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.

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