Monthly Archives: November 2015

Back in Ethiopia at last!

It is only ten months ago that we left Ethiopia: On the 15th January 2015 we flew back to Germany after volunteering in the kindergarten in Adigrat. The hospitality of all the people we met in Adigrat and the deep friendships that evolved from these contacts after four weeks were the initial sparks that directed our overland-travel plans for our sabbatical year more and more back to the original idea of Transafrica on the "eastern route". Both us and our daughters were so very sad that we had to go back home to Germany and leave our new friends and this beautiful country behind.
At the beginning of February, we went with Anouk's kindergarten boyfriend Lasse and his family to the "Klimahaus" in Bremerhaven. There, people can go on an imaginary journey along the 8th degree of longitude. All the four of us independently from each other felt like being back in Ethiopia in the "desert of Mali-room": the air was full of dust, it was hot and even smelled like Ethiopia. At this point in time latest, it was "decided" that we would try to do Transafrica. Still, it took a while until we had really realized this decision and so, finally, there were only less than six months for preparing and planning anew ... because before, we had actually planned to go to South America, started to learn Spanish and established first contacts in South America.
...

Now it is November 2015 and we are back here in Ethiopia and Transafrica is no dream anymore, but our every day life.
Our first experiences while crossing the border between Sudan and Ethiopia, we already described in our last post. This Impression indeed did not match with what we had experienced while working in the kindergarten of Adigrat Vision e.V. last winter.
After our drive through the night because we did not want to stay in the border village, we spent our first few nights in Ethiopia in "Tim and Kim Village" near Gorgora south of Gondar.

Drying the laundry

Traditional fishing boats

What a romantic place!

The Schlumpfs, Swiss overlanders whose Land Rover we spotted in Khartoum.

The "village" is a wonderful place overlooking magical Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, and our camp directly under a giant fig tree was just like being taken directly out of a fairy tale. But the hot showers as promised on the internet do not exist here. Showering is icy-cold, which is really annoying after having spent days driving on dirt roads through the desert. Also, in other aspects, the "village" seems to be following a policy of cutbacks. Saving energy, for example, means that if you don't pay attention, the fuses for the lights in the showers get switched off. In the restaurant, you can order high priced European dishes made with cheap local ingredieces. Which projects resemble the "fair" and "social" background of the "village", we could not find out! Falling asleep was not easy during three of the four nights we spent here as the owner partied with her new Ethiopian husband and male employers. In spite of this criticism, this place really has great potential which still is not fully used.

We go on to Gondar, Ethiopia's "Camelot" and former imperial city, and are really impressed by the romantic castles in the "royal enclosure", which especially impress Anouk who is deeply in her fairytale world of princesses, princes, kings and queens.

 

Our two little princesses

 

Most Ethiopian churches are decorated in the national colours.

The three men symbolize the "Holy Trinity" ... Doesn't the Bible say we should not make a picture of God?

Beautiful ceiling

In the evening we indulge in the wonderful food served in the famous "Four Sisters Restaurant".

Unfortunately, a nasty gastro-intestinal virus invades us in Gondar, which is going to affect all of us on the next following ten days.

The Simien Mountains ...

... South America or Ethiopia?

 

Gelada Baboons - endemic to the Simien Mountains.

 

Driving on to Axum, we reach the Simien Mountains. The good tarmac road changes to a rough stony piste and suddenly, we imagine being in the South-American mountain rainforests. We are in the middle of an impressively beautiful landscape and deeply enjoy the gorgeous view into the magical mountain world around us. Suddenly, a group of the endemic Gelada Baboons appears - directly next to the road. Awesome! Especially the children are extremely enthusiastic.

 
 

Sometime after the mountain gravel-piste we realise that we are driving behind other overlanders. We soon discover that they are "Slow Donkey", a South African couple who have an immensely detailed and helpful blog which we have been following for a long time now. So, we overtake the donkey-Landcruiser and signal them to find a place to stop and chat. Stopping and talking, we realise that they also know us from the internet and have been reading our blog as well. It is a matter of seconds and "nomads" and "Slow Donkey-Team" decide to continue together for the next few days. So, our route leads us to Axum where we set up camp in the courtyard of the "Africa Hotel".
Unfortunately, we are not able to visit the famous sights witnessing the ancient Tigrinian civilization here in Axum because our gastro-intestinal problems have got hold of Juliane completely and with full force.

After two nights in Axum, we dare pushing on to Adigrat, where we plan to stay longer and where Mischa's mother is planning to visit us from Germany.

But on our way through the beautiful "Roof of Africa", we are harrassed whenever we stop by children screaming "Moneymoneymoneymoney!", "Youyouyouyouyou!" oder "Pencilpencilpencil!", trying to squeeze whatever possible out of the tourists they see. This behaviour definitely is the result of years of senseless "foreign aid" by western countries and China and especially is a result of really stupid tourists giving away "presents" like pencils, sweets and even money to children wherever they can. Why do people from "developed countries" so often hurl around with money and material things instead of investing in capacity building!? The motives are highly egoistical because they only want to make themselves happy and want to feel that they "do good"! But, on the contrary, this behaviour causes dependency and introduces new behavioural traditions which do not motivate people to commit themselves for a better future, but will make them into lazy beggars. It is especially sad, we think, that a proud nation as Ethiopia, the only country in Africa not being colonized by any other state, being deeply rooted in history both concerning Ethiopia as a nation and Ethiopia being at least one of the birthplaces of mankind, is represented to many travelers by these children. During this stage of our trip, we also have to experience the first stone thrown at our car by children along the roadside which are so very much infamous with overland travellers. Suddenly, there is a big "Bang!" on the passengers' sinde directly underneath the window causing a centimetre sized paint damage. Unfortunately, we can't see and get hold of the delinquent to be able to drag him to his parents, who surely will not approve of their offspring's behaviour. We are angry and also quite confused because of this behaviour ...
In spite of our stomach problems and the stone throw we savely and relatively relaxed reach Adigrat. All of us are immensely happy to be here again and be able to take our friends into our arms again. We stay at the "Agoro Lodge" just one or two kilometres south of Adigrat, a lodge being cempletely in Ethiopian hands situated in the quiet countryside looking down on Adigrat and being surrounded by a beautiful mountain scenery.

