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Sudan is full of amazing people. I cannot say the same for its government. Their handling (or advancement) of the Darfur crisis has been piss poor and they have made getting around (for tourists at least) a pain in the ass.
The trip started well, coming into Wadi Halfa on the ferry from Aswan on Lake Nasser. It had been a long trip with lots of time to kill. Junko, a Japanese girl who happened to be bunked with Brian, my new travelling mate, had become bored and decided to file the Irishman's nail. It was absolutely disgusting. I would post a picture of Brian's nail here, if I was not worried about causing widespread nausea and vomiting. My pictures of a chicken beheading in Yemen are far easier on the eyes.
I digress. Wadi Halfa was great, but we left the next day, after having registered our presence with the local authorities, to the tiny town of Abu Hammad. It wasn't a significant town, but the 3 of us, Junko, Brian and I, decided to go there to see what was going on.
In fact, not much was going on. We chilled there and mingled with the locals for the most part. We were invited to visit someone's house in the evening where we were given tea, nuts and dates. The following morning we were offered breakfast by a teacher living across from the "hotel," which was really just one big room with 6 beds, a toilet that hadn't been cleaned since it was made and an outside tap.
The teacher's name was Mr. Al-Hajj and his family, unsurprisingly, were called the Al-Hajj family. They were awesome and prepared a massive breakfast for us that we couldn't finish. Sitting in these relatively poor surroundings we were humbled that Mr. Al-Hajj offered US money so that we could spend longer in his country. And to think that at first we thought he was asking us for money.
The afternoon was wasted when we were tracked down by the police and told to register at the local station. This pointless process took several hours and wasted the rest of the day, during which time we had plans to visit one of the islands in the middle of the Nile.
In the evening we drank tea at the "centre" of town, where a multitude of old men were sitting around a tiny TV screen watching Stuart Little. They were enjoying it too. It is unfortunate that their enjoyment would not be prolonged as the town's electricity went off at 11. Everyone was reduced to using candles or going to bed.
Atbara was our next port of call. It was another pretty boring town. I stayed in bed most of the time because I was sick. Junko succeeded in getting Brian and herself arrested by taking a picture of a cute little kid, who happened to be standing in front of a prison. Half of their day was wasted with numerous questions from local forces.
Khartoum was perhaps one of the most boring capital cities I've ever been to. There was little to do there and we had to make do as best as we could, having already wasted the first 2 days there with nothing but pointless bureaucracy. Junko by this time had decided to come with Brian and myself to Eritrea, our next country, and applied for a visa. It took a long time coming so we had to entertain ourselves in the meantime. This often involved receiving head massages from our new Japanese friend.
One day was spent viewing the coalescence of the Blue and White Niles. You could actually see the different colours of each river as they blended together.
Another day was spent watching the amazing Sufi dancers, worshippers who danced around like camels on speed as a form of worship to Allah. The singing and dancing in the tiny mosque beforehand was also something special and unique.
Being showed around by Soloman, Junko's friend in Khartoum, was also great. He drove us around the city, and finished the evening by taking us to a road-side restaurant which served freshly caught fish from the Nile.
Along with Abu Hammad, where we had met the Al-Hajj family, visiting the Pyramids at Meroe was the second highlight of Sudan. Not many people know this but there are more pyramids in Sudan than there are in Egypt, albeit not as spectacular. For us this was a great thing. Our bus dropped us off in the middle of the desert, and pointed towards the pyramids.
We walked for about 10 minutes before stumbling across them. The barbed wire fence was easy to jump and despite it being the middle of the night there was a full moon so we could see everything clearly. The site itself was magic. First things first though, as we sat down next to the first pyramid to eat a fantastic dinner consisting of tuna, jam, cheese and bread.
Next came the pyramid climbing. With no one else around we scaled one of the pyramids and sat on the top admiring the vista of ancient monuments around us. This was followed shortly by a new game we like to call "pyramid-climbing." Despite several bloody injuries I can graciously call myself the champion of the first British-Japanese Pyramid Climbing Championships. With credit to Junko though, she was a close second...aka a loser.
We tried to spend the night outside the barbed fence on the desert floor in case someone came by and decided to charge us the $10 entrance fee. But after lying there for a good few hours and barely sleeping we decided to move. In what can only be described as a commando-style operation we quickly packed all our belongings, jumped the fence and raced to the closest pyramid. We ended up sleeping comfortably inside it, now shielded from the biting wind outside.
The rest of the Sudan trip went by slowly. Junko's visa finally came through and we headed off to Eritrea. Some more pointless bureaucracy and possibly the greatest bus ride ever through the bush of Sudan and we were dropped off in a field in the middle of nowhere.
"Cross that bridge there," the bus driver pointed out, and you'll be in Eritrea." It was the strangest border crossing.
Sudan had been amazing, especially its people, but I was relieved to finally enter a country where women could walk around without covering themselves and alcohol was freely available.