Saturday, June 6, 2009

How to travel through Sudan

Here is our recipe for travelling in Sudan:

The visa application in Cairo was relatively simple (if you can get the letter of introduction from your embassy, Czech nationals will have to write their own letter and ask for a proof of signature instead, Brits will pay around $50 for the letter but ti will be issued within 5 minutes). The visa cost $100, required two photos, the form written in duplicate and photocopies of the passport and Egypt visa. There is a guy with a photocopier in the embassy who charges 1LE per copy.

The fare for the Aswan to Wadi Halfa ferry is 306LE for seat class and can be bought in Cairo, in a small office at Ramses train station.

We arrived at the port at 10am on Monday. Immigration and customs are fairly painless (unless, like most of the Sudanese passengers, you have boxes and boxes of luggage!) and you should be onboard by 12ish. You are given a meal ticket before boarding which entitles you to one meal, which was very nice - chicken, rice, bread, vegetable dish, salad and fruit. Most people used their ticket before we left. Further meals cost 14LE and a small packet of biscuits int he 1st class restaurant cost 1LE. Water and soft drinks cost 2.5LE. If you have any problems on the ferry you can look for Mr Mutaba, the chief engineer, his english is great and he can translate any questions to the immigration officials or anyone else you need to speak to.

The ferry should depart around 6pm but we were delayed due to high winds on the lake and left around 2:30am, I was happy to see such safety measures in place. During the journey we submitted our passports to the immigration officials in a cabin behind the 1st class restaurant. We passed Abu Simbel around 4pm and the captain came in very close so people could take photos, many people crowded to do so, not just the four western tourists on board. Later we stopped on the 22 parallel to swap the Egyptian guard for a Sudanese one and around 9pm we reached Wadi Halfa. Before we arrived we were ushered into the 1st class restaurant where the immigration procedure began. Once the officials arrived we had to fill three separate forms of our details and were required to have our temperature taken (we were not sure whether this was normal procedure or a result of the swine flu epidemic). It took about half an hour and we were able to disembark. Customs were very friendly and waved us through without even a cursory glance. Boksi (converted pick-ups) wait outside and charge 5SD to get to town.

In Wadi Halfa we stayed at the Nile Hotel, they charged 7SD for a bed. There is a separate section for females although they will allow foreigners to share a room mixed. Close by are restaurants where you can eat fuul, falafel or meat, prices are from 2-8SD. Bottled water costs 1SD for a small (500/600ml) bottle and 2SD for a 1.5l bottle, soft drinks Pepsi/Stim (something like Appletize) are 1SD. The registration office is on the main road close to the bus stand. It should cost 103SD (Around $40) per person but there is a guy who will help you register and take care of the toing and froing from several offices and will charge $50, worth the extra $10 I thought. YOU ONLY HAVE TO REGISTER ONCE IN SUDAN. Many travellers told us we need to register again in Khartoum, and pay again, but all officials were very explicit in telling us not to. Buses south only leave on Wednesday so dont hang around unless you want to wait a week! We paid 30SD each for a space in a boksi to Abri. A bus ticket to Dongola cost 45SD but they fill up quickly. In any case we wanted to take our time. I think jeeps to Dongola cost 70SD per person.

The ride to Abri took between 5-6 hours and the road is paved most of the way. In Abri there is only one lokanda and they let us camp on their yard for 5SD per person. If you need a room they will most likely want you to pay for four beds in it. There is a friendly restautant near where the boksi leave and they do falafel, fuul and fried fish, from 2-5SD per plate. The market here is quite lively in the mornings. A boksi leaves for Kerma around 9am, but you should get there at 8am, it takes over 6 hours and the road is not so good here. They should stop at least every two hours to get a drink and stretch your legs. In kerma there is only one lokanda and it is not so nice, but OK. We paid 10SD for the room as they would not allow camping but I think 20SD for the room is the norm. All of these lokandas have running water so showering is easy, although in Wadi Halfa you may need to fill a bucket and take it to a cubicle. There is not much food available in Kerma but there is one restaurant opposite the river that does some sort of stew for 3SD a plate. The boksi to Dongola leave in the morning. It is less than 2 hours, paved 90% of the way and costs 10SD each.

In Dongola we stayed at Lord Hotel, I think most foreigners stay here. The manager is helpful but he will try to sell you a room with private bath. We got a room with shared bath for 20SD. Beds are available for men at 7SD. Either side of the hotel are restaurants selling fuul, falafel and delicious fried fish., the fish is 5SD for a plate, the fuul and falafel 2SD each (I think).

