Borders & Fixers
Crossing into the Sudan was a rather stressful endeavour. It started with paying for some tickets that were of extreme importance according to the clerks. This, of course, proved to be untrue and we might as well have thrown them out directly.
In some cases when crossing borders overland, the procedure is so vague, help from a local is necessary. Fixers, as they are called, help travellers move through the maze of bureaucracy. At this crossing, it would have easily taken three times as much time to cross the border if we didn't use one. Going from office 1 to 2, back to 1, to 3, make copies of the things from office 3, back to 2 to 4, to 5, back to 1 etc. etc. It was impossible to guess the correct order. Fortunately, there was Mo, who, for a little fee, helped us through.
On the Sudanese side, it all started with a closed gate. Behind that gate, more bureaucracy, but getting through the gate was the first hurdle. The guards were non respondent. After calling one of them out specifically, we had a chat and he gave us some forms. We filled them and I tried handing them back. He was no longer responding. After some hassling and yelling, he came to the gate and proceeded to tell me (in perfect English) that he didn't speak English. I laughed a little, thinking he was joking, told him his English was just fine and that we just had a conversation. He smiled demonically and replied with 'No English'. We later read this was a thing they would do to foreigners. As the malaise progressed, it started to get on my nerves.
After about 5 minutes, the biggest gangster I've yet seen walks in. Brown suit, around 2 meters tall and a pair of speedy black sunglasses. He looked like he walked straight off of the set of a movie like 'Lord of War' only missing his AK. I ask him how long it will take before he opens the gate. He says 5 minutes. Having experience with the Egyptian 5 minutes, I tell him I'm holding it to him pointing at my watch. When the 5 minutes went past, I demanded to be let in. He told me it would be 10 minutes more. At this point I snapped. I yell at them, call them liars for claiming to not speak English and saying they should treat people with a little more respect. After a bit of a staring contest (which I was not about to lose), he opened the gate and let us in. While I don't like to be angry, it seems like the only way sometimes and for some reason most of them respected me more afterwards. It was really strange.
At the Sudanese side, we also needed a fixer. It seemed like they had a scheme going as there was some paperwork that had to be 'prepared', which only the fixer could do. Fortunately, the fixer seemed to be one of the good ones, having 'fixed' for Ewan and Charlies Long Way Down crew as well. He told us to have a cup of tea and after about 45 minutes, he came back with all the paperwork. We were good to go.
Through the Desert
First stop was the city of Wadi Halfa. One of the earliest known Nubian settlements It didn't seem like much. We checked into a hotel and set about exploring. Once on the main street, there was a lively atmosphere, music was playing, a butcher was preparing meat right on the street and there were loads of little street vendors. We decided to slob out a little and asked one of the locals what would be the best for supper. He proceeded to walk with me to the butcher and order some meat. Camel, I later learned, which was absolutely delicious. After the meal, lacking a cold brew as alcohol is illegal in Sudan, we noticed there were only men out. No women. A boys night out if you will, but then for the whole town. While I can understand some of the differences in culture, discrimination of woman is not one of them.
The following few days are hot. As we cross the desert of Sudan, it feels like someone has put a hairdryer on my face while riding around. Not being able to go full out and ride the whole stretch at 130kph makes it even more unbearable. Fortunately, Rob and his massive truck was in my rear view mirror most of the time and having someone there cheered me up.
There was one day however, where I managed to pull away from him a little. The wind in my back made for a slight speed increase so I could take the bike up to a whopping 90kph. After riding along for a few hours, my front tanks were drained and the bike started holding back. Nothing too spectacular, I flip my fuel pump switch to go to the rear tank as I would any other day, but the bike doesn't accelerate. I flip it again a couple of times, but nothing. I stop by the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere. 200 km's of desert around me in a sea of nothingness. I double-check the fuel pump but I couldn't get it going. The OEM fuel pump has been known to give way and fortunately, I was prepared for such an event. There is a secondary gravity fed loop with which I can reroute the fuel from the rear tanks to the front tanks. I open up the valve, wait for around 10 minutes to let it flow through and I was good to go again. This was the second problem with the bike and although I felt it couldn't have been more than a dusty connector, it made me extremely uncomfortable.
Arriving in Khartoum, we setup shop at the 'blue nile sailing club'. Rob is literally a world class sailor, having represented the UK in the dragons class and he was instantly welcomed as a VIP guest (with me getting to tag along). We were invited to the clubs Saturday breakfast and we even managed to take one of their sailing boats out on the Nile. All fun and games, but in the meanwhile I was still having issues with the motorcycle limping around and this had to be fixed.
I took my bike to bits, cleaned up all to connectors and managed to fix the fuel pump issue. The gear position sensor was still faulty though. In one of my attempts using social media to gain some more info on the issue and possible fixes, someone recommended contacting Sudan Bikers. After a small chat, Mo, who represented the group, dropped by on his KTM 1290. A great guy, who continued to explain that even though they've bought the bikes straight from Austria, there was no way to get it serviced in Sudan. He even had to fly in a mechanic from Saudi Arabia when he had issues with the motorcycle. Not great if you ask me. In my book one can either have closed source software, or bad / non existent customer service. Not both. If the software is open source or uses a standardised protocol (like cars) and you can fix it by going to any local mechanic, that's fine. If the customer service is good and you can use them, that's also fine. But KTM currently has closed source software and doesn't offer / has the ability to fix things. That combination is a deathtrap imho. After discussing the perils of motorcycling in the Sudan extensively and not really finding any solution for any of them, Mo and his mates continued to invite me to go to a traditional Sudanese wedding.
I rock up at the tea place were I was meeting Mo to get to the wedding. I join his mates there and we drive to the venue location. At the venue it feels the whole of Khartoum went to see it. Mo tells me there are around 1200 and that this was a moderately large one, where gigantic ones have around 1500 or even more. He tells me that every family member and friend is invited and they are welcome to take more people if they want. It was incredibly nice and even though I didn't really feel that I belonged there, everyone went out of their way to welcome me and make me feel comfortable. A great experience and what a crowd the Sudanese were.
My last experience in Khartoum was going to Omdurman. Reimund, a german photographer who I talked to at the sailing club invited me to join him and his wife to take some photos at a weekly ritual in another section of town. The ritual is at a graveyard where they honour the sheikhs that are buried there. It was an amazing ritual with colourful outfits, chanting and dancing. Unfortunately a dark cloud hovered the whole thing as two of the chiefs of their group were taken under arrest for speaking ill of the government. Me and Rob discussed this and we both noted that the crowds were extremely unhappy with the current government. With the last demonstrations to the government ending in riots and being only a couple of months back, we both had the feeling it would not be long before the shit would hit the proverbial fan. We decided shortly after we should make a run for the border. So we sorted our Ethiopian visas and got a move on.