Sudan :: Out of Africa

We did not know very well what to expect from this once ‘terror state’, but we had heard Sudan was safe and the people were friendly.

And they were, right from the start. Just after crossing the border the people from the Sudan immigration office were about to start their break for breakfast, and invited us behind the counters to join. So, not sure if we could both mix in with the men only Jasper joined. But soon they brought Stephanie some foul as well, and offered both us a cup of tea – with loads of sugar of course.

Giving it a good push we reached Khartoum later that day, just when it was getting dark. Things got a little exciting as with the city in front of us the engine heated up. Apparently a small leak in the cooling system, but after adding some water we made it to the youth hostel where we camped in the court.

But, boy it was hot! At the end of May the temperature soared at highs of well over 40 degrees Celsius, and in the nights it cooled under 30 only for a couple of hours. To make things worse, the hostel was suffering from a power breakdown and could not provide electricity or water. And as we learned the next day we would have to wait for our Saudi transit visa for at least four days, we found an alternative in staying at the German Guesthouse. Quite pricey, but equipped with air conditioners, a pool, and a generator to provide these without interruption.

From there we went around town. To have our car fixed (we replaced the water pump as it was leaking from the seal) and to experience some of the Sudan-Arabic culture.

Interesting passenger in the back of a car in Khartoum.
Curious passenger in the back of a car in Khartoum.

Of course we visited the so-called confluence of the White and Blue Nile. Unfortunately the smog and desert-dust in the air shielded us from a potentially nice view. And we went to the biggest souq of the country – in Omdurman, which is one of the three towns that make up Khartoum. Again we were invited for tea, and being white we mostly were an attraction for them, rather than the other way around.


Friday is the holy day for Muslims, and life mostly revolves around family. There is however one exception which are the “whirling dervishes”. In the afternoon several thousand people gather at the tomb of Sheikh Hamed al-Nil (a former Sufi leader) in Omdurman to watch or take part in the ritual Sufi dances. The ritual starts with two men chanting and walking in circles. Then the group collectively marches to the tomb before forming a large circle and the drums set in to provide an ever-increasing rhythm, driving the participants in a trance. Some of the ‘whirl’ of into the circle, spinning around – alone on their religious path.


On the next day we had a strange moment, as we had to say goodbye to each other: as the Saudis are not too fond of unmarried women travelling through their country Stephanie would fly directly to Amman in Jordan, while Jasper would cross the Red Sea by ferry and drive through Saudi Arabia with the car.

On Saturday morning -with the Saudi transit visa ready- we organised a ticket for the ferry, which would leave on Tuesday. That meant we would be separated for almost a week.

With Steef on the plane, in the afternoon I (Jasper) set off towards the Meroe pyramids. A nice stop on the way to Port Sudan. And a good place for a wild camp. As I arrived late, it was already getting dark and hard to find the exit from the main road, let alone the designated area for camping near the pyramids. But with not a single person or light for miles around I chose to camp right in front of the small ticket office near the entrance. And when I visited the pyramids early morning apart from a camel with driver there still was not a soul – let alone someone to sell me a ticket.


My next goal was Port Sudan, which was about 600 km away. But with some music on the car stereo and smooth roads through the desert I was making good progress. Until I heard a strange sound. Pufffff….

At first I thought it was part of the music. But then I felt the engine had lost some power. That must have been the turbo! But a quick look under the bonnet, in the soaring desert sun, did not reveal any obvious problems. And as the engine temperature and sound were normal, I continued my way. Only at a maximum speed of 80 km/h. Still pondering whether the sound could be a broken turbo, I also started counting whether this new top speed would be sufficient to make it through Saudi Arabia with only three days of transit allowed.

And then -still in the middle of nowhere- there was a fuel station. Not a desert mirage, but a true service station with diesel and -more importantly- some shadow. There another look in the engine compartment learned that the loss off turbo pressure was not due to a problem with the turbo itself, but with the intercooler hose which had come of partially. One of the many small problems we found after having repairs done to our car. Luckily this was an easy fix for me, and -after letting the engine cool off a bit, quite relative in the midst of the desert-I was underway again in minutes. With full diesel power!

On my way to Port Sudan I would come past Suakin, the port from where the ferry to Jeddah would leave. I decided to stop there for lunch, and have a look. And then things took a turn, and went into overdrive. Before turning into the village I was stopped by a guy asking me if I came for the ferry. “Yes, I do,” I replied. Leaving out that it was due only in two days. The guy happened to be from the ferry company, and immediately took me to their office to complete the last paperwork. Then he asked me to take him back to the road and send me of to the port. Was this really happening?

