Day 088 Sudan : Dongola - Khartoum

Day 088 Sudan

Trip Distance 822 km (511 m) Total Distance 11953 km (7429 m)
Road Condition 100% tar    
Diesel Costs S£1.10    
Toll Fees S£8.50    
Blue Nile Sailing Club N15.61150 E32.53462 US$15 - ablutions are grim but workable. Includes electricity and the staff are fabulous but very expensive for a carpark

This has been our longest trip ever - and done quite accidently!  3 months ago distances like this would have made us go pale but now the miles passed easily under us as we chat, write the blog and listen to audio books and music.  Our biggest distraction has been audio books and we can highly recommend them.  We are now on "Two Towers" of Lord of the Rings and about half way through the epic.  Wonderful!

We set off from Dongola after filling our water tanks and re-inflating the tyres with the plan to stop at Karima as we wanted to see Jebel Barkal ("Holy Mountain" in Arabic) and the Pyramids of Merowe.  With the national road in such good condition, we arrived there at 10:30, 2.5hours after leaving Dongola and stopped at the ancient site.  a_SG102258 a_SG102260 The pyramids are not as big as the ones in Giza but are impressive nonetheless but after an hour of wandering around, we figured we'd seen what we wanted to see so we decided that we would head for Atbara.  As we had already crossed the bottom of the Nubian Desert (204km) and hadn't filled up since leaving Egypt, our main tank was now registering and dropping fast and with another 400kms of the Bayuda Desert to cross we needed some diesel.  Unfortunately, when we checked we realised that we only had S£20 left (blast!) and even with fuel at the cheap prices that they are, we didn't have enough to carry on.  When we had stopped to ask one of the locals where the road was for Atbara, he had mentioned "turn at the garage", so we made a pact.  We would go to that garage and if we could persuade them to take US$ we'd fill up and carry on to Atbara.  Just something to note here, the Tracks4Africa maps are not up to date as there has been extensive work on the new national roads so it does take a little while to find out where they are. 

We set off for the garage and, as it turns out, they do accept US$ but at an exchange rate of 2S£:1US$ instead of 2.5S£:1US$.  A difference across our fill of US$11.  A good compromise, we thought, as we had been stupid enough to run out of local currency!  So we filled Sully's tanks to the brim and set off again.

We had been driving through the desert for about 2 hours and with no sign of life when, in the distance, we saw a group of who we thought were nomads or bedouins but later we learnt that they are from the tribe of Hassians, on the side of the road flagging us down.  We had made a decision early on in our trip that we would never drive by someone who needed water.  So, this being the middle of the desert with no visible signs of life or water anywhere, we slowed down and stopped.  Turns out they just wanted to have a chat as they hadn't seen anyone in weeks (it's surprises us at every turn how effective miming and charades is!).  So we gave them water anyway, had a chat and were given permission to take some photos of them (no payment required - what would they do with money anyway??) 

a_SG102268 a_SG102271

I think that this has turned out to be one of the best photos I have taken and I love it.


Atbara was fast approaching; as was the industry and smog that scars this town. We decided as we approached that we would head straight down to Meroe and the Royal City (ruins) as there was nothing here for us to see. 

"The little, slimy turd!" I said to Trevor as we drove away from the bridge.  Turns out that there is a bridge to cross the Nile into Atbara now instead of a ferry.  On the other side we came to a checkpoint and were pulled over by a guy in plain clothes. 

"Tourist?", he asked.  uuum yes, what else would we be?????

"S£10 for tourist to cross bridge."

Now I'm all for paying where it's due but this was a blatant and amateurish attempt at extortion and I was having none of it.  I made the Arabic sign for official paper/passport/bill/receipt which is a slash across the left palm with the right finger.  "Receipt," I said, "then I will give you the money."

He caught on immediately what I wanted but not having anything to hand over he motioned to us to get out of the car and told us that we would have to wait for 2 hours for the official police to arrive to give us a receipt.  Toad!  I told him that we had full permission to cross Sudan, showed him our immigration papers and police registration and said that unless he phoned the police now to come and pick us up and issue a receipt, we were driving on.  He went to take the papers from me and I snatched them back.  "Bad man," I said, "you can look but you can't touch!"  With that, he backed off, apologised and waved us on.  As we drove away, me spitting mad at the confrontation, I suddenly came to my senses.... what on earth had possessed me???  I couldn't believe that I had just done what I had and as the adrenalin of the confrontation left me, I started to shake and thanked God for watching over us.  Later we chatted about it and it struck us just how much this journey has affected us and how much we are changing.

