29 – Back to Khartoum

26th Boxing Day, Hotel Al Nadi, Khartoum

This will be a short one. The journey was 12 hours, with me seated in front. I can see the driver eat, drink, smoke, talk on the phone, repair the broken dvd player in the bus, all the while while driving. Multi-tasking, that and going really fast, overtaking the cars and horning away. Not that im complaining, we made Khartoum in quick time.

Found my favourite hotel, ah, it really feels like going home. Something familiar, even the hotel guy recognises me and i zoomed through all the admin registration stuff. Chucked my stuff aside, went out to look for dinner (more fuul!) and came here to the Internet place. Happy New Year everyone. I’m off to Kassala or elsewhere tomorrow. So might not be able to get online till next year =P.

I would love to check this blog’s site statistics, but that will be in the next country. Over here, I keep getting “you are trying to access from an IP from a country sanctioned by the US govt” etc etc, so there is no way to check how many people have been visiting the blog. But cheers everyone if you are reading this. =)

28 – Xmas in Kadogli

Fri 25th Dec, South Kodorfan Hotel, Kadogli
I spent my day just relaxing. I’m the only foreign guy at the lokanda. Everyone else seems to be a middle aged guy in white robes. Just how many of them there are i cannot tell, since they mill around the courtyard and go in and out of the surrounding areas. Below is the piece of granite on which i have my bucket shower.

Slept in. Enjoying the slow pace of life. I am an anomaly here, since there are no tourists. Abdellah from the hotel who speaks good English tells me there were more tourists back in 2007, but the number dried up. Any UN personnel still around are from the Arabic speaking countries, and anyway the UN people aren’t tourists. He also tells me about the upcoming elections in April, vote rigging by the ruling party and many other interesting stories.

I am actually picking up quite a bit of Arabic, the problem is that there are so many versions of the same word, depending on whether it is MSA (modern standard arabic) or the Egyptian or Sudanese (i am assuming both are the same). After a while i’ll pick up common words and speak the local lingo. I think I must sound pretty stupid conversing in MSA when everyone else does it in the local dialect/speech. It of course helps that I can actually read Arabic (albeit without understanding), so once in a while, i’ll indulge and impress the socks off the locals. =)

I went out in the afternoon to get tickets for tomorrow (two bus companies with tix to Khartoum, 11 hours, 70 SDP, Hafawa and El-Shihaab Express). Then went through the local souq, which was arranged in an organised grid. It looks like the handiwork of some NGO. This is really rural Sudan, where people come in from the nearby villages. Took some photos, it gets a bit sensitive here with the shots, since i can’t be bothered to get a photo permit back in Khartoum. Plus with all the military clothed guys (i’ve seen at least 4 different patterns/colours of uniform, what gives?), i only sneaked a shot here and there. Whereas up in the Nuba mountains and nearby villages yesterday i was just snapping away.

Food is cheap, in general a good meal sets you back 8 SDP max (about 4 SGD). Since I am blessed with a strong stomach, the untreated water I drink everyday does not really bother me, unlike one guy i met in Khartoum who told me he gets sick drinking the water. I probably should consider getting some multi-vitamins. It is very dry and the skin holding my nails are beginning to recede. =( I am starting to like fuul, which is the staple of stewed fava beans. With a little bit of salt added, it is quite tasty. And eat like the locals, tear off a chunk of bread, use it as a ladel and scoop a chunk of fuul. Yummy. And I’ve also taken to halib, warm milk served by the roadside shai ladies.

27 – Traipsing across the Nuba Mountains

Thu 24th Dec, South Kodorfan Hotel, Kadogli
It is 530pm, on xmas eve, with no Internet in rural Sudan. Firstly, the South Kodorfan Hotel has only bucket showers, with well water, so that’s a first for this trip. But the place is very comfortable, with mosquito nets. Here in Southerly Sudan the risk of malaria is substantially higher so I would take extra precaution.

The first thing to note here in Kadogli is that this town is like UN center. There was conflict in this region and now post-conflict, there are the UN and many other NGOs based here, though I suspect many went home for xmas. There’s a whole UN encampment ringed by barbed wire fence nearby. Even now, post-conflict, I see the military around town. There are the usual tamma’ams (which means “OK?”) with the thumbs up sign, except this time the greetings are by someone with a loaded M16. If I do see anyone from the UN later tonight, I’m going to joke that I’m here in Kadogli for a job interview with them. Hahahahah!

The second point is that Kadogli is in the middle of the handsome Nuba Mountains, which is home to the Nuba tribes, in the surrounding areas. These assortment of tribes are completely different from what Sudan has offered me, and I may yet visit these should I find the means to.

In the meantime, I will trek up the mountains, which are essentially rolling hills that cover the size of Scotland, according to LP. In typical fashion, I have been brought up to be unable to resist a trek up mountains, so off I go toward the peaks. Abdullah the hotel guy tells me the highlight are of course the mountains and dam somewhere around. He says to not go too far in the interior of the mountains, since there is a risk of unexploded landmines. And snakes. Er…. ok.