The Agoro Lodge

 

The view on Adigrat from the Agoro Lodge.

 
 

Mischa is giving English classes for the team at Agoro Lodge.

 

This lodge is professionally run by a most friendly team making you feel welcome and at home. All profit of the lodge is used to help supporting the social life in Adigrat, helping single mothers, HIV patients, unemployed youth et cetera.
Unfortunately, our first six days here are dominated by Juliane not being able to cope with the gastro-intestinal infection. Finally, after eight days of diorrhea and vomiting, we decide to consult a local doctor ... who downright refuses any payment only stating, "If I come to your country, you will do the same for me!". It is really sad that in case he will come and visit Germany, most people would not help him the way he does for us. Strangely, directly after visiting the local doctor, Juliane is feeling better again without taking any medicine apart from the ones we already took for the last eight days. Maybe, the positive change is due to the probiotic bacteria treatment she had just begon.

“Allah Karima” … “Insh’Allah” (Sudan #2)

Eine deutschsprachige Version dieses Eintrages gibt es hier

 

The Hamad El Niel Mosque ... a really magical place!

 

The impressions from the "Zikir" at the Hamad El Niel-Mosque in Omdurman/Khartoum deeply stay in our minds. Again, it's the personal encounters with people on the road which are even more inspiring than all the places, buildings and sights which in themselves are impressive anyway! Not only our Sudanese friend Tyseer, who has planned a whole program for our week in Khartoum, has brought us here to this place and explains all the new aspects of this culture, but also locals standing crowded together next to us sense our interest and curiosity and explain without us asking for it and, what is even more important, they do not missionize! Drinking a multitude of glasses full of a sweet tea with peppermint, we discuss religion, especially Sufyia, but also world politics and football in a spontaneous round of interested and interesting people. Sòley and Anouk also easily find other children of the same age and relaxedly roam around with them without any common language basis, which is fascinating the adults around them who take picture after picture with their smartphones.

 
 

In the middle of this bubbling bustle Tyseer's friend Sheikh Mohammad Mubarak, one of the leaders of the local Sufiya movement, joins us. When he heard that Tyseer would soon expect a visit of friends from Germany, he helped her to find a flat for us. Now we had the unique chance to talk to an expert on Islam and Sufiya and ask all the questions which had been going around in our heads. But one evening in this crowd is not enough and we would meet again and again after that, just to discuss and learn from each other, while Tyseer permanently translated. Also, Mischa has brought a German Qur'an which includes a glossary and explanations to find out more when we are in the flat. How many people do know that the Qur'an does not tell women to veil themselves completely? That Jesus is not seen as the Son of God in Islam, but as an important prophet, sounds rather plausible (if the term "Son of God" is meant in a literal sense, we then are back with the term "prophet", because Mohammed also percieved himself as God's mouthpiece, mediated by the Archangel). Also, the concept of "God" which seems to be more connected with the universal power God has instead of depicting Him as the human-like figure of a "God-Father" is not far from how we try to explain this concept to our kids.
Especially exciting is the background to the Sufiya movement which seems to be older than Islam and rather connecting different religions instead of dividing them. This topic and the Derwish dances we want to learn more about!

Tyseer really impressed me at some other time by her really warm-hearted reaction on beggars, which for me still are very inconvenient situations. Most often deep compassion mixes with the knowledge that some money will not help in a sustainable way but sometimes may even be a factor in increasing the suffering. This precariousness in me certainly can be perceived by others. Tyseer masters situations like this by reacting with the common benediction "Allah Karima", meaning, "Allah will take care of you!". Maybe, these words give some hope. Or is it just an empty phrase? Does it help? ... Insh' Allah! As God wills it!

At the end of our week in Khartoum some more practical things, running errands and planning the onward route through the Sudan mix in. Mischa had to go to a garage to extract a bolt from one of the tyres and have it repaired. A barber for Mischa and a cosmetic studio, where I could delve in into the relaxed atmosphere among women behing doors and curtains also were on the agenda. Happily gossiping, many hours are spent here taking care of the body, mind and soul from head to heels. Unfortunately, I only have time for a "short program", otherwise I would have loved to have done the wonderfully beautiful henna tatoos married women in Sudan typically have on their feet.

 
 

My hands already have been decorated by Sheikh Mohammad's wife after having dinner at their home.