You must register with the police in Dongola, this is free and takes two minutes but is quite far out of town so you might want to take a rickshaw, they will take you, wait and bring you back for 4SD. We planned to go to Karima but changed our mind, although if you do go you should ask in the office for a 'permission to cross the river' this is also free and seemingly pointless as you must come from that side from the north anyway! From Dongola there should be regular AC coaches to Khartoum. However they were all full when we went so we paid 30SD to ride in the back of a pick-up. the buses i think cost 30-35SD. The road is sealed all the way and the 440km journey takes under 6 hours.

Everyone knows about the Blue Nile Sailing Club in Khartoum. You can camp for 12SD per person, there are showers and a place to wash your dusty clothes. The small kiosk by the camping area sells water and soda for 1SD each and burgers (with egg) for 5SD. In town there are better, bigger burgers for 4SD. There is a juice stall that opens onto the car park of the BNSC, tasty juices cost 4/5SD (small/large) and the kiosk next door sells drinks and snacks. It is better to buy water here than at the 'camping' kiosk because the camping kiosk sells Crystal water which has a strange sweet aftertaste. All other brands taste normal.

In Khartoum it seems almost the only food available cheaply is burgers, they are everywhere. Normally with an egg on top as well, and sometimes cheese, they cost 4-5SD each. Fuul, fish and falafel are also available, as are shwarma but you have to look for them. At the 'Sea Scout meal' next to Blue Nile sailing club they do excellent BBQ chicken, for around 10SD.

Internet access in Khartoum is fast and cheap, normally 1 or 2SD per hour, the big one near the mosque (Netgate?) is 1SD but they have about 40 PC's of which at least 10 will be guys watching HD porn and slowing things up for the rest of us. A nice place is on Atbara road, or the fastest is Flower Net, part of a florists on the corner near the ethiopian embassy, they charge 2SD.

We visited the Al-Mogran park, entry 3SD, which was OK. The confluence of the two Niles is fairly unspectacular however.

There was a massive dust storm whilst we were there which made things cooler, we even had some rain in Dongola. It was dangerous however and there were many accidents because of it. From the campground you can hear ambulances wailing all night.

The Ethiopian embassy was closed for a week, an important meeting in Kassala apparently, but once it re-opened you cam submit your application in the morning and receive it at 3pm the same day. The cashier did offer to try to fast-track our application but it was so busy after the closure, maybe 200 people there, that it was not possible. There are several women in neighbouring streets selling tea and coffee, the highlight for us through Sudan has been jebbana (the coffee spiced with ginger, cardamom and sometimes cinnamon), they normally cost 0.5SD in the villages, 1SD in khartoum.

We did not visit any of the ancient sites as we had just come through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt so we were more excited about the villages and life here. I would imagine they are quite hard to visit without your own transport but I have no evidence to back this theory up.

From Khartoum we took a bus to Gedaref, which cost 26SD (36SD for A/C we were on an AC coach but got downgrdaed and issued with a partial refund). If you get to Mira Bary (the main Khartoum long distance coach station) early you can get a bus all the way to the border at Gallabat. We arrived in Gedaref after midnight and were taken to a cheap, but dirty, lokanda, for 15SD for the room. Any rickshaw driver will know where to take you.

To get from Gedaref to Gallabat minibuses leave in the morning and charge 10SD per person. The trip takes around 1.5-2 hours. Once at the border there are three offices on the Sudanese side, the whole immigration process should take around 20 minutes. On the Ethiopian side look for the brand new immigration building. This is still not open so walk behind it, through the small farmyard to the shack where current immigration procedures take place, again, it shouldn't take too long.

Hope this helps. Just be prepared to drink a lot of soft drinks and jebbana and eat a lot of fuul, fried fish and burgers!

Average daily budget - 40SD (without any sightseeing outside of the towns and cities)
(USD$1=2.4SD, GBP1=3.9SD)

6 comments:

  1. how was the safety there.. I'm looking at taking a portion of one leg of your trip, from Kenya to Cairo.... I've read everywhere to not travel through Sudan... thanks for your help!!

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  2. Hi
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  3. Hey, nice job. I'm learning bits and pieces by reading blogs such as this one. Thank you for making the effort...

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  4. I'll be crossing Sudan by the same route in about two months. Thank you so much for this post, this is all fantastic information.

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