having a rat in your room or having diarrhea all night long when the bathroom is 100 meters away from where you sleep are stories you won’t forget that quickly.

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Nicely covered from the street, and finally some good solid ground again to pitch my tent

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Always in use, my camping chair!

 

Population density increased

The life along the road became busier as I moved on. The agricultural sector is more dominant in the east of Sudan compared to the rest of the route I have followed. The landscape is very green and there are a lot of animals grazing all around. On one day between Khartoum and Wad Madani there were people everywhere, town after town so I decided to stay at a police checkpoint one night. They are safe and the Police men in Sudan surprisingly don’t even carry a gun. They offered me a lot of hot milk and other food.

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Night at a police station
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The usual daily traffic
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I love how that donkey has its tongue out, haha heavy women:P

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Sudanese hospitality

The hospitality continued throughout my travel through Sudan. On an hourly basis people invited me for coffee and tea, which I most of the times frankly declined since I had to do some kilometres, and I cannot drink tea all day long. However, I never turned down a food offer, haha, so I randomly was invited by a young guy while I was doing a water break. I first thought he wanted something from me, but as I had already done more than 3/4 of my planned route on that day I just followed him. Since it was Friday (the Muslims holy day), I got invited to a huge breakfast which was just delicious. There were only guys in the room, ranging from the age of 5 up to 27. One guy was fluent in English and it felt good to have a normal conversation. After discussing a lot of cultural differences between Sudan and Switzerland, he kindly asked me to take off my clothes, they wanted to see me naked. I just laughed and showed them my upper body. I laughed even more when they wanted to see more, but I then frankly declined, and they accepted it. Later, I asked myself why they wanted to see me totally naked, is it because of the skin colour? or did they want to see if my penis is circumcised? I really don’t know, I just thought it was funny that they were totally against homosexuality and then asking me to take off my clothes in front of them.

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Typical sudanese breakfast
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The guys who invited me for breakfast

The African way

I just love spending time in a village or city, sitting somewhere and watch the people doing their daily business. There are special phone charging places where around 50 phones are being charged at the same time. In Africa, more people have access to Internet than to electricity. What I also realized is that people in Sudan really don’t do maintenance on their equipment. The trucks, buses, tuctuc’s whatever you name it, they just use it until it does not work anymore. Seriously they have no profile on their tire anymore, they won’t exchange a tire until it explodes and is completely ripped off the rim, sometimes causing even further damage to the body of the vehicle. In this part I will post some pictures that are so typical to the African way of doing things.

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Donkeys are the main mean of transportation in the rural areas

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A usual sight in Africa, trucks filled with people, safety is never an issue
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They are really keen on keeping their vehicle clean, just the place they do it is a bit….
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TucTuc cleaning
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Every day I get surprised by things, like this wardrobe in my room
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Sudanese “Handy-Doctor”
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Exploded tires everywhere, and the spare tires they usually have are as run down as all the others
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A typical sight you can see all over, women walking for kilometers to transport things

 

The Ethiopian Visa

As I did not enter Ethiopia by airplane, I was obliged to get the Visa at the Ethiopian Embassy in Khartoum. I arrived in Khartoum on a Friday, and as the arabic weekend is from Friday to Saturday, I had to wait until Sunday to go to the Embassy. A friend told me to go there very very early. The embassy opens at 8:30 and I arrived there at 06:00AM. Surprisingly, I was not the first one, as I had to register at the “security guard” I was assigned with the number 47. The whole process was so disorganized and no one really had a clue what was going on. There were around 4 different lines, everyone was shouting, holding different papers in their hand and the embassy people in charge of letting people in, made use of their situational power and acted in a really arrogant way. Apparently, the first ones they let in already came to the embassy 5 days before, and as they only let in 100 people per day, the whole process was totally delayed. At 11:00 a guy finally made clear to us that there is no way we would get a visa today, and he put on each of our visa forms a number again and a date, when we will have our visa appointment. I was assigned with number one on Wednesday. So I had to wait three days to go to the embassy again. As I had time and really wanted the Visa, I arrived again at 06:00 on that Wednesday. At around 10:00 I was allowed to go inside, and I was really lucky, as the number I was assigned to earlier did not matter at all. There were people who even had an appointment 2 days before me and again didn’t manage to be let inside. The whole process is just soooo disorganized, and as an embassy worker, how can you deal with that every day without changing it? I had to wait another 6 hours inside until I finally got my three months visa, which cost me 60$.

My struggle with the postcards

On my whole way down in Sudan I tried to find a Post office, but the answer was always no, there is none in Sudan. I asked people everywhere and even expats, living in Khartoum for years told me they have not heard of a post office anywhere. As I checked maps.me, there was a sign saying Post office Khartoum. Well, why not give it a try? Since I write a postcard for every donation I receive, and most people wanted a postcard from Sudan, I had to try it. I didn’t want to let 20 people down, haha! As I arrived at the location, yes there was a big building, looking like a post office, but a guy told me that is a remaining building from the British colonial period. Ok well, so I just started asking around the locals where to find a post office. As usual, no one had a clue, but suddenly one guy seemed to know what I am looking for, stopped a minibus and told the driver where to drop me off. Tadaaa, after a short walk I really arrived at something that looked like a Post office. The mess inside was terrific but it still looked like they were under control of the mess. I checked if they send postcards as well as the price. So, I finally found a post office, but what about postcards? Sudan is not a typical tourist destination, so where do you find postcards? The struggle was real! I already made plans to print out pictures and send them inside an envelope. As I walked out of the SudaPost office, a guy with a little street shop, looked at me and said: postcards?! I couldn’t hold back my laugh, I was like damn, you are my mannnn!! The postcards he had were at least 20 years old but in my opinion they were great, even though they did not look nice at all, they are postcards from Sudan! I mean who has ever received a postcard from Sudan?! What a game changer, I managed to find a post office as well as postcards! As I brought all of them to the postoffice, I really made sure to get the women at the counter on my side. I wouldn’t call it flirting, but as I told them all those cards are for my wife, kids and friends, their heart really seemed to melt and I was pretty sure that they will take good care of the cards. I put all the postage stamps on each card my self and stamped them myself, to make sure that they don’t just take the postage stamps off again after I leave. It took exactly 18 days until the first postcards arrived, and I believe that by now, all the 20 cards have found their way to the recipient. How great is that? It took 6 weeks for postcards from Italy to arrive home, which were sent 200km off the Swiss border! Shout out to SudaPost!!!