Tyseer also invites us to her family's home where Anouk and Sóley can meet her nieces who are roundabout the same age as our kids. Due to these visits, we get quite a good insight into the private life of the people of Khartoum. But this is not supposed to be "it" ... Sheikh Mohammad not only wants to help us with contact persons from his family on our further way towards Ethiopia, but out of hand decides to join us in person for the next days ... now without our trusted friend and mediator Tyseer, because her lectures at the University of Khartoum start again. After the conversion, our Land Rover only has four remaining seats. For a short passage, we had already given our "fixer" Magdi a lift from the Sudanese side of the border between Egypt and Sudan to his home in Wadi Halfa. I simply resembled Sóley's child seat and squeezed in with the kids in the Land Rover's rear bench. No, this is not really convenient and also doesn't fit any European standards on child safety in cars, but we simply can't say "No!" to this offer coming from the heart of a new friend. So, we alltogether shoulder the five hours on rough dirt tracks to the small hut-village of Mohammad's family (in addition to three hours driving on road). Later on, we would even find another sixth "seat" for a roofrack passenger, which for the locals is no security risk at all.

 
 

But before we leave Khartoum, with the help of Tyseer and Mohammad we have to pick a bone with Mustafa, the owner of "our" flat. In a very dedicated and appearingly corteous manner, he had offered us his help and support in any kind of way, which was not strange at all for us, as all Sudanese we had met until then were immensely welcoming and ready to help. But sadly, Mustafa was not able to keep the natural distance between him and me, which in Muslim countries is certainly larger between men and women than in Europe. He touched my face, made compliments and told me about the problems he has with his wife in situations when I met him alone and thus hassled me in a way which simply is bad manners, both here in this culture and in Europe. Mohammad moderated a heated crosstalk between Mustafa and Mischa, but for saying "Sorry!" Mustafa simply was too proud ... too weak!? For us, he seems to be one exemption which exist in all countries, all cultures, still I have to admit that in Sudan I always attract attention as a European woman and seem to be "an easy lay" from the point of view of some men in spite of husband and daughters next to me. Do I have to wear the headscarf more often? "No!", says Tyseer. I am supposed to stay as I am, also in Sudan. She states that I already adapt myself far enough! So, I plan to carry on walking the streets of Khartoum in a self-confident manner, maybe with some more pretended pride.

 
 

With a "local" such as Sheikh Mohammad in the Land Rover, we don't have to present any documents anymore at the police checkpoints. A short smalltalk in English by us and in Arabic by him is enough to be waved through. In between, Mohammad sings like a muezzin for Sóley (she simply loves mosques and when the muezzin sings, always a glorifying "My friend!" escapes Sóley's lips) and tries to learn English and German from Mischa while Mischa tries to learn some more Arabic.

We reach the place of Mohammad's uncle in Sennar just as the sun sets. Some children play in the courtyard with a plastic bottle hanging from a tree. Sóley and Anouk without any heasitation join in and laugh so very loud that it can be heard by the complete neighborhood.

 
 

Meanwhile an sumptuous traditional Sudanese dinner is served on a large metal tray and we eat together using our right hands. We get a room for ourselves in the house even though we could have slept in the car, while some family members sleep in the courtyard under the stars. Sleeping in our Land Rover would have been an insult. The next morning the children of the family are beautifully dressed and brought to schoon by Bajaj (TukTuk).
We set off for the drive to the village where Mohammad's father lives (at least this is the place where one of his two wives lives). At first, we visit the really badly equipped and ridiculously overcrowded village-school and try to find solutions how one could help here any maybe raise some money to help them (for tables and chairs they need roundabout 2500€) and improve the conditions the students learn under.

School building Dindir village school

Schoolyard

... not enough chairs!

 
 

We establish contacts to make sure that the materialy and money needed here will really end up in the right places and not in somebody else's pockets. We would be happy to hear about your ideas, dear readers!

In the village, we get our own room, which actually is a complete hut, this time with three beds. We are introduced to many villagers and again get so much to eat that we simply cannot finish it. Mischa joins the tea-round in the hut of Mohammad's father and I mingle with the women at the fireplace in another hut. Any kind of verbal communication here is nearly impossible, which is really sad, because there is a lot of interest in that from both sides. The womens' faces alone tell so many stories!

They seem to be a bit shy but very happy about me trying to start conversations.
They would have loved to decorate my feet wit henna, but Mohammad wants to drive with us some kilometres out of the village to meet some nomadic families. This certainly is an offer we cannot say no to. We give another "hitchhiker" a lift on the roofrack and on we go taking rough dirt tracks until we reach the simple tents of the nomads.

 
 

Impressively big in comparison to the tents are the camels. Proud, the nomads show us how multi-functional their homes are and invite us to stay for a tea. Within minutes the round gets bigger and bigger and when we want to leave the camp in the setting sun, all men stand up and pray together.

 
 

On our way back through the darkness, we tow a Toyota pick-up full of people, which already had been there when we came here.
It is no wonder that this kamikaze mission got stuck here: the fuel tank is a 1,5 litre Coke plastic bottle hanging from the left door mirror and the complete car seems to be kept in one piece by many metres of wire. Traveling in this car!? Insch'Allah!
Back in the village, we brace ourselves with fresh camel milk. We have to admit that at first drinking it took us some surmounting, but after having made sure that it had been boiled before, we are polite and take the offer ... just to be surprised to find out that the milk is really really tasty. This leads to the situation, that our cups are filled up again and again.
To be able to reach Ethiopia the next day, we get up early and give Mohammad a lift to the next tarmac road after another round of camel milk tea and a cordial "Goodbye!" from Mohammad's family.

