From Sudan to Ethiopia
The road from Khartoum to the border with Ethiopia is a good paved highway with the road out of town an 8 lane highway. The countryside to the east of Khartoum is lusher and greener than the arid regions we had become used to in the north. Despite the fact that Sudan is somewhat of a pariah country, there is much development of infrastructure with new villages, industry and irrigation everywhere. The Chinese and the Koreans seem to be in here big time, with Chinese signage and Korean machinery much in evidence.
We couldn't make it to the border in one day so we bush camped on the side of the road in an old quarry site near Gederef. Quite sheltered but the ground was so hard! The next morning we had some farmers drive a herd of cattle right through the campsite – we were still in farming territiory, with donkeys and camels still in use as pack animals. Small villages no longer had the mud brick construction and flat rooves of the desert. Here the housing was of sticks and mud walls with conical thatch rooves, high with a central vent to keep the inside cool. Every village we came to we were a major attraction. With practically no private cars anywhere, the sight of 5 Land Rovers driving through town always illicited interest. Children in particular waved frantically at us with the biggest smiles I have seen anywhere. Adults always raised their hand in greeting, and if we were stopped and they passed by, they always welcomed us to Sudan. Young girls waved and smiled, but young boys seemed to think it a bit uncool to acknowledge us!
The border was interesting. Suddenly from a sparsely populated area, we were in the middle of a chaos of trucks and people. Gallabat is a dusty town that only seems to exist as a border crossing. A liittle before the town, we were stopped at a police checkpoint, and a fully armed man insisted on getting into the lead vehicle and driving with us to the border, as they claimed the area was unsafe. In fact we had noticed that there was an ever increasing presence of police and the Army the closer we got. It was a surprise to see lots of armed men again – it seemed a long time since Egypt when every two-bit guard and policeman had a weapon (though we were told few of them actually had any ammunition). We stopped at the police checkpoint/customs for all the paperwork to take the cars out of the country and to have our exit visas and all the important stamps in our passport. It didn't take too long and we drove over the bridge into Ethiopia.
Not that we could get on our way of course... Now there was all the entry paperwork for cars and people to be done! That took another hour or so, mostly taken up with standing around in whatever shade you could find and watching the passing parade. That was interesting in itself. Just a few metres from another country and everything was different. The first impression was of people everywhere. Ethiopia is in fact a very populous country – about 85 million – and there were crowds of people milling around, many trying to sell goods or carry them across the border. For the first time in ages we saw women with bare arms and no headscarves. And so many umbrellas! All shapes, sizes and colours and being used as parasols by both men and women. Some even wore those little umbrella hats – one man wearing one was pushing a yellow wheelbarrow filled with music cassettes for sale and with a boombox blasting out some of his wares. Finally after formalities were finished – the office was an iron roofed mud and stick building up a dusty side path – we drove through the centre of the little border town on our first Ethiopian roads. And what a difference to Sudan. Here the roads were all dirt, dusty as hell and potholed into the bargain. And of course when the car in front kicks up a blinding cloud of dust, you can't see the potholes, can you...
We didn't make as good time as we hoped as were were constantly held up by big trucks and buses (no private cars here either) especially through villages where there was an amazing amount of road building going on. So what we didn't want to happen, became necessary. We wanted to reach Gonder but it meant driving for a couple of hours in the dark. So, with great care we pressed on. Driving at night is fraught with hazards – cars with no lights, stray animals everywhere, people walking all over the road and of course no street lights to see them by. It seems half the population is out strolling along the roads by night, and when we reached the outskirts of Gondor, the crowds had to be negotiated very carefully!
We reached the hotel where we were to camp in the carpark. The long day meant we were crying out for a hot shower ... a cold shower would do ... a wash even ...
The water was off.
PS Thanks to everyone who have sent us messages on the message board – we love to see them; it reminds us of the other world back home. Hope you are all enjoying reading the blog. Internet here is incredibly slow and unreliable – one often gets cut off and here in Gondor it is all dial-up – excruciating! So please forgive long gaps between posts – I'm doing my best!