All the travelers we have met on this continent have told us Sudan has the friendliest people in Africa. We were looking forward to meet the people in Sudan, and we were curious about the country since most of what we read about Sudan in the media is bad news. The same can be said about media’s coverage for many of the countries we have visited on this trip, for example Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Ethiopia. From reading the news, none of these countries would be on the top of my list of counties to go to on a holiday. The good thing about traveling overland is that you are kind of forced to travel through countries that you would not have thought to visit otherwise.
Sudan is the second country on this trip where we had to apply for a visa before we got to the border. The first was Ethiopia. From what we heard from other travellers, the procedures on how to get the visa, how long the processing takes, and how many days you get on the visa, all depends on the embassy where you apply. In a combination of dealing with the embassies in Oslo and in Addis, we got a 60 days tourist visa, and were ready to enter Sudan.
One thing you should know before you enter is that Sudan does not have any international ATMs. Your Visa and MasterCard will be useless. The reason for this is U.S. sanctions against Sudan, and the consequence is that you have to bring in cash that you can change into Sudanese Pounds when you get there. American dollars are the most favorable currency, which I though was quite ironic. When we checked online, the official exchange rate is 1 USD = 4, 4 Sudanese Pounds, but on the black market, 1 USD can give you 6, 5 Sudanese Pounds. Luckily we had stocked up on enough USD in Nairobi. Other travelers we met, tried to get USD in a few cities in Ethiopia, but it is only the banks in Addis Ababa that are allowed to sell USD.
Crossing the border from Ethiopia was pretty straight forward, just a little bit time consuming as everything have to be written down in the right books. We thought we would wild camp somewhere along the road on our first day in Sudan, but roads were amazingly good. We drove the 580 km to Khartoum after crossing the border in the morning. After Ethiopia with all the people, cattle, and goats on the roads, this was quite a change.
After entering Sudan you have three days to register your visa. For us the easiest place to do the registration was at Khartoum Airport the day after we arrived. At the airport parking lot, a local car pulled up to us, and a man asked if he could take some photos of the Patrol. He had a friend who was rebuilding a Patrol and would like to show him ours. Later in the afternoon we were driving around Khartoum looking for the office where you get your photo-and-travel-permit. A car pulled up behind us and was really honking the horn. We hesitated, but stopped and a man walked up to us. It turned out he was “the friend with the Patrol”, and he even had a photo of Espen and the man from the airport in front of our Patrol on his phone. He and some local overland-friends would meet the next day for dinner, and he would like to invite us to join them.
Next day we meet in a garage owned by one of the men, and in the end ten people showed up. Espen and the other men discussed vehicles and different off road options. Some in this group wanted to drive to Tanzania, and they had some questions for us about roads and the countries they wanted to visit. From the garage we moved on to the “the best local fish restaurant in Khartoum” for dinner. The food was really good. It was a great group of interesting people, and we had a fantastic day. Thank you, Khartoum overlanders, for the hospitality!!!
Some locals we talked to in stores etc. asked us what kind of work we were doing in Sudan. We told them that we were tourists and just travelling around. They were apparently not used to tourists, only foreigners coming to Sudan on some kind of business. One boy did not think there was much to see for a tourist in his country. We tried to explain to him that for us the old temples, pyramids and the desert is exotic, and well worth a visit.
In Khartoum we also stopped by the National Museum. Outside, they had three temples that were moved from Wadi Halfa area to save them from the raising water in the Lake Nubia / Nasser after the High Dam was built. As we were looking around in the main Museum a school class entered the museum, and after a little while it seemed like we became a bigger attraction than what was on display in the museum. Many of the students came over and asked “What is your name?” and “Where do you some from?” and then other questions they could come up with. I think they were practicing their English. Then they wanted photos taken with me, and after a while the teachers also wanted their photos taken.
One of the teachers had not listened to my reply when the students asked me where I was from, and he asked me if I was from China? You just have to smile at this question, and reply no. In Ethiopia we were also asked if we were from China a few times. I guess that is a valid question if you do not meet many foreigners, and they have probably heard quite a bit about the Chinese as they do a lot of work in these countries.
After visiting all the good local restaurants in Khartoum like Subday, Star Box and Facefood it was time to leave the big city and get into the desert.