It takes us three hours on really bad pistes full of potholes to get to the next asphalt road. Unfortunately, here we have to part with Sheikh Mohammad: he takes the bus back to Khartoum and we set sail for the border post between Sudan and Ethiopia near Gallabat. The road is relatively good and we even see our first monkeys which look like Pippi Longstocking's "Mr Nilson". The roundabout 80 km through the Dindir National Park before we reach the border the road turns out to be a whole population of potholes which could swallow complete Land Rovers. Also, the villages along the road look more and more desperate and poor. But the border double-village even tops this impression: it is a bustling, ugly gallimaufry full of dark characters, trying to lure us into something and beggars who aggressively bang their fists at the car windows. From a road on a dam, it is a steep descend down to the offices of immigration and customs, in front of which "helpers" of a really irksome sort try to obtrude their "services" even though nobody needs them. The border officials are really fast and thus we are able to leave this place and the rather improvised looking border after only 1,5 hours. Now it is already late afternoon, but we don't want to set up our camp here.

After some kilometres we suddenly have to break not to run into some Pierce of rope which blocks the road: another customs checkpoint! Men with weapons. Great! Now, we've got to unpack the complete Land Rover in the darkness! We show the men that we travel with children telling them that there still is a long way ahead of us until we reach the place where we plan to stay the night. This works and we can leave after some minutes. In spite of various obstacles, animals and people sleeping on the road but also nearly invisible potholes and wheel ruts, we push on for another four hours to be able to reach "Tim-and-Kim-Village" overlooking beautiful Lake Tana. Here we will try to relax for about four days without phone or internet connection. Insch'Allah!

by Juliane

Sudan Rocks

Eine deutschsprachige Version dieses Eintrages gibt es hier

The great unknown Sudan embraces us very cordially right from the beginning. Directly in front of the border gate, Magdi Boshara, our "fixer" for the Sudanese side of the border, picks us up to help us with the border procedures. He appears to be really nice, organised and professional. Sóley and Anouk are allowed to watch cartoon after cartoon on the i-Pad and so for them the three hours of waiting at the border pass in a flash. At the same time, I can witness a way of dealing with each other of the people around me I already know from Ethiopia ... brotherly and sisterly hugs between colleagues and friends, laughing and holding hands ... simply warm and cordial.

 
 

Our first night in Sudan we spend with Magdi's family. He also has young children who easily make friends with our two daughters. Magdi's wife cooks for us and together with Magdi, Mischa goes to Wadi Halfa to get Sudanese sim-cards for our mobile phones while I am introduced to how to wear the "Thob", the traditional dress of Sudanese mothers.

 
 

With a heavy heart the next morning we have to say goodbye to Magdi's family. A very good tarmac road leads us through the Sahara desert running parallel to River Nile, which we can only see every once in a while.

 

Not just a sandy track through the desert ...

 
 
 
 
 

In the hot desert sand, we discover fossilized trees every now and then - turned to stone witnesses of an ancient time when all this countryside was covered with forests ... nearly inconceivabe!

 
 

Passing Dongola we reach the pyramids of Gebel Barkal near Karima late in the afternoon. As there is an Italian run "Nubian Resthouse" directly next to the pyramids, we decide to ask if we can camp there for the night. The place seems to be rather deserted but we meet the Italian owner who shows us around the beautiful premises ... only to send us away after that because later on there will be other guests and no room left for us. The Sudanese chef is told to show us a place behind the sand dunes where we will not disturb anybody. So, it is a night of freecamping in the desert. Darkness approaches rapidly and the desert wind is giving us a good sandblast. The petrol mix in the Coleman stove produces a rather weak flame so that it is hard to cook properly. Still, after a (long) while a patient Mischa is able to serve the vegetable pasta sauce just as promised. Dusty but happy, we fall asleep.
The next day, we take a closer look at the pyramids and after that go on driving to Atbara. The pyramids here look differently compared to the pyramids of Gizeh ... they have a smaller tip-angle, are smaller and there are more in one place. We learn that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt.
In our GPS-maps "Tracks for Africa" we find two campsites near the famous pyramids of Meroe south of Atbara. To go there we even put up with driving into the darkness of the coming night, something everybody has warned us against. At last, we find a signpost reading that the camp is Italian owned ... what a coincidence!

 

The Italian camp seen from a distance.

 

For the next five kilometres we follow wheel tracks in the sand and with some help from locals we finally find the camp, straw-roofed huts, big tents and a whole fleet of white Toyota Landcruisers. "Here, surely, we will find a place to stay for the night!", we think. But, again, we are sent away ... a family with two small kids is sent away into the darkness of the night - nobody has even asked whether we would be willing to pay for camping! This neither fits to the African mentality, nor to our general impression of Sudan and certainly not at all to the wisdom of the Qur'an where helping travelers is a duty. Really disappointed we try to find a place sheltered from the wind to set up camp and finally are allowed to enjoy the impressive starry sky.

At sunrise we discover in a multitude of colours which beautiful landscape yesterday we had stopped in. From the Italian camp a traditionally dressed man appears after a short while. What does he want?

He sits down next to the Land Rover and shows us the local jewellery and knifes he has in his bag. Anouk is very excited gets out her pocket money and buys a bracelet for herself and for her sister. I also get one from Mischa. Another guest, a man on a camel, approaches, but we don't want to go on a camel ride before having had breakfast. After a fast breakfast, we go on to the impressive pyramids right next to the Italian Camp where all tents face the pyramids to provide an optimum view for the guests.

 

Approaching the Meroe Pyramids.

 
 

... passing dunes of golden Sudanese sand.

 
 

The Meroe Pyramids.

 

... two wings holding the sun-disk.

And even more pyramids!!

Obviously, people are preserving the pyramids here, but they use concrete which from our point of view doesn't really fit the original way the pyramids were built. Fascinatedly, we wander around this "village" of pyramids but then the midday heat makes us go back on the road. Also, we would rather like to reach the Sudanese capital Khartoum before sunset. Alas, this doesn't work out well as Anouk throws up in the car and before going on, we have to clear up the mess. Eating and drinking in this heat and the different food are great challenges for our children. It was not due to a virus or bacteria that Anouk was sick, but it was the orange juice, which was the only thing she wanted for breakfast even though we had fresh flat bread. Anouk dreams of cheese-pasta instead (á la Christina Ohmes!), but the hunger doesn't vanish just through dreaming!
At the Nile Street in Khartoum, we meet Tyseer, a friend of our Ethiopian friend Samuel, who had visited us back home on Spiekeroog earlier this year. Being on a DAAD-scholarship, Tyseer studied in Germany for four years and now she is a professor at the University of Khartoum. 

 

A furnished flat with an oversized garage in Khartoum ... what a luxury!

 

She has found a flat for us (including a large garage for the Land Rover) to which we are guided now. Here we plan to stay for one week, for which Tyseer has already planned a whole sightseeing and information program. We visit the Natural History Museum, the old English palace, and the National History Museum of Sudan.

 

The bottom part of this temple is here in Khartoum in the National History Museum - the upper part (with all the beautifully painted faces) is in the British Museum in London ... it belongs here and is property of the people of Sudan!

 

The ancient history, but also the turbulent fights and resistance against the Turkish and English occupation of Sudan are brought to life for us. In addition to that, we also walk the dusty streets of Khartoum and again and again sit down on plastic chairs in small street cafés directly on the pavements and talk, talk, talk in a very intense and open way.

 

A motorboat trip on the Nile together with Tyseer.

 

Khartoum skyline

Khartoum skyline

 

Fishing at the borderline between the two rivers.

 
 

This is exactly where the Blue Nile and the White Nile meet.

 

During a motorboat trip on the Nile we can witness how the Blue Nile (which apparently is rather brownish) and the White Nile (which actually is grey) come together but don't mix immediately. Water samples are taken to show that even in a bottle the waters of the two rivers don't mix and vertically separate again after a while (which, of course, is not true, but that's just for the fun of the crew).

 

The Hamad El Niel Mosque ... a really magical place!

 

But the absolute highlight, topping everything, is a trip to the Friday Sufi prayer and Derwish dances at the Hamad El Niel Mosque in Omdurman. Around the fairytale-like painted mosque there is an immense graveyard full of graves which rather look like mole hills with small homemade signs. On the large yard in front of the mosque many Sudanese men, women and children romp about wearing their traditional garments, but also some tourists (about ten, I guess) mix with the crowd, apparently without disturbing the ceremony in any kind of way. In the middle of a circle of people, two men wearing turbans are dancing, singing and beating drums. Every now and then, another Muslim joins them, dances a few rounds together with them to be nearer to Allah during this dance (and apparently that works just guessing from the enraptured and happy look on their faces). Then, he puts some banknotes into the drum bag and leaves the circle to make way for somebody else. We are extremely fascinated by this spectacle. Especially Anouk is really captivated and even has the courage to stand alone in the first line of the big circle of people to be able to see properly. This is really brave of her here in this loud and unfamiliar situation. Mischa and myself are a bit embarrased by the other tourists who have two big cameras each around their necks nearly pressing their giant camera Lenzes into the very faces of the dancing people. Sure, they are just as fascinated as we are, but we still are ashamed of their behaviour and dealing with this deeply spiritual situation. This rather destroys any kind of decent and creative photography in us here at this wonderful place (here you can watch a video shot by other overlanders).  
What we have witnessed so far is only the beginning of the ceremony: a truck with dancing and singing people beating drums approaches and stops near the mosque. They get off and form a procession which comes nearer and leaves again showing large flags all the while people are beating large drums. An even larger circle of people forms, the beating of the drums is getting more and more intense and all men and women (!) in the first line of the big circle start to rhythmically dance forwards and backwards as if they are in some kind of trance and meditatively sing and hum. Some of the dancers celebrate their faith by stretching out their arms to spin around really fast in true Derwish manner. This main part of the ceremony is called "Al Zikir". It is really impressive with what deep happiness these people celebrate their faith once a week on a Friday while the sun sets. Any comparison to a Christian service simply is impossible, especially thinking of the atmosphere. Everybody celebrates boisterously, talks with friends (or foreigners), eats and really lives a certain community spirit. Is this the rigid and conservative Islam people in the West are worried about or even fear??
Sóley, who in the middle of the ceremony awakes out of her midday nap in Mischa's arms, is not really too impressed by the ceremony and rather wants to paint pictures and symbols into the sand in the middle of the crowd's feet. This after a very short while opens up another scene, because here also forms a small circle of excited Sudanese around her. Some add their own paintings to hers. It is a matter of seconds and again, we sit, talk and are invited to drink black tea with peppermint (and an immense portion of sugar!) ... In one of these conversations, Mischa is asked whether the Germans really are as xenophobic as the media report it ... media-founded information-chaos and guidance by fear on both sides! It is good to meet and make a difference!
Khartoum is no "love at first sight" for me, but the people we meet, humans in the very sense of the word, open up an exciting and diverse city and country for us which is dominated by an immense hospitality and openness which nobody will believe who doesn't come here but lets himself be guided by western media instead. Sudan definitely is one of the absolute highlights of this travel so far - we will have to come back!

by Juliane

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Border Procedures Abu Simbel – Wadi Halfa

There are two possible ways to cross the border between Egypt and Sudan: one is the long ferry that still runs between Aswan and Wadi Halfa, the other is the "newly opened" road to Sudan which includes a short ferry.