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The big day at the postoffice
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My man!! Hey you want postcards??!!

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Sudan – Ethiopia border crossing

Border crossings are exciting, you are entering a new country, a different culture. They speak a different language, dress differently. Just from one day to the next, things can completely change. Nevertheless, border crossings are also a big hassle. People always try to take advantage of you, they want to exchange your money, try to charge you more on food, try to help you getting money from an ATM, telling you where to go and there is like 10 people shouting at you if you go somewhere else.

I camped 50 km away from the border between some trees. I took it easy in the morning because I knew I only had to do around 90 km with not a lot of altitude change. I rode for 2km when I suddenly realized that I had my first flat tire, wuhuu! After 5500 km, riding through thorn bushes, over glass shards and terrible roads, this is a solid achievement I would say. It took me around 30 minutes, as I was in no hurry and I rather did it slow and easy, than twice. I exchanged the tube and fixed the defective one a couple of days later in a hotel room, where it was not as dusty and full of dirt.

Once at the border, I had to go to the Sudanese immigration office to fill out a form, get my passport stamped and I was off to cross the bridge to the other side. The Sudanese officers at the border attempted to check my luggage. I acted like I did not understand what he wanted to do and after a couple of seconds he just waved me over. I then had to go through the exact same process on the other side. The lady who wanted to check my luggage was a bit more eager to see my stuff. She checked like the first two bags in front, but then got tired of it and I talked her out of it. Imagine, it is sooooo annoying if they want to look through your whole equipment. It’s so much and I need to take all the bags off the bike. Passport control is annoying too. Just normal dressed people showed up at the side of the rode demanding to see my passport. Yes, they could be police officers, and probably mostly are but as I cannot know it I usually just pass on without showing them anything. The mostly do not have a car so they couldn’t even follow me.

What does cycling mean to me?

Probably most accurately – Freedome… I can just go wherever I want, any kind of „road“, at any time. I don‘t need to worry about gasoline, stupid taxes, paperwork at borders or any speedcontrols (😂). There are days where I like it more, there are others when I am just glad that the day is over, but all in all after every day you feel you have accomplished something. You are a few kilometers closer to your final destination, climbed up a mountain, fixed 10 punctures, crossed a flooded riverbed, pushed your bike up a hill or through the sand (or both together) for hours…, there are so many moments to celebrate each day. Some of you probably think, how can he still like cycling? Seriously, I don‘t know, but I guess it is all those little things every day that make cycle-traveling so enjoyable!

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The kindness of strangers

Arriving at the border I had around 10$ in Sudanese pounds left. As usual I try to get rid of all my money before crossing the border, since changing it always leaves you worse off than getting it from an ATM. Many people told me it is no problem to get money from an ATM right after the border so I did not worry about money at all. As the luck was totally not on my side, the only ATM across the border was out of service and I was told 40km down the road in the next town there is an other international ATM. I left Metama right away since I could not stand the hassle that was going on. Shortly after I saw two overlanders coming at me with beautiful BMW 1200 GS and GSA. I put my hand out to signal them to stop. In these areas you don’t meet that many travelers on the road so it is always worth to have at least a quick chat. It turned out it was a Belgium couple on their honey moon, traveling from South Africa all the way back to Belgium. If there is a woman out there that wants a honey moon like that as well, please get in touch with me! They call themselves the Belgium Gravel Cats and you can follow their adventurous journey here. I told them about my bad luck at the border with the ATM, and with no hesitation they hand me over their remaining Birr, which was around 12$, and a SIM card for emergencies since the next telephone store is on Gondar, 200km away. With the total of 22$ worth of Birr (name of Ethiopian currency) it was possible for me to reach Gondar, where I could withdraw money again. I would have survived without their kind gesture, but it def. made my upcoming three days way more comfortable with less hassle. Thank you for that! The kindness of fellow travelers especially in areas where you don’t really meet a lot of overlanders is always remarkable and I really try to keep UP that spirit.

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The Belgian Gravel Cats

Sudan – Statistics

Kilometres cycled: 1774

Days spent: 23

Nights wild camping: 10

Cost for food: 124$

Cost for sleeping: 98$, including two nights for a total of 50$ (Birthday treat)

Average daily water consumption: 12-14 liters

Favorite food: Sudanese call it Sahan ful (a plate of beans) or ful masri (Egyptian beans). It is a vegetarian protein rich dish garnished with fresh onions, tomatoes, rocket leaves, feta cheese, boiled eggs and sesame oil. It caused the only tailwind I had in Sudan, haha.

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Really doesn’t look tasty, but, it’s SOOOO GOOD!

A German version will follow in the next couple of days.

 

2 thoughts on “From Khartoum to the Ethiopian border, my final days in Sudan

  • I’m an American who recently visited Sudan. Next time that you are in Khartoum, you can buy Postcards in some of the higher end hotels. I bought my postcards from the gift shop on the first floor of the Corinthia Hotel which is more commonly known as Gaddafi’s Egg. Tourist go there to see the sunset from the All-Glass 16th floor restaurant.

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