At the port I called the number of a contact I had been given to help me with the paperwork, and quickly stuffed some fruit and cookies in my mouth as a way of lunch. The whole bureaucratic circus at immigration and customs took a few hours, walking from one counter to the other – and back. But then, after an intensive check of the car and our luggage, I had my stamps and was summoned to the ferry. I parked the car and got aboard. So I was leaving today, two days earlier than scheduled!

And then there was the moment of really leaving Africa: from the deck I saw our car coming forward from the lines of waiting cars and being loaded onto the ship. After little over six months and 30.000 km we eventually left the continent. Bye Africa!

Our car being loaded onto the ship - leaving Africa.
Our car being loaded onto the ship – leaving Africa.

Kenya and Ethiopia


After a few days in Nairobi where they had lovely bread at the Art Bakery and we had the mounting of our Malawian brake caliper checked, we decided to proceed to Ethiopia as our visa are running out mid-May. So we left crowdy Nairobi and headed north.

Mount Kenya, the highest mountain of the country.
Mount Kenya, the highest mountain of the country.

On the next day, quickly after passing the equator and mount Kenya, we saw the confirmation of reaching the northern part of Africa: the first camels (well, dromedaries, or Camelus dromedarius to be precise). And during the day we would see many more: large herds along and on the road, sometimes guided, mostly by children.

Camels in/on our way.
Camels in/on our way.

As both the scenery and roads were brilliant we made good progress and reached the border with Ethiopia at the end of the afternoon. As there was no possibility to camp in the bordertown Moyale we stayed in a Arabic-style hotel.

Beautiful scenery (and road) in northern Kenya.
Beautiful scenery (and road) in northern Kenya.
Omo valley

The border crossing the next morning went relatively smooth and one of the two ATMs on the Ethiopian side of Moyale actually worked. The first 200km of road was mostly good tar, until turning left at Yabello onto a 100km rocky gravel road with a few water crossings. All in all it took us a good three hours to reach Konso. This town, itself a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the  Omo valley west of it are home to many of the ancient tribes in Ethiopia, many still living in much of their traditional ways.

On our way to one of the Mursi villages (the Mursi being the people famous for women decorated with big discs in their underlip) in Jinka we ran into a German overlander we met before at Jungle Junction in Nairobi. He shared us his experience of the Mursi village (“a zoo with people”) and that there was a weekly market in another village we had just passed, Key Afer. So we changed our plan and went there.

After the market we headed straight for Arba Minch where we camped on a lane in the Paradise Lodge as their formal campsite did not accommodate for cars to be driven onto the grass. The next two -weekend- days we spend along Lake Langano, relaxing and cleaning before going into Addis Ababa.

Our schedule in (and around) Addis was dominated by administrative bureaucracy: first our visa for Egypt (three working days, embassy closed on Monday because of Orthodox Easter), then our transit visa for Sudan (one working day, but ran over the weekend so another three days of waiting). So besides visiting the National and Ethnological museums, a few markets and some restaurants we also opted for two get-aways.

The first was to Awash NP, about three hours from Addis, which was mostly dry prairie along the Awash river.

Our second get-away was a visit to the Blue Nile gorge, also around three hours from Addis. There the river cuts more than 1 km deep through the surrounding highlands.

The Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana and cuts deep through the Rift mountains of Ethiopia, sometimes as deep as 1500 meters.
The Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana and cuts deep through the Rift mountains of Ethiopia, sometimes as deep as 1500 meters.

And then when we had our visa on Tuesday we left Addis, just in time to visit a few more sites before our Ethiopian visa ran out. Our first stop on the way to the border were, of course, the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela.

The last of the eleven churches: Bet Giyorgis.
The last of the eleven churches: Bet Giyorgis.

This incredible site with in total 11 monolithic churches was chiseled out of rock by King Lalibela himself in the 12th century, to make “the second Jerusalem” (after the first was captured by the Muslims). According to the legend he got help from angels, so I guess that makes it a little less of a miracle 😉

Before leaving Ethiopia we also wanted to village the Dutch-run Kim & Tim Village campsite at Lake Tana where some of the country’s oldest monasteries are to be found. With Uwe, the German overlander we had met before in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, we made a relaxing boat trip over the tranquil waters of the lake with me (Jasper) jumping out at each of the monasteries to have a look inside.

One of the castles in Gondar.
One of the castles in Gondar.

The afternoon we spent in Gondar, visiting the Camelot-like castle before setting off to Sudan early the next morning.