We took the road and short ferry!

We decided to take a fixer for the border procedure although it is also possible to do that on your own (here are detailed descriptions on how to do that: by "Abseitsreisen" (in German) and Omar Mansour on the HUBB (English)).
Our fixer for the Egyptian side, Kamal Muawad, has a very good reputation with overlanders.

This are his contact details:
phone: 0100 5322669 and 01221393492
mail: kamalaswanegy@yahoo.com
Another fixer we met at the "Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge" (see below) and who was recommended to us by other travelers was Mohamed Abouda (phone: 012/25111968 and 097/2301698 and 097/2306568). He seemed to be very professional and helped us with travel tips and contact persons.

In Aswan, it is important to go to the traffic court (together with the fixer) where it is checked whether there are any traffic tickets which still have to be paid for. If you don't have their stamp in your passport and you try to go through the border, you will be sent back to Aswan at the Egyptian border checkpoint.

The visa for Sudan are easy to get in Aswan at the Sudanese consulate general
Consulate General of the Republic of Sudan
El Sadat Rd. - El Khazzah Rd. (close to the Al Rudwan Mosque)
Aswan
phone: 0972307231
GPS coordinates N 24° 05.5176', E 032° 88.3164'
You don't need a fixer here, but he can speed up the process and maybe help extending the visa validity (costs US$50 for a family).
For the visa application process you will need:
- two passport photos
- a photocopy of your passport
- your passport
- the filled in visa application form (you will get it at the consulate); in the form they ask for other valid visa you have, so I figured out that it might help to have the visa for Ethiopia before applying for the Sudan visa (they are easy to get in Cairo at the Ethiopian Embassy, Consular Section, 21 Sheikh Mohamed El Ghazali Street, Dokki; takes one working day; US$60 for one month/single entry and US$70 for three months/double entry).
We also had an invitation letter to Sudan, which is not mandatory, but also may help speeding up the process.
Usually the Sudanese visa take about three working days (in our case it was just two), for Americans they can take up to two weeks as the details have to be sent to Khartoum and processed there.
The price for the Sudan visa in Aswan is US$50 each (instead of about US$110 in Cairo). Usually, you get one month, our visa are valid for two months (due to what we do not know).

If you need a "taxi" in Aswan, call Mohammed Sayed (tel.: 0122 4421767 and 0114 2748889), he will not be more expensive than a taxi, but more reliable, speaks good English and is well informed about what overlanders might need.

 
 

A good place to stay for overlanders is the Nubian house "Adam Home Overland Camp", where you can camp for around 70EL (about 8€) for a car and two adults.
Adam Home Overland Camp
tel.: 0122 442 1767,
mail: adamhome.camp@facebook.com,
GPS coordinates: N 24°10.135' E032°51.971'
Adam Home it is a great place at the west bank of the Nile (a bit run down at the moment, though, due to health issues of the owner and the impact of less tourism). They can also organise dinners at private Nubian homes and sailing and motor boat tours on the Nile.

 

We avoided the police convoy and went through the desert alone.

 

From Aswan to Abu Simbel there is a police-convoy going daily at 4 and 11 o'clock in the morning which starts at the obelisk in Aswan (if you want to use the convoy, be there one hour in advance) and will speed through the desert at roundabout 130km/h (from what we have heard) - accidents have occured. We did not want to use this convoy and simply went to the police/military checkpoint at 10:30 in the morning. Nobody spoke English, they checked the car registration and driver's ID and off we went all alone through the desert. It is a 290km drive and there are petrol stations on the way. I would fuel up in Aswan still, as not all petrol stations have electricity and fuel all the time!
We went to Abu Simbel one day in advance as we wanted to visit the temples and you cannot go to the Abu Simbel temples and cross the border on the same day as the border is only open between 9 o'clock and 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

 

The Ramses Temple at night.

 

In Abu Simbel, you can camp near the temples on the main car park near the Tourist Police building or ask at one of the hotels.

 

The "Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge"

 

We took a room at "Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge", a Nubian style ecohotel with extremely helpful people, a wonderful atmosphere, great food, beer and wine. "Eskaleh" is locally owned and very professionally run, the rooms are very clean and the complete house is beautifully decorated. Some of their food is based on homegrown products from their own farm.
Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge
phone: 0122 3680521 and 097 3401 288,
mail: info@eskaleh.net;
GPS coordinates: N 22° 20'47'', E 031°37'7'';
rooms 70€ - 80€ incl. breakfast (children under 6 are free of charge), they also do lunch and dinner.
For overlanders who would like to sleep in their cars, it is also possible here (at what rate we do not know, but this rate will surely not be over the top!).

 

Squeezed in between trucks, cars and people.

 

The car ferry leaves directly from Abu Simbel (the meeting point usually is at the Bank Cairo) and it takes about 1 hour.

 
 

From the port on the other side of Lake Nasser to the border post between Egypt and Sudan it is a drive of about 35km.

