It always amazes me the difference a border can make. Neighbouring countries can have such obvious differences in the space of a few hundred meters. There were two that struck me immediately when I left Ethiopia and entered Sudan. The first was the lack of livestock on the roads. There were still camels and goats, but here the shepherds would keep them just off the road with a practiced crowd control that was impressive. No longer did I have to stop and weave my way through the herds. Secondly was the lack of people asking for money. We were back to the friendly, no-agenda waving now, and as much as I loved Ethiopia, I found this refreshing.
Khartoum is a city that welcomes guests, although there didn’t seem to be many of us. A city that has a heart as big as the tripartite metropolis itself. It felt safe, and the traffic – although chaotic at times – seemed to give me room and respect. I find that some countries produce warm and gentle people UNTIL you put them behind the wheel of a car! Then all bets are off. Not here. I was well looked after everywhere we went (and often asked for selfies, to which of course I obliged!).
I met the Sudan Bikers in Khartoum. They were the nicest bunch! I don’t think I spent any money while I was with them - much as I tried, ‘This is not our way’ they would say every time I got my wallet out to pay for the copious amounts of lovely Turkish coffee, or the cheesecake we consumed over many great conversations. These guys are into big bikes. The more horse power the better as far as they are concerned! We light-heartedly argued over everything from brand, to horsepower and even to sprocket size! They showed me the sites (including a wedding party!) and taught be a great deal about Sudanese culture. When I left, I was presented with a leather waistcoat with a ‘Sudan Bikers’ badge proudly on the front. I guess that makes me an honorary member? And honoured I am! I made some great friends in my short time here. So many differences in culture but so much in common – especially our sense of humour!
From Khartoum, I rode north-east along a perfectly black line that cut through the desert like a welcome mat for bikers! Smooth as a race track and not a pot hole or killer road goat in sight. Here you can switch on the cruise control (or jam a piece of plastic between the brake and the throttle in my case), turn up the in-helmet speakers and enjoy the uninterrupted beauty of the Sudanese wilderness. The only enemy here is the wind, which never seems to be going your way, and never stops! This drastically increases fuel consumption, which is also a problem here is Sudan. Since the country was divided into two, the economy has dropped (with a black-market rate four times that of the bank rate) and petrol has become scarce with most stations closed or empty. Those that were empty dealt with queues of irritated drivers. Thankfully, as a woman and a guest in the country, I was ALWAYS offered the place at the front of the queue. In between I would find black market fuel which, at twice the price, was still extremely cheap.
The small and dusty desert towns are a wonderful place to lap-up the warm culture of Sudan, but the pyramids were my highlight! Structures thousands of years old, unprotected and largely unvisited, I found myself alone in the shadow of their magnificence. Just me, my motorbike, and five thousand years of history, surrounded by soft golden sand. Now THIS was a place for contemplation! It was also a place to get the bike stuck!
After taking some pictures I tried to get Rhonda out of the hole I had just put her in. She would not budge so I started pushing from side to side to create a little play. I then dug and pushed some more until eventually I could get her on her side and out of the hole. I then dragged her away enough to get her up without the wheel slipping back in. A minute later I was stuck in another hole of my own making!
It was no good. I was going to have to get some help now. My shoulder was buggered and I just didn’t see how I could get out of sand this deep alone. I walked to a high point and started waving frantically at the first car that came past. It turned out to be a policeman. He turned off the road onto the sand and as he approached I started doing motorbike falling over impressions! Surprisingly he understood and laughed at my explanation and predicament. I got into the car and as he drove across the sand, he too got stuck! Thankfully we BOTH found it funny. Much pushing, shoving and buried flip-flops later, and we managed to get both vehicles out and I was on my way again shouting, ‘Shukraan shukraan’ over and over until he could no longer hear me!
Riding to the border was a strange experience. It was windy as hell and the desert roads were lined with dead cattle. Why were they out here in the desert? Why were they only on the roadside? Some were even tied to the sign posts. It was quite bizarre. That, along with the wind and the strange guy with dark windows that followed me so closely for a while that I though he was going to run me off the road, made the whole experience a little eerie. I felt like the only thing missing was a sign saying ‘Turn back now. All hope is lost!’.
The guy was probably just curious of a woman on a motorbike all alone out in the desert! Understandable! I also found out later that the cows are dragged out of the cattle trucks when they die (or dying) on route to Egypt. From what I have seen, they are not treated well on route and so it was no surprise that so many lined the roads. A sad sight.
A country where (once out of the city) beds are hard, bacon butties are illegal, showers are cold (if at all), and the only place to get a beer is at the British Embassy on a Thursday night. Some of the laws here go against every ounce of my personal beliefs but, try as I might, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this country and its warm and welcoming people.