27 April 2013- southeast Sudan
Haven’t had good enough internet to post blogs, so catching up on ones we have been writing offline….
This morning we woke up groggy as we had loads of mozzies in landy last night so we spent half the night hiding from them and the other half trying to hit them with a map! We got an email at breakfast from the fixer that we are indeed booked on the 7th May ferry from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt – despite sharing a massive border, the ferry is the only way to go between the two countries. That’s good news, we are keen to get a Sudanese sim card and ring him to start sorting details and see how early we need to arrive in Wadi Halfa to get landy on the barge that carries the freight as well. One of the staff we have had some good chats with over the last few days at Lake Tana had the day off and was off into town to do a shop for the upcoming Easter feast which will break the fast that most people have been on for over a month. We offered him a lift and chatted as we bumped our way back to the main road to Gondar. On the way we passed heaps of animals in the road as usual and he told us an Ethiopian tale. Once there was a donkey, a goat, and a dog travelling in a mini bus taxi. When they got to their destination the donkey jumped out and paid the driver, the goat then jumped out behind him and sprinted away without paying. The dog was the last to get out and gave the driver some money and was expecting change, the driver was so annoyed that the goat didn’t pay that he sped away without giving the dog his change. From then on whenever cars pass, donkeys stand where they are proud they have paid, goats run away at the sight of a car, making sure they don’t get caught and dogs chase every car that comes past hoping to get their change. It explained a lot to us as its spot on! As it was Saturday there was a stream of people heading into town for the markets, to buy and sell. He told us there were even more than usual because of Easter, people are stocking up. People carrying chickens, massive clay pots, big baskets, and of course herding sheep, cows, goats etc. We dropped him near Gondar and he came with me while I did some shopping at a market to get some veg and helped me buy some spices we have been enjoying to take with us, it made it so much quicker than it would have been! He insisted on buying us bananas as a gift and would not take no for an answer, I could tell he was uncomfortable so just said thank you and let him.
We drove a few hours, most of the time loosing elevation, it got hotter and hotter as we knew it would. We were sad to say goodbye to Ethiopia today, what a beautiful country and one we have enjoyed immensely, we would love to return one day. We were thinking about Ethiopia and what Sudan would hold, but that was all swept away by the border crossing.
Geeeezzzzz….. it is hot here, so dry my nose feels like its going to crust off my face, it took five hours of sitting around in the searing heat watching people pray, blow their nose in their hands, chat and generally scratch their balls to cross the border. We arrived at Ethiopian side just after 1, immigration was open but customs was closed, it was to open at 7:30 (Ethiopian time which is 1:30 our time, so only half hour away) or 9 (Ethiopian time which is 3 our time, almost two hours) depending on who we asked. So we got our stamp from immigration and sat outside the customs office for a few hours, fortunately in the shade. We changed some money to Sudanese pounds, it is a rare country when changing money with black market money changers you get a better rate than the official rate! It was a hot afternoon and we drank our very warm water, chatted with a few guys sitting around outside the office and just waited until just before 3. Hot but no worries. One of the guys who had been sitting around with us for ages then opened the office and said “Ok you can come in now” He stamped the carnet in no time then got our document stating what electronic equipment we had brought into the country and went to have a look at landy. He checked her more than anyone else has anywhere, he checked the VIN and looked inside, asked what a few things were (including our video camera which we forgot to declare on entry, Olly was quick thinking and said we had told them but they didn’t write it down, which he accepted). He had us open different areas and asked what was where etc. When satisfied he wished us well and off we went…. to Sudan.
Well… that was where the fun began- the fun of sitting in the stinking hot, waiting and being told 5 more minutes about 100 times. We first went to immigration where they asked us for copies of our passport and Sudanese visa (which we had) along with originals of course. They had us fill out several forms (all of which ask the same thing). In Sudan you are required by law to register within 3 days of entering the country. We had heard sometimes you are able to do it at the border (rather than Khartoum) so we thought we might as well get it out of the way if we could so we asked if we could register there. After determining we had Sudanese pounds to pay the fee and a passport photo each we were able to register which involved filling in another form (again same questions) and then being told to sit down, ok no worries. The minutes ticked past…. and past and other people started coming in also sitting and waiting but who knows what for- we had our passports and paperwork so they couldn’t have been doing anything with them. There seemed to be dozens of people working there, walking in and out but no one who was waiting was being served. At one point we could see them all in the other room eating. So we waited and waited getting hotter and hotter. Soon the power came on and someone turned the telly on. So we were treated to the loud Arabic TV program which kept flashing on and off. Finally a man came and went into a little glass office and called us up, asked for our paperwork and after we paid the fee to register (around $50 each) he fiddled with some more papers, passed our documents to someone else and gestured for us to sit down again. After waiting awhile we decided we would go and wait near the counter as a gentle reminder and finally they came out with our passports, stamped into Sudan and with the additional sticker indicating we have registered as required.
Right…. now on to customs. We were directed to a large warehouse that was partitioned into a few offices, all empty. In the front waiting area the two staff were laying down watching telly (really!) One grunted at us to wait so we did. After awhile we gathered nothing whatsoever appeared to be happening so I asked Olly to ask him what we were waiting for. Someone was praying and would be back shortly. Ok, more waiting. Then he gestured for us to go to a large shed with the ceiling falling in, stinking hot with about 10-15 men walking in and out but always at least 10 at any given time. They seemed to ‘work’ there but weren’t doing anything (to us anyway). They asked us to sit down and wait, so we did. We sat for ages while they just all walked in and out, having a coffee, some chatting, a few praying, one guy sleeping. We asked again what we were waiting for and to speed things up a bit and told them we had to drive to Khartoum tonight so need to go (its a long way). We were told “The General is eating” When the bloke said wait 5 minutes please I thought we need to step it up a bit or we will be sleeping here. I haven’t sussed out how they will respond to an assertive women yet up here so I was trying to keep my mouth mostly shut, but I had to speak up then we went back and forth insisting all we need is a stamp in the carnet and we can’t wait any longer, someone else must be able to do it. We stayed there and insisted over and over. So one of the guys who had been lazing in the shed the whole time said he would take the carnet and be back- no way. We said we would go with him, we figured he could disappear and we could be told to wait for who knows how long. So we followed him into the first building and he proceeded to do it all! Very very slowly and tediously but he did it. He copied the carnet details and Olly’s passport details into about 5 or 6 different places. Just as it looked like it was going to happen he produced a stamp which was broken and couldn’t find any staples to put all of his paperwork together. By this time we were silently grinding our teeth. Olly insisted he keep going. He fixed the stamp and finally 3 hours later we made our way to security the final hurdle which strangely involved a few smiling blokes asking us where we come from? Australia? Oh kangaroos! And said Ok bye and we drove past them. At 5 hours for both sides that is by far and away our longest border crossing yet! We have since read that Sudan has the largest bureaucracy in Africa, we don’t know what they base that on but it rings true to us! By the time we left it was almost dusk so we only drive 50 or km up the road before stopping and after drinking lots of water and rinsing the dust and sweat off our faces we felt heaps better. The stars are amazing tonight and we hope to get some sleep in the heat.