The Egyptian fixer will go with you on the ferry, to the border and will do all the bureaucratic processes together with you on the Egyptian side.
The border opens at 9:00 o'clock in the morning and they open and close the gate for each car separately.
After entering, we had to drive to the customs, who wanted to scan every bag (!) and also check the car. At borders, we always try to take control of the procedures instead of letting others search our Land Rover. The kids stay inside the car and are allowed to watch a video on the i-Pad and Juliane brings the bags to the scanner while I show the officials every box and locker ("Do you want to see this?" ... "May I show you that?"). During the process, we are always friendly, but also very slow because generally, there is only one scanner and there are other people waiting, too - sometimes the officials will give up and let us go. They also wanted to see the boxes on the roof rack, and as they are "heavy" (which they are not!), the officer had to come up with me while I showed him what was inside the boxes. Funnily, the other customs officers made fun of him shaking the car while he was on top.
After that I insisted on being allowed to park the Land Rover in the shadow because of the kids.
After customs, also the offices of the traffic police and the immigration had to be provided with bureaucratic work and finally, we were allowed to leave Egypt.
Our "fixer", Kamal Muawad, did a good job and we could certainly recommend him. The only thing we had to do was a lot of waiting (we had some tea with truck drivers, lunch and several conversations with passers by while he did his job).
For our first days in Sudan, Kamal also supported us with 2150 Sudanese Pounds, as there is no Bank in Wadi Halfa (the exchange rate was 9,18 to the € instead of the black-market-rate of 11,30 in Khartoum but certainly better than the official exchange rate which is around 7 pounds per €).

After you have passed the gate on the Egyptian side, the Sudanese gate is reached after about 100m.

For the Sudanese side, you might need another fixer. We chose to take Magdi Boshara,
contact details:
Magdi Boshara
phone: 0121730885 and 0122262060
mailNUBATIA51@YAHOO.COM,
because he simply offered us a cheaper price of US$420 (instead of US$500 from Mazar Mahir, who also has a good reputation on the HUBB; contact details: Mazar Mahir, phone:, +249122380740 and +249911075226)
mail: mazarhalfa@gmail.com).
On the Sudanese side you go to the "arrivals hall" where you have to fill in three forms with your personal details (the entry card, the document for the "Alien Registration Department" (So, you are officially registered ALIENS now!) and one document for the security police). For the "Alien Registration Department", you need one passport photocopy and a passport photo.
We were also centrally registered to Khartoum, so would not have to register somewhere else on our way through Sudan unless we would stay longer than one month. Cameras don't seem to have to be registered any more (do not take photos of checkpoints, all police and army buildings, post offices, bridges, powerlines et cetera!)!
After endless three hours of waiting in the arrivals hall, the car was inspected (5 minutes, just looking into it, asking some questions whether we had beer) and we were free to leave.

The complete procedure at the border took us 5 hours and 20 minutes (not including ferry and driving to the border post) and it was extremely friendly on both sides, but especially so on the Sudanese side.

After leaving the Sudanese side of the border, we gave Magdi a lift to his home, where we would stay for one night with his family. We also went to Wadi Halfa with him to get Sudanese sim cards (Zain company, price: SDG25 for the sim card, SDG10 for phoning and SDG10 for one week of a data flat rate). At Magdi's house we had dinner together and breakfast the next morning as well.
It was great to start our time in Sudan like that because it gave us the chance to ask many questions concerning our route, dos and no-dos at cetera. Also, it was simply nice to stay with a Sudanese family. Magdi is very warm and welcoming, really seems to like his job and wanted to make everything as easy and relaxed for us as possible. We would always highly recommend him!

The big question on the net concerning this border seems to be "A fixer or no fixer!?". For us, having one was on the one hand very convenient - who knows how long it would have taken us without a fixer if with one it already took over 5 hours. On the other hand, we think that - especially in times of nearly no tourism and nearly no overlanders passing this border - paying for the services of a fixer also helps supporting families. Being a fixer is nothing smirky, negative or illegal, but it is a proper job people need a license for and are educated for by the customs. From what we heard from other overlanders, this border crossing seems to be the only one a fixer might be needed.

Sudanese Visa
visa costs US$50 each
fixer US$50 paid for two adults and two kids, i.e.US$12,50 per person
total costs US$250 / 220,00€

Border Egypt - Sudan
total cost Egyptian side (incl. fixer) 1640EL (i.e. 192,13€) includes all costs and ferry
total cost Sudanese side (incl. fixer) US$420 includes all costs (and in our case one night at Magdi's home, dinner and lunch and help with the sim cards)
total costs US$640 / 557,00€

From Cairo to Abu Simbel

After Cairo, we wanted to spend some days at the Red Sea relaxing on the beach. The kids loved the beach and playground right outside our room ... we had itchy feet as Upper Egypt and Sudan were waiting.

 

The route we wanted to take through the mountains was forbidden for tourists ... not safe!

 
 

Rizeiky Camp in Luxor ... the first overlanders wie meet - only half of the seats are booked.

 

Traveling through Egypt, we are impressed by the large number of historical sights we can experience nearly without any other tourists. Everywhere there are signs stating that taking photos inside the buildings is forbidden and everywhere the tourist police check all people entering the sights. Still, one can always take the camera inside ... just to be tempted by "guides" to take photos in the most breathtakingly impressive places. As we withstood this temptation, some sights are not represented in this post ... even though we felt the emotional roller coaster! We will keep it in our memories and hearts.

The Valley of the Kings is deserted ... another magical place!

Egyptian dimensions!

"Adam Home Overland Camp" in Aswan is a wonderful place facing the Nile and the city of Aswan on the opposite river bank. Samy and Mohammad help in any imaginable way and life here is relaxed and quiet.

 
 

Kids on motorbikes ... no license needed!

Naturally chilled fresh water free and everywhere next to the roads.

 

Dinner at a Nubian house.

 

Upper Egypt is dominated by Nubian culture and people who are extremely open and welcoming and look down on an ancient history.

