"Leben im Backofen"- Life in an oven

Trip Start Apr 19, 2009
Trip End Dec 20, 2009

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Flag of Sudan  ,
Friday, October 2, 2009

Slowly the gear disintegrates. The switch of the fridge has melted into pulp, the soles of our slops are detaching themselves from their upper layer and all the battery fluid has evaporated into the thin, baking air. As the reading on the thermometer rises to 50C (degrees), the oils in the diffs, gearbox and transfer box reach a maximum in viscosity, Bertha is sweating all kinds of fluids onto the tarmac, whilst her inhabitants try and equalise the dehydration effect by drinking 10 litres of water a day. And no beer in sight as alcohol is prohibited in Sudan. It is hot; it is very, very hot.

And yet the Sudan is breathtakingly beautiful!

The Sudan, as is the case with so many other countries, suffers from a really bad image problem. Judging from media reports, it is a country to avoid at all costs. However, our route north would either have to take us through the Sudan, or via an even less favourable alternative via the troubled Congo, Central African Republic and Chad... Sudan started looking more and more attractive. So we head north from Ethiopia planning to cross this desert land in the minimum required time.

We cross the border at Metema/Quallalabad and head towards Gaderef. Perhaps surprisingly, our first impressions are overwhelmingly positive…and only get better. We walk through the little town and are greeted at ever corner with welcoming smiles 'Welcome to Sudan', ‘Do you need some help?’ ‘Please come and have some shai (tea)’. People are courteous and honestly want to help you without expecting a tip or payment in return. There is no describing the selfless hospitality of the people here, it is constant and without a hidden agenda – a soothing cool in the blistering heat. As a consequence, Northern Sudan has been the most pleasant place to travel in thus far.

A further advantage in this country is that bush-camping is allowed and nobody will come and bother you if you pitch up camp in the middle of the desert or under some palm trees along the Nile. Each evening as the sun sets and the air cools to a semi-activity inducing temperature we look around for a good camp. Slowly God lowers a black velvet quilt in front of us, embroidered with the most exquisite pattern of silver sparkling stars. Marvin and I shrink in the vastness of the desert and the greatness of the night around us – this is what such a trip is all about!

One evening we camp in a date plantation near the small village of El Kuru. With hands and feet we ask the farmer, who is sitting solemnly on his small, white mule, for permission – a big smile assures us that he is happy for us to pitch camp. After another scrumptious ‘Manic mampft’ meal we sit down to listen to the crickets and watch the full moon rise over the Nile….all is peaceful. Then two women appear out of the dark, obviously the ‘Mama’ of the farmer’s house wants to inspect these curious foreigners. Sizing us up with one long look she deems the situation safe and calls over her sons, daughters and a herd of grandchildren. ‘Mama’ has come to inspect our ‘home’. Obligingly we give them the grand tour of the LandRover - the penthouse roof-top tent, veranda, kitchen and supply rooms. Marvin and I speaking in German, the family using Arabic – there is no lack of communication. Having satisfied herself that we will sleep well despite our funny set-up (we were of course invited to sleep in their home) ‘Mama’ sets off again, a gaggle of children and grown ups following her lead. The next day one of the daughters, Galia, comes over and communicates that we MUST come visit her house. There is no room for argumentation as she stands next to me and starts washing the dishes only pausing to fire a stern look in Marvin’s direction to make him hurry. Once we are done with packing up she takes us to her house. Here her family is already waiting to welcome us. They serve tea. Galia shows us into a room and firmly pushes me down onto one of the beds. ‘Nicole rest!’. Despite just having had our daily average of 10 hours sleep, I dutifully lie down. Next we must visit the family of the richest man in the village. He has 10 camels and a car – and an equal amounts of kids all shyly looking at us and smiling from ear to ear. Here we are served with ice-cold tea and biscuits. Next is the aunts house, then the uncle, cousin, best friend…this continues for some hours. We drink tea, eat cake, receive bags of dates as presents and finally try and take our leave. Tears well up in Galia’s eyes as we communicate our departure. She insists that we must stay with her family at least for three or four days. All she can say, a fat tear running down her cheek, is ‘I love you’. Struggling to decline this invitation we nonetheless head further north. The ferry from Wadi Halfa to Aswan (Egypt), the only way out of Sudan, leaves only once a week and will not wait for us – so we say goodbye but the impression the people of this small farming village leave on us are permanent.

All in all we spend two great weeks in Sudan (the maximum allowed on our tourist visas). Days are filled with driving along the palm-fringed Nile, being invited into the local homes for shai (tea) and a shared meal of ful (bean stew), filling up the water tanks for the evening wash and looking at the pre-Egyptian Moroe pyramids and temples. Unlike other ancient monuments, Sudan’s relics of the past can be enjoyed in total peace – there is not another tourist or tout in sight. We walk through the ancient tombs and villages all alone, the imagination unhindered to transport you back more than 4000 years.

So despite the political problems between the North and South, the humanitarian disaster in the Darfur region and a president that has an international arrest on his head – the common people we met were full of love and hospitality, the country beautiful in its ruggedness and a culture as yet untainted by tourism. A wonderful travel experience.
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