The capital of Sudan is a sprawling city of about 2 million. The built-up areas stretch into the countryside and line the roads in, making it difficult to know where the city begins and ends. The guide books say little about the city's attractions, and gheared to the tourist trade, it ain't. There are no cruise boats plying the Nile, no souvenir shops lining its banks, no shiny museums, shops or tour buses, and certainly no tourists to be seen.
We wandered down the road from the campsite along the Nile to walk in front of the Presidential Palace. Apparently you could walk along in front but vehic;es were barred from the road. Now it's the other way around - we were turned back by an armed guard, but cars were allowed to drive through (but no buses, vans or trucks). So we wove through the streets to the commercial centre of town behind the Palace. The area of banks and insurance companies was pretty sterile and uninteresting as it is in every city, but further on we came to the real heart - the markets.
Taking photos in Sudan, nad especially in Khartoum is fraught with danger. You have to have a permit from the government which is free but can take a day to get - if you get one. If you accidentally photograph something they don't want you to, there is a real risk of being carted off by the police, so unfortunately we had to leave the camera back at camp and I couldn't record the wonderful scenes we saw at the markets.
The markets are huge stretching along dusty, unpaved, uneven streets. Every step up to a pavement is a challenge - uneven steps, extra high steps, missing steps, open and broken drains, rubbish littering the streets everywhere. That is when you could use the pavement - cars park all over them and to walk along the street is to literally share the road with on-coming traffic. But they are marvellous markets, the very soul of the community. Goods spill out into the streets, small traders spread their wares on blankets, small boys sell empty shopping bags for your purchases. Some streets specialise in hardware and there on the street in front of the shops sit tradesmen with their tools before them waiting for someone to employ them. Other streets sell gold in every type of bangle and necklace, or ingots if you prefer. Outside sit men with small tables and large blowtorches - change your ring size orrepair your broken chain while you wait. And shoes and clothes of every description, much in Western style but most stalls and shops still sell traditional garmentsd for both men and women. Streets of fuit and vegetables give way to "hi-tech" stores selling photocopiers, mobile phones and computers. A whole street was full of small stores offering printing services - cards, invitations and the like.
Note: To be continued - the computers here are the slowest dial-up ever and I have been forced to type this lot in - copy and paste just don't work!! I hope to get to a decent internet cafe in Addis in about 4 days - maybe I can get up to date then...maybe not...
It has taken till Nairobi to be able to do anything with this blog! I can now uuse a faster internet and upload what I have previously written so here goes...
It was a joy to wander around and not be constantly hassled by traders every step as we had found in Egypt. If we were spoken to it was to say Hello, Welcome, and then no more. We could stop outside a food shop and finish our cool drinks while a market trader not two steps away left us alone. (You have to finish the drinks there as you need to leave the old fashioned glass bottles behind in the crates outside the shop.) When we bought some clothing from a street trader and indicated that we wanted a particular kind of hat, he led us through a maze of streets to show us where they were. But they were the wrong sort and again he led us to the ones we wanted. He wanted nothing more than to shake our hands and say goodbye - no tip expected! We negotiated with the hat seller who spoke no English at all, and we were waved goodbye with a big smile.
Although many of the young men and some who obviously work in offices wear western dress, most of the men are garbed in traditional gallibyas - long, (mostly) pure white flowing gowns. Head covering is a choice - a smart little pillbox, often embroidered richly, or a long loose white cloth wound around the head ressembling a giant meringue perched high. The women wear loose gowns of light fabrics in the brightest colours and prints imaginable. The headscarf is loose around the head, more like a fashion accessory than strict religious law, though no woman here has her head uncovered. We saw very few fully covered women or women in all black. There are a disproportionate number of beautiful young women - the Nubians are tall and willowy, with high cheekbones and white, white teeth against ebony skin.
Although we were in the market area for quite a few hours, we did not see another westerner the entire time. Despite that, we felt perfectly safe. No-one seemed bothered by our presence, no-one stared at us, many greeted us, drivers let us through the road chaos with a smile and a wave.
From the encounters we have had in the countryside to the bustling busy city, we have been left with a wonderful impression of the Sudanese people.
The Blue Nile Sailing Club.
Our campground here in Khartoum sounds awfully posh, but let me disabuse you of that notion immediately.
It has the perfect location, right on the Blue Nile coming from Ethiopia. To the east we can see a lovely old bridge over the Nile; to the west a sparkling new bridge and just beyond that the confluence of the Blue and the White Nile from Uganda. It is forbidden to take photos of the confluence from the bridge, or indeed elsewhere, and guards with machine guns mounted on the back of trucks around the area make sure you heed the warning. The Presidential Palace is about 3 blocks away, but you can't walk on the road in front. As I am writing this now, we are being buzzed by 2 helicopters who are simply circling and circling at low altitude, and going right overhead - so something is probably happening with the president in the area. They have done about 9 circuits in the last 10 or 15 minutes!
The sailing club was formed in 1924 and would have been a wonderful place. Not much work, if any, has been done on the place since then, however, and the air is certainly one of faded glory. A few small sailing boats and some power boats are moored in the water, and a broken set of stairs leads down to the water's edge. The toilets are as we have come to expect on this trip and the shower is cold only. But the daytime temperatures here have been 37 deg and a cold shower is not unwelcome! But the place seems to buzz with action at night with groups meeting to play internet computer games, card games and have family barbeques. The only real downside is no bar for a cold beer - Sudan is a dry country in both senses of the word.
The centrepiece of the club is Lord Kitchener's gunboat. The boat had been left moored on the bank but one year a particularly big flood floated it inland. It was left high and dry in the middle of what is now the car park, and there it lies at a distinct angle, serving as the office and storage area.
I am now watching a large ferry sized pleasure boat with 3 smaller boats behind sailing across in front of the club. The helicopters are following the boats continually circling, often deafeningly above us. The president must be having a lovely oat trip!