A Falukah trip to Elephantine Island

 
 

Petroglyphs

 
 

Feuerhand Fairytale

During the shipping of our Land Rover from Pireias to Alexandria our beloved Feuerhand petrol lamp was stolen (apart from toilet paar and tissues the only thing that was stolen ... RoRo shipping is not so bad after all!). We tried to find a new petrol lamp on our way through Egypt, but it simply was too "old school" for Egypt. But then, in some Nubian house in a village near Aswan, an old woman had an old unused lamp she was willing to sell. After some polishing this lamp showed its true identity: it is a Feuerhand petrol lamp, made in Germany some time between 1949 and 1989. Everything is possible in Africa - you only have to think positive! We can't wait until the lamp tells more stories when bushcamping.

Before

... and after.

And then the day came when we had to say "Goodbye!" again. We had a great time with Samy and Mohammed and his family. Thanks for everything!

From Aswan to Abu Simbel we experience our first drive through the Sahara desert. In the North, we went through stony desert with mountains but here now the countryside is flat and sandy ... just like we had imagined. We drive during the midday heat through a landscape full of secret "lakes" ... even the road ahead seems to be flooded like the "Hellerpad" connecting our school with the island's village during a storm tide. Do we see flamingoes there in the far distance? An oasis with camels and palm trees? ... But everything vanishes when we come nearer and no mud-stripes decorate our Land Rover, the fifth family member. What remains is a deep fascination for this barren ecosystem ... and a lot of looking forward to Sudan!

 

We avoided the police convoy and went through the desert alone ... Abu Simbel!

 

The "Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge"

The "Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge" is a charming place, wonderfully decorated, professionally run and full of positive energy. Some food and ingrediences are home grown on site in the small eco farm and the owners and staff are extremely warm, welcoming and willing to help the weary traveller. Overlanders are welcome to camp on the premises.

And then came the absolute highlight of this travel so far

the Abu Simbel Temples

Sometimes, things which are bad for Egypt can be good for us: we had the temples of Ramses and Nefertiti all to ourselves. Completely! What an impressive site ... words simply cannot describe the dimensions and spirit of this place ... truly magical!

The light show was like a fairytale of The Thousand and One Nights told under 1.000.000 stars. Unforgettable!

The Ramses Temple!

Anouk holding the key to the Ramses Temple in her hands - the Egyptian key of life.

The Ramses Temple at night.

The Nefertiti Temple at night.

Egypt – our impressions after 25 days in the country

Whenever we told anybody that we would do Transafrica, most people were very negative when it came to traveling to and through Egypt. When I tried to find out about Howard to ship the Land Rover to Egypt and called an Austrian ferry agent, he downright accused me of being suicidal and irresponsible because I planned to travel with wife and kids ... and hung up before I could even reply.
Certainly, the media reports in Europe being quite negative about Egypt and Muslim countries in general (from my point of view) added their part so that we expected to only transit Egypt. Instead, we spent nearly four weeks there and enjoyed every minute of it.
The question is which country today really is "safe"! I think none is 100%! If you use your common sense, are an open, humble and friendly person and follow instructions from locals, police and military, you will most certainly enjoy Egypt to a degree not imagined beforehand! All the people we met were very helpful. I remember the guy at the Eskaleh lodge in Abu Simbel who left his workplace just to go with us to the hospital to translate for us when our youngest daughter was ill with tonsillitis and when I asked him what I could do for him, he just replied "Take care of your kid, make sure that she recovers!". Whenever we needed a taxi, we could always ask a policeman who made sure that we would not have to wait for even five minutes and also helped negotiating prices.
Certainly, Egyptian street merchants and shop assistants can be a bit annoying, but if you are friendly and joke with them, you will begin to enjoy the many conversations you suddenly have. It is important to understand that they simply have no other chance than to be as straightforward as possible to earn their little money. As the number of tourists has dropped to less than 25% of what it was before, many people are without any income and unemployed. Also, there is a fierce competition about all remaining jobs in Egypt at the moment - in a country without social security, unemployment benefits and public health insurance.
Traveling in Egypt is not problematic at all! Due to the fact that there are so few tourists traveling to and in the country, independent travel is more than easy. You will always find hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses or places to camp for one night and certainly would never have to book in advance. If you book through a company, a large portion of the money you spend on the travel ends up in Europe and not with the people in the country, so we prefer to shop, fuel up, accomodate et cetera as locally as possible to spend the money where it is needed and help supporting jobs.
The traffic is something I had to adapt to and it certainly was good that I had the chance to observe it before joining in myself. It appears that there are no rules and in a way that is true: traffic lights are scarce, there is no right of way and any speed limits are only there it seems to keep the roadsign industry alive. But almost everybody is friendly and will adapt to the movements you make with your car. It is important not to be shy but follow your plans and you will see that you will become part of the secret choreography of Egyptian traffic easily.
Police and military checkpoints also are no problem at all. We always drive with the windows down, take off our sunglasses and take time to chat with police and military. They are always friendly and helpful. Most of them don't understand English but are very happy if tourists try to chat with them and make their day less boring.
It is really sad that at the moment, it is not possible to spend time in the Egyptian (and Sudanese!) desert or on Sinai (at least if you use a 4x4 car) but still there is so very much to explore and see, as Egypt has most diverse landscapes, cultures and historical sights.
We will definitely come back!

Finally, a big "Thank You!" goes to the Zuidberg family, Sam Watson and Jacqui Belcher for their friendship, patience and understanding and for taking care of our first steps in Egypt.