31 – Enter Kassala

Mon 28th Dec, Hotel Al Nada, Kassala

So close, but yet so far. Tonight I am in Kassala, 30km from the border to Eritrea. One guy tells me they travel over the border, drink themselves silly then go back into Sudan. The trip from Khartoum was another 7 hour bus ride, aboard another made in China bus, with me asleep most of the time. I’m quite amazed at the service on these buses. I had lunch in a styrofoam box, drinks from a cup, then later a packet of butter cake and a bottled soft drink. It’s a wonder why bus companies elsewhere don’t provide such things on their long distance journeys.

Approaching Kassala (50 SDP, 7 hours), the Taka, Toteel and Aweitila mountains loom above the city. I got off at the bus station (Souq As-Shabi) and take the minibus (0.5 SDP) with the locals into the main square bus terminal (Al mawkaf al-aan). The fella beside me from the bus makes a call to his friend to bring me to my hotel. Unfortunately the hotel was full and I went round and round the central area looking for a hotel. All were full. Kassala must really be a touristy place for the locals then… I must have checked out at least 10 hotels / lokandas. Finally settled on an expensive option (Al Nada, 50 SDP!, but it comes with lousy aircon, cable tv and privacy).

From what I found out walking around, Toteel, Bashar are probably the best bets. Beside them is the more expensive Hipton. El-Sharg is just as pricey and probably as top end here too. The rest are El-Safa hotel and Hotel Africa. In Arabic were Lokanda Riduan & hotel elnoor. Every single one was full. Never mind, as I am writing this, I am watching From Dusk Till Dawn, a welcome change from movies in Arabic and Sudanese variety shows on the buses. I don’t think it is worth the room price, but the alternative is sleeping on the street.

Kassala’s main square where the minibuses leave from are surrounded by souqs. Didn’t manage to see much today but here’s my first take on it. The city feels much less developed compared to Khartoum and has a mountain town feel about it. The souqs are colourful, due to all the tribes that come into the city to sell their wares. The women wear colourful robes. And the men wear sleeveless jackets over their white jabailiyas. And they are obviously different from elsewhere. Some have frizzy hair, uncommon when everyone ive seen so far have close cropped cuts.

Dinner was your typical bread with meat dish on the many roadside setups. I’ve got so used to eating bread off tables just wiped with dirty rags and drinking untreated water that it hardly bothers me any longer (when in Rome…)

30 – And guess what, STILL in Khartoum

Sun 27th Dec, Hotel Al Nadi, Khatoum

It’s not that I love the capital so much, it is because all the buses seem to leave in the morning. And i spent today morning going to the Eritrean embassy. So much for leaving today. To make my day worse, I did not manage to get the Eritrean visa. Wikipedia entry says that from Dec08, all foreigners are to get visas from their country of origin, or nearest embassy, which in Singapore’s case, is China (beijing isn’t so near…) The guy in my dorm (we talk in a mish-mash of broken Arabic and English) is from Kassala and he has a friend there working at the passports office. He reckons he can get insider help and a stamp on my passport into Eritrea. After some thinking, I decided not to take such a risky move. Even if i can get in, i will have trouble getting out, no help anywhere, and the situation there now isn’t too friendly (see Dec 24 news on newly imposed sanctions). So with that, there goes my hopes of doing the border crossing. No matter, I have rescheduled the itinerary and timed Leddat and Timkat in Ethiopia’s Gonder and Lalibela.

And again the Sudanese are really helpful. The guy in my dorm insists on taking me down to the Mina Bary terminal tomorrow and sending me off, waking up with me at 530am.

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. =)

25 – The Wait (part 2)

Tue 22st Dec, Hotel Al Nadi
The amount of time I’m staying in Khartoum, I can probably start to pass off as a local, or at least a foreigner working here. It’s Tuesday afternoon 3.15pm and I’ve had no luck with my Eritrean visa. The guy at the consulate tells me that they would need a longer time to review my application since I do not have residency in Sudan. I explained I traveled from Egypt and they fella understood, but those guys doing the approval will only feedback in a few days, maybe a week, maybe two. SIGH.

So, what can i do next? Two choices, I can choose to wait till the weekend and return to the embassy. Or i can say screw it and head towards Ethiopia (this visa was done back in Sg). After much thought I decided on the former, and the opportunity cost would be a delay of about a week. But of course i’m not going to sit around in this hotel in Khartoum and wait like an idiot.