The terrain is completely different that that I have seen previously. The only other place that had invoke similar awe was Dahab’s craggy mountain meets ocean landscapes. This time it is green bushes, trees in a very savannah setting. I headed in a general south easterly direction up the first hill, caught a full view of Kadogli below me. I headed deeper in, met many local women villagers ferrying straw back to town. There were trails to follow, and as long as I followed these human / goat trails, I should be safe…Over the first hill were more valleys, grazing herd of goats and an isolated hut or two. It was after the 3rd valley or so that I realised hey, I am getting quite lost. I started taking bearings with my trusty field compass, as well as taking pictures of prominent trees and landmarks. I carried on into the interior. After about 4 hours of travel, the sun was high up, and i was getting tired. There was definitely more to see, but the trails were getting sparser, and i was getting more and more disoriented. There was of course the option of climbing one of the many peaks to get my bearings, but that’s probably the most obvious place to stick a landmine..

I headed back in a general north westerly route along a different trail and came out elsewhere from where I originated. It seems I’m near one of the outlying villages linked to Kadogli. I asked for directions, ended up having lunch with some youths, making conversation with them and a whole bunch of their friends over sheesha (i had shai). Yes, I know they look like they’re about to beat me up, but they are actually very nice.

Made the long way back towards town, but it was easy once i found the highway. I’m going to check later the transport times. I could stay longer, but I really want to be in Khartoum by Sat night so that I can check out the status of my Eritrean visa application and be off to Kassala by Sunday. I might leave for El-Obeid on Friday and spread out the travel back to Khartoum over two days (which also allows me time to explore El-Obeid properly). Or i might stay here in Kadogli another day, and do the painful long journey to Khartoum (provided there is a direct bus).

Some shots (since I have time)

26 – 900 kilometres across Sudan

Wed 23rd Dec, South Kodorfan Hotel, Kadogli
Here I am traveling alone again. Kang took a flight to Addis, maybe our paths will cross again in Ethiopia. Ben went off to Wad Medani, somewhere just southeast of Khartoum. Hany still back at the hotel. Oh yes, Hany… Every night, Hany the cheerful Egyptian from next door, who speaks good English will come over to our room and and the four of us (them mostly!) will talk stuff, from travel, our countries, politics.

I was up at 5am, took no chances and decided to flag a cab to Mina Bary (Khartoum’s Land Transport Terminal, 10 SDP). It was less chaotic in the morning, but nevertheless just as confusing. Fortunately I came here yesterday so I got my bearings easily.

The bus for El-Obeid (I took Al-Manakhil Express) finally left the terminal at 9am. I had really little leg room; the ‘helpful’ guy from the ticket counter chucked my bag in front of my seat, whether for security or because there were so much other big luggage. Two movies later, “bus service” which was just a packet of cake and a soft drink this time and 7 hours later, I reached El-Obeid. Oh, about the travel permit, I was not checked even once during the journey. There were a few police checkpoints, but the bus went through without a hitch. For town-to-town travel on public transport, as per previous buses / minibuses, my name was written down on a roster, presumably to be given at the police checkpoint. I think it could be because the fellow at the ticketing counter wrote my name down in arabic, so it “blends in” with the other names on the bus. =)

In El-Obeid, I inquired about onward travel to Kadogli on the same day, and a helpful local from back on the bus sent me packing in a cab to another bus station with buses bound for Kadogli (15 SDP). I don’t really understand Sudanese cabs, I think they overcharge the foreigners, but even when I ask hotel staff cab prices (to get a more accurate fare), the fares they quote are similar to what I have been paying. Unsual, because a 5km cab ride is 10-15 SDP, and a 300km bus ride is just double that.

On reaching the bus terminal, I asked for Kadogli buses and was ushered into a car. Yes, a car (30 SDP). It was only 15 minutes later that I found out there was some illegal vehicle sharing activity going on. This was when the driver kept driving around in circles. He tells me this is to avoid the police. At one point he even sped away to the highway before uturning back when a couple of cops were nearby. And there were a few cars hanging around the terminal with this “service”. A few posts back, I remarked on how expensive Sudan coach fares were. And now, out here, far from Khartoum, I now see how this can be exploited. When the car filled up (4 people, so thats 120 SDP), we departed. It was not even the driver who in the end made the journey. Another designated driver took the wheels. I didn’t get a chance to find out the cost of the bus, or even if there was a bus at 5pm to Kadolgi for that matter. But based on the distance, 30 SDP sounds about right. Anyway, it was much more comfortable traveling by car in the front passenger seat. Plus, going at 120 km/h, we reached Kadogli in 3+ hours instead of the 5 hours stipulated in LP.

By then it was around 9pm and I was hungry enough I could eat a cow. Sitting in a vehicle all day can be exahusting, but I was glad to make Kadogli in one day. Found the South Kodorfan Lokanda (10 SDP for dorm), and the owner kindly put me in an empty room with 4 beds to myself. The other  occupants in the lokanda were all Sudanese, and it feels i’m the only tourist far out here off-the beaten path.

Put my things down, went out nearby and had some fuul and berde. That’s stewed beans (you know, the foule medames off NTUC shelves, and scrambled eggs.) By 10 o’clock, my things still unpacked, I was asleep.