This morning we woke up to the sound of rain, something that we had not at all been expecting here in Sudan. Maybe that was just a nice way to wrap things up here as so much of Sudan has been totally unexpected, in a very good way.
In the past few days we have made the journey from Atbara and then spent a few days in Khartoum.
Along the Nile, and inland in the desert from Atbara are some of Sudan's best ruins of various sorts. We jumped off the bus in the middle of nowhere to see the pyramids at Meroe, the most famous of all of the ruins here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mero%C3%AB). You could tell straight away that it was the most visited site as we were soon met by a camel tout and there were tat sellers near the gate (the first gate we'd seen at an of the ancient sites). As a total shock to the system as we were wandering around the tombs we found ourselves in the presence of one whole other tourist. The first in a very long time. Still travelling south we hired a boksi (a ute of sorts) and headed out into the desert to see the ruins of Naqa and Musawwarat es Sufra. For these we really did have the place to ourselves as we wandered the very Egyptian looking ruins, only unlike Karnak and Luxor these were a more human size.
Rather than doubling back the 30kms to Shendi, we asked our driver to let our very dusty selves at a petrol station on the road to Khartoum where we hoped that we would be able to rehydrate and flag the next bus heading south. We lucked in. Not only did we manage to flag the next bus, but it was the private bus carrying workers from a local petrol company home to Khartoum after their month on the site, and they were happy to take us to Khartoum gratis (provided that we ducked as we went past security checkpoints). So it was like a wee party bus, everyone was in great spirits and the coke and cold water were flowing freely, not to mention the box meals.
We were dropped in what we thought was Khartoum 2 and flagged a tuktuk to take us to Sharia 47 to find the YHA. We had a feeling that our tuktuk driver was lost but after stopping several times people on the side of the road assured us that we were in fact on Street 47 so we jumped out and tried to find the YHA on foot. The locals we asked had no idea what we were talking about and the only logical thing we could think was that the YHA had closed. Thankfully before it all got too desperate Paul met an ex-pat David who kindly took us in for a night (which has now turned into a week).
The mystery of Sharia 47 was solved the next day as we got hoplessly lost searching for the Ethiopian Embassy (which should have been about 500m south of this street). A tuktuk eventually took us north rather than south as we expected to find the embassy, and although it had moved we were still able to follow the map back to the marked Sharia 47... north of the Embassy. Turns out that, in great African style, there is a Street 47 and an Avenue 47 in about a 4km area, hence the confusion. Oh, and we found the YHA too!
Having spent enough time lost and wandering we have spent the past few days enjoying more leisurely pursuits, and most enjoyably spending time with some of the locals.
The Sudanese are unbelievably friendly and generous. For a country that gets such bad press overseas (some deservedly of course) we have been overwhelmed by just how kind the people here are.
The best two examples of local hospitality here in Khartoum have been Willy and Raz. Willy met us as we were having breakfast of ful and falafel while sitting on coke crates near to the house the other morning. After a very brief chat and out of the middle of nowhere he came back to our crate with two bottle of coke and an invitation to spend the day with him. We ended up meeting the next day, and in great contrast to our original introduction we had cafe au lait and croissant at one of the nice new five star hotels in town.
Another generous local has been Raz, a member of the Blue Nile Sailing Club. Late in the afternoon he took us, Trev and Jan out on the water. We headed a long way up stream and floated back along to some reggae tracks and the sound of the birds - unbelievably cool. We also had dinner at his house last night and Paul was very impressed with his music room and spent some time teaching Raz how to play the trumpet.
It's always a little cliched to say that it is the people who make the trip worthwhile but in Sudan that really could not be more true. We had been expecting a hard couple of weeks here with the heat, roads and the culture but in the end it has been a very enjoyable time.
Today, as our last day in Khartoum, we hope to see the famous Whirling Dervishes, and I hope to have another very special Sudanese coffee from the ubiquitous roadside tea lady.
We will then be heading to Ethiopia. All reports so far have told us that the roads are made of the finest impassable mud, the people are demanding and that it will be the rainy season... but the coffee is said to be some of the best in the world and no matter what it's bound to be an adventure.