Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gedaref, Sudan - Oh how sweet it is!

So long, Ethiopia! Its been a really great time. For the readers of BTOG, if there's only one country you visit in Africa in your lifetime, Ethiopia's the place to be. It's land and people (well most of them) are stunningly beautiful. I'm going to be back some day. There's more to see (Axum, the Danikil, and Gambella to name a few). Photo: the school kids of Arkwasiye, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia.

Well, it's happy birthday to me today. I feel really lucky about spending it on a rickety old bus in the Sudan... How many people can say that!!!??? I was thinking if I kept up this pace of travel I might not reach my next.

Did I miss a journal entry yesterday...? Well, I was getting my hair done up real special. The last 2 days have been tough but exciting. I thought it was going to be a standard slow bus to Bahar Dir (and overnight there). Instead, the Rasta Man's minibus showed up even though I canceled my ticket. I told the driver that 170 birr was way too much and I was on my way to the main bus station. He dialed someone on his cell. The price dropped to 150. I asked for 120. Another call and it was approved. What was the problem in the first place people?

Off we went, bolting into the cool Ethiopian dawn.

Got to Bahar Dir in due time. Because it was the "last" minibus to Gonder, I got burned on the fare. Finally as the sunset, we reached Gonder in the dark. Couldn't get a room at the Selam Hotel. So, I had to settle for the whorehouse, I mean hotel, I stayed at the last time I was in Gonder. Just as well. I had an interesting discussion with an Ethiopian guy (a business man from Addis) in the reception. I asked him what he paid for his room. He paid a paltry amount (something like 35 birr). He laughed at what I was paying. I asked him why I was paying so much. He answered, "because you can." Again, he burst into laughter. Anyway, he was a nice guy. I killed him with the amount of Amharic I had learned during my stint in the country. He was shocked at the amount of birr I was carrying for my last day.

"What would you do if you were stuck at the border?", he asked.

"Probably kill myself," I deadpanned. More laughter...

Anyway, I exchanged 5 USD with him. Damn, more birr in my pocket... What the hell is he going to do with a 5 dollar bill?

I managed to put in 3.5 hours of sleep because of my hair and a Peter Seller's bio pic on TV.

That same morning, I climbed aboard the bus for border town of Metama at 0430. The early morning air was pleasant. By 0800 it was heating up. The surrounding hills were arid, in various shades of brown, populated with occasional stands of conifers. People were far and few between. Those I saw were involved with road construction or tending livestock. It was pretty obvious we were losing a lot of altitude fast. Soon we saw the hills come to an end, replaced by the vast expanse of the Sudanese desert on the horizon.

Metama's street was chaotic to say the least. A wild mix of Ethiopians and Sudanese trading whatever could be smuggled across the border. The bus driver made me walk the last 2 km to the border. Overburdened with my overstuffed backpack, I thought how appropriate it was: leaving Ethiopia and having the door hit me in the ass on the way out.

I walked across no man's land, across a bridge spanning a river choked with dust. When did it last rain here? The border officials seemed rather cold, especially the security guy. There was a bus to Gedaref, the first substantial piece of civilization in Sudan. I needed money. The police assigned a local guy to find me the local black market moneychanger in the local market. Suffice to say, the exchange rate was dubious but the snake had me by the short and curlies. So much for first impressions.

I climbed on the bus to Gedaref. The heat was amazing. Water was dispensed to passengers using a communal stainless steel cup from a big bucket next to the driver. Perhaps the most annoying thing was having to check in with security posts along the way. The moment I stepped off the bus (just me by the way) a fierce hot wind would hit me square in the face. Consolation to having to sit in that sauna-like bus was the immaculate asphalt-surfaced road.

View Larger Map
This is Gedaref. My hotel was directly east of this waypoint. The market was along this street as well.

Arrived in Gedaref at 1800 (3 hr. bus ride). Everyone's been really nice (despite my two word Arabic vocabulary). I'm glad to be back in a Muslim country. The Gedaref market really comes to life in the waning daytime heat. I'm going to need some time to get use to the climate.

I met a couple of Belgian cyclists outside the hotel. They experienced 56C in Wadi Halfa. If it continues like that, it's not going to be fun at all.

[ed. note: Total bus time = 0400 to 1900 on Monday (Addis to Gonder) + 0600 to 1400 on Tuesday (Gonder to Metama) + 1500 to 1800 (Metama to Gedaref) = 26 hrs. on the bus in 48 hrs]

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, May 8/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!

No comments: