Sudan/Ethiopia Photos 2



Sudan/Ethiopia Photos 1

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Addis Ababa, 7 January 2003


The section from Khartoum to Addis Ababa (where we are now) has been the toughest of the trip so far. Strong headwinds in eastern Sudan followed by the hills and mountains of Ethiopia were made more challenging by illness of one kind and another – nothing particularly serious, but dodgy stomachs, heat exhaustion and throat infections made the cycling harder.

This has, however, also been one of the more interesting parts of the journey.

After Khartoum the landscape changed from desert to grassland, with villages of thatch huts and more wildlife. It also seemed to get hotter and in particular did not cool down enough to sleep well at night. We’ll try to post some photos of one of the more unusual places we’ve found to camp – under the wing of an old aircraft in a large field of abandoned planes (the computer won’t let us upload photos at the moment).

We had more opportunities in this part of Sudan to meet some of the local people and hear their stories – from Darfur refugees to a local imam and a farmer who invited us to stay in his home. The farmer told us how during the war in Sudan he armed himself when he heard on the radio that rebels planned to requisition his house and how he feared war again if the south of Sudan vote for independence in January.

Crossing Sudan was a rewarding part of the trip, but we were glad to arrive at the town of Gallabat and the next country: Ethiopia.

The landscape and people changed dramatically as we started to climb through the Ethiopian hills. There was much more greenery, wildlife and people than there had been in Sudan. We have also appreciated the cooler temperatures in the highlands.

The countryside in Ethiopia has been impressive, with dramatic views across the valleys and mountains. One of the most spectacular sections (although toughest on the legs!) was the Blue Nile Gorge, where the road falls 1000m to the river and then rises 1000m on the other side.

Less enjoyable is the menace that is the Ethiopian yoof. All day every day children run to the roadside to meet us, shrieking “you! you!”, “money, give money” and sometimes follow up by throwing stones or sticks. They are quite persistent, often running for some distance with the bicycles, even up steep hills (we realise now why Ethiopia has produced so many great marathon runners!). This gets quite irritating at times and does make Ethiopia a much less enjoyable place to be than it could be.

Whilst the majority of children seem to be like this – and we suspect the adults are encouraging them to ask for money – there are also plenty of people, children and adults, who just want to say hello, or ask where we are from, or where we are going (although the grammatically incorrect “where are you go” can get a little much at times too!).

It is good to be in Addis Ababa, where, according to the Ethiopian calendar it is 7 January 2003.

We always enjoy reaching a capital city because of the chance to eat some different food. Our diet ‘on the road’ typically consists of bread, jam, banana and biscuits for breakfasts, bread, processed cheese, biscuits and banana for lunch, pasta or rice with vegetables and tuna for dinner and snacks of bread and biscuits in between. So it was a treat to dine at a good Italian restaurant in Addis Ababa yesterday.

We have seen some reminders in Addis Ababa that it is nearly Christmas, such as the ‘Merry Christmas’ sign in the hotel reception, but Christmas in the UK seems a long way away. Our Christmas will probably be spent on the road in southern Ethiopia, towards the Kenyan border.

We probably won’t post another blog until the New Year, when we reach Nairobi, so Merry Christmas and Happy New year to all blog readers!

All of a Sudan we’re in Khartoum…


We’ve found Sudan to be a place of huge contrasts. Our experience of the country has challenged many of our preconceptions (most of which were based on international news reports about Dafur).

The country has felt very safe to travel in and the people have been very welcoming and interested to talk about our journey. The roads have been some of the best roads of the trip (Europe included), with good surfaces and little traffic.

We’re blogging from a Khartoum campsite – the Blue Nile Sailing Club – at the centre of which lies listing in dry dock Kitchener’s ship from the 1898 battle of Omdurman (now used as an office and general storerooms). There is a gentle breeze coming off the river, which flows by to our left. On the table in front of us we have delicious strawberry and banana fruit juice drinks. We’ve been chatting to the staff about the trip and doing our best to use a few words of Arabic we’ve picked up. It all feels so civilised.

However, behind us lies the Palace of President Bashir – a man for whom the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for war crimes. His high security motorcade passed us yesterday. And whilst many parts of the country are currently peaceful, there is a referendum in January on independence for the oil rich south – the predicted vote for succession risks dragging the country back into chaos.

Our positive experience in Sudan feels so removed from the country’s problems; the two sides to Sudan can seem quite difficult to reconcile.

Whilst Sudan has for us been an easy country to be in, things didn’t look that way a week or so ago when we were in Aswan. The delay while we waited for the ferry meant the Sudanese visas we picked up in Cairo appeared to expire in only a few days, but the Sudanese consulate in Aswan was closed for Eid and would not reopen until after the ferry we needed to catch had left.

We speculated on what the consequences of being in Sudan on an expired visa might be, but in the end decided to take a punt, based on the reassurance of the person who sold us the ferry tickets who said our visas were valid for a month provided that we arrived in the country within the period the visa was issued for (the right answer as far as we were concerned!).

We were told to arrive at Aswan port, which is close to the Aswan High Dam, at 8am. The various checks and controls were completed quite quickly and we boarded the ferry and found a good spot to sit in the shade under a lifeboat on the top deck. The ferry spent the rest of the day in the port and did not leave until after 4pm – one of the photos we’ve posted is our view from the ferry of barges being loaded.

The crossing was worth the wait, as we were able to sleep on the deck under the stars with the full moon reflected on the calm waters of the lake. And at dawn we passed the temple at Abu Simbel, which was just lit by the rising sun.

The ferry is a bottle-neck for people travelling overland through East Africa and we met several people with four wheel drive vehicles and a few cyclists. Amongst the cyclists was a 62 year old Serbian man, who spoke no language other than Serbian and had serious burns on his legs after having set fire to his tent whilst he was in it in Egypt. We met one cyclist riding up Africa in Sudan and a couple more at the campsite in Khartoum (there is quite a grapevine among the overland travellers – the cyclists we’ve met knew already that there were some brothers cycling through Sudan)

The ferry docked at Wadi Halfa, northern Sudan, around mid-morning, although it took another few hours and some more bureaucracy until we were able to leave the boat and start cycling again. We are grateful to the Chinese roadbuilders who had completed a new road in northern Sudan, so that the tough sand and gravel section we’d been expecting was gone – and we could put the faster tyres we’d just taken off back on. With a good tail wind and a quiet road the kilometres quickly disappeared.

The landscape of northern Sudan is rocky desert, which the Nile runs through, forming a green ribbon of lush vegetation. Villages of mud brick construction are clustered by the river.

We stopped at one village to buy food and were approached by a policeman who asked us to come to his office, which we did. He asked to see our passports and, in broken English, told us that our visas were about to expire. After some friendly chat about how great Sudan was and giving him a pack of cigarettes, he was happy to let us go, but it did raise the concern that were were about to travel further into Sudan on expired visas, so we made sure that we camped in the desert rather than stay at any hotels and attract attention from any more policemen!

After following the Nile for a few days, we then crossed the Nubian desert. One of the photos we’ve posted is Chris filling up with water at the roadside. Then we arrived in Khartoum where shiny office blocks quickly replaced the mud-brick buildings we’d been passing for days.

We have spent quite a lot of time in Khartoum over the last couple of days battling bureaucracy to sort out our Ethiopian visas and register as foreign nationals in Sudan. But it’s all done now, so we shall set off tomorrow for Ethiopia, which is about four or five days away.

It will be good to find cooler temperatures in the mountains, but we’ve read many reports of Ethiopia being a tricky place to cycle through, with children throwing rocks at cyclists being one of the main menaces…

Our next rest stop is Gondar, western Ethiopia.