I took 3 minibuses from the Riyadh area to Mina Bary (Land Transport Center). I had no idea where this big bus station was, locals had to advise me to change minibuses here and there. After 5 buses today I kind of get how and where to flag these buses down. But you need to roughly know the routes of the buses, or get someone to direct you to the correct sidewalk to stand on, where the buses pick people up. And stand with the group that’s normally around waiting for these minibuses. Each bus is manned by a conductor-driver tag-team. The conductor leans out the door and calls out the destination. He carries coins (bus fares are 50 piastres max, i think), and you have to hand the fare to him (think pass the parcel). To get off the buses, you snap your fingers to alert the conductor. He will make the hissing sound (a bit like ‘tsktsk’, also a bit similar to the Egyptian hissing to tell you to get out of the way) and the driver will stop.

Mina Bary was the terminal where all buses going south of Sudan leave from. It was 1.5 SDP for entry into the compounds and there are likely 50 over bus companies here. A bit overwhelming, with all the shouting out for all the destinations. Actually it kind of resembles an enclosed Malaysian bus station (like Larkin), other than the fact that everything is in Arabic.

I got myself a bus to El-Obeid (39 SDP, 7 hours), leaving tomorrow at 7am in the morning. From there I will try to find a way south to either Dilling or Kadogli. Stay there for a day or two and get back to Khartoum hopefully by Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, i will head for the Eritrean embassy again and see if my application result is favourable. Whatever the outcome, I will be off to Kassala the same day (found a company at the station that sets off at 2pm on Sunday). From there I will head on to my next destination.

Bus to arabi, is central khartoum, where most likely you will stay
Bus to mamoora, is the Afra bus
Bus to mahali, mina bary, is the long distance bus terminal
Bus to al-morda, omdurman souq
Bus to riyadh, riyadh district

24 – The Wait

Mon `21st Dec, Hotel Al Nadi
Not too much too say here. Early in the morning, I took a walk to the Humanitarian Affairs Office and picked up my travel permit. Which was free! It was listed at 87 SDP in LP, so that must not have been updated. That or they liked me. Either way, I’m not going to question my good fortune. Nothing else to do but get on the Internet. I was at the netcafe for a full 6 hours (around 3 sgd) and it was good barring the dodgy connection which went off a couple of times. I even caught my favorite reality show Survivor’s final episode!

Dinner was spent near the bus station. I had a lamb’s head. We ended the day with shai and a chat with our local friend (the one who gave me the wrong address >< )

Kang didn’t get his visa, apparently cos he’s chinese or something, and he needed to fly to Addis Ababa. So he’s now at the travel agency. He tried the big chinese hotel nearby which couldn’t really help much.

23 – Round and round the merry-go-round aka Khartoum, permits and visas

 19th Dec, xxxxhrs, Hotel Al Nadi
I picked the wrong one of the two addresses to go to. This sent me far far away to some other district of Khartoum (i paid 10 SDP for a cab!) and when i reached there, the lady promptly told me it was the wrong place. Gave me another address, which ended up being in the Arabi area of central khartoum (to take a bus back to central its easy, just stand by the road in the direction to central and ask for Arabi, normally 0.5 to 1 SDP). When i reached there, (beside the American embassy), they told me it was the wrong place. This was apparently the Alien Registration Office. So i got yet another address to head towards. I walked south down to past the train station along Quasar Street for about 500 meters before i hit the Humanitarian Affairs building. I needed 1 photo, passport photocopies of front page, Sudan visa and alien registration sticker. 4 copies of all of these.

In summary, whatever LP has on the 2007 Africa version is completely wrong:
To get to Alien Registration Office – Head towards the US Embassy to the west of central Khartoum. This is where you register your arrival in Sudan within 3 days.
To get to Humanitarian Affairs Office – Head south along Quasar Street till you hit the railway line. Cross, keep moving even though the buildings get sparse, go another 500 metres. The humanitarian affairs office is the high blue building in the triangle shape on the map (around Sharia 47).

Next i headed down to the Eritrean embassy, which was somewhere in Riyadh district. This was completely off the LP maps, so I had to get on a bus that roughly went in the direction (ask for Riyadh) and ask the locals and the bus conductor to stop me at the Eritrean embassy. This was a lot easier than hunting for the aforementioned Humanitarian Affairs office. The visa is 109 and you need to wait a week and 30 SDP more for 1 or 2 day service. I will return on Tuesday at 10am to get it. Oh, and they did ask for a letter from your embassy. Which would have been a big problem since there is no Singapore embassy in Sudan. Luckily I had the letter done up in Cairo.

So at the end of the day (7 hours of admin and running around), i still have to wait 2 days here for a travel permit and Eritrean visa (hopefully both gets approved). For the travel permit, I listed down all the places I might want to go: Kassala, Gedaref, Gallabat, El-Obeid, Kadogli, Dilling. I’m not sure what I want to do actually. Transport here can get quite expensive, so I might just go out to Eritrea.

As for my other two travel companions, Ben isn’t feeling too well and spent the day resting. Kang on the other hand didn’t fare as well on the visa front. The Ethiopian embassy did not grant him a visa but instead told him he had to fly there. He will try again tomorrow, good luck to him.

23 – Sleepless in Sudan

19th Dec, xxxxhrs, Hotel Al Nadi
And so I was wrong. Saturday is still the weekend and all the government offices and embassies are closed. That being said, it is unfortunate for I will stay more days here in Khartoum.

Started the day by going to the Humanitarian Office listed on the Lonely Planet map…which is a mistake because LP (the 2007 version) is utterly useless here in Sudan. I regret not reading or bringing Bradt’s guide. After the long trudge there…the office was closed… and the guard helpfully said that this was the wrong place. I needed to be elsewhere and wrote down an address in Arabic for me.
Then i made my way south across Lonely Planet’s poorly labeled map towards the Eritrean embassy. After hunting for the building for what seemed like ages, the Yemen embassy guard tells me that Eritrean embassy moved to Riyadh district, which is like miles away…I decided to call it a day, since all were closed anyway.

Came back to the hotel, Kang didn’t have much luck at the Ethiopian embassy and Kenyan embassy since both were closed, but at least he managed to find both locations. Me, i will have to look for mine tomorrow.

Went out for 3 hours of internet (its a steal at 1 SDP per hour, i caught Survivor!), and made a couple of phone calls home (net to phone is approx 5 singapore cents per minute!). Had dinner, and by a fortunate stroke of luck, met a local man and we had tea with him. Tea by the roadside is a Sudanese thing. Every busy street will have one tea lady serving on little stools. It is the best way to let an afternoon go by. The local guy wrote down for me the address to the place to register for travel permits. Now i have two addresses.

22 – Whirling Dervishes

18th Dec, 2045hrs, Hotel Al Nadi, Khartoum

Woke up at 9 in the morning, and walked. And walked from central Khartoum down across the Nile, where the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers meet. Took some shots (I hope I am not breaking any Sudanese laws, I took extra care to avoid any building shots).

Made my way to the Omdurman area. Khartoum is actually 3 cities in 1, the Khartoum area, Omdurman area and Khartoum North area. The Omdurman souq is the biggest in Khartoum. It was interesting enough, both for the sheer amount of things that were being sold, and for the diversity of the locals wandering around. Dark skinned, fairer skinned, henna tattooed, some face bead tattooed, nose ringed. All sorts of characters.

After that, walked down to the Hamid Al-Nil Mosque listed in LP. There is the local troupe of whirling dervishes there every Friday afternoon. I found out exactly what it is they whirl: themselves. It was a fascinating show indeed. And that was where I met everyone else again. Ben, Kang, Andy, Z and the England.couple. Amazingly, Ben and Kang is staying at the same place I am staying. I moved into their room earlier tonight.

Tomorrow morning, the offices open again, so I will go down to the Eritrean embassy as well as the Humanitarian Affairs Office to see if i need to register for onward travel.

21 – To Khartoum We Will Go!

17th Dec, xxxx hrs, Hotel Al Nadi

So the next two entries will be short entries, since I am uploading from a net to phone line with no wifi. Set off early in the morning alone from Karima to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The bus (7am, hotel pickup by minivan to bus departure point across the river, 30 SDP) was made in China. Surprisingly good, with light refreshments, and even a packed lunch provided by the guy in the bus who goes up and down the aisle.

The bus dropped me at Khartoum in the middle of a hot Thursday afternoon. Stumped. Compared to the past few days, Khartoum is dusty, hot and crowded. The area I was in (the lonely planet recommended area) was a busy street with peddlers. Looked for the 1000 Nights Hotel recommended in LP. Well, I looked like crazy, but eventually the nice Sudanese guy from another unamed Hotel Al-Nadi called the number for 1000 Nights Hotel and found that its closed. He actually took me to see a few other “nicer” hotels, but in the end i stayed at his hotel (8 SDP a night, which is like 4 SGD). I think I am pretty hardcore, given a choice of a few hotels, I picked the cheapest and most scruffy one. I stayed in the dorm with 3 Sudanese guys. And they are nice people too! My biggest worry is security, but I think I’ll just lock up my bag and leave it under my bed when I go out tomorrow for the whole day.

Looked around the area a bit, some fellow offered me to change SDP on the black market at better rates. And also found Andy and Z, back from the boat. They have been in Khartoum for the last couple of days. Took dinner with them, and then went off for some Internet. The Internet cafe is surprisingly fast, just that the PCs are missing programs like flash which makes it difficult to run any program.

Tomorrow is 1st Muharram, the new year and I would want to walk around to see if there are any celebrations.Hmm, I forgot to copy pics from today into here. But truthfully, there’s nothing worth posting, so this will be a pictureless entry =P