Marvelous Place and People, Damnable Bureaucracy

Trip Start Aug 05, 2006
Trip End Aug 19, 2007

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Flag of Sudan  ,
Monday, December 4, 2006

Welcome to Sudan, a virtual tourist no-man's land. This enormous African country is definitely not at the top of most peoples list of places to go before you die. It is hot, desolate, the government bureaucracy is frustrating, and other tourists are extremely few and far between. It is also these conditions though that make Sudan a wonderful place to visit. This place is an adventure!

While sitting at an Internet cafe in Cairo I was contemplating which destination I should travel to next. I originally planned to fly to Kenya but airline tickets inside Africa are terribly expensive these days. I started to look at travel through Sudan but it seemed unlikely that I would be able to get a visa since relations between the US and Sudan are not good. This is one instance when an American passport is definitely not an advantageous thing to have. My on-line research told me that the visa cost $100 and since I was an American it could take anywhere from 3-8 weeks to process with no guarantee of success.

Suddenly two other people entered the cafe and began asking the patron if he knew anything about ATMs in Khartoum. I started up a conversation with them and was informed that they were indeed headed to Sudan and had gotten their visas in only one day. Brian was Irish and Abs was British. Abs told me that he had also been a little worried about getting the visa because he was British, also unfavorable relations with Sudan, but that it had been no problem at all. After thinking about it a while longer I decided it was worth a shot.

While filling out my application at the embassy the next day I was approached by a young man who was Sudanese but had lived in the US for the last 13 years. He also didn't think getting the visa would be a problem and helped get me through the process faster by talking with the officials at the embassy. I felt relieved at first but then became worried again when I went to pay the fee and the man behind the counter told me that because I was American it could take weeks to get the visa. Then on the way out the door a man whispered to me, "Come back at 2pm". When I returned there was my passport with the visa placed on one of the pages inside it. Hurray!

A week later, after battling with a hundred other people at the ticket window and showing my passport to about a dozen officials, I boarded the ferry to Sudan about 20 miles south of Aswan. There were no seats left on the ferry so I spent the next 18 hours sitting, sleeping on the deck of the boat as it slowly crossed Lake Nasser. After arriving at Wadi Halfa, a distant Sudanese boarder town, and enduring more government bureaucracy I got an overnight bus ticket to Khartoum. There were no paved roads and the bus basically just drove over the sand for the next 15 hours. While reading my Lonely Planet I found out that there were some interesting pyramids built by the Nubian pharaohs near the road to the capital. After a lot of confusion and nearly taking the wrong bus a British guy named Collin and I were dropped off on the side of the road staring at the pyramids looming about 700 meters in the distance.

We walked together across the sand to reach the entrance and paid about $10 to get in. The pyramids are much smaller then the ones at Giza but they look absolutely surreal just sitting out in the middle of the desert. There were no other tourists at the site and no towns nearby. We had the whole place to ourselves and decided to camp for the night. I decided to camp inside one of the pyramids that no longer had I roof. This is definitely one of the top 5 coolest places I have ever slept and I can't remember the other 4!

The next day we had to hitchhike to a town about 30 miles away and then take a bus to Khartoum. Khartoum is a friendly city but of course I had to deal with more bureaucracy when registering. Everyone is supposed to register 3 days after entry into the country but the office was moved a month ago and no one seemed to know where the new one was or what I need to have with me when registering. After finally finding the office and getting together all the paperwork necessary I was allowed to legally stay in the country for up to 1 month.

Also while in Khartoum I visited a weekly festival at Hamed el-Nil Mosque. The place was filled with energy as people dressed in traditional garb danced and sang until sunset when everyone was called to prayer. Although there were a dozen or so foreigners attending the event it definitely had a genuine feel to it and was not there for the tourists. One last thing I must say is about the Sudanese people. Despite the ongoing problems in the country and the negative press it receives in the West the people here are some of the nicest I have ever met. Everyone was extremely friendly to me, even after I told them I was American, and often went out of their way to help me. The money here is very confusing but no one here has tried to cheat or over charge me and they even returned my money when I overpaid for things. Forget the image and explore the reality!
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