The nitty gritty details
Bikeless tours of Sudan in 2009 and 2010
Why Sudan ? Cos I'd lived and worked there more than twenty years ago, in a previous life as they say
In 2009 I wanted to return to the placed I'd been before (like Khartoum, Wad Medani and Singa) which should have been OK on the bike but as the only way into Sudan overland from Cairo where I was is the Wadi Half ferry from Asawn and getting to Aswan on the bike was problematical I left the bike behind and flew - hence a bikeless tour - to Khartoum where I spent a few days before spending an even shorter time in Singa. Short cos I was bundled out of town by the security guys, but that's another story...
In '10 I spent a short time in Khartoum and then headed north and looped back to the capital mostly following the Nile but with a bit of sightseeing (!) in the Bayuda desert
Getting ready to go:
Visa: Just about everyone needs a visa and just about everywhere getting visa is said to be a long and labourious exercise - a British traveller I met in Khartoum told me that it it took him almost 4 weeks to get a visa in London - but in Cairo visas are easily available (and even easier in Aswan I'm told) tho both Consulates demand a 'letter of introduction' from your Embassy and most Embasasies charge like wounded bulls for this letter. The Oz embassy in Cairo charged £30 Eygytian for a (single sentence) letter. I took the letter, a couple of photocopies of my passport and $100 US dollars to the Consulate in Cairo and joined the chaos at the visa counter! I picked up my visa the next morning
Vaccinations: For once I bothered... parts of Sudan lie within the 'Yellow Fever' zone - the 'official warning' goes along the lines that it's a nasty virus that's spread by mosquitos and travellers to rural areas have a high risk of contracting infection and case fatality rates can approach 50% - as with most things like this the real problem isn't actually getting the virus (most cases are mild, lasting less than a week) but after being in Sudan, everyone wants to see your Yellow Fever vaccination certificate when you try to enter other countries. In short, I had a Yellow Fever shot in Oz before I left
Once you're there:
Accommodation: Things have changed! Last time I stayed mostly in locandas - places with rows of rope beds lined up in an open air courtyard - now hotels abound, including ritzy 5* ones. In Khartoum even the no star places are expensive (and want to be paid in US dollars). In Khartoum I stayed in a pretty good place out past the airport, in Wad Medani, I tried a few unappealing places before finding an amost acceptable place; the cheapies didn't welcome foreigners, but it was different story in the north where there are a few more tourists - mostly elderly southern Europeans - and I found a couple of really really good places to stay
Food: Again, things have changed and while there are plenty of fuul joints still around, it almost seems that Italian is the he most common thing you'll find... at least in Khartoum, and mostly it's not bad either. In general, food is pretty basic and filling
One thing that hasn't changed is the tea. Available on every corner - from a 'tea lady' squatting next to a makeshift 'tea shop' - a glass of tea in Sudan is one of life's little joys, as is coffee too, served in small buns made from recycled tin cans
Bottled water is available, cheaply, everywhere. Non-alcoholic beer crops up pretty often too but why bother when there are fabulous fruit juices everywhere?
Money: Easy to change foreign notes into Sudanese pounds, the excange bureaus probably better than banks but outside Khartoum you might need a bank and if you do, take care with the notes you use. Old or torn notes just won't be accepted, and US 100 dollar notes are even more difficult - serial numbers are scrutinised with great care and if they don't like what they see, the note won't be accepted, use new ones if you have them! Rates are slightly better in bureaus than in banks
You'll need a Travel and Photo Permit from the Ministry of Tourism. Many guidebooks and the like advise that Travel Permits are no longer required anymore but there are roadblocks everywhere and the possession of a permit speeds up an otherwise interminable (tho 'backsheesh' free) process. A Photo Permit is an absolute must and the crazy conditions:
Military areas, bridges, train stations, broadcasting and public utilities such as water gas, petrol and electricity works are not to be filmed.
Slum areas, beggars and other defaming subjects are not to be photographed
are often enforced, particularly in market (souk) areas. Every site of tourist interest levies a fee for using a camera and a higher fee for a video camera, tho they're $15 tops so it's not that much is it?
Roads: The major roads I travelled on outside Khartoum were pretty good tho often there were pretty rugged pavements and nothing in the way of verges. Signage was in Arabic and English and overall it seemed fairly good. Minor 'roads' in the north were often not roads at all but tyre (tire) tracks in the sand...
Traffic: After Cairo and Sana'a, the traffic seemed really orderly. While taxis were (as always) pretty anarchic, and the tuk-tuk' even worse, on the whole, traffic was pretty good
The most frequently asked questions:
By folk outside Sudan: Is it safe for an - insert your nationality - to go to Sudan?
Same old question ... The usual 'terrorist' haven stereotype of over-fevered imaginations doesn't warrant a response but the seemingly never ending war on the civilians of Darfur has to be a concern. While there was ample evidence of swaggering military (and, as I found in Singa, 'security' personnel), the 'war' in Darfur was both literally and metaphorically a million miles away for both Sudanese and myself. I again found warm and hospitable people everywhere
By folk inside Sudan: If you don't work for the UN or an NGO why are you here?
Kinda sad isn't it? Plenty of 'western' - and Chinese - 'aid-workers' but few other 'visitors', and it really is worth a vist