About 20 minutes later and another check point but this time an official one and without any attempt to extort money.  They did ask us to leave the car and come into their tent/shack to complete the paperwork.  Again, they asked to see the immigration papers and passports and again (although much more politely and calmly) I kept hold of them and let them take them one at a time to read and record the details.  We spent a couple of minutes joking and laughing about football, my inept attempts at speaking Arabic (although they seem to really appreciate it) and then we went through the toll booth (with an official receipt this time!) and off on the road to Meroe.  By the time we got there, Khartoum was within striking distance but only if we pressed on immediately and bypassed the ruins.  We made the decision to drive straight on and 2 hours later passed through Omdurman and crossed the old bridge into Khartoum.

As we parked up in the Blue Nile Sailing Club, the first spots of rain appeared.  After 76 days of sunshine, we were hankering for some moisture so we spent an hour sitting in the spitting rain on the banks of the Nile listening the African music thump out from the neighbouring restaurant speakers.  When we had recovered enough, and with our last S£10, we ordered some mint tea and a mint sheesha and it was midnight before we got to bed, exhausted and wet but as chuffed as anything!

#1 gill on 7.13.2009 at 2:15 PM

Hi Trev and Jan

I am constantly logging on to your website to check how you are doing. Its like a story and so interesting that I get quite disappointed when there are no tales of your journey - so today was a right treat and it kept me occupied for quite some time in my hours of boredom at work today. Keep up the good work as this is such a life changing experience. You are both so nice and brown now and look very very healthy. We are all fine, going on leave in four weeks time which we are looking forward too. We are going to rough it a bit but only to Newquay. Just a tad bit different to your camping. hahahahaha

Keep well and lots of love

Gill Eben and boys


Hi Gill, nice to know that you're enjoying reading the blog.  We're enjoying it too!  Hope you have a fantastic break and that the sun shines on you.  Take care and love to everyone.  Jan & Trev


#2 Mark on 7.14.2009 at 1:25 PM

Hi Jan and Trev!

Sorry to have disappeared after Kerima like that. My cell phone got a bit wet when we hit rain between Khartoum and Wad Medeni. Jason and I are safely in Addis, and already back at work. Safe onward travels, and let us know when you get to Addis!



Hi Mark, No worries just glad to hear that you are both safe and well.  We will definitely catch up with you in Addis.  We are hanging in Khartoum at the moment waiting for Friday so that we can see the wrestling and dervish dancing.  Fully expect that we will see Amy and Paul but who knows! Have also arrange a visit to the local SOS Childrens Village in Khartoum for Thursday.  Our diary is full!!! :o).  Take care.


#3 gary on 7.16.2009 at 4:55 PM

Wow, the one woman army, striking fear into the hearts of men everywhere! I'm glad you showed that guy that you two wouldn't be messed with, even more glad that it worked out. By the way, that is quite a long drive, congrats.


Hi darling.  See, not to be messed with!!Although I had a moment of panic when it was over at what I'd done cause it could have turned out very differently.  Anyway, offto dervish dancing this afternoon and then setting off for Ethiopia tomorrow.  BTW exciting news: we saw a real franchise for Steers here yesterday.  I don't think they'll serve ribs but we are going there on our way out tomorrow for a burger and chips!!! Take care and love to Teresa.

#4 Jayne Leach on 7.16.2009 at 7:29 PM

Hi Jan - I haven't read your blog for over a week now so its been a real joy to catch up with your travels - sounds like your having a great time - even getting brave facing up to the so called officials who are trying to take your money. My son is traveling around Africa at the moment - he took on a corrupt official in the visa office in Malawi - it all got very out of hand and Marcus was told they were going to deport him - good job we have some contacts in high places - pulled a few strings and they said he could stay - the stupidity of it was, when they then went to renew his visa they charged him the correct price - not the 3 times the amount they had asked for before - madness - stay safe - Jayne


Hi Jayne, yup, we're still having a ball despite the hassles every now and again.  Glad to hear that things turned out ok for Marcus - it's always touch and go as to which way things turn out when you meet corruption head on.  I was a bit scared after I'd done it......We are setting off for Ethiopia tomorrow and its been raining cats and dogs here so we although the roads are great in Sudan, they aren't in Ethiopiaso wish us luck.  Take care. Jan