November 14, 2017
Narrated Audio Blog
Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.
It was by no means a secret to anyone that the thought of entering Sudan both excited Stu and made Janell quite uneasy. And even she would be the first to admit that there was no reasonable explanation for this feeling, other than a link to the war torn country of South Sudan. Stu had deployed for 6 months to South Sudan on a peacekeeping mission during his service in the Royal Australian Navy. As is so often the case on this adventure we were both surprised and delighted by what we saw and who we met. We left Sudan with a genuine fondness for the desert country and a hope to one day return.
The border crossing from Ethiopia didn't quite go as planned and resulted in a 2 night camp at the border. We were travelling without a Carnet for the motorbikes but had been advised that we could get an 'in/out' (transit) permit at the Sudan border which would allow us to cross Sudan in 48 hours. You can imagine that 48 hours to cross a country is not ideal, you see very little other than the tarmac and there is the risk of a breakdown, but logistically this was our best and cheapest option of returning to Europe having made it this far around Africa. The same source also told us that this permit could be extended to 96 hours on request and was usually granted, so this was the expectation. When we arrived at the border, however, the customs officials denied any knowledge of the transit permit and would not let us enter Sudan without a Carnet! We called the Sudanese Automotive and Touring Club and asked them to liaise with the General at the border to explain how the transit permit worked but the General wouldn't budge; turns out the General makes decisions regardless of the policy and we have to accept it.
The staff at the Sudanese Automotive and Touring Club were very helpful and able to arrange a Sudanese Carnet for our motorbikes that then allowed us two weeks with our visa to cross the country. Not a bad result at the end of the day as we now had some time to explore rather than simply racing through. Did you know that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt?
There wasn't much between the Ethiopia border and Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. We wild camped on route on the side of the highway. Khartoum, however, didn't seem to have a campsite that we could find. All our research pointed to the main overlander's compound, the German Guesthouse. Here we could safely park the motorbikes within the Hotel fortress with security, we could swim in the pool to cool off, Janell could walk around in normal summer clothes without covering her arms, legs and hair, and all our meals were included. The hotel also had a mascot, a giant tortoise who roamed the grounds munching on grass or hiding amongst the plants. It was always a fun game to try and find him every time we returned to the guest house.
With approximately two weeks up our sleeve we considered our options for moving onwards. The Egypt border we knew was also going to be a challenge for the motorbikes without a Carnet. Saudi Arabia was another option with a ferry service out of Port Sudan and Saudi had just allowed women to operate vehicles. Visits to the Saudi Embassy unfortunately resulted in a dead end; we didn't have our marriage certificate so they wouldn't issue a visa for Janell as she would not be allowed to travel in the company of a male who they were not convinced she was married to or was an immediate family member. We reached out to the local motorcycle club called Team Falcon Motorcycle Club. They were very welcoming, informative and took us for evening rides (too hot during the day). One evening we will never forget is when they took us to a bar. Janell was the only female in the party in a country where females don't participate in such activities. To avoid an embarrassing and awkward situation, the staff at the bar very graciously moved a table and chairs outside so Janell could stay. A few pleasant days in Khartoum and we headed north with tips on places to visit and contact details should we ever need any assistance.
In the end it took us three attempts to leave Khartoum and ride to the Egyptian border. Our first attempt ended quite abruptly and spectacularly when Janell was cleaned up by a speeding minibus. On the second attempt Janells motorbike had a leaking water pump causing coolant and oil to mix and then on our third attempt we gunned it to the Wadi Half border crossing with luck and determination.
Janells accident was really unfortunate timing. She was worn out, we both were after nearly 12 months crossing Africa, and was still a bit shaken up from the riots in Ethiopia. She did absolutely nothing wrong and was actually lucky the accident wasn't worse. She was hit by a speeding Mini Bus as she was turning off the highway; it essentially t-boned her as she turned off the road to enter a pyramid site. Stu indicated and turned left across the oncoming lane which was clear as far as the eye could see. Behind Stu was Janell followed by a large truck. The truck slowed to allow the both of us to turn. The minibus approached behind the truck and seeing Stu turn off thought he'd take the opportunity to get around the slowing truck. What he didn't know was that Janell was also in front of the truck and wanting to turn off. Janell turned to the left as the minibus sped past the truck and completely caught the driver by surprise. He swerved but it was too late to avoid contact. He smashed the front end of Janell's bike sending it into a spin, throwing both her and her bike into the road. The bus swerved so much that it passed in front of Stu causing a huge trail of sand in its wake. Fortunately, all passengers on board were paying customers and had no vested interest in protecting the driver, so happily confirmed to the police that Janell was in no way in the wrong.
We rested in Khartoum (Doctors orders) then set off for our second attempt to reach Egypt. We made it to the pyramid site where Janell had been hit. It was worth attempting again. We set up camp well off the road where nobody could find us. It was dark when we arrived. Riding off into the sand, headed for a pinpoint in our GPS, we accidently rode into a sand dune. Well Stu rode into the sand dune, Janell was far enough behind to stop. Janell parked up her bike and walked over to Stu to help push him out. It took quite a bit of effort but we turned the bikes nose down the dune and got back on to harder ground. We should have been worried about scorpions in the sand while we were setting up the tent but we weren't aware of them so carried on completely oblivious and had a very peaceful sleep. Fortunately we didn't see one but it was sheer luck.
We woke in the morning to a terrible surprise. A man and his camel had found us and set up a shop on a blanket directly outside our tent. It was a bit embarrassing because we needed to get changed and go to the toilet. He did come in handy when we wanted to walk around to the pyramids. Realising that we weren't so hidden we agreed to pay him to watch our stuff, but we only paid him half up front. When we returned from our walk to the pyramids our stuff was safe so we gave him the other half payment and we all went about our merry way. We didn't buy anything from his shop which consisted of hand made trinkets and jewellery.
If faith in the motorcycle Gods alone could hold a bike together we would have made it to the border on our second attempt. But it wasn't to be. We were just back on the road and Janell checked her oil as she often did only to find a milky surprise. The coolant had mixed with the oil, our first thought was the head gasket, in which case Janell was prepared to walk to Europe. The only other possibility was the water pump which was highly likely since there had been no overheating episode and coolant had been leaking from the weep hole which we tried to ignore. Janell had to shut off the engine and keep it off until both water and oil could be drained and replaced after a repair. Again Janell's Bike found itself on the back of a truck headed for Khartoum. The owner of the German Backpackers couldn't believe we'd returned a third time. We enlisted his network and got a replacement shaft fabricated locally, Stu did the mechanics this time and in a couple of days and for the final time we said goodbye to Khartoum. The next day, although late, we pulled in to Wadi Halfa, ready to do our last African border crossing.
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